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Inconsistent, fussy horse. Behavioural, or physical? Ulcers? WWYD? Long.

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  • Inconsistent, fussy horse. Behavioural, or physical? Ulcers? WWYD? Long.

    I have been leasing an 8 y/o OTTB gelding for about a year. Owner is MIA, and although we keep in contact and she wants the best for him, she is essentially totally hands off. I have a 1.5 y/o filly and a broodmare right now, so working with this guy for someone to ride and train, is something I enjoy. Up until recently, anyways.

    He has always been a fussy, high-energy horse, but with consistent work is usually pretty well behaved and really lovely to work with. Tons of talent, fantastic mover (dressage). Within the past 3 months however, his behaviour has been all over the map under-saddle. There have been no changes to his overall personality or eating habits. I don't know if this is all related to each other, if it's me, if it's his tack (all seem to fit fine), if it's ulcers, if it's just him being neurotic, or something else. He is maintaining weight and condition just fine, too.

    Mostly, he has been exceptionally forward. I worked him for a solid hour today at a hard working trot, and he was still prancing around, and dripping wet with sweat while we were trying to cool off. He wants to GO, he wants to RUN. I don't dare to cue him to canter when he's like this, or else he explodes into it, then is resistant, evasive, inverted and anticipates at every moment available that we're going to canter again. This is absolutely exhausting, and I'm not having fun anymore. It doesn't matter how much I lunge him beforehand. He's the freaking energizer bunny. However, that being said, some days he is beyond mellow and like his old self. Beautiful transitions, soft in the bridle, calm, and rides like a dream. Like how he should be, and how he used to be. I do nothing different riding wise to think that this has anything to do with me. It feels like he just chooses a day to be good, just so I am able to temporarily restore my faith in him (not really, but it seems that way sometimes ).

    The main thing that has me thinking "ulcers", is the teeth grinding. It's only while being worked under-saddle, and only sometimes (usually when he's being bad). He doesn't do it in his stall/cross ties/on the lunge, only while being ridden. It's a constant grind, grind, grind, usually at a walk.

    I also have to deal with chronic head tossing and him trying to rip the reins out of my hands for the first 10-20 minutes of my ride. At first it seemed like an impatient, "Let's get to work, I'm ready to go!" type of thing, but now it happens every. Single. Ride. The head tossing can be described as throwing his head up REALLY high, and jiggling it up and down quickly. He then proceeds to throw his head down and pull forward hard enough to yank me up out of the saddle. It's driving me insane. I've tried lunging first (he does not do it on the lunge), adjusting my rein contact, stretching, scolding him, everything. I dislocated my shoulder about 4 months ago, and this hurts a lot if I don't let the reins slip.

    We're also dealing with him gaping his mouth at a trot. I watched a video of us the other day, and it looks like I'm ripping his face off, even though the reins are nearly looped they're so slack (because of the head tossing to save my shoulder). The bit and bridle fit wonderfully, and his teeth were done 4-5 months ago. I wasn't aware he opened his mouth like that until I watched the video.

    I am getting to the point where I'm not enjoying him anymore. I work a lot, and going to the barn should be more fun than this. I know this isn't the horse he's supposed to be, and I'm not ready to bail on him with an owner who can't ride him, can't pay to treat him if there's something wrong, and who will just get rid of him when I leave the picture. He is an absolute doll with a stellar personality and a lot of potential... if I can just figure out what's going on.

    Just for the record, my vet is coming out for a thorough exam in about a week, I'd just like to hear from the COTH crew on this mysterious (and frustrating) behaviour.

    Last edited by Cataluna; Jan. 30, 2011, 10:28 PM.

  • #2
    Well, yes ulcers can certainly be the cause. However, your OTTB sounds like he is doing almost exactly what my OTTB does when his hocks hurt him. That could just be a coincidence, though. Having my horse as long as I have now, I do know that anytime I get what appears to be a behavioral issue with him, is always a physical issue. Bad behavior is a sure sign my horse is ready for his hocks to be re-injected.

