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  1. #1
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    Question Out of stall: Mr. Mellow Goofball. In stall: Twitchy McWorriwort

    I've had my 10yro Arabian gelding for nearly a year now. He's a sweet goofball and ALL boy. Having two young sons, I speak from experience: "No, don't put that in your mouth. ... That's not a toy. ... That's not a toy either. ... Well, what did you THINK would happen? ... WTF is *that*? ... How the heck did you hurt yourself THERE? ... What did you do NOW?"

    I could go on. And on. Seriously.

    Anyway, he's not nearly as fearful as my former Arab (lost her in 2011 ). Actually, I would say he's hardly fearful at all--whereas my mare would be genuinely terrified of some things (trash cans! with inverted trash can liners! AHHHH), Tril is too dang curious to let himself get scared. He has an OMG! reaction, but he then has to go in and investigate.

    That said, one of my nicknames for him is "Twitch," because that is his reaction to a lot of things. It's a spook-in-place thing, usually pretty understated (skin twitches, legs don't move), but nothing bad. It amuses but doesn't concern me.

    What DOES concern me is that "twitch" is more like a cat "jumping out of skin" in his stall (which is a 24x24 paddock). Out of his stall, he's sweet, playful (lead rope is his pacifier), friendly, "hey let's be buddies," attentive, curious (and eager to test if he can get away with getting a bite to eat), and respectful. In his stall, he's fine with me cleaning and feeding and such, but he is outright worried if I come near him in the stall while he's eating. Not to take him out--again, he's very friendly, and meets me at the gate and respectfully stands while I halter him. Complete gentleman. But standing by him while he's eating? worryworryworry

    Today I went to adjust the straps on the standing wraps (Boomer bandages) he's wearing for a minor injury. At one point, my touch spooked him like a surprised cat, and Twitch jumped sideways. It was a small spook, nonaggressive, no kicking, but it was like I'd poked him with an ice pick. That has happened a few times, now, over the 10 months I've owned him.

    I am getting the impression he doesn't understand my being in the stall while he's eating, and he is genuinely insecure about my being there.

    Any tips on how to get him to calm his twitchy butt? One thing I've considered is pull up a chair and sit near him (not TOO near him, in the name of safety) while he eats.

    For good measure, he's a Cal Poly Pomona Arabian. He was bred, born, raised, trained, etc. at the Kellogg Farms. I've begun to wonder if being handled by many college students has made him wary; some are bound to be better handlers than others. I don't understand why he'd be worried about a human being near him in the stall while he's eating, except--maybe he's not used to it? Maybe at CPP they never handle them unless their in cross ties? Maybe someone cleaning and feeding makes sense to him, but anything else is confounding?



  2. #2
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    I had a horse like that.
    If you had him, he was the most gentle, brokest horse you ever were around.
    If you turned him out, or approached him when he just came in, he acted almost feral.
    Absolutely like two different horses.
    I found out that is just the way he was, always, quirky like that.
    He was a registered 15 year old qh and ranch raised, not really handled that much and then by "let's get 'r done" types, I would say, although I think he came honestly to his strange double personality.
    Eventually he was the ranch kid's playday and learning to work cattle go to horse and that made him so gentle on the ground, once you had him convinced that was the game plan now, not the scary type.

    I taught him to take a treat from way low, almost between his legs and he finally quit being watchy and jumpy on approach, waiting for the treat, but if you touched him with one hand on the neck as he was taking the treat, he would practically fall down trying to get away and his legs giving out he was so scared for a few seconds.

    If he was laying down, you could walk over and sit on him and halter him and he was fine.
    Very strange horse and is now happy with a family with two kids that are in 4H and absolutely love him, where he is not turned out in a large pasture, where he truly is scared of his shadow, but in smaller pens, where he relaxes, the world is under control there.

    Since your horse is young, you probably can eventually get him used to chill out.
    You could try clicker training, that really increases a horse's confidence in themselves.



  3. #3
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    I wonder if he is having some eyesight issues? If it only happens in the stall, does it happen when he is not eating? Also, any caretakers that could be hurting him?
    Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.
    W. C. Fields



  4. #4
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    YIKES--that is a strange horse. Thankfully Tril is nowhere near that extreme. In turnout or being taken from his stall, he's Mr. Goodboy. It's *just* when he's eating that he's completely confused (and thus, apparently worried) by someone's presence.

    I like the idea of taking a treat low--he is seriously food motivated and is a hammy beggar for treats. I also like clicker training--I used that with my scaredy pants mare (who was very food motivated as well) to get her to not freak the eff out at things like tree stumps on the trail. I think I still have the "target" I made to teach her the first few lessons with.

