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At the end of the road (not his life)for my horse and I.

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  • At the end of the road (not his life)for my horse and I.

    Okay. So, for the last, 18 months or so, my horse's beahviour has started to deteriorate. I've had him for about 4 years, ottb. Raced for 6 years.

    Things started out pretty good, he has never been a kick along type, but neither is he too hot headed.

    He lives out, on grass, plus hay when needed.
    Ran in some horse trials, doing pretty good, steady in the dressage, solid xc - BN. a little fast to the fences, but we worked regularly with a good trainer, and it was getting better.

    Then the spooking started. Late last year. Some other mildly weird stuff- a little bucking, not much, but some. And the spook, I mean a wicked spook, started to esculate - at first periodic, now he is pretty much unrideable.

    He has been to three vets- two complete work ups, farrier, lymes tests, epm, ulcers, , I could go on and on. Blood work, bone scans, thremography, xrays, scoped, etc,etc.

    Two complete courses of Ulcergard. Teeth done.

    What we found:
    kissing spines
    mild degenerative hock disease - we injected.

    Horse is in early teens.

    The issue is now that I have gotten mad at him about the spooking as this has gone on, so now he is spooking and expecting me to get mad, so now our relationship is pretty much at rock bottom.

    So these are my thoughts.

    Other then I feel like a complete dirtbag for getting mad - I give up. Just turn him out. It's ok, I can do that. I'm not rich, but my horse is at home. No big deal. But.

    I feel like I have failed him in every way. This is the first time in my life that I have not "gotten on" with a horse - I mean I feel like I just completely let him down. Maybe if someone else rode him he'd be fine.

    He's always been a cheeky sort, and trainer has always said he's not a beginners ride.

    I feel like somehow I made all this happen.

    I am by NO MEANS a pro, but I have been told by my trainer and a couple of BNT's that it is not how I ride him, and in fact I ride him with the right amount of finesse for a horse like this.

    My trainer DOES not suffer fools, and she does not have the gene to blow sunshine at me either.
    I just don't think I want to get off the horse in tears anymore.

    Sorry this got long. I am whining a bit I know, I just am not sure what to do at this point.

    We thought it was due to the ks, or the hocks, one vet said NOT the ks, it was the hocks. Other vet said it was the ks.

    I guess I am thinking, maybe this is just it. The horse is in pain. Maybe another horse wouldn't be, but he is.

    Maybe it's just time to let it go. I am losing sleep, and this is really tearing me up.
    “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
    Frederick Douglass

  • #2
    Horses are individuals, and some are more complicated than others. But it is pretty rare for them to be complete and total assholes, fruitcakes, or just plain difficult for no reason at all. And that reason is usually discomfort somewhere, confusion, or fear. There are no doubt exceptions, but IME horses that become difficult, don't respond to fair treatment and training, or just stop wanting to do their job are probably uncomfortable somewhere, somehow.

    I'm not sure how even the best vet in the world can declare that this or that problem is NOT causing the horse pain or discomfort. How on earth can they KNOW this?

    If neither of you are happy, then only you--the human--can end that cycle of misery. I'm not saying put the critter down, but maybe just NOT DOING WHAT YOU'RE DOING any more is part of the solution? A year's turnout has undone many an un-fixable problem. If you have the means to let him have that, why not commit to it as if it were a solid game plan? (because it might be) See where the horse is at physically and mentally next summer? Can't hurt--clearly neither of you is happy with the status quo.
    Click here before you buy.


    • #3
      Oh wow I so feel for your situation.

      I also agree that some horses express pain by being a little creakier/stiffer, while others do it by blowing their top.

      I have one like that too. He was a GREAT jumper, but mildly dangerous in a lot of ways, and I spent years trying to figure out if he was crazy or in pain. He was seen by so many vets, most of whom voted crazy (clean bone scan, scope, blood work-ups, joint x-rays), one of whom found some mild/moderate SI-ish changes which we injected to no avail. I convinced a couple of trainers to get on him for a moment, but it was usually just that, they felt it wasn't me (though, I'm sure better riding would mean better horse). I would have loved to rehome him, but it wasn't really clear as what or to whom. And I couldn't justify the money to keep vetting him (I don't even like to think about how much I spent over 5 yrs or so), or to compete him and be last in dressage and have the TD following me around because he seemed nutty. And he was a training level horse, not an olympian.

      So I gave up. I have my horses at home too so he is here, retired at 15. It was hard and I do sometimes feel like I failed, or wonder what I should have tried but didn't. At the same time, my "riding life" is much better with saner, more comfortable horses.

