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Unexplainable "anxiety attacks"

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  • Unexplainable "anxiety attacks"

    Wanted to see if anyone had some thoughts on this.

    Twice now, in the last few weeks, my horse has had would seems like random, sudden, unexplainable "anxiety attacks." He paces and walks his stall, won't eat, will shake and tremble, and is, generally, a mess. The last time he did it was in the morning, at breakfast. I took his temp, pulled his clothes to look for spiders or to see if he was hivey (he's a very sensitive skinned horse). I gave him Ulcerguard and turned him out, and he settled after a few minutes in the pasture and was fine (maybe a little quiet, as if he came off an adrenalin rush) for the rest of the day.

    He did again last night...at night check. He seemed fine at first when I came in the barn, but by the time I got back to him with him bedtime snack, he was pacing and weaving and totally spun up. I gave him UG again, took him for a walk up and down the barn aisle, and then sat with him for an hour and half, just waiting for him to take a deep breath and calm down. He never really did. He got a little better when, out of desperation, I moved his turnout buddy to an empty stall next to him, which seemed to be enough of a comfort that I could leave his stall (I was in my pajamas and it was going on midnight!). I felt horrible leaving him, but there wasn't anything physically wrong as far as I could tell, and I could not sit on his floor ALL NIGHT.

    Any thoughts? I kept looking for stimulus. I thought at first it was my car, which was running right outside the barn door (like it is every time I do night check). I pondered if it was a buzzing overhead light. I wondered if he was being tormented by our ghost pony. The barn was peaceful and quiet, like it is every night...except in his stall. I was practically in tears with frustration and worry! What do you all think? Does my horse see dead people?

  • #2
    Are you in a rural area? Maybe skunk, fox, coyote, or something else is coming around the barn or making a pass through the barn and setting him off.


    • #3
      I would talk with your vet about this and also develop a strategy for dealing with it should he have one when you're riding him.

      I had a wonderful young tb mare who was sensitive and reactive, but a real pleasure to train. She came along beautifully and then one day she had an anxiety attack while I was on her. She went over the pasture fence sideways and then bled from the lungs. I have never seen a horse so anxious. To make a long story short, it turned out that she was developing a brain tumor.

      I'm not trying to suggest your horse is developing a tumor; I'm sure any number of things can lead to extreme anxiety. But when anxiety is very extreme I think there is likely an underlying physical reason. So I would take this very seriously and discuss it with a good vet.


      • #4
        Is it a metal barn, by chance? Stray electrical currents can send a horse over the top if there is a short somewhere and he's getting zapped. Seems bizarre, but apparently it is not unheard of. Otherwise a wandering varmint is another good possibility. My horses will all wig out if a coyote happens to stray by.
        Click here before you buy.


        • Original Poster

          Thanks. His vet is aware of the issue. The horse is very sensitive, but is typically a confident horse. So, it is very unusual behavior for him, and troubling. He was, of course, perfectly normal and happy this morning. Which, I'm glad for, but, well, a clue would be nice!


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by deltawave View Post
            Is it a metal barn, by chance? Stray electrical currents can send a horse over the top if there is a short somewhere and he's getting zapped. Seems bizarre, but apparently it is not unheard of. Otherwise a wandering varmint is another good possibility. My horses will all wig out if a coyote happens to stray by.
            Dw, the barn is wood. Rubber mats, etc, but metal bars and trim. I mean, as sensitive as he can be, I wouldn't be surprised that something like that would send him into a swivet, and also why I wondered if the buzzing light might have been just doing him in (I think the dampness of the day may have caused the buzz because I don't typically hear it). Wandering varmit is likely, and not completely unheard of, I just wish someone else would react, too, if that was the case!!


            • #7
              Are the attacks before or after you are feeding him?

              Could it be choke?

              I have a horse who has chronic choke- and some of what you describe sounds like mild choke, and I can imagine if it's not on your list of things you worry about- that you might not think in that direction.

              If he strats eating and then panics and won't finish-- that seems like a choke flag to me.


              • Original Poster

                No. I don't think so.

                Last night went like this: walked in, he seemed normal, although usually he's groggy and makes that "turn out that light" face before coming over to snark at me. Last night, he was pretty alert, but snarked as normal. I walked through the barn with the hay cart (2 minutes, tops). Got his bedtime snack, and when I came to his stall, he was on high alert. Stuck his nose in his bucket, but was not interested. That was similar to his reaction a few weeks ago when he did it in the morning. Seemed fine when I came in the barn and said good morning. By the time I got to his stall a few minutes later with his breakfast, he was on his tip toes and no interest in his breakfast.


                • #9
                  Have you thought about ulcers?


                  • Original Poster

                    That's why I give him a tube of UG when he does this. Vet has wondered if he gets a real mild gas colic, and because he's so sensitive, this is how he reacts. He's been on and off omeprazole as long as I've had him. I give it to him for competing, and usually do an extended round of it a couple of times a year.


                    • #11
                      I agree with the ulcer suggestion. If his stomach is bothering him, giving omeprazole in a scatter shot approach may be working against you, as the rebound could spike his acid production, which would really irritate his stomach, which could cause the behavior you're seeing.

                      I'd likely try giving the treatment dose for a couple weeks (or the full month) and then an equal amount of time tapering off and see what you have then.


                      • #12
                        Omeprazole does NOT act like a buffer/antacid in relieving pain instantaneously, and should not be used immediately for relief of perceived pain/stomach upset. It takes a couple of days to ramp up to maximum efficacy, and even then does nothing for pain per se; it only stops acid secretion. Things that are hurting still need to heal and that takes time.

                        Rebound acid secretion is generally only a problem with continuous use of high doses for more than a few weeks.

                        So random dosing of omeprazole probably doesn't hurt, but almost certainly doesn't help, either.

                        For acute stomach upset, something like a handful of TUMS is a better bet.
                        Click here before you buy.


                        • #13
                          OP, considering that our horses sound like they are practically twins in many respects, it will come as no suprise to you that I have also encountered *this* issue with my sensitive boy. At one point, I had tons of blood drawn to try to figure out what the heck his problem was.

                          He would absolutely FLIP out in his stall (to the point that he fell down more than once). Rearing, bucking, charging the front of the stall, spinning, looking out the windows, etc. In his case, I believe it was a combination of: (1) not enough turnout; (2) he HATED the barn he was at; (3) he had a rib severely out and ribcage rotation; (4) he hated a fan that was running at night in the barn (it was REALLY loud - exhaust type fan); (5) he probably had ulcers due to all of the above.

                          Getting him chiropracted helped him a LOT. I know you don't want to hear this because you don't intend to have him chiropracted, but it really helped my horse. Having the barn owner adjust the fan run times helped him to not have the issue when I was *present* but I suspect still whipped him up when I was not around. Moving him to a new facility that actually turned him out and wasn't just a total trainwreck as far as activity in the barn and barn management was what finally fixed him in full.

                          He will still sometimes get very anxious when I am in the barn if I am not doing whatever it is he thinks I should be doing (usually, getting him out of his stall and getting him ready to ride). If I leave for a while and come back, he is usually settled. Or, taking him out and getting started on our agenda for the day also really helps. He's a horse that just wants to GET GOING on whatever he is supposed to be doing. It really frustrates him when I come to the barn and don't take him out, etc. Sometimes it is enough to just groom him (even though he hates it...afterward, he is calmer and feels he has "done something.").

                          He also sometimes will just have moments of "hearing something" outside where his heart will pound so hard that his entire body moves with his heartbeat. This usually resolves fairly quickly, and he does better if I just put my hand on his neck (I don't coo or comfort - just stand there calmly).

                          I don't know...some horses are just...really, really sensitive. It could be anything, and it may go away without you ever finding out for sure. Good luck.


                          • Original Poster

                            Well, we won't be moving any time soon since I manage the barn.

                            Thanks for the ideas and thoughts. And it is nice to know that I'm not alone with one of these guys! This horse is ridiculously special to me...but sometimes he's just ridiculous.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post
                              Well, we won't be moving any time soon since I manage the barn.

                              Thanks for the ideas and thoughts. And it is nice to know that I'm not alone with one of these guys! This horse is ridiculously special to me...but sometimes he's just ridiculous.
                              Yeah, I would tend to doubt a management/barn problem in your case! But do maybe check to make sure there isn't something making noise that could be bothering him. It took me forever to figure out the exhaust fan thing with my horse. I mean, it WAS loud, but didn't seem to bother the other horses (though it did annoy me!).


                              • #16
                                I'm wondering if there is a varmint lurking that takes off when a person enters the barn. On the two occasions you mention, I'm guessing you were the first one there either in the morning or after a quiet period. Your arrival could send "whatever" hoofing it for the hills...thinking coyote or similar...that your horse can hear & smell, but that you wouldn't see, hear or notice.

                                i also own the worlds' most reactive horse and it broke my heart at times because I just couldn't figure out what was bothering him, or really how to help when he would have an episode. The other horses around him would be fine & I just felt so alone. He is now on 24/7 turnout which has helped immensely, but is also retired which I'm sure didn't hurt either.

                                Please let us know how he gets on.


                                • #17
                                  Ophthalmologist visit might be in order.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    it broke my heart at times because I just couldn't figure out what was bothering him, or really how to help when he would have an episode. The other horses around him would be fine & I just felt so alone.
                                    This exactly for last night. It was very upsetting to have him so upset and just not know what else to do for him. And it drove me to tears when he would start to settle with me in his stall (at first he wouldn't really interact with me at all, but he's usually a very nosy, nudgy horse. I knew he was settling when he kept licking and pulling on my boots). I would stand up and walk out, and his expression would change and he'd start to weave. When I came back in, he'd take a second to settle, then he'd come back over to me and start to relax. It was horrible. I felt so bad when I finally just bit the bullet and turned out the lights and left him with his buddy next to him.

                                    I'd be perfectly happy if we never deal with it again. But, a critter is a highly likely suspect. I know one of the dogs got skunked last week at night check....


                                    • #19
                                      Ugh, skunk. High on my suspect list. I can't imagine the torture of that smell to a sensitive creature. I know it offends the hell out of me! Plus they are weird looking and walk funny...


                                      • #20
                                        I've seen this a few times with different horses and it is bizarre. One yearling colt did it when it rained hard (metal roof on that barn) and another does it whenever it was windy-- that horse if turned out when windy will run to the top of the hill in her field and then be ok but is a spaz if she's in the barn. The others were mostly one time things and I still don't know what triggered them.