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did he pull one over on me, or is he nuts?

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  • did he pull one over on me, or is he nuts?

    calling all horse friends to help me figure out the bat-sh*t crazy horse I lease, Spud (my nickname for him, as in he is hay-belly fat, lazy, stubborn, out of shape, shaped like a potato...) He's like Walter Mathau, cranky, pissy with everyone, bully/boss in the field. but I really think he's a cowardly lion -bravado on the outside, scared and anxious on the inside. It sounds silly, but that is the vibe I get from him. I'm a re-rider. Thirty years in the saddle on and off, but capable and I ride decently (read: no pounding in the saddle, kind hands, firm, but not mean, etc. I know what I know, but I also know where the holes are in my swiss cheese block of knowledge, so here's a case where I'm stuck, and calling on my COTH colleagues for help...)

    In a nutshell, Spud is a 14 year old TB. Been riding/leasing him since January, but only started riding him consistently (@3-4 times a week) in the past couple of months (family/life/kid/riding challenges kept me from riding much this past spring through summer). His background: born a premie, separated from his Mom, not hugely socialized, not gelded until 7 years old, multiple leases/ownership in the first several years of his life (read: inconsistent handling, training, etc., he's been able to get away with vast amounts of BS whenever he could bully a rider as he wished...he hasn't been thrilled that I've discontinued that trend). His original owner/breeder gave him a fantastic foundation, but I honestly think it went down the toilet as he was purchased by some recreational riders, then passed from leasee to leasee. In the past couple of months I felt as though I finally got into his head, got to a place where I was ready to take him out to the woods for a hack. We have lovely trails surrounding our barn, I felt ready, I felt he was ready.

    Took him out on is first trail ride yesterday. First 30 minutes were fantastic: nice trot and canter sets, popped over a HUGE 18 inch log (yes, that was sarcastic) across the trail, no problems. I was pretty pleased, as this was my first time out with him and his first time on the trails in about 7 months. About 40 minutes into the trail, something made all three horses shy/buck/bolt while we were in the middle of a stretch in a field on the edge of the woods. As we entered the woods, we approached an area where one of the three of us decided she was going to pop a log. I decided to walk around it with another rider, as Spud and I had not jumped much lately, and I thought the footing was too slippery. Out of no where, Spud begins to freak. Backing up wildly, ignoring every aid I was pulling out of my "toolbox." The other horses were about 4 strides ahead of him. I directed him toward them, and he wouldn't move, except frantically backing up. Tripping over branches, backing up into trees, catching me in branches, etc. I did not tighten the reins, I sat up and back, leg on - no response - if I couldn't stop him from backing, I tried to at least circle and keep him forward. It was as though he completely froze into a state of terror and nothing could block it and by-pass into his brain. It was the first time in my 30 years of riding that I was seriously scared for my safety whilst on a horse. I finally managed to settle him and we headed back to the barn, but within minutes, he started up again. It wouldn't stop, he was in a zone of panic and nothing would get him out of it.

    Snorting, backing, the same routine. I knew whipping out the crop and giving him a "come to Jesus" moment was pointless, as it would just escalate the situation. No matter what I did, it was as though he was in such a state, he would go postal at any moment. He backed up to a tree, pinning and caging me underneath the branches. I could feel him lighter and lighter up front and knew if I wasn't careful, a rear was soon to happen. My gut finally told me, "get off this horse, now" and I did. I decided I was better to manage him from the ground, than to risk him rearing and flipping over on me, 40 minutes from the barn. We had a hair-raising walk back to the barn, me on foot. At one point, he was so out of control, zigging side to side, and we had to cross a creek with a deep muddy and slippery embankment on each side. I tried to get back on him, but he wouldn't be still. One of the other riders dismounted and tried to hold him whilst I tried to remount, he pushed her away with his head. Even when I corrected him with the crop, it was as though I was hitting him with a noodle. I finally took off my belt (an old stirrup leather) and buckled it to the reins, giving me an extra two feet or so of lead. I lead him into the ditch and over, thankfully without him pulling me down in the process.

    He continued to panic the way back, at many points nearly plowing me down, pushing with his head into my space - to which I responded with a pop to the muzzle, or a crop to the neck. Again, it seemed more so that he was terrified of something and as a result, he was determined to go primal and plow down anything in his way. I'll be damned if I could figure out what instigated the meltdown. No change of tack, nothing new, I rode him the way I always ride him. He was forward, enthusiastic, not what I'd call bellligerent or disobedient, just the usual extra octane you get when you're riding outside the ring, and easy up until that point, only taking advantage of his forwardness.

    When we finally made it back to the barn, I remounted and rode him a good 20 minutes or so, in a lame attempt to re-assert myself with him. He was tired, but I wanted to end the ride with him doing what he was told to do, not what he wanted to do. The barn owner (who bred and trained him) suggested that the 40 minuted hack was too much too soon, that he reached a meltdown point and once he was in that frenzied state of mind, there was no going back. (She has mentioned somewhat seriously/somewhat jokingly perhaps he's somewhat "damaged" from his premie birth and subsequent detachment from his mare. I'm starting to think he has some screws loose in his brain, as well.) His behavior just seemed so irrational. The other horses on the hack were looking at him during all of this with a "WTF, dude?" look on their faces.

    So, where does this leave me? I had hoped I would be able to take him Beginner Novice HTs next Spring, but now I question if that is reasonable. He is a lovely mover, gorgeous trot, lighter than air canter, jumps reasonably well. But if he falls apart in the field, XC is out of the question. It was suggested to me he only did this once or twice with his previous leasee (but then again the person I was trail riding with, who use to trail ride with the lady who leased him before me said she had never seen him go so bat-sh*t crazy ever before...) . I'm a Mom with two young kids. I love riding, I love a challenge, but is this horse simply nuts and going to kill me in the woods if I try to take him out again? Any suggestions, help, comments GRATEFULLY welcomed. I don't want to give up on him, but at the same time, I can't risk riding a dangerous or damaged horse that is not going to improve. At the same time, he is the only ride option I have at the moment and beggars can't be choosers. If I don't ride him, I'm horseless. I'd like to help him, but is he beyond help? Am I destined for him to be a ring ride, and nothing else? The barn owner suggested he may not do it again if I take him out again, but do I really want to endanger myself finding this out? Calling all horse friends, your comments welcomed, as I'm stuck on this one...thanks!
    “Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” Connie Reeves
    Jump Start Solutions LLC

  • #2
    Did he get stung or bit by something? I'd check him over REALLY well first, as that's my first thought when a horse does something completely out of the ordinary. Stepped on a snake? Something odd like that?
    Somewhere in the world, Jason Miraz is Goodling himself and wondering why "the chronicle of the horse" is a top hit. CaitlinAndTheBay


    • Original Poster

      Candle, I thought about that, too. When we got back to the barn, before I remounted him, I looked him over carefully. Nothing. Strangely, back at the barn, though tired, I was able to ride him for about 15-20 minutes, without a problem. He tried to zig/zag as we trotted and subsequently cantered over some ground poles another rider had laid out (which I read as him saying "but I don't WANT to do this," to which I said "straight and forward, oh yes we ARE doing this..." After our ride, back to the barn and he was as quiet as a church mouse. No doubt exhausted from his antics/tantrum. I checked him over again in the stall, after I untacked him. No back soreness, legs fine. I'm simply still puzzled what set it off, and why he was so unresponsive when I tried to re-direct him out of his frenzied state of mind. Did he go "bully-psycho" on me, as one of my friends suggested? I'm stumped!
      Last edited by barnworkbeatshousework; Dec. 16, 2012, 03:10 AM. Reason: additional info
      “Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” Connie Reeves
      Jump Start Solutions LLC


      • #4
        IMHO he doesn't sound like he was pulling one over on you. He sounds like a horse who legitametly, for whatever reason, went into panic mode. I've dealt with my share as fixing broken horses was my thing for years! Since you have never been faced with it on him you didn't have the tools to bring him back to neutral. It sounds like you handled it perfectly. You didn't escalate him. You knew when to choose your safety first. You finished on a good note. I'm all for riding through things but if my hit says "You are in serious danger" by all means listen to it!

        Now that you know he is capable of this I would begin installing relaxation "neutral" cues on him. I do it with every horse I work just in case. They all learn the cue "Relax". It means lower your poll below your withers. I first teach it through physical manipulation and include verbal. Eventually I can cue verbal and get the response either on the ground or in the saddle. The benefit of this is two-fold. First, a horse in panic/flight mode will always raise his head. It's nature. Alert!!! Head up!! Prepare to run!! By physically lowering the head the rest of the body will come out of flight mode as a lowered head means a relaxed horse. If you manipate the body the brain will follow. Secondly, by praising the horse and making a relaxed cue a happy place to be his sense memories of feeling happy with his head down will override his fear. Once he learns it in a safe place I start asking in greater stress situations...building up to bring able to elicit a relaxed body posture off a verbal cue in the most stressful of situations both on the ground and under saddle.

        Once I have that in the toolbox I'll start heading out again but in hand and with a lunge line so you can get distance from him if needed. If he tenses at all use your relax cue and praise like crazy when he responds. Build his confidence that he is safe and he needs to trust you. Slowly increase the length of your outings and the intensity of the stimulus. When he's responding perfectly several outings in a row do it under saddle. Start small...set him up to succeed. Slowly build up the duration and stimulus on the rides. Do not allow any escalation. Relax him any time he shows nervousness or tension. Praise like crazy when he responds. If for some reason you move to fast and end up in the same situation and he won't respond diffuse it as best you can under saddle but get off and do it from the ground if you need to be safe. No sense in getting hurt. Carry a lunge line at all times so you can get off and be prepared to diffuse him on the spot this time. Lunge him right there, get him to relax, when he does take him home and go back a step. You just went to fast.

        There are tons of ways to deal with this problem but this is my favorite method. Knock on wood it hasn't failed me yet. I can take a horse from full blown explosive panic to nose on the ground, taking deep breaths and relaxing in moments. It's my very favorite tool of all the tools in my toolbox! My magical "off" button!! Good luck and I'm glad you're both safe! Phew!
        Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


        • #5
          I would go back and really analyze the point where he went batty. Was it at a juncture where he thought he was going home?

          The fact that he was fine once he got home has me thinking that it could possibly be a severe form of barn sour. I have had horses that were very relaxed and then as soon as they think we are turning to go home, they get pretty wild, although none as wild as what your guy sounds like. And the "barn sour" thing is, imho, real to the horse. Their arousal level shoots up and they have this instinct to run home.

          Although backing up.... doesn't sound quite right, unless he thought the direction had been changed.... and he was being turned in the "wrong" direction.

          and if it happens again, I'd try turning him back in the other direction, and seeing what happens....

          This has me pretty stumped. Wish you lived near me because I would love to come watch what happens and brainstorm with you!
          Last edited by Winding Down; Dec. 16, 2012, 07:42 AM. Reason: additional information


          • #6

            I have heard quite a few stories of fairly sensible horses coming completely undone when they caught sight or smell of bears. At my prior job, we knew there were a lot of bears in the woods, and possibly even mountain lions (great debate over that one). One of our pony riders was out hacking one day, swears she saw a bear print (she and I looked it up when she got back from her hair raising ride), and shortly after got ran away with all the way back to the barn by her usually very sensible pony.

            Maybe it was a bear that spooked all three, and maybe he was just more upset by it than the others.

            Total, complete shot in the dark! That is a strange story, though. I've known horses to do BS like that, but they were usually rank a-holes to begin with, and when all other BS didn't work, they would pull stunts like that.


            • #7

              I don't know what the area is like where you were at....but I know a few months ago my gelding went absolutley crazy while I was riding him in one of the fields near my barn...running completely sideways out of nowhere.

              I just brushed it off as him acting silly, except it happened two more times, every time he would run away from the side of the field where there is thick trees/woods. No matter what I did, I could not regain his attention, eventually he would calm down, but it took some work.

              I mentioned it to my BO. She said, that her husband had seen a coyote and pups running around in that area.

              So, I don't know if he "smelled" them or what, but, I think that may have had something to do with it.


              • #8
                Start with the physical (I do!) Could it be that your saddle didn't fit and finally start to bug him a lot at that point? Could he have lyme or EPM--these are so very common around here! Or could it be that you just pushed him beyond his confidence level?

                If you can rule out physical then start with some ground work of some type. Ground driving is so very useful as it sends them out ahead of you where they have to be brave but be focused on you. It is often more useful (to me anyway) than lunging. Ponying him out and about maybe with another horse on the other side of him can help get him out to see the sights and be comfortable with them.

                Something I do that goes against some traditional methods is to stop and give them a treat now and then from the saddle. Just ride along then stop randomly and treat. Practice this in the ring first but then out and about. Soon, I find, the horses stop caring about what is out there and totally focus their attention on me!! All they want to know is "Can we stop and have a cookie now?" Pretty quickly they think it is fun to go out.

                What you want is for him to be able to go out with confidence and willingness!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post

                  Total, complete shot in the dark! That is a strange story, though. I've known horses to do BS like that, but they were usually rank a-holes to begin with, and when all other BS didn't work, they would pull stunts like that.
                  Bear sounds like a possibility. Where I live, there are so many bears, my horses just nod their heads in acknowledgement when we come across one! (I think the bears hang out with them in the fields at night, I kid you not) I've seen a mountain lion here but horse didn't.... and didn't acknowledge the cat at all.

                  Bear would explain why he was fine when he got home.

                  Horse could be pulling BS but his arousal level sounds like it was over the top. So it is more than a stunt.... could be he got very excited and then "channeled" that energy into being a rank a-hole.....


                  • #10
                    Oh! For fixing this, I'd recommend ponying him off another horse. That has worked for my scaredy cats in the past.... IF that is what this is.


                    • #11
                      Yeah, my gut just says this wasn't being a complete ass. Usually, things escalate to that point if the horse is just a jerk. They don't typically go from quiet to "IWILLKILLYOU!!!!!" type behavior for no reason. I also find most (not all) jerks have an "off" button, so you usually find some trigger, aid, or action to get them to at least dial it back. Toby can turn into a raging loony bird out on the trail (HE'S an ass), but I can usually get him to dial it back when he does.

                      I've known a few who that wasn't possible on, but they were unpleasant rides from the beginning, and would just escalate to this kind of place. Lots of warning with those types.

                      I still vote for something undid him. I like Ann's idea to pony him out.


                      • #12
                        My old horse, Pete, was like that. Outwardly tough and dominant, inwardly chicken. Among other things, he was quite herd-bound. Took him on a ride-and-drive poker chase once, not realizing that he was terrified of carts. He had a mini-meltdown each time we passed one, and, near the end (fortunately), the sight of a cart being pulled by a very small white pony sent him over the edge. He backed up at top speed, to the point that I prayed he'd back into a tree and not into the procession of motorcycles on the road 30 yards behind us. I can't remember how/why we stopped (didn't reach the road, fortunately!), but I got off and led his unglued self the rest of the way back. Later I was able to desensitize him to carts (feeding his piggy self carrots off them, for starters).

                        But, OP, your experience sounds much worse. It does seem like he got a whiff of a strange animal. I really believe he panicked and wasn't being naughty. I like the suggestion above of installing a relax cue. I might try that on my current, green and also somewhat herdbound, mare. (Thanks, KAB.)


                        • #13
                          I'm not sure I can give you any real advice as to how to fix the issue other than I do wonder if you may have missed some signs it was coming, and if not, then I to would guess that he got stung or smelled something and is just the type of horse that once he lost it, he wasn't coming back. That I think you can learn to manage a bit. Usually do not get off but try and stay REALLY relaxed, no matter what he is doing. And re-assert control. I sometimes I keep them backing but control the direction a bit more until I feel a bit of control enough to turn....never stop but basically use the reaction that they are doing (going with it a bit but also directing a bit so you are not going head on against them). You have to not escalate it, but still assert control.

                          But the biggest thing I wanted to say is that just because he lost it on a trail ride means NOTHING as to whether he will event. XC is VERY different from hacking out. I know a ton of very good event horses who are impossible or horrible to ride on a trail ride but still good event horses. You need to treat him like a very green horse. Go to little dressage shows and Combined tests. Introduce showing to him. Pick you xc schooling well. How he handles those situations are more important than this one bad experience on a trail ride.
                          ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                          • #14
                            I'm going to say he doesn't sound like a very good horse for a rerider to lease so I would suggest you consider looking for a more suitable horse.

                            That said, it sounds like he was herdbound and had reached his official trail riding limit away from the barn.

                            However, it's up to you if you decide to continue with that sort of behavior. Other horses would be perfectly capable of going on more then a 40 minute ride and this one is going to need a lot of work to get him going out better.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by enjoytheride View Post
                              That said, it sounds like he was herdbound and had reached his official trail riding limit away from the barn.
                              This. A million times this. You took him out for 40 minutes on his FIRST trail ride????? Nonononono. All horses, but OTTBs in particular, have to LEARN to trail ride, especially if you are going through woods. All they've ever known is race tracks and farms with wide open spaces where they can see other horses. It's NOT that they are barn-sour; it's that they are SCARED. There could be all kinds of predators lurking in those trees and if they had to make a run for it to get back home to the herd, they don't know how to find their way. Even "losing" the other horses by as little as four steps is plenty enough to set one off, especially if he was worried to begin with.

                              Cut back to much shorter trail rides (or even hand-walks; that was how I solved it with, quite honestly, the most herd-bound OTTB I ever owned). Practice going through the woods for just a *few feet*; then a few more the next time, and so on.

                              A trick that worked with another one I had was indeed, as someone else suggested, to pony them off another horse. They know how to pony from the track.

                              It can definitely be done but it needs patience and time; up to you to decide whether you have those prerequisites or not.
                              "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


                              • #16
                                I think the issue here was that the trail ride left from the barn. I think that horses trail ride much better if you take them off the property. They don't know where home is so they tend to be better behaved.


                                • #17
                                  It could be a trail riding thing. He sounds like my friends TB. He gets to a point and he's DONE. he does some of the same things
                                  as your horse and he spins and won't go forward. It's almost like his timer has gone off and he's finished. He'll be fine until that point and uncontrollable afterwards. It doesn't affect him going XC. He seems to know the difference and he loves XC. He just is not a trail horse. I wish you luck with him. My friend has just given up trail riding unless she's going out for a gallop.


                                  • #18
                                    I don't think this was this horse's first trail ride ever....just first one with this rider and his first one in 7 months.
                                    ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                                    • #19
                                      I see that, well, what was he like with the other rider?


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by enjoytheride View Post
                                        I see that, well, what was he like with the other rider?
                                        She said that the owner thought he may have done it once or twice...but one of the riders with her said she never saw him lose it that much before.

                                        Personally....I'd treat him like a green horse again and go on shorter rides to re-introduce trail riding. I would not give up because of one bad ride but would be much more tuned into him on each ride and try and nip the meltdown before it happens.
                                        ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **