I'm not much of a poster. I usually just read the forums when I have time, which is very rare. If I sit long enough to start reading, I usually fall asleep!
I decided to post this because of what happened last night. I'll be honest and say I feel kinda silly about this post because I've worked with horses for 30 years and never had a horse scare me this bad.
I have a 6 year old gelding I have been training to do LL eventing with. I bought him as a 5 yo and only had him a few months before I had to move to take care of my mom. I left my 3 horses at the farm I boarded them at and my BO starved them. I was gone for 3 months and it has taken me 8 months to finally get enough weight on them to get the ok from our vet to start light riding. (Initially he only wanted them to gain weight so all we could do was handwalk and feed them so they wouldn't burn off any calories.)
My gelding was always a little hard to get to focus, got easily bored, easily distracted but never dangerous until this past week. We started riding a few days ago, doing nothing but walking a bending, a little trotting but nothing heavy. Vet wants to ease back in to riding.
My gelding has become very herd bound and now spends most of his time under me calling to his friends, avoiding my cues, and just being a miserable pita. But knowing he is young and having been starved, I know I have to go back and refresh his training, which I'm ok with. It will take time but I realize that.
However, last night things got very bad very quickly. We ride in our indoor which he has been ok with all along since we are at a new barn. This past week he has been unfocused and calling a lot to his buddies. When he does, I immediately make him do something else to get his mind off of his friends and back on work. We don't work long and I always make sure to reward him when he does focus.
Last night the calling turned into screaming. He became completly oblivious to me and wouldn't listen. I was by myself on the farm and decided it would be much safer to lunge him to get him back on track. I have been sick so I had to pick my battles safely.
As soon as I dismounted, my gelding took off, ran to the door that leads out to the pasture and tried to climb out over the door. Luckily the door is solid and 9' high with a 2' gap at the top so he wouldn't have been able to get out.
I went to catch him and he tried to run me down. I jumped out of the way and he bucked at me, missing my face by inches. I could feel his hooves fly by.
He kept screaming and screaming, getting himself worked up into a horrible panic. When I finally caught him I made him do ground work and he focused somewhat on me, but was so distraught that he had loose manure repeatedly. I checked him over before I made him work and nothing was wrong or ill fitting. He bolted after I had gotten off and had stood there screaming so I didn't do anything to hurt him.
This episode was a clear defiant message that he did not want to work and wanted to be with his friends. He calmed down after some time I think from pure exhaustion and he became my sweet horse again.
I'm at a loss of what to do. I have worked with herd bound horses before but not one who wanted to run me down like my horse did. I'm not a fancy trainer but I'm decent enough of a rider to get a horse started and the basics down. I'm not 20something anymore and this has me a little scared because I don't want to get hurt.
I can't afford to send him to a trainer right now as we have a lot going on with a custody case over my stepkids and are taking care of my mom but I'm going to try to put some money aside to be able to send him off to one if I can't work through this myself. I don't know anyone in the area as I just moved here and the other boarders at our barn aren't ever there so I'm kinda stuck for the time being.
I don't want to let him just sit,and not deal with this. I know that him trying to intentionally hurt me needs to be addressed now, I'm just not sure how. I'm considering a calming supplement but not sure which is best as there are so many out there. I don't like the thought of drugging him to be honest. I'm definitely not selling him and risking someone else getting hurt. So I need some advice on what to do. I plan to work with him again tonight when my husband is there just in case and until the outdoor is fixed, all we have is the indoor to use. I don't have a round pen so our ground work is on the lunge, which he is still refreshing on too.
I feel silly asking for advice being an experienced rider but maybe someone can give me some advice that I cant think of. I don't want to let this get worse and I know he is physically ok and that this was just herd bound panic but its gotten me frazzled and I hope someone can offer me some suggestions to work through this.
I won't be able to check for replies until later but I appreciate any advice you all can give.
Nothing to feel silly about, I have no true words of wisdom, but I know that is a very scary situation.
He got used to hanging with the buds, and suddenly mom says okay back to work, and he said NOOOOOOO.
Some will be fine, he sounds like the personality to behave this way.
I will be interested to hear how this is handled by some of the experienced posters.
I am horseless anymore, but I have had an experience or two with this behavior, and it is scary when they start to disregard the human. not to mention dangerous. Glad you are okay. Good luck!
Good question, never a good idea, my late gelding at the age of 23 was still convinced he was a stallion, he went through a phase a year before he died where the barn owner, bless her, put all the geldings on one side of the property and all the mares on the other. because my guy was galloping the fence line screaming for his women.
Once he could not see them anymore it was fine.
I chalked it up to senility!
Nope there are no mares allowed at this farm. He typically is a middle guy only special to my stallion who is his BFF. Even when he was out with mares at another farm, he was a good boy, no studdiness. All bloodwork has been good teeth and feet are ok no pain or ill fitting tack to make work not fun. This is clearly a herd bound I'm not gonna listen to mom thing.