    What you described about touching him on the neck, and him scrambling to get away, is very much what I'm seeing--just much further down the "OMG! WTF?" spectrum. Tril will twitch most of the time, or like today, jump sideways at most. It's confusing and a little disheartening--I'm not going to beat you, boy. We're buddies, remember?

    Oh, that reminds me--one of the fellow boarders as well as the guy who cleans for us told me that Tril finally warmed up to them after about 6-8mos and lets them pet and talk to him; up until that point, he'd kept them at a respectful distance. Not afraid, but definitely standoffish. Maybe that's part of this same thing?

    Incidentally, I'm adding SmartCalm to his supplements next month to try and take some of the twitchy edge off.



  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lauruffian View Post
    What DOES concern me is that "twitch" is more like a cat "jumping out of skin" in his stall (which is a 24x24 paddock).
    IME. some horses really do not do well in large stalls; I have even known some to prefer straight stalls to box stalls. I am curious what he is like in a trailer, is he any calmer when he is hemmed in? Also, can he see his stablemates?
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  6. #6
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    Have you tried holding the grain bucket?

    Who can call you a perp when you are also a waiter with the good food?
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


    3 members found this post helpful.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    Have you tried holding the grain bucket?

    Who can call you a perp when you are also a waiter with the good food?
    VP Horse & Carriage Association of NYC

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-F...ref=ts&fref=ts



  8. #8
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    I've had a couple like that. Something about feed, it worries them. One mare was on the verge of dangerous because she would flip her nose up, ear back and act like she was going to bite you, till I knocked her into next week...then she went right back to it the next time I saw her (that was my one boarding time and I don't believe anyone was messing with her). Otherwise, she was a nice mare to ride and after we had a couple of CTJ moments, a decent mare on the ground. Even when I moved out to the ranch and she had a big corral to herself, no other horses around close, she was posessive of her feed. I finally just threw feed and let her have her time alone. She still had to understand that when I wanted to halter her, even mid-feed, she had to give in, but overall, she was a worrier over feed. For the few years I had her, she never did get over it.
    GR24's Musing #19 - Save the tatas!!



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    Have you tried holding the grain bucket?

    Who can call you a perp when you are also a waiter with the good food?
    That is a great idea, try hand feeding him his grain by the handful for a bit, then put the bucket up and let him keep eating by himself with you right there, to desensitize him to someone there.

    It does hurt your feelings when such horses at times overreact to a touch and makes you feel bad that they act like you hit them and that reflect on our handling, when it is not so at all.

    I feel sorry for horses that have some mental quirks that make their life less pleasant and try very hard to find how to manage them best.
    Luckily with our horse, just keeping him confined kept him safe and secure.
    Out in the pasture, he would, if someone was working outside or with the tractor, anything different or out of place, he would not even come to the pens for water or to eat.
    He would stand way out there, head high, blowing his nose and running around clearly scared, the other horses would come to the barn without a care, ignoring his fits and that was not good at all.

    The vet checked him over and he seemed fine, even cleaned his tear ducts, as his eyes were runny at times, but all was ok, he was a puppy dog while the vet was working with him, hard to believe it was the same wild, scared nervous horse when out in the pasture.

    My point on his story, his problems seemed situational, just as your horse is in a stall, which makes the chance it was something that happened there that started those quirks more possible, although I think some horses are more prone to develop such quirks.

    One time at feeding, something scared him and he plowed right over another horse trying to run off, climbing over that other horse like he was not even there.
    Thankfully he only knocked the other horse down, but didn't hurt him.

    I hope you find a good reason and a way to help him.
    I really think those horses can't help themselves, they are not going to hurt anyone on purpose, they need to learn to be less reactive.

    The one we had was much better after some time working with him and as long as we didn't turn him out in the bigger pastures, where he could practice staying worried and scared.



  10. #10
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    michaleenflynn, both of his stall buddies are fully visible. Only thing separating his stall from theirs is the pipe corral panel.

    I've not trailered him anywhere yet, but when he was trailered to my property following the sale, he was a complete gentleman. He's a retired A-circuit show horse whose done Scottsdale and the whole sh'bang, so he's pretty unflappable about new surroundings and presumably trailering.

    mvp, excellent (and funny) advice. I'll give that a try tonight.

