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Horse suddenly petrified of poles.... Really?!?!

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  • Horse suddenly petrified of poles.... Really?!?!

    I have this nice Appendix mare that I bought in the fall, she's 5 this spring. Has been broke for 2 years. She's normally very very quiet, doesn't care about much and is pretty lazy & pokey. When I tried her out I actually went foxhunting on her and was so impressed because she jumped absolutely everything without batting an eye.

    She seems to be going through these phases where she's suddenly petrified of going over poles in the arena.... Plain, brown poles. (Colored poles are ESPECIALLY scary!!) Some days she's great and doesn't care at all and goes about doing her thing; trotting & cantering over poles and jumping small stuff (18" and under).
    Other days she's snorty and will throw the brakes on a good 10' out from the pole and refuse to go forward. And when she's not allowed to get away with that and is made to go over the poles, she will either leap it and then jam her head up upon landing and scoot away or she does this fabulous whirl & backup routine that would make you think she'd make a pretty impressive reiner.

    So what is up? I have never, ever had a horse like this in my life. She hasn't had any bad experiences over poles/fences (like tripping, or crashing through one or being caught in the mouth). She's been checked out for pain, recently had her teeth done, saddle fits etc. She gets ridden outside a few times a week to change it up so she's not always stuck in the arena. We've made poles part of her everyday routine, so it's not like she only sees them once in awhile. And we only jump her once a week as we don't want to over-do it. You can lead her over poles, no problem. Walk over poles, no problem. It just seems to be once you add a bit more impulsion, those poles might jump up and bite her.
    The really odd thing is that she seems to be a lot better if we put ear plugs in her ears? I can't seem to figure that one out.

    Can anybody give me some suggestions as to how they would handle this? (I'd like some suggestions other than "Send her to a trainer", that is an option, however I'd like to exhaust all possibilities myself first.)
    __________________________________________________ _
    Proud member of PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!

  • #2
    vision check?


    • #3
      Could she be in heat?


      • Original Poster

        Eyesight seems alright, I had thought of that one because it seems like the shadows are what bothers her. I may take her for a second opinion on that though.

        I guess she could be. She's not very obvious when she's in heat, so perhaps this is her "tell". If that's the case, then what should/could a person do?
        __________________________________________________ _
        Proud member of PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!


        • #5
          My horse started doing this after getting his legs tangled in a jump, once. He was super afraid of going near jumps, even poles, after that.
          He wouldnt even jump cross rails.

          Maybe she has some kind of mental block?
          Something hurts when she jumps, so shes anticipating the pain, even just looking at the poles?

          I would check saddle, legs, back, eyes, ulcers, teeth, etcetcetc.

          after pain is ruled out, I would get a professional on her, and get their opinion.
          Its hard to judge on the internet, especially if you don't know the horse/situation!

          Good luck with your mare!


          • #6
            I have an appendix mare that is night blind. Her vision is fine otherwise. Shadows used to freak her out and forget jumping if the jumps were in shadow or cast shadows. We worked through it and there are no issues now and she jumps around with no problems.Of course we don't jump her that high, and we are careful about where we take her to show. Ton of work but worth it if its a great horse otherwise! Mine is paint/tb, this is a problem that is normally found in Appys but is also found in tb's. I know one thing that's a dead give away is leading from barn outside on a bright sunny day. Horse must stop and let her eyes adjust, once she does no issue. The same with leading into a barn or arena on a sunny day. Vet says its something that you just have to work around, but in genetic cases like my horses, it does not get worse over time. Don't know if its the same issue, but maybe its something to check out.


            • #7
              I have an appendix, just coming 7, who was an absolute freak about certain blue and white rails for well over a year when he was 4/5. He would start balking at them on the ground a good 20' out and then leap 5' in the air over them if forced to go closer. I kept threatening to paint his stall blue and white. He just seemed to get over it one day. It was bizarre behaviour though.


              • Original Poster

                haha Maybe it's an Appendix thing then?? LOL

                I keep threatening to take the poles outside and encircle her hay and the waterer with them so she's forced to go over the poles. lol

                Hmm... night blindness eh? I don't think she is but it could be something to look into. She doesn't have any cloudyness in her eyes and seems to do fine outside in the dark.
                Here's the odd thing, we took her to a trail/obstacle course clinic awhile ago and I had expected her to be spooky about it all because that's about when she started this "OMG! A pole!!!" thing. She was fantastic. Went on/over the bridge, over tarps, had balloons, flags etc on/around her. Dragged a kiddie pool around. Climbed up on top of these gigantic blocks etc. She did everything without batting an eye. But when asked to go over the small x-rail with blue & white poles, she was like "Heck no!!!". Hence why I am inclined to think that it's not a sight thing, its more of a brain issue.
                __________________________________________________ _
                Proud member of PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!


                • #9
                  If her paddock is big enough, you can place some of the colored poles in there - start as ground poles, then cavaletti height, then X-rail etc - she needs to be able to live her "normal" life while staying at a safe distance from the poles, as she desenstizes to them, you can toss her grain around the poles etc.

                  After reading some of your earlier posts on this horse, I suspect she has some pretty big training holes, so you might want to work with a trainer at least once a week - start with a 3 -5 day "clinic" so that trainer gets to know both you & your horse, then drop down to once or twice a week after that.


                  • #10
                    If the footing was kicked into the poles (Like if they chipped), sometimes the noise of the footing hitting the poles can freak a horse out. We had one horse at the barn that it really bothered.

                    I'd make them go over poles as much as possible.


                    • #11
                      Is it possible that the first few spooks were honest and now the rider is worried about them? I can't tell you how many times I have to remind students to EXPECT the horse to be just fine about...(whatever). Very easy for the rider to cause this inconsistent reaction.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Brigit View Post
                        I keep threatening to take the poles outside and encircle her hay and the waterer with them so she's forced to go over the poles. lol

                        Rule out physical issues first. Other than that she is just being a young mare who is testing you. By doing the above she can get over the poles (literally) herself. It eliminates confrontation. And if she does go over them by herself but then refuses to do it with you then you will know you have a breakdown in your training process that you need to correct. It is VERY important that you do not ignore what she is doing. IMO if you do she will try it later on other things. You also have to be careful about being confrontational or you can cause other problems as well. Whenever possible it is really helpful to use this type of passive training!!


                        • #13
                          What typr of arena are you working in? Are there windows? What is the roof made of? What are the poles made of?

                          Who ruled out the pain? The description you gave sounds spooky, then ouchy? Pain can be super ambiguous, and will derail a green/ nervous horse.

                          Also, you tried her on a foxhunt, what flight were you riding?, and did you follow rather than lead over each fence? How natural were the fences?

                          How experienced a rider are you? Have you ever trained a horse to jump?


                          • #14
                            I agree with the desensitizing, particularly if it's just one type/color of pole. Put them around the farm so you walk over them to get to her paddock, on the way to the wash area, etc. It seems like she only does when you start to expect it to be different. If she'll walk over it on a loose rein but won't on contact at a trot then it's probably more a rider giving signals that they are terrifying. Do it bareback or just trotting around on a loose rein.


                            • #15
                              My horse went through a "thing" with striped poles when he was just learning to jump. He was fine with them and then one day somehow scared himself in the air over a small verticle with a striped pole. Despite a good distance and a good canter, he basically did a double take in the air over the jump (very, very odd...I could suddenly see one of his front polo wraps almost next to my hand while I was releasing, lol).

                              Anyway, he was concerned about striped poles for about a month after that. Every time I cantered over one on the ground, he would suck back and then launch over them like a freak. I just kept going over the poles and the problem went away eventually.


                              • #16
                                Horse suddenly petrified of poles.... Really?!?!

                                No, not really. I hate to say it but I think she's got your number. First it's jumps, then it's poles. You're going to have to figure her out before she finds something else to be afraid of... like saddles.
                                Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans


                                • #17
                                  When I first had my mare, she went through a phase like this, even though she was experienced and had probably trotted or cantered over hundreds or even thousands of poles in her life. Some of it was "I've got your number!" (Smart mares will do this, and it really isn't an insult to you...) but when she started pulling it with the trainer's assistant I really had to wonder. We just had to keep at it until she Got Over Herself. Treats helped Now she will trot or canter "courses" of poles (we are not allowed to jump) and have a blast doing it.
                                  You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                                  1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Brigit View Post

                                    .... It just seems to be once you add a bit more impulsion, those poles might jump up and bite her.
                                    Well, duh. Anyone knows that poles with impulsion will do this...
                                    * What you release is what you teach * Don't be distracted by unwanted behavior* Whoever waits the longest is the teacher. Van Hargis


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Taking everyone's replies into account I tried a few different things in the last few rides. First off, I went out and got more poles & painted them. Some plain white, some striped. Then I tried putting them outside on a grass strip we have running around the outside of some of the paddocks. And then rode her over them at the walk, trot and canter. She had a bit of a look but otherwise... no issues.
                                      Did the same thing tonight, did our warmup outside with the poles; no problem. I was actually super impressed with her. Brought the poles inside and made a little course of them. Lots of space in between them, lights on so it was nice & bright in there. And suddenly they were scary again. She would slam the brakes on at the last second and get all snorty. Very odd. I might add, I always wear my spurs with this mare because kicking does you no good and I find that it's hard to really ride well when you're trying to kick as hard as you can. Felt like I was getting nowhere and yeah, totally felt like she had my number and there wasn't much I could do about it. I got off and grabbed an extra long, fairly stiff whip and tried with that. Much easier to keep a strong position and get after her when she balked. She honestly seemed fairly unphased by being whacked with the whip *but* I think she got the message somewhat. By the end of our ride she would trot over all the poles without issue and canter over most of them decently. So maybe she really did have my number and I needed to step it up a few notches. I have honestly never ridden a horse this tough to get over a simple pole before.

                                      Originally posted by mrsbradbury View Post
                                      What typr of arena are you working in? Are there windows? What is the roof made of? What are the poles made of?

                                      Who ruled out the pain? The description you gave sounds spooky, then ouchy? Pain can be super ambiguous, and will derail a green/ nervous horse.

                                      Also, you tried her on a foxhunt, what flight were you riding?, and did you follow rather than lead over each fence? How natural were the fences?

                                      How experienced a rider are you? Have you ever trained a horse to jump?
                                      It's an indoor arena. No windows except one at one end (she used to be spooky/balky at that but has since gotten over it), roof is made of tin and the poles are just regular wood poles.
                                      The vet & a massage/chiro person have both ruled out pain in her.
                                      Our hunt only has one hunt (it's pretty low key, nothing like those down in the US and UK) but for the most part we were following the other horses. Though we did do some fences on our own.
                                      I'd say I'm an experienced rider, yes I have trained horses to jump before. Not a ton of horses and never run into anything quite like this mare before.
                                      __________________________________________________ _
                                      Proud member of PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!


                                      • #20
                                        It sounds to me like you did a really good job with your last few rides.

                                        Keep at what your doing, something inside has shaken her up, or made her feel like she doesn't have to. Stick at it for a few weeks and it should all come together again.

                                        Thanks for clarifying my questions, it's nice just to get a broader understanding of the situation.