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Work ethic problem or pain issue? Would like opinions...

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  • Work ethic problem or pain issue? Would like opinions...

    I have a 4 yr old TB who I started from scratch last year. Never raced or race-trained. Got her as a yearling so I know *almost* her completed history. She is 16.2hh, long legged, and slightly long backed.

    In the past year, we have taken it very slow. Walk/trot basics with lots of trail-riding for exposure. Typically only ride 1-2 times/week, mostly on weekends. She is a super smart & sensible girl--sometimes too smart!

    For the past month or so, she's been throwing hissy fits more & more as I ask her to start to bend & use her hind end through her back more. She'll kick out, buck, get super wiggly, run thru her outside shoulder, you name it & she's probably tried it. To note, she doesn't do anything bad on the lunge except doesn't like to hold canter for multiple circles... I've been assuming that's a balance thing.

    First, I thought tack, so I refitted her saddle & that seems fine now. Then, I thought maybe she was confused so we went back a few steps to confirm those basics on the ground & at the walk. At the walk, she's great. We even do baby shoulder-in & she's a star.

    So now, I'm thinking this is just her entering a rebellious teenage stage. Today, she decided that she was not going to trot in a circle. And she would not trot down hills. Downhill, she felt like she'd forget to use a hind foot periodically & trip, so I didn't push that, but the circle thing seemed ridiculous! We spent a good 30 min trying to get one good trot circle & had bucks, kicking out, & especially running thru outside shoulder evasions, but I rode through it all, correcting as necessary, and finally got a nice, round trot circle with inside bend. Felt amazing...

    So with all that background... what do you all think? Should I investigate pain more--SI maybe? Or think its more a weakness issue translating into "this is hard & I dont want to work"? Appreciate any thoughts! Thanks!!

  • #2
    Physical issues are always something to rule out, but being 4 years old and sound and having a fairly easy life, I would say it's more of a lack of work ethic. Only working a 4 year old TB once or twice a week probably isn't enough. And she's probably not in much shape physically, so coming through her back might be hard for her without the proper muscling. Of course the only way to fix those things are to keep working her more consistently.

    Is there a trainer you can consult as well? Even if you can't get on for long during the week, I would try to hop on and walk trot even 20 minutes if you can a few times a week.


    • Original Poster

      Oh, agreed! Its been so wet here, so my only opportunity to ride has been when I can trailer out--which means weekends typically. But I am definitely planning to try to get her up to 4x a week--even if they're short--but wanted the COTH wisdom to help support me in thinking this is most likely a weakness/work ethic thing vs overlooking pain. Wanted to just check to see if any of her antics signaled something someone else had seen that I'm not thinking of.


      • #4
        It sounds like Forward isn't fully instilled, especially when the ridden oubursts, the cantering, ...
        What happens if you do some prompt trot halts in hand?
        chaque pas est fait ensemble


        • #5
          I think she needs more consistent work- 5-7 days a week. Not just the weekend warrior.

          Short bits of work, 20-30 mins, 5-7 day a week is good. Keep everything consistent and simple to start, as she grows(physically & mentally), you can add length of time as well as more complicated exercises.

          And when she has done every thing, you asked for --Get off (in the middle of the arena, or the middle of a pasture) and make a BIG FUSS over her.

          And have days of just hacking at a walk or trot sets(interval training) for mental breaks from the routine of dressage(too much time in the sand box{dressage arena}).

          Regardless, going forward is the goal starting at Training Level!!! Every exercise in dressage is a hindend driving the frontend forward! Do Not Block The Engine(Hindend!!!!)


          • #6
            Assuming there are no physical issues, horses don't resist things that are easy for them. Riding 1-2 days a week will do as much to develop fitness in a horse as it will in a human, which is to say - not much. There are many components to fitness, cardiovascular fitness, strength and balance. A horse this age needs regular work to develop these attributes, at least 4 days a week.

            Moving training along without developing fitness is just asking for trouble imo and it isn't really fair to the horse.
            See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


            • #7
              Just because she's young, don't discount a soundness issue. Have you described all of these issues to your vet? The tripping downhill might be a concern.
              A helmet saved my life.