    The strange--well, one of the strange--thing is, when he did that big twitch/small spook yesterday, I'd already been handling him. He was happily eating in his bucket and I approached him carefully, and pet him on the neck and such (small twitch, not bad). I'd already looked at one boot, and it wasn't until I was working on the second that he WTFed. I mean...he knew I was there. How did I surprise him??

    goneriding, it might be a feeding quirk. My former mare would pin her ears and make ugly faces as part of her feeding quirk, but was full of crap--all you had to do is say boo, and she'd cower away. She was a very submissive weenie, but she acted all bada$$ when fed.

    Today I'll try and see if it's more about feed or just being in his stall.



  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluey View Post
    That is a great idea, try hand feeding him his grain by the handful for a bit, then put the bucket up and let him keep eating by himself with you right there, to desensitize him to someone there.

    It does hurt your feelings when such horses at times overreact to a touch and makes you feel bad that they act like you hit them and that reflect on our handling, when it is not so at all.

    I feel sorry for horses that have some mental quirks that make their life less pleasant and try very hard to find how to manage them best.
    Luckily with our horse, just keeping him confined kept him safe and secure.
    Out in the pasture, he would, if someone was working outside or with the tractor, anything different or out of place, he would not even come to the pens for water or to eat.
    He would stand way out there, head high, blowing his nose and running around clearly scared, the other horses would come to the barn without a care, ignoring his fits and that was not good at all.

    The vet checked him over and he seemed fine, even cleaned his tear ducts, as his eyes were runny at times, but all was ok, he was a puppy dog while the vet was working with him, hard to believe it was the same wild, scared nervous horse when out in the pasture.

    My point on his story, his problems seemed situational, just as your horse is in a stall, which makes the chance it was something that happened there that started those quirks more possible, although I think some horses are more prone to develop such quirks.

    One time at feeding, something scared him and he plowed right over another horse trying to run off, climbing over that other horse like he was not even there.
    Thankfully he only knocked the other horse down, but didn't hurt him.

    I hope you find a good reason and a way to help him.
    I really think those horses can't help themselves, they are not going to hurt anyone on purpose, they need to learn to be less reactive.

    The one we had was much better after some time working with him and as long as we didn't turn him out in the bigger pastures, where he could practice staying worried and scared.
    Sigh, I have one like this. When I got Bonnie in 2004 she was terrified of everything. I first saw her in a dealer's stall where she had an 8 foot catch rope on her halter, the only way they could handle her. I felt sorry for her.
    So after 9 years of never letting anything hurt her she has pretty much mellowed out but I am always careful not to press my luck.

    Until Tuesday.

    Evidently she backed into her water bucket overnight and it caught on her tail. When I went to let her out in the morning she was crouched in her stall trembling. She flinched every time I went near her so I let her out and after about 500 feet of running and bucking she was able to ditch the monster.

    Now I can't touch her in her stall. It's going to take a lot of carrots.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lauruffian View Post
    mvp, excellent (and funny) advice. I'll give that a try tonight.
    It takes a while for a worried horse to eat, so you want a technique that you can do for a while.

    I think you should walk in with the grain, rattle the bucket to let him know it's there and then let him come to you. Don't pet him at first. Just be a post with a bucket of grain on it. When you see him eating and chilling out, speak to him, maybe put a hand on his head. You want to pet him but have him decide to ignore you as no big deal, just wall paper.

    Do that for a few days and see what you have. Once you do start feeding him alone and then walking in, I think you should still make yourself ignorable at first. After all, that's what you are trying to teach him: less vigilance when food and a tight space is involved.
    The armchair saddler
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  13. #13
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    I realize why you want your horse not to be so worried, but do YOU like to be disturbed while YOU eat YOUR meals? I sure know I don't.

    My ex-SO had a TB mare that he decided to lease to me for foal for a very small racing business. I asked him why that particular mare when he had several that I liked as he knew I disliked that particular mare. His reasoning was I wouldn't get attached to the foal and decide not to sell it. Reason I disliked the mare was one day I was dumping a bucket of water over the edge of the stall and she went for my throat and left marks! You could do just about anything with the mare as long as she wasn't in a stall. You had to open her stall door from the outside, let her go out to pasture and then go catch her up and do what was needed. You could bring her back in the stall and take the halter off but don't try to go back in and put a halter back on her. We were pretty sure she'd been beaten in her stall at the track.
    Sue
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  14. #14
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    Do you know if he has always been stalled? Did they clean stalls with the horses in? I ask because many places clean with the horses in and many times they are eating. It could be that some past stall cleaners were not too kind and he learned to be distrustful in the process.

    Some horses just don't like to be bothered while eating. If twitching and moving is his biggest problem I would just try not to worry him when he is eating.

