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Random exponential increase in spookiness?

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    Random exponential increase in spookiness?

    My mare has the nickname “Psycho” as a loving term of endearment. She acquired this nickname back in Ohio when I boarded, because, to be succinct, she is not a type that handles being stalled well. BOs in Ohio don’t turn out, it was always an issue. I’ve had my own farm in Florida for 3.5 years now and she lives out 24/7. Thanks to this and just the general maturing process, she has become a really great girl. She is now 11, I got her off the track at 4. However, she’s naturally a tense and sensitive type. That being said, she has not been actually spooky since being in Florida. We were showing well (though still with some tension) and schooling at home has been glorious and relaxed, we’ve even been able to do a little hacking around the farm.

    Then the first weekend of March she suddenly reverted back to spooking at the judge’s box, and the seating area at a show. Our debut at Second Level was less than ideal. I had the vet out and we determined an issue with her stifles. She had a month off, was cleared to start light work, we did a stifle blister end of June, she was going great. July was great, she was schooling beautifully and oh-so-relaxed. Then, beginning of August. She started spooking. Hard. Literally rode in the ring fine one day, and the very next she spooked at this one tree and the mounting block. And trying to work past it and desensitize hasn’t done crap, in fact the spooking has gotten worse. Last week I spent 20+ minutes cantering on a 20m circle past the mounting block, she spooked at it every single time. I didn’t mean to go 20 mins, but oh well. I finally stopped when I was able to get her to just kind of slightly shy away instead of a full spook. Went out literally 12 hours later for a lesson. She spooked/balked from 18 meters away. Yo.

    So, this is not a case of “my perfect horse is suddenly spooky for no reason.” This is a sensitive mare who has had a spook in the past, had worked through it, and has suddenly reverted to significantly worse of a spook than she ever had before.

    It also appears to be selective. To obtain more information, I lunged her last night. She spooked at same tree and mounting block both directions for 20 mins on the lunge. I took her over to the other part of the field where we ride, she lunged quietly, so I got on. Only rode about 10 mins but she was perfect. Did not ride past the “bad side“ of the tree nor mounting block, wanted it to be a good note. So, the same tree is not scary on one side of it, but is scary on the dressage-ring side of it. IDK if this makes it more or less likely that it’s just behavioral.
    Additionally, most days we can walk past said
    chosen objects totally fine. Once we start trotting, she starts spooking. We’ll spend 10 minutes getting comfortable going past it at the trot, but once we start cantering, it’s all over again.

    Vet was out last week. Stifles look great and she is sound. Vision/eyes and hearing are normal. Lyme came back negative.
    Next on the list are scoping for ulcers (even though 10 days of ranitidine made no difference, which it normally makes her much happier) and checking ovaries/repro.
    I have tried three different trees in my adjustable saddle, made no difference.

    She lives out 24/7. Currently by herself, but with two horses in one neighboring field and four in the other neighboring field, able to be seen at all times. She has been out by herself before without issue. I tried for a week to give her a friend, she was not interested. Her field is one acre.
    Free-choice hay, alfalfa.
    ~4ish pounds of low NSC grain per day, no corn no molasses.
    Aloe Vera juice AM and PM.
    Shoe on all four, pads on front. Feet done a week ago, no difference. Great farrier.
    Calming supplements have done nothing (I didn’t expect them to but tried anyway).

    Anyone have any other ideas of physical ailments that may have triggered this?
    I’m not completely shunning the idea that it’s behavioral, but she just doesn’t feel like my mare right now. This isn’t normal for her, it’s been three or so weeks of way worse than any bad day she’d ever had before.
    Last edited by mmeqcenter; Aug. 30, 2020, 03:46 PM.

    #2
    I personally do not care for “desensitizing” especially for the introverted and sensitive ones because it doesn’t really teach them to not be afraid, it teaches them to shut down and not react.

    Let’s say your horse is spooking at a scary tree at the far end of the arena. Old school thinking would be to “desensitize” the horse by going down to that side of the arena and cantering by that tree until they no longer react. But just because they stop reacting, doesn’t mean they ever got over the fear. It just means they’re tired and shut down. That won’t help you when your horse gets a good night of sleep and comes back out tomorrow morning and had plenty of energy to still be afraid of that tree. Flooding/ desensitizing can even make things worse because the next time your horse sees that tree they’re not only worried about the tree they’re going to get worked up because they associate the tree with heavy work.

