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"Claustrophobic" horse

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  • "Claustrophobic" horse

    My jumper mare has started claustrophobic behavior when at a show in the schooling ring. She shies, bolts, tucks and runs when other horses get close, either in front or behind. I saw her do it for the first time yesterday coming in from the pasture when she was boxed in between the fence, gate and my other mare. At first I thought it was because we ride alone a lot (I have her at my own place) but she doesn't do it when we're schooling at my trainers or on trail rides. I'm stumped and I'm also worried because I need to be able to school her at shows. Any ideas, suggestions? Thanks.
    Fernhill Warmbloods

  • #2
    Check her vision - a Veterinary Ophthalmologist would be my first choice.


    • #3
      I had a pony who would do that. Say if traffic was coming towards him he would turn and bolt or shy. I fell off a few times but just more time in the arena with other horses going in a million directions eventually made him numb. Is she green? It may just mean she just needs more time and will eventually get over herself. Is she being bullied in her turnout situation? I wish I could help more. Good luck!


      • #4
        A ridden horse should respond only to its rider, not outside distractions; make sure your horse is schooled to a level that ensures such obedience. A horse that is unpredictable and erratic is a danger and should not be exposed to situations that could lead to an accident. If a horse spooks, shies, and wheels, it shouldn't be placed in a situation where it will be a danger to other horses and riders.

        Because lower level riders are prone to lose control* or be ignorant of the rules of the road, they are likely to collide with other horses even when things are going right just because they aren't watching where they are going, so it will also help to ride only with advanced riders who are in complete control of their mounts.

        *If you are a lower level rider yourself, you should not be riding a horse with the behavior you describe. If this is the case, get a more advanced rider to do the job.

        There are times when the schooling area quiets down. Knowing when they will occur and taking advantage of these will be a help. Typically at the very beginning, and toward the end of a class, the crowds are at a minimum.

        Letting other riders know your horse has a problem is a courtesy, and will help keep incidents to a minimum.

        Mainly, a horse like this should only be in a schooling area when it is ridden by a skilled rider surrounded by other skilled riders, and would be a disaster waiting to happen with a low level rider surrounded by others of the same level.


        • #5
          Lucky you! She probably got too close to the fence while in the pasture, and was boxed in by the other horse. So now it's an issue. It takes a good amount of work desensitizing, and you might never get her completely comfortable. It also takes a rider who is good at riding, and at the same time identifying potential "space-issues" and avoiding them. Let other people know about your problem, too.

          Tiger Lily has a VERY big issue with horses coming at her. I have had her for 6 years now, and right before I got her she was in a nasty head-on collision in a warm-up ring at a show. Apparently, somebody ran into her, really hard.

          If she panics, she will sit on her haunches, and spin so fast and gallop off in the other direction I'm left in the air looking like a cartoon character, lol. I can flat her fine, but if she's feeling "up" and distracted she will react at the trot and canter, and it's worse if she's on the rail, and the other person gets too close. I could never jump her with more than 2 other horses in the ring, and NEVER jump at the same time as another horse.

          I cannot even take her in a warm-up ring at a show. If another horse is in an adjacent ring, but coming at her, it's a no-go. I'm either the first one in, by myself, or the last one in. I learned to yell at people in my way, or to take her out of the "panic" situation.

          Good luck!
          "On the back of a horse I felt whole, complete, connected to that vital place in the center of me...and the chaos within me found balance."


          • #6
            I will share our experience with two different horses. First my daughter's pony who never had an issue until another horse got loose in the warm up ring and crashed into him while my daughter was riding. After that he would sit and spin anytime a horse came near him. He was fine if they were all going in the same direction but not coming at him head on. We tried avoiding the warm up ring at shows but knew we needed to confront the issue head on (no pun intended) What I did was worked with him on a lunge line. I would have other horses come towards and away from him. I also made sure we were at the show bright and early and let the show build up around him. So it wasn't like we were entering the warm up ring while it was already full. It really helped and after 2 months he was much braver and we over came the issue.
            Next horse is my mom's new horse. He is an ex eq horse that she is using for dressage. Several years ago at the farm he came from the stable hand was leading 3 horses from the paddock at the same time to the barn. My mom's horse was in the middle and when the stable hand lead them through a gate, one of the outside horses spooked and pinned him between the two (He is a very big 17.2 hand boy) Ever since then he couldn't be lead through a gate, barn door or anything that was less than a 12 ft span. If you tried he would bolt through. Of course this is not safe. He was given to us, partly for this issue and his owner knew I had experience desensitizing horses. We worked on over coming his fear by confronting it head on. I would walk him though, small spaces, backing him through so he would not run through. I did a lot of ground work teaching him to read my body language. He now is so much better and has been the perfect partner for my 60 year old mom. In fact facing his fear has made him so much braver in other aspects of his training. Good luck
            Worth A Shot Farm
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            • #7
              I had a horse who I also thought was claustrophobic. She would get anxious about entering her stall - once she was on a straight line she would bolt in. Same with the trailer, loading she was fine but coming off she would run and jump off the ramp. Very scary! With her I think it stemmed from someone handling in her past and not being that nice about it...she was also head shy (not a great quality on a 17.2h horse being handled by a 5ft tall rider!)

              I found that the head shy-ness and the running just got much better as she got comfortable in her new environment and if people moved more slowly when bridling (and of course, no food in her stall when I put her away.)

              Sorry, I know its not much help but I was really surprised to see someone else thought they had a claustrophobic horse!


              • Original Poster

                Thanks for the replies. I have thought about the vision issue. I have had a pro ride her and push through it at the last show and she did but she wasn't 100%. My biggest fear is hurting someone else or their horse. My chiro/massage therapist is seeing her next week to see if she finds anything physical. This is such new behavior that I can't understand where it came from. I'll get to the bottom of it, she's too talented to give up, we have a lifetime left together to sort it out.
                Fernhill Warmbloods