              2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!


              • Original Poster

                Trot to halt is great on lunge & long lines. Haven't worked on halt to trot in hand in a while... that would be a good thing to refresh on... Thanks.

                She is typically very forward under saddle, when she has one of these hissy fits, she will try to rush to evade as well, & its a delicate balance of half-halts, bend, and promoting stretching & *correct* forward--not just fast. She moves off leg well and like I said, we quit on a great note today. Just want the hissy fit part to go away... whether by continued strengthening work or vet check / chiro / etc. I think I'm going to have one of the local vets who chiro too out to see her just to be safe... and go from there.


                • #9
                  I have a just turned 4 year old sport pony (ArabxConnemara) mare who was started in the fall and has had some pretty challenging days. Mine is incredibly sound, but sensitive and opinionated. She is so sensitive and tries so hard, but is one that can act bratty or naughty when she is confused. It's always a fine line to walk between being patient and understanding, and firm and insisting.

                  I have started doing a LOT of in-hand work and a lot of work at the walk. I also spend time every ride letting her go on a floppy rein at all 3 gaits both directions and get a feel of how she feels that day. I also spend a lot of time with her just bonding - grooming, ground work, going for a walk around the neighborhood, etc.

                  I would say listen to your gut if you think something is wrong physically. I would also start spending a little time with her every single day doing something and work on your relationship and communication on the ground as well as in the saddle. That also may help you tell if it is physical or something else.

                  Good luck!
                  On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog


                  • #10
                    being that this is new behavior for her ( going on a month),plus she can't hold a canter circle on lunge, I would get her checked out. Lack of fitness does not equate to not being able to canter one circle without breaking or for all the kicking out and sourness.

                    If could be loose stifles or anything else. There are cases of arthritis in young horses. Get her check...you can do a mini self check by giving her bute before working her and see if she is not behaving better re if it is due to soreness or pain.


                    • #11
                      I'd strongly recommend having another fitter assess the saddle. If she's ok on the longe and suddenly has lost her forwardness u/s, saddle fit would be the first thing to check (and the easiest to rule out).
                      Kitt Hazelton
                      Saddle Fitter


                      • #12
                        Last year when my wb was 4, he had plenty of hissy fit days-- he would be good and then the next day, I was lucky to get 2-3 up transitions to trot-- then he would stop and absolutely refuse to go forward. On those days, I would end it on a good note, even if it was just 10-15 min into our ride. He was fine physically, he just thought that when he'd had enough, he'd had enough! Now there is no issue at all-- just remember to make your rides fun and always end on a good note (which it sounds like you're doing already ). W/ my guy it took maybe a month or two to work out and the tantrums were thrown fewer and fewer until now he hasn't had one in months Good luck w/ your girl!
                        Follow my instagram @snafflesandwellies for all things horses + fashion!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by lbw25 View Post

                          So now, I'm thinking this is just her entering a rebellious teenage stage. Today, she decided that she was not going to trot in a circle. And she would not trot down hills. Downhill, she felt like she'd forget to use a hind foot periodically & trip, so I didn't push that, but the circle thing seemed ridiculous! We spent a good 30 min trying to get one good trot circle & had bucks, kicking out, & especially running thru outside shoulder evasions, but I rode through it all, correcting as necessary, and finally got a nice, round trot circle with inside bend. Felt amazing...
                          If you hand walk her up and down hills, how is she - can she trot down a hill in-hand without stumbling? Can she back-up up a hill? What about cavaletti?

                          Obviously it is hard to say what might be going on with her, but I would rule out physical pain or limitations. Have you had the vet do a workup on her?
                          "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


                          • #14
                            It sounds to me like she is either extremely tense in her body or going thru a growing phase.

                            I would work on suppleness - aka lunging until she is supple and relaxed/rhythmic etc. once she is more relaxed how does she work?

                            I agree that 2 days a week is not enough and honestly I would not work her if that is all you can do. You are setting her up for soreness etc.