      I don't know, hard to advise someone else, but I do understand the conundrum. The only really important consideration I went through, and sometimes question, is that taking a horse from in-work-competition-horse to retiree does commit you to them more. If you think you may want/need to rehome him in the future, better to do it while he is in work and conditioned.

      Good luck with your decision.


      • Original Poster

        Oh, thank you, Delta.

        Thank you so much for weighing in. This is what I have been thinking, I just am so close to this, and at this point, so emotional that I feel not very much confindence in the thoughts I am having and the decisions I am contemplating. The turn out thing is JUST what I have been thinking.

        This has just been so hard for me. And, being an adult ammy, full time job, you know the drill, I still want to event, but maybe the time has come for me to realize it's not going to be on him.

        What you said is what I was taught by my Dad, too, and it has been what the small voice inside me has been saying for months. He's not comfortable, somewhere.

        And I guess he tried to tell me nicely, now he has no choice but to say it LOUDLY.

        Thanks for the kind words, and the support. You have no idea how much it means.
        “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
        Frederick Douglass


        • Original Poster

          Beam - thank you, too.

          I have spent the last few weeks, months, and particularly the last few days agonizing over this.
          “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
          Frederick Douglass


          • #6
            I know you said you did a complete work-up, but have you had his eyes checked? I once had one who was always spooky & got progressively worse. Turns out he was going blind.


            • #7
              My homebred mare Bonnie is now "retired" from her not-very-stellar career at Novice and BN eventing for this reason. We can never really find anything in particular that bothers her, but she is a big-bodied horse that is not easy on herself the way she moves, and although she is good and happy 95% of the time . . . the other 5% of the time she just stops. Doesn't matter if it's one of the barn kids or my ULR-trainer who's riding. Big jumps, little jumps, doesn't matter. It's inexplicable. It seems like the spooks. But there's nothing THERE. She is a little stiff, then she's not. She's got a little sidebone, a little hock changes, a little of this and not much of anything. Just a beloved horse that works hard, doesn't move the best, and is not destined for greatness.

              So rather than spend piles of money injecting this and that, stuffing her full of bute, schooling her until she's sore and sour, she is just not going to be an event horse. She's got all the 2nd-level dressage buttons, loves to go to shows, and anyone can ride her, so that's what she gets to do. She loves to jump at home so she can do that as well. Sometimes, even though I'm a firm believer that a horse CAN work for a living and SHOULD, choosing the RIGHT job makes everyone happier. Much as I love the mare, coming home with a random stop on XC every third event, whether it's BN or Training, isn't all that fun.

              Life's too short to go XC on horses that don't love it.
              Click here before you buy.


              • Original Poster

                That's why this is so hard.

                That's been the frustrating thing. Before this started, he LOVED his new job. Was such a "trier", loved to work, happier when he was ridden steady, was so proud of himself.

                Last time out, in July at a ct, the d judge actually told me she had never seen a horse try so hard. I was stunned. She said "you two are so in tune with each other!"

                Sandman - thanks for the thought- I had his eyes checked by two of the vets.

                Sometimes when I am able to take the emotion away for a sec, I can see how lots of little things are starting to make sense now.
                “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
                Frederick Douglass


                • #9
                  My horse started doing it shortly after (what we guess) was his first hit of uveitis. The eye was fine for another 6 months before it flared up again, and this time we caught the weeping and said "What's this?"

                  Even though the eye still appeared to be fine, his spooking became so bad he was impossible to handle/ride. Once the eye came out his spooking deteriorated at a rapid pace and now he's back to his normal self. Because his uveitis was posterior it was almost impossible to detect. Once the eye was removed, they examined it and found the back of the eye had degenerated into hundreds of pieces. Blech.
                  A quick tutorial on interval training: Conditioning your horse for eventing


                  • #10
                    Not weighing in on the physical aspects--other have done that.

                    But there are a couple of psychological things, for both you and the horse's sake, that I'd strongly suggest, whether or not it turns out to be a physical issue, because even if it is, and even if you get it treated, you now have a horse and rider who have traumatized themselves regarding one another to a certain extent. This is a relationship that can be repaired, and IMO should be, whatever you do about the horse in the end.

                    These suggestions can't hurt and they may make a huge difference. In fact, it is sometimes heart-breaking to see a confused, scared horse respond and bloom, and know that all it took was applying some simple rules of behavioral learning and positive reinforcement.

                    Go learn about clicker training, if you don't already know about it. You may have trained dogs with a clicker, if not, then get some books about it, read online, there is a ton of info out there. I like Shawna Karrash, a former trainer at Sea World, who has recently put her horse-oriented program online. But you can learn about it yourself, through books, if you prefer.