    As someone else mentioned how is his eyesight? Is it darker where he is eating? I don't think you being in there sitting on a chair is the best idea.



  15. #15
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    He confuses me.

    First, he confuses me because there is still a little heat in the left front--which is where he was lame Monday and Wednesday, presumably from a little too much YEE HAW! in turnout Monday morning--but yesterday, he was noticeably lame on the RIGHT front. WTF?

    THEN, I did a little testing to see if I could see what makes Twitch twitch in his stall.

    When I first arrived, I walked up to his paddock, where he nickered and greeted me in his typical friendly way. I pet him, but then, rather than just halter him and take him out, I walked to the back of the stall by his feeder and stood. He turned around, looked at me, and seemed to say, "Oh, okay, we're hanging out over there? Cool" and walked over to me and stood, being my buddy. Huh. Well, I figured, must be food related.

    So later, after evaluating and tending to his leg (and a solid grooming session), I gave him his hay then prepped his bucket so I could carry it in myself and be a bucket-hanging fencepost as mvp suggested. Incidentally, he turned his nose up at his hay and stood and waited patiently but eagerly, head up, ears up, awaiting his bucket.

    When I brought it in, he calmly approached me and as I stood still, he immediately began chowing down. No hesitation, no worry, nothing. Even though mvp had suggested against it, I went ahead and pet him on the neck, and he did not care. Not even the subtlest hint of a twitch or even a worried look.

    I tried doing this from both sides, with no change in his behavior. Calm, happy, chowing down. Repeat when I actually hung the bucket up in its usual spot rather than having me hold it. Weird.

    The investigation continues...



  16. #16
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    Yes, it is puzzling with such horses.
    That is why I gave mine treats low, that seemed to calm him, but when I touched him, he almost fell down from the scare.
    Soooo, I backed off and only gave him treats first, then petted him, gave more treats and started scratching him from the hand that held the treats up the face and down the neck and then he was fine.

    I had been telling a friend about how this one horse was and she was watching him being super quiet and wondering what I was talking about.
    He then spent some time at her barn while I had surgery and she said yes, some times, when she went to halter him in his pen, he would not let her catch him, she had to corner him and ease up to him as he was almost shaking, while other times he met her at the gate, happy to see her.
    Once he was in her barn, she then could tell that he, at times, was a bit off.
    When he came back here, he was fine, he knows where the treats are coming from, other than when turned out.
    By the time he left, he really was much better as far as being around people he knew, but still somewhat wary of strangers.

    Small steps when you find a trigger, back off and change what you are doing, until you figure him out better.
    Maybe you thought it was the stall, or the bucket, or the feed, but it is not, something else is going on there?

    I think that we learn to manage how we interact with all horses, each one as they are, some more quirky than others.
    We mostly don't even notice we are doing that, unless one is extremely quirky at times or someone else ask us about why we are doing what we are doing.



  17. #17
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    OP, so do that a couple of days.

    Hold the bucket and pet him for a minute. Then hang it (because life is short) and hang out there. Leave. Come back in while he's still thoroughly enjoying his grain. Gets wiggy? Hold the bucket and let him decide what he wants more-- to finish getting high or get twitchy just because you are holding the bong for him.

    ETA: Your description makes me think that Twitcher isn't actually scared in his stall. I mean, he's not consciously deciding that present conditions warrant fear of being confined or guarding his food. I say that because he's not always afraid and because he got through the you-holding-the-bucket and petting-him stages very quickly.

    Rather, I think he's doing this stuff out of habit-- because one time when he was a yearling in 1974, other horses chased him off his feed or whatever. Given that getting defensive worked then, AND the fact that he hasn't had to think about changing his strategy since, he keeps it as a go-to habit.

    In order for him to change this, you have to 1) Call his attention to the behavior you want changed, and 2) Make it expensive for him to do the wrong thing, while easy/pleasurable for him to do the right thing.

    You can't punish him for acting/feeling afraid (and you don't know how much of each is going on in his pea-sized brain), so you can't correct that way. After all, this just gives him a new stimulus to associate with already feeling afraid.

    Desensitizing doesn't quite work because it misses the mark with making the wrong thing expensive for him to do. If he were genuinely afraid, in the here and now, desensitizing would directly address the problem.

    So your real task is to isolate the behavior you want to change-- he has to recognize it. Because it's fear/self-defense based in this situation, all the changes have to be his idea. But you can make him want to do that-- want to get out of stereotypy and into the cotton pickin' present-- by letting him figure out how to earn grain.
    Last edited by mvp; Feb. 16, 2013 at 01:40 PM.
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