    I would recommend checking out Warwick Schiller’s YouTube channel because I think he has some interesting ideas and concepts that break from the traditional “flooding/ desensitizing” mindset. He’s all about being empathetic to the horse and teaching the horse to relax on their own. For instance instead of MAKING the horse go up to a tree that they’re spooking at, he would probably just not go to that end of the arena until the horse was ok with it.

    If it was me, I would get the horse to be ok with the scary end of the arena by working at the non scary end and taking breaks closer to the scary end. I still wouldn’t MAKE my horse go to the scary end of the arena but I would be strategic about resting closer to the thing they’re spooking at. This way the horse starts to associate relaxation with the spooky thing. Eventually they learn that the spooky end of the arena is actually a good place to be. But when you do it this way your horse has a little more trust in you because you listens to them and didn’t MAKE them do anything they didn’t want to do. You have to be able to listen to them and stay under their emotional threshold.

    Comment

      Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by Equkelly View Post

      If it was me, I would get the horse to be ok with the scary end of the arena by working at the non scary end and taking breaks closer to the scary end. I still wouldn’t MAKE my horse go to the scary end of the arena but I would be strategic about resting closer to the thing they’re spooking at. This way the horse starts to associate relaxation with the spooky thing. Eventually they learn that the spooky end of the arena is actually a good place to be. But when you do it this way your horse has a little more trust in you because you listens to them and didn’t MAKE them do anything they didn’t want to do. You have to be able to listen to them and stay under their emotional threshold.

      Thank you, I have also tried this approach, both in the past and in my current situation, and it has not made a difference for this mare.

      Comment


        #4
        I'd sure 'suspect' EYES again. Have you tried her w/ a flymask on? I just read about this so it's off the wall a bit but hear me out.

        My rescue dog has various anxiety, overexcitement triggers when riding in a car. I just read about the "Thunder Cap," made by same company that makes "thunder shirt"- which we have and it helps w/ thunder. Anyway lots of reviews on the cap- it has a
        filter type material that lessens what the dog can see, not totally obliterating the view but sorta like a fly mask but maybe a tad darker.

        You say your mare spooks at the mounting block. Is it possible that when moving faster than a walk she can't really make out what it is? But at a walk she's ok cause she sees it more clearly.

        Same w/ the tree. If she's walking OK past the tree is it because she clearly see the tree but at trot and canter, it's blurry to HER.

        She is around that 'middle age' when lots of critters (like us) might need reading glasses. Just a thought.
        "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin

        Comment


          #5
          In my experience some horses will express pain or anxiety about the possibility of pain by random spooking at things they aren't really scared of.

          My mare expresses anxiety about pain by just balking. But last summer I rode an older horse whose silly spooking on the trail decreased dramatically with hoof boots, and barefoot increased with the number of ouch steps she took in a ride (3 ouch steps in 45 minutes correlated with more spookiness).

          Comment

            Original Poster

            #6
            Marla 100 . Intriguing idea, never would have thought of it that way. Thank you, I will try riding in a fly mask tonight and report back!

            Comment

              Original Poster

              #7
              Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
              In my experience some horses will express pain or anxiety about the possibility of pain by random spooking at things they aren't really scared of.
              Agreed! My problem right now is figuring out where the pain is, or if it’s neuro or something.

              Comment

                Original Poster

                #8
                She was much better tonight with the fly mask. Not completely normal, but just looked at the two things instead of actually spooking. Will use all week to see if it lasts or tonight was just a better night in general.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Your mares are nicknamed “Psycho,” too? My girls are going to be so disappointed they aren’t special.

                  Has she always been on the aloe juice? I ask because Psycho mare #1 turned into a fire breathing monster when I tried using aloe with her. As I was researching as to why this may have happened, I saw conflicting data whether it lowers or raises pH in conjunction with its other analgesic properties. Even if she’s been on it some time, new ulcers might make her sensitive to it.

                  Any new tack? Psycho #2 loses her marbles over tack she dislikes. I’m not just talking obvious culprits like bits or saddle fit- she broke my lunge line over a new girth. Boots, saddle pads, bridles, girths... she has a preference. It took me years to realize the connection. She turns into a bundle of anxiety and starts spooking erratically when she is uncomfortable.

                  You probably would have mentioned this if she was on it, but some horses have a really bad reaction to MSM. I love MSM, every horse in my barn is on it at the moment, but I owned a gelding in the past that went psychotic when on it. Not in a “feels good” way, but rather in a “I’m having hallucinations of monsters” kind of way.
                  Last edited by Texarkana; Aug. 24, 2020, 11:13 PM. Reason: Poor phrasing
                  Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Hmmm, I think I had a similar thread where people trashed me. Sound familiar?