                    Here's the deal. Just start with simple clicker work on the ground. Shawna currently has a free "de-spooking" video series, which would be a good start. Or you could do whatever occurs to you that would be fun for you and your horse. I taught my guy to back up over ground poles as an exercise for his weak stifles. There are a million little things you can do, it doesn't matter what.

                    You are going to teach your horse to learn. He'll get a reward for learning, instead of punished when he doesn't learn. This is such a profound difference in how we communicate with our horses that until you see it in action, you just don't even comprehend what a change it is.

                    Horses (all animals) pick it up very quickly. It's a lot easier for the horses than it is for the trainer. It takes thought, planning, timing and even a bit of physical skillz (to manipulate the clicker/treats/targets). It requires understanding what you are doing.

                    There is a lot of science behind clicker training, and some of it has begun to show that the audible marker (clicker or voice) actually creates physical changes in the trainee--lowered heart rate, possibly changes in the brain itself.

                    What you find, when you clicker train a horse (vs a dog, which is already more people-oriented) is that suddenly you become "real" to the horse. Horses generally just kind of put up with us. They do what we make them do, because they'd rather not be hassled--until they don't do it, and that's when the trouble starts.

                    Clicker/positive reinforcement introduces a very refined communication system that your horse instinctively understands and responds to because there's something in it for him. This alone transforms your relationship with him. It makes him more confident. It gives him options he didn't know he had. Frankly, it makes him happy, and it will make you happy too. That's the weirdest thing about it--even the studies are showing that positive reinforcement techniques have profound effects on psychological welfare for animals.

                    Even if you never ride this horse again, even if you retire him, if you spend some time opening an effective and fun line of communication with him, you will be helping him.

                    As an example, when you have solidly clicker trained a behavior, such as touching a target, asking for that behavior in a situation where a horse is afraid will actually give him confidence, because it gives him something to "hang on to." He can focus on a behavior that he knows will get him a reward, and this calms him, at the same time presenting the fearful stimulus (at a certain distance) so that he becomes habituated to it alongside the reward.

                    I used a clicker to address my horse's fear of the vacuum. I want to tell you, there is nothing so inspiring as watching a nervous horse actually working to overcome his fear, because he trusts you and knows that he will get a reward.

                    Each time you go through this process with an individual horse, habituating him and teaching him not to be afraid of something because he learns that good things come when he tries to calm himself around that scary thing, his overall confidence builds. He does become less reactive, because his brain is literally changing. We do this in a slightly different way for humans with cognitive behavioral training.

                    Anyway, I could go on and on. But think about giving the clicker a try with this horse.
                    Ring the bells that still can ring
                    Forget your perfect offering
                    There is a crack in everything
                    That's how the light gets in.


                    • #11
                      In fact just let me give my previously spooky, drop and 180 across the arena guy a little kudo. Yesterday I took him into a new round pen he'd never seen before. He was scared of the mini donkey/horses across the way, but followed my target (albeit with a few OMG glances toward the minis) past them, gave the the big pile of railroad ties by the pen a rolling eye, got himself focused back on the target, and walked calmly in.

                      I let him go, and he jollied around a bit, but always avoiding the side of the pen with the railroad ties just outside. He didn't trust those big dark things.

                      There was one cavaletti in the pen, so I dragged it over by the railroad ties. He's very accustomed to hopping over a cavaletti and getting a click for it.

                      I pointed at the cavaletti, lifted my whip, and off he went. Zoomed around the pen, leaped about a mile over the cavaletti (CLICK) dropped to a trot and come over to me for his treat. I point again, off he goes and jumps it. After a round or two, he's trotting it calmly when I point, both directions, and doesn't even bother to come get his treats. He just likes to get a click. He associates the marker so strongly with a reward that the marker has become a reward in itself.

                      He was rather reluctant to stop, but when the fun was over, he walked out by the railroad ties with nary a glance (though the minis, father away, were still worthy of a couple of interested looks.)

                      Previously he would have taken many many exposures to the railroad ties before he didn't over-react or even refuse to go by them. Sure I could have forced him by, turned his head, etc. But now he's associated them with some fun, and they won't be an issue again.
                      Ring the bells that still can ring
                      Forget your perfect offering
                      There is a crack in everything
                      That's how the light gets in.


                      • #12
                        Just throwing out an idea- smart calm ultra.....cheap enough and worth a try.


                        • #13
                          If you were living here in NZ, I would say to you to try "equi-guard" or another similar toxin binder. I have no idea if you have grass or fungal toxins, but they are a very big thing here - especially with ryegrasses. The toxin binders prevent most toxins from being absorbed. The toxins cause spookiness and hypersensitivity.
                          Your description is very like that of a horse with sub-clinical toxin effects: look up "rye grass staggers".


                          • #14
                            I am totally inclined to suggest kicking him out for an extended period of time like Delta takled about. Then I wonder if sending him somewhere else to be brought back into work (after a soundness eval.) would be a good idea. Perhaps that would let you two start off on the right foot.

                            I really sympathize. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have disappointed your horse and yourself. But from your post I can tell that you care a great deal about your horse's happiness and welfare. It's so hard to be objective when emotional so try to take a deep breath and remember that he is lucky to have found a person who has the empathy to be up at night worrying about him.
                            "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant


                            • #15
                              Have you tried the magnesium supplement with him? The name escapes me, but the one on the Hot Mare thread. Lots of horses seem to be helped by that.

                              Otherwise, I think Deltawave's suggestion of turning him out for a year and seeing what happens is a great one. Many unfixable horses have been fixed by this.

                              Please give yourself a break too...you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty for. You aren't giving up on him. You've done everything humanly possible to find the solution.

                              Good luck!


                              • #16
                                I had an almost unrideable gelding change 100% for the better after a shot of progesterone.
                                But also, I have learned to let go. Lucky horse has a home, that's all he cares about.
                                Good luck to you and a hug, too.


                                • #17
                                  I just want to add that I just had a chat with a dear friend of mine who is a highly respected horse vet. I was bemoaning and lamenting the fact that for the time that I have been in law school (I am in my 3rd year right now) my mare has been kicked out in a field at my parents due to my current lack of time and money. She was put there at age 16 and this spring she will be 19. I told the vet that I felt guilty because I thought she was bored. The vet replied by telling my that my mare could probably give 2 $h!ts about being kicked out and that no very few horses "hate" not working once they have been given some time away from that routine. My mare has 3 other horses for company and almost 40 acres with a stream & pond. I think that, more than anything, I miss her. I've had her since she was coming 4 and there was no way I was going to sell her. She's a sensitive mare who I love and understand and I am looking forward to hacking her into her old age after law school.

                                  The point of my post is that sometimes it's easy to conflate our own disappointments with our horse's disappointment. I've been told by some on this BB, no less, that it's "easy" to ride in law school but that just isn't the case for me. Sometimes we have to cut ourselves some slack, ask for advice and feedback from those who know the situation, us and our horse well and stop imposing external pressures on ourselves. Doing just that has been liberating for me.
                                  "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Thank you for your support and suggestions - it's really helped me the last day or two as I try to sort this out.

                                    When I got this horse, he had already run a lot of races, he was every definition of "war horse". I knew it. I'm ok with that. For 37 years, I could be one of (I say one of, because since coming to COTH I know I am by no means a minority!) those who could be a poster child for "Hello, my name is ... and I am addicted to ottbs!"..

                                    And I know they all come with their own baggage - of all different types. No surprise there. I gave him down time, hacked him out, etc.

                                    I brought him along with positive reinforcement - not sappy, but not a negative, punishment type training at all.

                                    As his behaviour got worse- he flicked me off this spring bad enough to put me off my feet for a week and out of the saddle per dr's orders for 6 weeks -I have also lost my riding confidence.
                                    I just feel that I am dealing with a combination of things - and I am so close to it and so emotional that I can't see the forest so to speak.

                                    At this point, I feel like I need to give both of us a break. I think that I am trying so hard I am making things worse. I am despearate to repair the relationship with my guy, even if I never sit on him again- if he can't, he can't.

                                    He really doesn't owe anyone anything.

                                    But I can still hear this thought that there is so much here- the ks, the hocks, the history with BAD ulcers - that I have treated. Extensively. I manage his life in such a way to minimize them - he is on Smart Gut, lives out, alfalfa hay, etc.
                                    That thought is, maybe it's just. Too. Much. And he has given all he can.

                                    That's why I am going to take the advice to just turn him out- my place is little, so that's relative -there's no back forty, only a front three, but that's ok.

                                    And ironically, another friend suggested the clicker training, so I will look into that.
                                    “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
                                    Frederick Douglass


                                    • #19
                                      If he has kissing spines -- is there any way to well contain the pain for that?

                                      If not his actions have nothing to do with you -- he's probably in pain.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Sandman View Post
                                        I know you said you did a complete work-up, but have you had his eyes checked? I once had one who was always spooky & got progressively worse. Turns out he was going blind.
                                        I agree I bought and returned a horse from owner/breeder because no one including Vet noticed he has a congenital catarct..

                                        Also you haven't mentioned if you tried saddle fitter a diffrent saddle and having his back injected or shock wave or anything to deal w/ kissing spine issue....????