    Best wishes on your horse's vet appointment. I hope it is something easy to resolve.

    Edited to add: Just re-read your post. Yes, my horse grinds his teeth in reaction to pain, also.
    Last edited by ex-racer owner; Jan. 30, 2011, 08:15 PM. Reason: added detail


    • #3
      I would look into Ulcers, joints, back, teeth.
      "If you've got a horse, you've got a problem"


      • #4
        Hmmm. I was going to mention the hocks too. My sweet, older OTTB mare can get very fussy in her mouth (only when I am riding her) when her hocks are sore. Basically, once I get her hocks done-she is back to her fun-to-ride, relaxed self. And it's something that you see under saddle, because that's when you ask them to "sit" and really use their hocks.

        It sounds like this horse is anxious and the teeth grinding seems like it is pain related. It seems with Tb's---they "run" from pain--just want to go faster and faster. Unlike a WB, that might just plant their feet, or get "stuck" when they are in pain. I'd definitely have the vet take a look at the hocks.


        • #5
          What is the horse eating? Any changes in hay or pasture?

          Maybe he's getting too many calories? Maybe he's developed a sensitivity to some ingredient in his feed? Maybe the feed manufacturer has changed the formulation slightly?

          When you have the vet out, ask him/her to draw blood to check for metabolic issues.

          I would also investigate the teeth (the gaping of the mouth is often a sign of discomfort in the mouth and that can cause a horse to bolt as well).

          Good luck.
          "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


          • #6
            I'm going with pain on this too. Had a similar situation and turned out my horse had hurt his withers somehow (possibly from rolling in the pasture or getting cast without us knowing). Once the chiropractor fixed the problem he settled back down.

            Not saying your boy has the same problem, but head tossing and teeth grinding are indications of pain somewhere.


            • #7
              I would take a good look inside his mouth. Look inside the cheeks, tongue, roof if you can see it. He may have a sore or something going on in the mouth. The vet can help you with this if you ask. Also check inside the ears with a flashlight. My TB started to get very fussy and we discovered a huge tick WAY down in the ear canal. A general/overall lameness exam is a good idea also.


              • #8
                There's a lot going on, I hope you find the answer. Update us after the vet visit. Good luck
                "You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?" Richard Bach


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cataluna View Post
                  He wants to GO, he wants to RUN. I don't dare to cue him to canter when he's like this, or else he explodes into it, then is resistant, evasive, inverted and anticipates at every moment available that we're going to canter again.


                  I also have to deal with chronic head tossing and him trying to rip the reins out of my hands for the first 10-20 minutes of my ride. At first it seemed like an impatient, "Let's get to work, I'm ready to go!" type of thing,
                  My TB started doing these same things when his back started hurting. The vet diagnosed back pain. He's retired now for that reason. I chose not to pursue treatment as he is older and enjoying his retirement. Good luck with diagnosis and treatment, I hope you can get him back to where he used to be.


                  • #10
                    I had a younger gelding that would chomp and grind his teeth only while being ridden. Turned out it was his front feet hurting him.

                    I think that a full vet exam will help you get closer to solving the mystery. IMO your horse is trying to tell you that something physical is going on and thankfully you are listening So many people don't and just chock it up to being a butthead!!!

                    Let us know what you find out from your vet!
                    RIP Sucha Smooth Whiskey
                    May 17,2004 - March 29, 2010
                    RIP San Lena Peppy
                    May 3, 1991 - March 11, 2010


                    • Original Poster

                      Thanks so much for all these great replies!

                      I would have never guessed problems in the hocks, since he's never been directly lame, but it totally makes sense if that's the case. He certainly has all the symptoms, after a bit of research.

                      He's been booked in for a full exam on Wednesday morning, so I'll get some answers very soon! I'll be sure to post the results when I get them.

                      Thanks again!