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Mare with pain or Mare with attitude?

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  • Mare with pain or Mare with attitude?

    A friend of mine has asked me to start working with a 10 or 11 y/o TB mare that she owns. Mare has a nasty attitude on the ground (including feeding time). As far as I know she has not exhibited actual dangerous behavior (ie has not reared or bitten), she just knows she can intimidate with ugly faces and pinned ears.

    Mare was bought 3 or 4 years ago from a local A hunter barn- supposedly she was a somewhat successful hunter, had a soft tissue injury and was sold cheaply to my friend. Friend is not super horse savvy, especially when it comes to riding. She owns several horses as pets, but pretty much doesn't ride them at all. She was working with a local "trainer" (to those of us that know her= horse dealer that gives beginner lessons on the side). Friend knows she got screwed, but doesn't want to give up on mare because she feels bad.

    This mare was bought for her young daughters to lesson and show on. I don't really know a whole lot about what happened when the daughters rode, but I know they haven't ridden her in over a year probably. Mare was ridden about 3 days/week for the last couple of months, including a little bit of jumping, by another girl who moved away last week. Don't know a lot about how that went or what was worked on, etc.

    So, to the actual problem- the horse is terrible under saddle. If I didn't know her history, I would think she was a broodie that hadn't been sat on since her racing days. She doesn't feel very broke at all, and her attitude carries over. What I'm concerned about though is that she pins her ears when you ask her to go forward, threatens to turn around to bite (but didn't do it) and refuses to canter more than a few strides. She got better as the ride went on, and going over poles and lots of circles and turning seemed to get her mind off pinning her ears. But when I asked for the canter, she got upset, ears flat back, and did pick up the canter but only held for a couple of strides and got wiggly- like she didn't want to go in a straight line. I'd walk a minute, turn the other direction and try again. This repeated 3 or 4 times, all the same thing.

    So I'm thinking the horse has a pain issue going on, but I can't fathom what it might be. Friend has had 2 different vets out 3 times over the years to check her out, and they came up with nothing. At one vet's suggestions, she had steroid injections somewhere in her hips (of course she can't remember exactly what it was), she's had the mare on hormone therapy and tried a few different supps, but nothing. I did not force the issue of cantering because I don't know the horse and not sure about pain. She pretty much got away with what she was doing. Also- friend told me today that the horse was pretty much the same way with the girl who has been riding her, but the girl forced the issue and made her go forward. According to owner, mare has recently crow-hopped under saddle, but that's it.

    Here's an interesting tidbit too- I haven't jumped her, but apparently the horse is all smiles when she's jumping- zilch attitude or unhappiness. I also regularly see the horse galloping like a wild woman with the herdmates. I haven't seen her take a lame step in the year I've boarded with her.

    Her vet options are not up to me, and frankly, I doubt the owner will put much more money into searching for and issue- she'll probably just stop having the horse ridden.

    Does this sound familiar to anybody? What do you think? Is it attitude or does it sound more like pain? I don't want to continue with her and force the issue if she really has a problem, but I just can't tell if it's just her trying to intimidate and set her own agenda or not...

    *I realize in a perfect world (and probably if the horse were mine), owner would spend every last dime to diagnose what is going on, but I have no control over that. I am just hoping to hear from somebody that may have dealt with situations like this, or recognizes these as symptoms of a particular issue that maybe we could investigate. I've heard of people having issues with mares having cysts- could it be something like that?
    The best is yet to come

  • #2
    when i bought my mare she was very much the same way. super happy to jump, big grouch for flatwork. big grouch on the ground, just irritated all the time.i had her in training at a local h/j barn where she was ridden daily and i rode her 4 times a week, but i was very busy so i just gave her a quick rubdown and put her up afterward. she was injured a year later and needing a year of rehab which i was really really diligent with. i was there every day grooming, rewrapping her legs, and doing her handwalk.

    while she didnt like all the stall time and the minimal exercise, but her attitude began to improve overall, first on the ground then under saddle. i realize now that it has alot to do with all the personal time i made for her...there all the time, talking, feeding, grooming, etc...basically, me being a better horse owner and spending this time with my horse really helped out relationship and her attitude!!! (she still likes jumping best though=])


    • #3
      I would take a stab at hind end pain or lady problems. I would trot for long periods until she will move forward and relax, build up her hindend properly, and canter only in small amounts. I would build my trot rythym until she offers a canter and not worry about the lead.

      It is possible that the other young lady muscled her around and made her sour, so now she is resentful.

      Also, I would lunge her and study every step of every leg and watch what she is doing with her head and neck. I believe that mares can get "back sore" in relation to their cycles, and ones that cycle hard have recurrent and consistent tension through their back.

      It is very kind of you to work with this horse; it would be helpful to get more info on the soft tissue injury as well.

      ETA: check her teeth.


      • #4
        If she's bad on the ground, bad under saddle, likes to jump, and has been to a ton of vets I am going with attitude.

        If she has been muscled and yanked around in her flatwork then her behavior could be her very effective way of making people leave her alone.

        It's possible she enjoys jumping because people chuck the reins at her and just let her go.

        Once it is determined she is sound I would carry a dressage whip and use it but I don't know if I would ever expect her to be an easy horse for beginners.


        • Original Poster

          Good thoughts

          Thanks for the feedback. I have been going back and forth so much on pain vs. attitude. I haven't actually observed her jumping, so I can't say for certain that she truly is happy to do it, but I think the owner is attentive enough to know the difference in attitude. When I work over poles and lots of serpentines, etc, I notice that she is much more interested in what's going on, and the ears come up at least halfway

          I don't have a lot of experience with mares, and I kind of wondered if she's one of those mares I've heard about that basically won't work unless she trusts and likes you. The back pain in relation to her cycles is an interesting thought- I will probably look into that.

          I will also limit her to walking and trotting for a couple of weeks, and see if things improve that way. The owner is a good friend of mine. She's one of those people that buys horses for life, but this mare is totally inappropriate for her and her daughters. My secret agenda is to get her going nicely enough to be sold or at least leased

          I do have a vet friend that I will con into watching her go, so perhaps she'll pick up on something (or better yet, not pick up on anything )
          The best is yet to come


          • #6
            My OTTB gelding has had issues with cantering since he came off the track over a year ago. At my friend's barn, they gave him time off from the track, pulled his shoes, then let him be for the winter. He was suspected to have left front ankle issues, although was sound in the pasture. This spring a vet diagnosed arthritis in the ankle severe enough that they thought he'd never jump.

            I took him over, and had a lameness specialist do a thorough workup - he shows no signs of lameness in the paddock. We did a series of x-rays - he has kissing spine. His legs have relatively minor issues - much better than anticipated. I was instructed not to ride him whatsoever until we found a saddle that fit him to a T. We are now working on his top line, doing only walk and trot 3-4 times a week, hills and trails, a series of Adequan, and I just got him a Back on Track sheet. There was an immediate improvement when the right saddle was found.

            In the reading I've done on kissing spine, they say that they can act just fine in the paddock, but are difficult under saddle - especially at the canter. His new vet also says jumping may be questionable, but this is a nice guy that I'd like to try to give some chance at a job. His overall attitude has improved perceptably as well with regular attention. He was never a real sourpuss - but in this new barn, they are wary of OTTBs off the track. Now he is everybody's buddy.

            Just my experience with a horse with canter issues, who otherwise seems fine outside.
            But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all. H.C.Anderson


            • #7
              An oral dose of Banamine before you ride her will let you know if it's pain or attitude My vote is for a combination of issues: inconsistent work, sassy attitude, cycle related pain, and you aren't 100% sure of her history or training.
              A good idea is to keep a calendar with a pen on/at/near her stall. Make notes of when she appears to come in season, how she behaves during a ride, quick training notes of what you do each time you ride, note when a new med or supplement is added and any result, feed/hay changes, turnout changes etc. It will really help get her program figured out.