You are asking this horse to seperate happily from his herd AND listen to you and do these physical and mental tasks while he's out of shape.
Focus your training on getting him seperated from the herd in little baby steps you won't be getting killed and he won't be enjoying/learning lots of jacked up triumph of his strength over yours.
My grandfather used to say, "You can have anything but you can't have everything."
One way to approach the story-
I want my horse to be calm in the indoor.
so- turn him loose with a buddy INSIDE the indoor.
Groom, feed some treats, lead around obstacles.
Lesson learned- going in the indoor doesn't have to equal a horrible terror of seperation, it can be fun, cool, relaxing etc.
So you don't get everything, you don't even get "seperated from the herd" but you do have calm, obedient and safe inside the indoor.
then try pushing it from there little steps at a time- restrain the buddy in the indoor and work on increasing distances. Eventually buddy is just outside the indoor, or buddy is worked by another rider in the indoor. etc.
I have a gelding who was very attached to my older mare as a youngster, and like your guy he came very close to hurting my trainer in an effort to get back to his girl.
I sent him to a different boarding stable (I called it military school) where he didn't know anybody and was forced to live and learn how to be alone. He went out alone and was stabled at the end of the barn so he never had the chance to buddy up. After 2 weeks we started working him again and after 3 months I brought him home and as long as I keep working him he's fine. He's learned he can survive on his own, and the more his confidence grows with me the better he gets.
Is there someplace you can send him where he will have to live alone for a while? It worked for my guy and broke the visious circle we had going on.
I had one talented youngster that a BNT olympian couldn't even get to leave the group after 4 hours of struggling. Not being willing to give up on this talented horse as the BNT suggested, we did baby steps. Initially we rode him WITH another horse at the end of the ring gradually doing further and further away from the other horse. Eventually the other horse would be outside the ring and finally further in distance from our horse. If it had been an option, it was also suggested for us to keep changing his turn out buddies so he wouldn't become attached to any one particular horse. It took a year but it did work without drama and it was safe.
Because of the former food issues, be aware that it also helps to keep non stop food in front of him when he's turned out so he loses the fear of competition for his food which can also add to the situation.
I'd start on the ground. Taking him out on hand walks away from his buddies. If he starts screaming work him on the lead line. Make him move. When he stops screaming he gets to stop working. If he starts again start work again. I'd make him comfortable with you, that you are his leader not the buddies. Work with just lunging him after that in the arena. Easy work if he behaves harder work if he is a jerk. Once and if he finally gets the idea start back under saddle. Make it easy, walk him around and if he is good let him be done for the day. Of he starts again then make him work. Once he is good at the walk increase the work load a little at a time. I probably wouldn't get on until I had the ground work down to a T and listening to me and not worrying about his buddies. Sometimes you do have to separate them but with time and patience and rebuilding the relationship you had will work.
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole
Yeah the complete meltdown is scary indeed. I've experienced the herd-bound I don't wanna crap, but honestly just by doing exactly what you were doing.
Only thing I'd emphasize that I do is I would trot my mare down a lot--and require a "thinking trot": serpentines followed by a few spiral circles, serpentines followed by long side extensions/short side collections, long side working trot, then circle at all four corners, etc. I'm takling 20-30min straight of trotting. Not picking at her about perfect form and nothing that would have her heaving and soaked with sweat-- but by the end certainly her head carried a bit lower and you could just feel her say "alRIGHT already!"
I know your vet wants you to ease into the riding, but you might talk with him/her to get clearance for a more strenuous workout. (Reality is that he's burning a lot of calories anyway with the screaming anxiety or if they're a nut job on the longeline).
I have experienced fear or just tight brittle frustration during some of these rides, and good breathing techniques really help me get past that. Square breathing is GREAT, and my mare responds well to it also.
Personally, the screaming and disobedience is something I'd ride out, rather than dismount & longe. And I'd do that above trot workout early to prevent it from escalating to more dangerous stuff like rearing or major buck explosions.
But, again, you need to protect your body and your enjoyment of being on a horse. I'd be uncomfortable also about drugging a horse to get past a behavioral issue but maybe more experienced trainers on this board will say that it's a valid tool to get him over the hump until he's in good enough shape that you can use the wet saddle blankets cure.
Good luck with this.
OP, reading your post scared me - I'm probably close to your age and I pick my battles carefully too. Please be careful, wear your helmet and carry a whip at all times until you get to the bottom of this. Keep us updated.
My friend's horse (senior OTTB) went through a really bad herdbound phase a few months ago. Turns out he was getting way more feed than he needed; he was only in light/VERY minimal work, was in good weight, but he was getting the high end of feed amounts, i.e., for a horse in full work. Cut his feed back to more appropriate levels, upped his hay, and a month later he was quietly standing by himself in crossties and being ridden solo again without incident.
I had similar (albeit much less drastic) buddy issues with my own OTTB last year when we moved him to a new barn; cutting his feed back a bit also helped reduce the problem.
Well, that, and I also refuse to tolerate dangerous behaviors and will unleash hell if said horse gets that out-of-control in his fervor to reunite with his pals... But obviously that is on a case-by-case basis, not saying it's the right answer for every horse/handler/situation.
*friend of bar.ka
"Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"
The only way to solve herd bound is to remove him from the herd. Maybe permanently, maybe for a matter of months. Once things are ok you can revisit a buddy or two.
This is what I would say, too--anytime I've had one like this, a change of scenery did the trick. Usually a "vacation," possibly permanent, in a place where he's in a stall, in a program and not allowed to "go feral" like that. It's one in a hundred that will take that notion, but it's sure a PITA when they do.
NOT fun. My best advice is to trust your instincts and safety first. Remember that you will have very limited ability to control or influence him when he's in that state of mind.
I think that having him calm at the end of the session was a win for you. I have been in the position you were in, or close to it, exactly once long ago when I healed better and didn't have a family to help support and it is pretty terrifying. That issue was one that was so hard to recreate I never did address it, I'd have needed a helper to go trail riding with me several times and be able to turn and go away and then come back. That would have meant numerous trail rides far from home as my mare had a large "home territory" where any horse visible in the area was perfectly good.
The old guy spent three months at the trainers breaking the bond with the pony - of course we wound up with him bound to a different pony, my trainer just didn't have enough pastures and a broad enough sample of other horses to start the rotating process. The day before we brought him home my DH and I brought him up and groomed him, taking him away from his pony. 20 other horses in the barn in front of his darned nose and he got very upset but he never quite got to where he would bite or kick at me for touching him. Stomping, shifting, head tossing, worrying and calling. Not able to pick feet easily but he is hard anyway. I was watching for it to escalate - it could have gone either way.
We did opt to saddle him and just walk him around, DH right at our sides, and he is a well trained horse, does know his job and enjoyed it back in the day, so once we got one quiet lap of the arena we called it a day (he's also 27 and not in good shape).
I like the idea of making sure he has no competition for his food - the old guy also had food deprivation issues, and then what a couple of people have said about rotating turnout and riding him with another and gradually going further and further apart.
It is a lot of work and you have to be set up for it, helmet, footwear, and a plan. I wouldn't do it without a helper even if all he is there for is to make sure I can get to the hospital and not lay there in the dirt for hours.
That is also the one thing bad about group turnout. Everyone gets a buddy that they do not want to leave now and then.
And to keep the peace most barn owners want to keep a stable group together, because changing around all the time just upsets the apple cart and causes arguments in the herd. Of course if you have the luxury of your own place, and enough horses mind you, then you have far more options.
I'm no trainer and the last thing anyone should ever do is listen to a word I say, so naturally I have a state-the-obvious observation: this horse has debilitating trust issues pursuant to his recent abandonment to abuse. His "defiance" is attributable to fear. If it were me I'd stop riding him immediately and get to work on confidence-building stuff on the ground. Get him to trust you again by whatever means necessary. Maybe some of that NH stuff in the round pen? Or, if no round pen, clicker train him to do stupid parlor tricks in his stall or something. In other words, find his comfort zone, wherever that is, and be in it with him for a while, until he associates you with the word "awesome." Then proceed with easing him away from the herd, in hand. Safety first and all that. Wear a helmet.
I successfully de-herdbinded my wackaloon Arabian mares by hand-walking them out, a little further and and a little further each day, in a rope halter with the "I mean business" knots on it. None of them ever tried to actually kill me, but in the beginning the worst of them would call back to the herd and rear and circle around me and generally panic, to which I'd respond with a firm but emotionally neutral yank on the rope, then a few more steps in the away direction, then, if no more yelling and rearing, a reward of grass. No one is more surprised than me that this horse now walks out calmly. Last week we went out two miles, and she didn't even flip her wig when a dude on a recumbent bike whizzed by with his little flag flapping in the breeze. It took months, however, and there were several returns-to-square-one.
Don't feel silly for posting, though. If you've never come across this degree of violent behavior, how can you be expected to know how to fix it?
Dreadful Acres: the chronicle of my extraordinary unsuitability to country life
I was nailed in the head by a freaked out horse when we took the mare he came in with out of his pasture. Freak accident, I slipped in the mud trying to back away from him. We did keep him (turned out to be an ex chaser) but I was always very careful around him if he was starting to freak out. The ones that stop thinking when they're afraid can be very dangerous.
I can't help but wondering, though, was the horse actually "trying to kill" OP? Not doubting that OP is telling the truth; but maybe in the heat of the moment, when fear and adrenaline were pumping, it looked malicious, when really it was just the horse bolting. OP happened to be standing there, but Horse was in a corner and didn't want to be caught, so he ran.
Good luck OP, please be carfeul, you've got lots of good advice on here. Keep us posted. I know you don't have a lot of friends there yet, but do you at least have someone you can call when you go to the barn? A "Hey, I'm going to the barn to work with Whackadoo, if I don't call you back in an hour, please send the ambulance my way"?