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Horrible "Vet-check-horse"

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  • Horrible "Vet-check-horse"

    Well, I am a newbie in Distance Riding. I have done three so far. And I absolutely LOVE it. I have been studying my stuff and conditioning my horse for a longg time.

    *But* my problem is at the vet checks. My horse Rebel is an absolute nut-job. I got so frustrated at the last ride I began crying. I kept my cool for a long while, and pushed through it, but it got bad. He shoved into me, shoved into the VET, didn't pay attention, didn't respect anyone, and many more problems.

    The thing is, he behaves marvelously at home and usually everywhere else. He has great ground manners at home, and focuses entirely on me. But when we were at the vet checks, it was a different story.

    Rebel did AWESOME on the actual ride itself, he did better than I expected him. And for that i was very proud of him.

    He has an seperation anxiety issue, but once I get into the ride, he is fine and forgets about his buddies.
    While I was at the vet checks, both of his horse buddies were like 20ft away. That didn't work, so we tried taking them away. And many other things. Nothing worked and he behaved the same (terribly) each time.

    Rebel was also scored down because of his attitude and his P/R because he was so nervous and obnoxious.

    So now you know my situation and problem. I really need some help. I felt terrible for the vet and the volunteers who had to deal with Rebel. I kept apologizing for his behavior, and tried my best to keep him under control.
    Does any of you have any advice? I really need it, and would appreciate it alot!
    Thanks! =)
    <3 Kaiti <3

  • #2
    He is probably excited by the day's events. Try asking the vet to do "mock" vet checks after you complete your rides - use it to give him as many healthy treats as you can - watermellon should work well (water + sugar - who can say no?)

    Since you need him to relax, it has to be mundane and boring, not forced and anxiety causing. Practice makes perfect - do as many real ones and fake ones as you can. Perhaps one at end of each ride (even on your own at home) at break times, just go through the routine - it should act as a lullaby to a kid - "you know what is coming next, time to relax and stand still and chill" cue. As a matter of fact, some horses (and owners ARE calmed by singing.

    Glad to hear you had an otherwise good outing.
    Horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
    ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


    • #3
      I'm having great success getting my Paso Fino to relax in stressful situations using Endo-Tapping.


      It's a version of the "head down/calm down" cue that many of the NH types advocate.

      I learned about it at a recent de-sensitization clinic. She was pretty nerved up with all the excitement and noise and this got her right back in focus.

      You can eventually move away from using a stick to tapping with your fingers/hands.

      When I got home I made my own Endo-stick using a foam ball and a broken dressage whip, and she's already starting to move onto a hand cue.


      • #4
        The problem, as I understand it from the OP's post, is the separation anxiety. Horse is fine on his own, horse is fine at home, then when presented with a group of horses coming and going at the vet check he goes "nuts".

        I am incredibly sympathetic, as I have the same problem with one of mine.

        It's very, very difficult (impossible, IMO) to accurately replicate the situation of a keyed-up, herd bound horse suddenly coming back into contact with a bunch of other horses and then being held back when they leave him, or being asked to leave the "herd" himself. Maybe you could try taking him to horse shows, group trail rides - somewhere the atmosphere is the same for him, but the outcome is not as important to you. (This is kind of working for me, kind of.)

        I'm thinking that something is needed to break him out of the "cycle of hysteria" he goes into, something like the "slap to the face/thanks, I needed that" sequence you see in old movies. But without the slap, of course.

        Clicker training is said to go to a reflex beyond the conscious mind. Maybe Endo-Tapping goes there too, I don't know. Singing could work, I guess. I'm even considering aroma therapy, I'm so desperate. At my age I won't live long enough to take this horse to enough vet checks to desensitize him!


        • #5
          Teach your horse to lower his head. No wild stuff can happen if his head is lowered. Push on his poll until he puts his head down. Teach him at home, use it everywhere.

          Somebody else in endurance a southern gentleman, maybe Truman teaches this and I did too. Had a nervous wreck horse, I made him put his head down and it worked like a charm just like I had trained him to do.

          Their head is near the ground a natural position, and their heart rates GO DOWN. Can't move or shove ANYbody with the head down. It is a calming position for a horse. I do this in line waiting at the vet check or when I am with the ride vet if my horse is flakey acting.

          Try it and do it. I would not teach with treats. It should be done without them, they have to lift the head or you bend down and then the head can come up. I do say, "heads down", and if I lightly put a finger at the poll, they do it. Easy.

          Good luck.


          • #6
            If I understand the OP correctly, she was riding her horse alone but got reunited with her friends at the vet check - hence her horse realized buddies were back and started misbehaving?

            Two thoughts: In this specific case, there's no need to fight his desire to be with his buddies if they are so close already, 20 feet you say. You should vet in together, i.e. next to each other, one after the other, etc. This will calm him, bring his heart rate down quicker and so on. If the other horses are less stressed by the situation, they should NOT leave him behind - YOU should leave the vet check first (unless you are riding together anyway.)

            If he is misbehaving at the vet check because his buddies are NOT there, or he is frustrated in general, you must work with him before presenting him to the vet. (Keep in mind that a horse that is deemed dangerous may be pulled, or you may not be able to enter the ride again.) So do what rmh_rider suggested, have him put his head down, graze, drink, feed him some carrots, talk to him and make him calm down. Then proceed to the vet. If he starts acting up, correct him just like you would normally do at home: some people sharply tuck at the lead rope, some people give a slap with the whip, do what you normally do to make him realize his behavior is bad. If he starts prancing around, being dangerous, immediately excuse yourself and leave to go back to quiet corner! Then repeat. Try again, repeat and repeat! You yourself must try to stay calm and be a strong leader. I understand your tears of frustration but don't let it go so far. Walk away, collect yourself... Breathe.
            You may not leave the vet check for an hour but next time he'll remember this "exercise." It'll get easier with every ride you do and once you up the mileage, he'll hopefully focus on food and water, not on what everyone else is doing.
            Good luck!


            • #7
              If this were me in the situation, I would trailer to a local trail head with a friend and horse buddy for practice. Spend time asking your horse to stand quietly while you do a mock vet check. Start with the buddy horse right beside your horse so they can touch/smell/whatever. Using baby steps, work your way up until your horse will stand quietly and respectfully when the buddy is 10 - 20 - 100 feet away.

              I would absolutely use discipline to establish that YOU are the boss in the situation and that the horse does not run the human over, regardless of the circumstances.

              When a horse herd gets keyed up and spooked, the subordinates don't plow into the alpha mares and knock them around just because they're scared. They STILL stay back and respect the space and leadership of the alphas and they look to the herd leaders to direct them where to go and how fast to go there. The fact that your horse plows you over when he's scared is a clear indication that he only allows you to be the leader when he chooses to LOTS of work to be done there!!

              Personally I would not compete with this horse until this behavior is resolved at home. It is dangerous and unfair to ask a vet and ride volunteers to put themselves in harm's way just because you want to compete. Vet checks are cramped areas with lots of horses and riders, even very small children and dogs running around under foot. You have tables set up with clipboards, tanks with water, buckets and feed sitting everywhere, people in lawn chairs, people sitting on coolers..........Horses MUST must must must must behave at vet checks. Period. Yes, the anty will be upped at rides and the horse may be more pushy or flightly at rides, but it sounds like just the basics of who is in charge haven't been ironed out at home yet.

              I had one ride 2 years ago with my horse where she was a total she-devil at the halfway check. I was humiliated. It was when she had a big blowup with ulcers and I didn't yet know what the problem was. She was fine at the pre-ride vetting but when we got to the halfway, she was nuts. She stood on her hind legs a couple of times, screamed her head off, and bulled around with no respect at ALL. I wanted the earth to swallow us both up and be done with it. One person asked me if she was a breeding stallion. Good grief it was a mess.

              I ended up taking her way off by herself. And I cried A lady came over and hand picked grass for her and fed her until the vet check area cleared out and I could get her vetted through. We ended up adding 30 minutes to our vet hold time because of her unruly behavior. She did eventually calm down and we got back on trail and finished the ride with good vet scores.

              So I totally feel where you're coming from and it sucks. I don't want to pass any judgement because I've BEEN THERE. I was worried my horse would step on someone or cause other horses to not pulse down so I had to get her way off by herself and just hang on until she settled down. Today my horse will stand sleeping with a hind foot rested and the reins draped over her neck in just about any situation I put her in. She completely ignores other horses and couldn't care less what's going on around her. Her problem was medical, not enough miles and age, and a bit of a dominanent attitude, all combined. I manged to pick apart the issues one at a time and work to get her to where she is today.

              I'm in WI too. You can send me a PM if you're interested in riding together. I would be happy to help you in any way I can


              • Original Poster

                Thank you everyone! I really appreciated all your help and advice and sympathy! Thanks again! I have much to work on, but thanks to all of you, I have a good start! =)
                <3 Kaiti <3


                • #9
                  Yeah, I know the feeling of being stomped over by someone else's horse, and I love that you are asking advice instead of simply telling everyone to watch out b/c the horse can be a pain.... grrr to those people!
                  My guy gets very anxious around vets, and we always ask to take an extra minute to calm down for P&R takers to just stand beside him, as I'll have his pulse down below requirement but as soon as someone else that he doesn't know touches him, it sky- rockets back up (and comes down 30 seconds later, but still...)
                  Our solution? We went to a 2 day ride and didn't compete day 1. I simply asked the vet to let us "go through the motions" of a vet check, rode him around camp, came back, etc, as long as riders weren't around. If riders were around, we'd hang out on the edge- enough to be part of it, but able to get away if a scene started with him w/o affecting the other horses. It only took one time with him to learn "oh, OK, who cares about the other horses?" We still take our extra minute at P&R to relax to someone new touching him, but he doesn't care about the other horses coming and going nearly as much anymore. Check with the ride manager or vet of a ride before even going and doing this. I was fortunate enough to have a vet who is OK with helping the training process for other horses and vets sake.
                  We also walk the last bit of trail into that "relax" mode so that we get a head start on the 'tude issues. I actually hand- walk him into camp. It helps us a bit, though he does get snarky when other horses pass him to the finish line! Oh well....
                  Good Luck!
                  Standardbred Lover- owner of Studs Hooligan, aka Strider, ex- pacer, retrained for eventing and endurance
                  Strider-OTSTB-, Gus-OTTB-, and Rio-rescued QH!
                  Founder of the High Maintenance Horses Clique