                    If your horse has no physical issues, it can be due to perceived threat-warranted or not. One reason is that your horse is trying to get out of actual work and is using unfamiliar items in the environment to do this. If your horse is particularly smart, this is easy to accomplish. Another reason is that your horse is noticing things in the environment that you don't and is reacting to those things. Even simply a change in light/shadows from the last time you showed your horse that particular judges stand. Or a change in work expectations that creates anxiety.

                    It sounds like to some degree she's not confident in your aids and her fear is overriding her focus on your aids. I think I mentioned that my horse is similar and cleared of many veterinary issues. Huh. He's also 11 and has had issues come and go about sensitivity to various things he sees every day.

                    I think desensitization to things is done incorrectly if you are relying on the horse getting tired. It is also done incorrectly if you can't read your horse. Of course they can come out the next day and spook at the same thing, it is the rider/trainer's job to figure out why and make the horse comfortable. And it is the rider/trainer's job to understand if a horse can't be comfortable with something yet gain their trust to ride by it anyway.

                    I don't believe in training or showing under supplements and avoid them. I would not be adverse to a supplement that worked, but I have yet to find one that does for my particular horse. I suggest doing a full diet analysis prior to supplementing. I did/do.



                    Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by J-Lu View Post
                      Hmmm, I think I had a similar thread where people trashed me. Sound familiar?

                      If your horse has no physical issues, it can be due to perceived threat-warranted or not. One reason is that your horse is trying to get out of actual work and is using unfamiliar items in the environment to do this. If your horse is particularly smart, this is easy to accomplish. Another reason is that your horse is noticing things in the environment that you don't and is reacting to those things. Even simply a change in light/shadows from the last time you showed your horse that particular judges stand. Or a change in work expectations that creates anxiety.

                      It sounds like to some degree she's not confident in your aids and her fear is overriding her focus on your aids. I think I mentioned that my horse is similar and cleared of many veterinary issues. Huh. He's also 11 and has had issues come and go about sensitivity to various things he sees every day.

                      I think desensitization to things is done incorrectly if you are relying on the horse getting tired. It is also done incorrectly if you can't read your horse. Of course they can come out the next day and spook at the same thing, it is the rider/trainer's job to figure out why and make the horse comfortable. And it is the rider/trainer's job to understand if a horse can't be comfortable with something yet gain their trust to ride by it anyway.

                      I don't believe in training or showing under supplements and avoid them. I would not be adverse to a supplement that worked, but I have yet to find one that does for my particular horse. I suggest doing a full diet analysis prior to supplementing. I did/do.


                      Erm, no. People were genuinely looking to help you and discuss the problems you were experiencing. You proceeded to tell us that we were wrong, knew nothing, and that you're GP trainer(s) know best. The difference here is the OP has a much different tone and is actually open to trying suggestions and having constructive discussion. Not just dismissing us as plebs that know nothing and don't compare in skill or experience. Or berating us for not being "actual trainers" so a wee bit different. I don't doubt that you may have some valuable experience to bring to the table, but the attitude is strange.





                      OP, I know you said that you changed the gullet and whatnot in your saddle, but when is the last time you had a fitter out? If you're progressing in your dressage training, it's entirely possible for the saddle, even with different gullets, to just not fit anymore. I'd also consider ulcers just as you are.

                      But since it was better with the fly mask, this reminds me of an article about horses being sensitive to certain colors and shades. Varied on horse and colors, but apparently some are more sensitive to certain colors. I think there were different color lenses in this mask that helped some horses. I need to find the article because I'm doing a crap job of describing it but it's not impossible for a horses vision to change as they age, just like with humans. They may pass a vision test, but not be 100%

                      Or it is some other change in the eye developing.

                      Or (this is fun, right?) with the increasing fitness required as you are now at 2nd level there is something bothering her. What? Who knows. That's the fun part. For example, my sound horse with nice hoof was shod in the back as his dressage work increased and he became a lot happier. Nothing glaring from the hooves, good quality, angles, sole, etc. But really does better shod all around when riding 3rd/4th level work. Farrier threw the idea out there and we gave it a shot. Who knew.

                      I'm over here still trying to figure out why some people classify this as a relaxing hobby 😂 especially when some horses like to keep us guessing.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by mmeqcenter View Post
                        She was much better tonight with the fly mask. Not completely normal, but just looked at the two things instead of actually spooking. Will use all week to see if it lasts or tonight was just a better night in general.
                        that's interesting. Now, to figure out WHY? I'd still be looking at her eyes are the problem.

                        How I learned that my dog doesn't have great vision- and she's a young dog-2-3 yrs. old: Her anxiety when riding in truck cab grew from just barking at dogs to going ape over flag men on road construction. She loves all people, normally. I figured she just couldn't see well. Then once she went ape and barking at ME walking up the driveway from 200 ft.

                        A horse racing person can probably tell you what to use for eye mask to help w/ spookiness. Don't know how you'd show in it though.
                        "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Saddle fit. You mentioned different trees but you didn't mention different saddles or getting a fitter out. The tree shape might be wrong.

                          My normally very quiet mare became a spooky mess all winter, turned out it was her saddle. New saddle, no more spook. At all. What was a huge issue was totally gone. Thankfully I caught it pretty quick.

                          If not the saddle have you considered riding with blinkers? Sheepskin on the cheek pieces can also work. It will make her focus on the job at hand.

                          Comment

                            Original Poster

                            #14
                            Originally posted by Texarkana View Post
                            Your mares are nicknamed “Psycho,” too? My girls are going to be so disappointed they aren’t special.
                            Ah mares, aren't they just the best???

                            She's been getting aloe off and on for seven years (since I bought her off the track). This time she's been on it for about a month. I can certainly pull it and see what happens!

                            No new tack. My girl is sensitive, but doesn't sound like she's quite as sensitive as yours She's never cared about what bit is in her mouth, at least historically. She gets upset if the browband is too small and pulls the crownpiece too far forward, so she now goes in an oversized bridle. Have to punch holes in the noseband but hey, whatever works. I used to just buy a horse sized bridle and oversize browband but the last horse sized bridle I bought was too small everwhere so I went to oversize for all no. No worries, she's a 16.2hh OTTB that wears an 84" blanket and 54" jump girth, might as well have an oversize bridle too . I think our dressage girth is 28"? She also has always told me in the past when her saddle is pinching by pounding around like a freight train. But they change overtime, of course, maybe now instead of freight-training she decided spooking would get the point across better. I'll put a saddle fitter on my list! Do you think I should have a fitter look at her before or after a chiro? Chiro is also on my list.
                            No other tack, we're minimalists apparently. Could try different saddle pads. It is the height of the summer, and in the summer her sensitive skin tends to have issues. She gets rubs from the edges of the saddle pads. I've used her fleece-lined pad recently though and she was still spooky. I try not to use it all the time because I only have one. I can't find any others (that are affordable)! I need it completely fleece-lined, not just the top part like a built-in half pad.

                            No MSM. I was giving her Tumeric during the stifle recovery, stopped that two weeks ago, hasn't made a difference. I've decided to try a "Bute test" for a few days and see if being on Bute reduces or removes the spook. But the vet's coming back Wednesday.

                            Comment

                              Original Poster

                              #15
                              Originally posted by J-Lu View Post
                              Hmmm, I think I had a similar thread where people trashed me. Sound familiar?

                              If your horse has no physical issues, it can be due to perceived threat-warranted or not. One reason is that your horse is trying to get out of actual work and is using unfamiliar items in the environment to do this. If your horse is particularly smart, this is easy to accomplish. Another reason is that your horse is noticing things in the environment that you don't and is reacting to those things. Even simply a change in light/shadows from the last time you showed your horse that particular judges stand. Or a change in work expectations that creates anxiety.
                              I appreciate the thoughts and ideas and I'll put them on my second list, however at this time I would greatly prefer the purpose of this particular thread to be to brainstorm possible physical issues to look for. I bought my mare off the track as a four year old, have had her for seven years and like to think I know her like the back of my hand. Because of this, I really do not feel this is just a simple behavioral/training issue at this time, because this is not my normal horse. I am absolutely not discounting it, but am first wanting to make sure she is not in pain somewhere.

                              Also, she's not "using unfamiliar items in the environment to do this." She's spooking at a mounting block we use and have ridden past 4-6 days per week for 3.5 years. Same with the left side of the tree. Both of which her turnout paddock borders, and her water trough is 20 meters away from. She also literally went from one day riding past said objects with zero issue, at all gaits, to the very next day having complete spook-meltdowns from 18 meters away. We all have bad days, to be sure, however we're now on almost four weeks of extremely bad days.

                              Comment

                                Original Poster

                                #16
                                Originally posted by CanteringCarrot View Post
                                OP, I know you said that you changed the gullet and whatnot in your saddle, but when is the last time you had a fitter out? If you're progressing in your dressage training, it's entirely possible for the saddle, even with different gullets, to just not fit anymore. I'd also consider ulcers just as you are.

                                But since it was better with the fly mask, this reminds me of an article about horses being sensitive to certain colors and shades. Varied on horse and colors, but apparently some are more sensitive to certain colors. I think there were different color lenses in this mask that helped some horses. I need to find the article because I'm doing a crap job of describing it but it's not impossible for a horses vision to change as they age, just like with humans. They may pass a vision test, but not be 100%

                                Or it is some other change in the eye developing.

                                I'm over here still trying to figure out why some people classify this as a relaxing hobby 😂 especially when some horses like to keep us guessing.

                                but we loooooooooooooooove them, right?? Most days...

                                carrot+ Jealoushe I'll put a saddle fitter higher up the list! Will call after vet comes back Wednesday, assuming she still doesn't find anything.
                                Definitely going to search for that article too, that is very intriguing. Marla 100 Eye things seem to be a front runner, but I'll see how it goes after several rides with the fly mask. I guess if I have to ride in blinkers or fleece rolls for a while, so be it. We aren't showing this year anyway (COVID), and if it's an eye thing, I can't imagine she'd be any better at shows than she's been at home!

                                Originally posted by CanteringCarrot View Post
                                Or (this is fun, right?) with the increasing fitness required as you are now at 2nd level there is something bothering her. What? Who knows.
                                Yeah this is a fear, for sure, if it's something that will prevent us from moving up. I was really hoping to be able to do at least 3rd with her, we were starting to start flying changes before the stifle issue cropped up. That's when we put hinds on.

                                Comment


                                  #17
                                  I know you don't want to make this about training, but did the spookiness come directly during or shortly after starting flying changes with her? I only mention this because flying changes stressed my gelding TF out at first. He was opposite in that he was always trying to do them, but I could see a horse have a "fear" of doing them for various reasons, including physical, and evade work in general by spooking. That doesn't really explain why riding with a fly mask improved things though.

                                  https://equizoneonline.com/products/evysor

                                  These are these "horse goggles" that are/are similar to the ones mentioned to the article that I still need to find. They're a bit pricey, so I'd obviously try other options first, but just for reference if it is eye related.

                                  I'd keep doing the fly mask thing and see if results are consistent.

                                  Comment

                                    Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    CanteringCarrot nope, we last touched on flying changes back at the end of January. Coach didn't want to school them too much before our 2nd level debut first weekend of March, she didn't want to risk mare giving them a go on her own out of nerves during the test. Thanks for the link!

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                                      #19
                                      It's possible that the first time she spooked at the tree/mounting block, she tweaked something that caused her pain and now she associates those two items with pain. Can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy if, for instance, the saddle fit isn't quite right.

                                      Case in point, I ride a very sensitive pocket-rocket TB who 99% of the time is good as gold. One day, about a year ago, we were crossing RR tracks on a dirt road at a trot, same as we've done for years, when he snagged his hind foot on the gap between rail and rr tie. Must've stung him pretty good as he took a lame step or two afterward. Next time I took him to that crossing, he spooked severely and I couldn't even convince him to go all the way down the hill to the tracks. Each day that I took him there he got a little closer before utterly melting down and finally he would approach the crossing and THEN melt down. Eventually, after roughly a dozen tries or so, he gingerly stepped over the crossing. To this day, he still insists on inspecting the crossing before walking through, and he never spooked at the crossing coming from the other direction. You never know what might "trigger" a horse.

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                                        #20
                                        I know theses things can be so frustrating, all any of us can do is guess, and hopefully someone will be right!
                                        I had the same problem with a mare, when she decided she was scared of something there was no convincing her otherwise.
                                        What worked for her was Regumate, it took me a long time to try it because she never acted bitchy or mareish, just spooky.
                                        i had some leftover from a pregnant mare and gave it a try.
                                        Worked great and she stayed on it for the rest of her career.
                                        She is retired now and no longer on the Regumate, and back to her silly ways.
                                        We recently moved her to a new paddock ( 3 weeks ago) and she is still afraid of her run in shed
                                        Silly girl will not even eat her food if it is in there, I will give up soon and find a paddock and she’d she is not afraid of!

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