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Strange behavior under saddle

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    Strange behavior under saddle

    This is a newer horse, and actually not mine but a neighbors but it is a weird situation so I thought I would post about it here.
    Neighbor picked up a fairly inexpensive mare last spring who was marketed as green. It turned out the horse was barely backed, but had a good personality and was willing to work. She started working with the mare and besides some minor meltdowns all seemed to be going well. The mare did have a habit of rearing if she got scared but they were small and manageable and very, very obvious when they were going to happen. The mare progressed along great and by end of summer was cantering little courses and was very reliable.

    When fall came it was like a different horse under saddle. She fights everything and kicks out constantly under saddle. When leg is applied, she whacks the fence with her foot then moves off. Pins her ears, does little bunny hops when she doesn’t want to work, which is all the time. Refuses to trot, and when forced to kicks out to show her dissatisfaction. Obviously something is going on here, and from seeing the horse before and after I think it’s pain related.

    The behavior started in October, which was before the grass died around here and before the horse went from 24/7 turnout to 10h in, 14h out. So I doubt turnout time plays a factor into this. I asked about feed, she gets the recommended dose of purina ultium (or senior... I have to ask) and the owner also started giving her magnesium to see if that would help. It didn’t.

    This mare has bad seasonal allergies and spent most of the summer on Benadryl. It was stopped around the time that the behavior started.
    She had a PPE at time of purchase and was sound at purchase. The vet noted she has signs of possible OCD lesions in her stifles but was not lame. Her owner did not get x-rays. Her teeth were looked at and they seemed to have been done recently, which was fitting with what the previous owner had told her.

    In late October my neighbor had a family member have an injury and had to suspend training with the mare for a few months. She recently got on and the behavior is still present. She now wants to figure out what is going on!
    In December the mares teeth were done and I guess they were really, really bad. She was shocked as her vet had said they looked fine 6 months ago. Since the teeth were done the mare has not reared once so she thinks that behavior is solved, but the kicking out is still going on.

    Her trainer thinks it’s an evasion tactic and that she needs more wet saddle pads. Owner thinks it’s pain related as she doesn’t think the mare has a mean bone in her body.
    Things she has tried;
    chiropractic: No effect
    magnesium: no effect
    a week trial of ulcer guard: No effect, but she recently bought a months worth of abler equine and is going to see if it makes a difference

    What does COTH think are the next steps?
    Sorry for the novel. It is just really weird as this horse went from being something I would trust a little kid to ride to being so, so angry about being ridden. It’s one of those things that keeps me up at night thinking about!

    I'd look at ulcers, SI pain and saddle fit.
    Horse Show Names Free name website with over 6200 names. Want to add? PM me!


      What made me start to question the whole idea that my horse was evading work is when I finally noticed what a sweet willing mare she was when I wasn't trying to get her to do things she couldn't do.

      So many have such a hard time accepting the idea that if the horse knew what we were asking him to do, and knew that he could do it without experiencing too much fear or pain, then it would take very, very little to motivate him to do it.

      Horses don't go from sweet kid's horse to kicking and rearing just because they don't want to work harder. In fact, I don't think horses actually mind working unless the job we choose for them is just too punishing/stressful/cruel.

      Pain (or fear) can certainly make a job too unfair/punishing.


        An extremely green horse who has occasional meltdowns and rears is cantering and being asked to jump after 3 months under saddle?

        Can it be pain or ulcers or not enough turn out? Possibly, but I think she was pushed too far too fast and you are now seeing the massive holes in her training.

        They may do things willingly at first but it doesn't mean they are ready for it and it most always comes back to haunt you in the end.

        Take her back to the beginning and take the time she needs with each step before pushing her for more.


          I agree that it sounds pain related. I don't believe horses typically continue to evade if it doesn't actually get them out of work. Saddle fit is a likely culprit in my opinion. I had a slightly too narrow saddle for awhile and it made my boy very "lazy" about upward transitions, especially after walk breaks.


            Original Poster

            Originally posted by candyappy View Post
            An extremely green horse who has occasional meltdowns and rears is cantering and being asked to jump after 3 months under saddle?

            Can it be pain or ulcers or not enough turn out? Possibly, but I think she was pushed too far too fast and you are now seeing the massive holes in her training.

            They may do things willingly at first but it doesn't mean they are ready for it and it most always comes back to haunt you in the end.

            Take her back to the beginning and take the time she needs with each step before pushing her for more.
            It became pretty obvious after her teeth were done that all the meltdowns were pain related. Probably horse tenses, rider tenses and gets her in the mouth a bit, she says ‘ow! My teeth’ and when rider doesn’t pay attention she has a meltdown. So I’m excusing her from that behavior.
            She showed me a video of the cantering and jumps. They were maybe 12 inches for a 16h horse. She cantered over them without actually jumping. So while I do think sometimes horses just get pushed too fast, IMO this isn’t a case of it.


              Original Poster

              Originally posted by kookicat View Post
              I'd look at ulcers, SI pain and saddle fit.
              Would SI pain come on this fast? That’s why I didn’t think it was kissing spine or anything like that because it was like a light switch got turned on behavior wise.


                I had a young mare that did almost the thing, she turned out to have PSSM, symptoms worse in the cold and as she got older. It is a genetic muscle disease where they are basically having muscle spasms/tying up to varying degrees at times. Can sometimes be managed with diet, exercise and management. My mare was diagnosed by hair sample DNA test but there are other types that are only diagnosed by muscle biopsy.


                  I'm always in the mind that you rule pain out first. I'd get her a good workup and see.
                  Horse Show Names Free name website with over 6200 names. Want to add? PM me!


                    Hindgut issues??

                    In the fall of her 5 year old year, my normally good job doer of a young mare became very cranky, was pissy about being groomed , and didn’t want to go forward; treating her for ulcers didn’t help, but when I put her in Equishure she was back to her normal self in a couple of weeks. Omeprazole can actually exacerbate hindgut issues, which can be more common in the fall due to the sugar content of the grass.

                    I would also look into saddle fit, and has she had a work up done, her back checked?

                    She is clearly trying to tell you something is amiss (IME needing teeth done doesn’t result in extreme behaviors - unless bit or contact related) but it sounds like you have covered that base anyway.

                    Rule out physical issues first, then address training issues if everything checks out.

                    She is green, a MARE 😉😄, and possibly sensitive to feeling NQR - so “sharing” an opinion.

                    Best of luck and keep us posted!
                    "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

                    "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


                      They may do things willingly at first but it doesn't mean they are ready for it and it most always comes back to haunt you in the end.

                      Take her back to the beginning and take the time she needs with each step before pushing her for more.

                      Wow. This ^^

                      The mare has no reference for questions she's being asked. She needs to go back to the beginning, and work through her training very slowly. How slowly? The horse will tell you. Everything should have stopped at the "small rears". She is way over her head.

                      The kicking out is usually pain, as suggested, ulcers, SI or hocks would be my guess. For goodness sake stop the jumping. I just don't quite know how to put "stop what your are doing" in words.
                      Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                        Benadryl can act as a sedative in horses and humans. It’s worth noting.


                          I would double-check the teeth - I remember once having Bodie done, and then three weeks later he was dropping grain. Turned out he had a hook we'd missed the first time. After that, he was fine.

                          I'd second the saddle fit issues. If she's been in proper work, her muscles are developing and it doesn't take very long for a youngster to outgrow a saddle - in fact, I'd say 2-3 months of proper work is about right.

                          I'll also throw out another issue, besides ulcers (which are definitely a possibility) - reproductive issues. Maybe she needs Regumate, maybe she needs an ultrasound.

                          EPSM is another possible culprit - I can't remember if Ultium and/or Senior are high in carbs, but I think they are. Was she on that feed all summer, or put on it as cold weather set in?



                            My boy did this. Not the rearing but refusing to trot from walk and if pushed threatened to turn around and bite my foot.

                            He was sound on the lunge in walk, trot and canter. He would trot and canter outside the arena.

                            I did not believe it was arena sourness as I am an experienced rider and my horses work their hearts out for me.

                            I took him to a chiropractor I trust with my life. He said he had gone over in the paddock in canter. Either in canter and slipping or suddenly trying to get away from a bully and had slipped and gone down.

                            He had really badly torn the muscle deep in his chest. It hurt to lift his legs. So in the sand hurt more than on grass.

                            I gave him 3 months off. I rubbed allogard on his chest.

                            When I brought him back into work, the threatening to bite my leg had gone but the no when I asked for anything was still there. I didn't use the whip as I ride alone and didn't want to escalate the behaviour.

                            My instructor had me push him on. On his advice of putting a strap on the front of the saddle. I plaitted baling twine and put a strap from d ring to d ring.

                            The moment he said no I had to hold the strap for security and ask him forward.

                            I didn't need the whip. I held on, put legs on, reins twisting his head from side to side to minimize a buck and told him to trot on. When he went I sat quietly with legs and reins.

                            The difference to be before was this time he trotted on quite happily instead of escalating. He never did bite my leg as I stopped immediately. I listened to him saying something was wrong.

                            He did it once picking up reins. Once walk to trot. Once trot to canter. Once to trot more forward. It was like had to test out everything to see what he could get away with. But he only tried once with each thing.

                            It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                              Repro issues are less common once winter hits (anestrues), but it's worth checking out.

                              She is clearly uncomfortable, and mares are sensitive, complicated souls; they will generally let you know if something is bothering them. They also rarely suffer fools lightly (not to say that you are a fool, LOL!), but need to process things at their own pace, and when training is rushed and too much is expected too soon, they can (and will) object.

                              Knowing when to push and when to slow (and chunk) things down is a critical part of skillful, thoughtful training; it's very much on a "horse by horse" basis, so one needs to know one's horse.

                              Do you do any groundwork with this mare? I HIGHLY recommend working on getting focus, respect and compliance on the ground, especially with young horses. It makes a world of difference in their behavior under saddle if you set them up for success by doing some groundwork beforehand; I did this with my homebred mare until she was 6 IF I felt she was at ALL unfocused or tense - even 5-10 minutes of work on the ground will help a young horse become more mentally pliable and physically relaxed - which sets you up for success under saddle.

                              If she "doesn't have a mean bone in her body" (my mares don't either, but they have occasionally offered resistances - doing some detective work and making sure they aren't uncomfortable, confused, just having a "bratty moment" has dictated my strategy), I would rule out ALL physical issues first, then go back to basics until you have a willing, relaxed and focused partner.

                              Then go from there.

                              "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

                              "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


                                Sounds to me as if this horse has had bad training and is frustrated. Such is the case for similar posts on COTH.

                                The horse needs the owner to learn how to be a trainer, and visit a good trainer to learn how to do that.

                                I feel so sorry for this horse.
                                Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


                                  I don't know what the weather was/is like but I have a horse who is unhappy being ridden if he was cold the night before. His idea of cold. I keep him blanketed one stage heavier than my other horse and he's good. I can see if he was cold in how he trots and he's much happier if I let him loosen up on the longe than ridden. Those days are fewer as I learn what temperatures require which blankets.

                                  This would be a very easy thing to try, even if you think it's not cold.


                                    I'd start with a repro exam. And also check a Lyme titer.


                                      Originally posted by dotneko View Post
                                      I'd start with a repro exam. And also check a Lyme titer.
                                      Good point! Cystic ovaries can make mares quite uncomfortable. A rectal exam will answer that question very quickly.


                                        Original Poster

                                        I passed on the info to the horse owner and clarified some things;
                                        Horse has been working with a trainer the whole time, and also ridden by the owner. Owner has mainly been doing trail riding with the mare and not a lot of arena work, the trainer is who has been doing the majority of training. Trainer is quite respected in the area. I gently suggested the possibility of the mare being pushed too much and she said it has crossed her mind as the mare was super willing to do everything, and maybe that got taken advantage of by the trainer, but she really feels the kicking is pain related.
                                        Horse is getting ultium and an O/A mix.
                                        She tried to explain the teeth issue but I’m not 100% clear on it. It was a front molar that grew too long and the bit was hitting it. It’s been taken care of now. She believes this was the cause of all the rearing as the behavior has completely stopped. So it sounds like the rearing was a red herring.
                                        She said her saddle was fitted to the mare at the beginning of summer but she has definitely changed shape by the end and she was planning on having someone out to look again when the behavior started.
                                        She says blood testing for Lyme and EPM are on the front of the list. Both are common in our area. She will also ask about PSSM when that’s done, though she doesn't think it’s very common in the breed.

                                        Now for my personal thoughts;
                                        would repro issues show up when she is in anestrus, but not during the summer? I would expect her to show being uncomfortable at times during her cycle?
                                        I feel like this is ulcers or something similar. This mare came from a rough place before she got her and had many of the triggers for ulcers; large grain meals, lack of hay, etc. Maybe the lush grass she was eating covered up symptoms and as fall approached and the grass became less plentiful symptoms appeared again?