                            Also a consideration: are you asking her to collect before she can do that? Your description sounds like a horse being asked to collect (aka load the hind legs) way before they are ready.

                            sooo..... somehow you need to work her 4 or better yet 5 days a week and start over with baby stuff - lunging to get suppleness and relaxation then back to big circles under saddle with just a following contact (don’t ask her to connect at all) do just super simple walk trot canter and let her build some strength.

                            When she throws a fit make sure you are not asking her to carry behind - go in a straight line and just work on forward with a soft following contact.

                            Once she builds strength you can start asking her for more.

                            Also get a good qualified trainer to help you.


                            • #15
                              tripping in the rear going downhill should probably be looked at...could be stifles.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by lbw25 View Post
                                Ibalance thing.
                                So with all that background... what do you all think? Should I investigate pain more--SI maybe? Or think its more a weakness issue translating into "this is hard & I dont want to work"? Appreciate any thoughts! Thanks!!
                                Having gone through this & concluded it was behavioral/training only to finally realize he was THAT sensitive to shoulder saddle fit (& by then we had created a training/behavioral issue) ...
                                have someone out to demo a range of saddles/tree widths to see if this makes a difference (don't worry about if you actually want to buy a new saddle, you're just using this as a diagnostic tool), have a vet/chiro/equine therapist out to do an assessment, have a trainer (or 2) in to watch what she/you are doing u/s - following through on all of these will be your least expensive in time/money in the long run.


                                • #17
                                  tripping is also common with horses that are not paying attention, who are stiff, lazy, etc.

                                  plus weak stifles can be made strong by correct work.


                                  • #18
                                    While I've seen quite a few horses go through a "bratty teenage" stage around age 4 or so, I wouldn't rule out physical issues. The inability to hold the canter, tripping behind on hills and reluctance to trot a proper circle were all early (and, sadly, ignored) signs of an SI injury in one of my horses. As already noted, any or all of these can also signal a stifle problem, some of which (e.g., upward fixation) may be fixed by fitness, but others of which (e.g., a ligament strain or OCD lesions) require veterinary intervention. Good luck!
                                    Equinox Equine Massage

                                    In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
                                    -Albert Camus


                                    • #19
                                      She's 4. Does she look a little bit butt high? I'm guessing you're dealing with a combo of "I don't wanna" and "Mommy I can't". I agree that 2 rides a week probably doesn't cut it, fitness wise.

                                      My WB will be 9 in June, and we still deal with stupid evasions when she decides that she's had enough. Her favorite is to slam on the breaks and then do a LOVELY turn on the forehand while kicking at my leg. It's quite a maneuver. Granted she is still what I consider green, so I know when I'm starting to push the line physically/mentally vs. her just being Herself. Sounds a lot like your mare. She's had the full work up (inc. some $$ x-rays of back/hock/stifles) and both the vet and trainer came to the conclusion that I said above. "Mom, I can't and I don't wanna try."

                                      I think it was meupatdoes that gave me the best advice (that I was hesitant to use at first in fear of a blow up) when she started to use kicking at my leg and slamming on the breaks as an evasion. She got a sharp tap with my stick and the focus was FORWARD. NOW. No debating, no asking. Just. Forward. We had some fairly dicey moments, but now she understands.


                                      • #20
                                        Not just any bratty 4 year old--but probably a hormonal 4 year old.

                                        I don't know how old she was when you started her, but typically in the beginning they are so curious and it is so new and fun because they are being rewarded and getting attention and all they want to do is please you. At some point though, as someone on this board (Leena?) said, the "please bubble" bursts and the young horse starts testing you. It is sort of like they play with the idea of "what would happen if I said, NO." Also, the work starts to get a little more like work and less like play as you go on, so that is the time that you will start to get some resistance. If you pass her tests, she will turn out just fine.

                                        BUT I have found some young mares really do have issues with their heat cycles and can be cranky and touchy sometimes, typically in spring. I don't think that is usually pain, but perhaps low level discomfort due to hormonal fluctuations. Giving a magnesium supplement can help. If it is really a problem long term, regumate or spaying can be a solution.
                                        "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller