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Overly sensitive horse

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  • Overly sensitive horse

    What is the best way to deal with an overly sensitive horse?

    I've been working at my barn the past couple months and there's a horse there that's extremely over sensitive. Everytime I try to tack her up she tenses up (it's a custom saddle that was just reflocked so I know she's not hacing back pain!) and I ALWAYS have to lunge her before I work her out.

    When I first get on she tenses up and when I first apply leg pressure she freaks. After she's somewhat tired she relaxes a little but her back is still tense and she doesn't stride out as she could if she were relaxed.

    I know it's not my horse but I am the working student stuck riding this horse! She's lovely and a gorgeous looking mare but I'm sick and tired of dealing with this nervousness.

    Is there anything I can do to help her calm down?

  • #2
    Try her on a magnesium supplement. I've had the best results with epsom salts, about 1/4 cup for 1200lb. It's been about the only way I can keep my mare from jumping out of her skin. At 18, she's finally starting to slow down some on her own.


    • #3
      After dealing with a highly sensitive gelding for years, I cannot say enough about evaluating feeding and turnout before reaching for the calming aids!

      My guy turned out to be sensitive to soy and alfalfa. Not only was he nutty, climbing out of skin, he also became aggressive and unpredictable. He is now much more focused and "thinks" more often before he acts. Not perfect, but a hell of a start considering where we were 6 months ago. I absolutely believe diet affects disposition in some cases. My guy has free choice hay, beet pulp, and rice bran along with a multivitamin. This is what keeps his feet on the ground. Soy and alfalfa in grains make he lose his mind.

      Also, 24/7 turnout has been a god-send with this horse. He needs and loves to be outside and stimulated constantly. He is much better about noises and unusual things since being out. This is also a horse who was afraid of his own shadow. He will now "face" his fears head on and think about it instead of bolting like he did before.

      Have you had a vet out to do a check up? I realize she is not yours, but sometimes the symptoms you are describing are consistent with ulcers. Girthy behavior is a clue. Does the owner have any interest in having her evaluated?
      Gone gaited....


      • #4
        I would also suggest a bit more ground work. For example, the saddling issue? Spend one session where you just put it on - don't girth it up - take it off - repeat until no tenseness is sensed by you with the horse. Treats may help when you get the desired response, but are not entirely necessary. Another thing you can do is to help relieve the tension. First, put the saddle on the horse's back, then gently ask the horse to lower it's head by putting two fingers on either side of the poll. Reward the slightest try, and then gently rub the horses forehead. I know this sounds nutty, but what you would be doing is stimulating the horses pleasure spot (forehead) and re-programming the response in the horse to the stimulus (saddle) to being something pleasurable instead of a reason to be tense.

        Similar for the leg issue, spend a session from the ground, where you work the horse from the ground and put your hand where the leg pressure would be. Also for mounting, spend some time just getting on and getting off, until it becomes no big deal.

        And include plenty of praise for the littlest try.

        It sounds to me like the mare has some trust issues that the above steps would help to overcome.
        Last edited by MunchkinsMom; Sep. 4, 2009, 02:36 PM. Reason: fixed typo's
        There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


        • #5
          Unfortunately for you (since you are a working student and not a trainer or BM), this would be the kind of horse I would suggest to its owner having tested for Lyme or treating for ulcers. That kind of behavior is classic for both things. If you are a working student, I would assume there is a trainer you work for. Can you discuss what you notice with them?

          Otherwise, just try to take it easy, stay calm yourself, and do everything slow and mellow. If you can, stretch her a little pre-saddling and don't forget to stretch her again to make sure the girth isn't pinching. you can probably google stretching for horses and get some basic stretches, if you don't know any.


          • Original Poster

            I will definitely work more on the desensitization as that is something I can do if I have some free time around the barn. Since I also feed the horses I can see what feed she's on and perhaps check the ingredients for soy or anything strange.

            I'll leave a message in the owner's mail box about testing her for Lyme or ulcers (I rarely ever actually see her!) Polite and friendly, just to make sure that the mare is healthy. Otherwise I will try to turn her out as much as possible and keep desensitizing her.

            I'll also see about the magnesium supplement. The more I've researched, the more it seems like it could possibly be this mare's problem. I'll talk to my trainer too.

            Thanks everyone!


            • #7
              An easy way to supplement Magnesium, if that is what the owner wants to try, is Quiessence pellets. I agree with the other advice too, though.
              Last edited by sdlbredfan; Sep. 7, 2009, 01:09 PM. Reason: add sentence
              RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


              • #8
                Do you ride at my barn?

                We have one except shes a he. Youd think anyone comeing close was a horseating monster. It takes 5 min to even touch him! Brush him with a leg and hes in the next county!

                Ive thought ulcers for a while (horse is BCS of ~3) but absent owner "assures" me that he just needs TONS of feed and time. Yea right.

                We can only do so much.
                “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker


                • #9
                  Test for selenium deficiency, too.


                  • #10
                    If she is:
                    - magnesium deficient
                    - thiamine (b1) deficient
                    - selenium deficient
                    that could be the cause.

                    If she's in need of some myofascial therapy (not the same as massage), that could be problematic.

                    Could be ulcers.

                    Could be a training issue.
                    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                    • Original Poster

                      I will ask the BM and my trainer about any extra supplements they have just so the horse's owner can try them out for a few days... I know that supplements are no extra cost and there are loads in the feed room!

                      I've been working on desensitizing but it seems like everyday is a brand new day and it's not seeming to get better solely with the desensitizing work... but I will keep at it. Anything to prevent me from riding her until she's calmed down haha.


                      • #12
                        My Dutch mare is 3 weeks perfect 3 weeks pure H*LL. Tried magnesium but didn't help. Tried raspberry leaves (triple dose of Mare Magic) which helped some, Last Fridat gave her a Progesterone shot - won't be able to tell for a while as she's leaving her "bad" time and headed into her good 3 weeks.

                        I'd try the raspberry leaves (another thread on this BB for that) as it's an inexpensive alternative.

                        My mare's symptoms - when REALLY bad hated to be brushed even with a soft brush, Acted like she had ADD - no focus - everything else but me was interesting whether I was leading or riding her, Stiff on one side or the other...

                        Ultrasound indicates she has multiple LARGE follicles - when she was stiff tyo the left she had 2 LARGE follicles on the left, when she was stiff to the right - right follicles. Mare was definately hurting so I'm trying to find someothing to help alleviate that discomfort. Sounds like your mare has the same sort of issues (or is she like this all the time? If so have her ultrasounded to see of she has any cysts on her ovaries).
                        Now in Kentucky