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The Winter Sillies - What to do?

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  • The Winter Sillies - What to do?

    I have had my OTTB for a little over a year now and she is my forever horse. I got her right off the track in September, so I thought her winter silliness last year was from just coming off the track. She had an amazing summer, learned a lot and really grew up. I was so proud of her, and I thought that the silliness was gone.

    Well, winter is back, and so is her ridiculous behavior. It has nothing to do with her "being bad." She is sweet and loving. The problem is that she has a genuine fear of "winter sounds" aka snow falling off the roof, winter creaks, etc. She was totally fine until the little bit of snow that we got warmed up and started coming off the roof. I got a phone call at work asking if the vet could tranquilize her because she was throwing herself all over her stall in extreme fear because the snow fell off the roof by her stall.

    We put up a blanket over her window, but the problem is that she can hear it above her head. Now she is scared of the indoor again (she was perfectly FINE until the snow) even if it is completely silent, and the slightest noise of any kind makes her jump sideways about 5 feet (thank god for my deep seat dressage saddle-I doubt I will be in my close contact all winter! haha).

    They are going to put snow guards up above her window so that the snow falls at least a little further away from her. She gets 1st and 2nd cut hay, beet pulp and not a ton of grain. She is also turned out for at least 8 hours a day. When I ride I put ear plugs in, but she actually gets more nervous when she realizes she has had her hearing taken away and starts looking for things to be scared of. I don't think it is a matter of her getting more work because when I chase her around/ride she dogs it (until there is a sound, of course)

    What do you suggest that I do?

    I have considered putting her on some kind of calming supplement for the winter again, but I felt like the Quietex really didn't help at all last year.

    I don't even care about riding her all winter, I just want her to feel safe and calm in the barn.

  • #2
    Have there been food changes?

    I wouldn't blame the sound of the roof seeming to cave in on winter, but rather on the fact it's scary sounding for a horse who probably isn't used to that! I never got over jumping when I'd hear it after 4 years.

    I'd look toward feed and possible ulcer medications as well as a way to ensure she can have sufficient turnout. My TB has more energy in cooler weather, but as long as he has the chance to run and buck he is able to channel it when I'm riding, rather than turning nutty from it. He has had periods where everything is terrifying, though, and sure enough those times signalled ulcer issues.

    Just training and consistent work helps them get steady, but given how much is going on when you're not riding, I suspect there's more than training can easily fix, even if I can also understand why it would be scary!
    If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


    • #3
      My horse is just like this. An old pro in the spring/summer/fall but as soon as the cooler weather starts: leaves crunching, limbs cracking, snow sliding, wind gusting he acts like a 3 year old. He's VERY noise motivated and will then start to look at things to spook at. All I can say is, work through it, he has some bad days and some good days. Just depends on his mood! I try my best to just sit up and ride, if he's always on the go, there's less chance of him freaking at something. He really does TRY to be a good boy haha sometimes it just gets the best of him. Just think: only 2 more months of it...


      • #4
        I think this is just the kind of thing that you are going to have to hope gets better with time and experience. I don't think a calming supplement will help, since she seems to be genuinely afraid, poor girl. I have found that most horses that are afraid of noises actually do seem worse with ear plugs in. I don't ride my own horse with ear plugs for this reason (and also because the head shaking with the ear plugs is actually worse than just dealing with his reactions to noises, lol!).

        If your horse was mine, I think I would try doing a lot of groundwork with her in the arena while snow is falling off the roof. Does not have to be anything fancy, but something where she will have you there on the ground for confidence that will then hopefully carry over into ridden work. When I do ground work with my horse, I basically do a lot of walking, then halting promptly, backing up, turning in circles both ways, yeilding haunches, trotting in hand for short periods, etc. It has really helped with his ground manners (he tends to be a bully), but it has also just helped to make him a more grounded, confident horse.


        • #5
          A lot of boarders where I board my horse will not even consider riding on a windy day or a day where the snow is slipping off the roof.
          My 4 y/o mare used to spook at these things when she was younger, now I can ride in the arena with the sprinkler, the snow slipping or a 'tear the roof' off windy day.

          I don't think there is any trick to it. Expose them to this type of thing as much as possible. Keep a good deep seat if you know it might happen that day and try to push your relaxed mentality through so they realize if you are relaxed then I can be too.
          Plus, keep them busy, lots of transitions whether it be walk-halt-back-walk or which ever you feel comfortable with and try keeping the reins longer since many people tense up on the reins and make it worse.

          I wouldn't resort to calming supplements... you need fail safes in case of emergency when you don't have it.

          You may also want to take a look at how long her turnout time is and/or give her a lunge.
          The problem may not be fear, it might be energy.

          Good Luck.


          • #6
            I think this is the kind of thing you just have to live through as best you can until your horse learns - hopefully - that although the noises are startling, nothing bad actually happens.

            My horse is 12 this year and has always been somewhat reactive to noises overhead (even hearing people moving around in the loft above his stall made him nervous for a while.) Snow crashing off the roof of the indoor sent him into orbit. He is normally a very kind, easy going sort but he was genuinely frightened, so punishing a spook in that instance was counterproductive.

            What helped the most: for noises in the barn/overhead - I spent a fair amount of time hanging out by his stall, giving him a treat every there was a noise overhead (thanks to all my friends who went up and down the stairs to create a bit of overhead noise in the interest of saving time, LOL.) Once he learned to associate noise overhead = yummy snack, that issue resolved itself pretty quickly.

            In the indoor, the snow crashing was tougher, because *I* jumped as much as he did, as it sounded like the roof was caving in! And of course mine was not the only horse that reacted that way, so there were times when there were four or five horses all reacting/feeding off of each other. Playing a radio helped a bit, along with doing some quiet longe line work when the arena wasn't busy - letting the horse figure out that nothing really bad happened even when the sound was loud. We followed that by riding with some horses who were NOT reactive to the snow slides, and over time both of us became more relaxed about it. I won't say ALL the spook disappeared, but it got to the point where it was pretty minor... and of course once that happened, I relaxed a lot more too, and it became a non-issue.

            Good luck. I hate winter.
            We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


            • #7
              I find it really hilarious that I got a "thumbs down" for my post on this.


              • #8
                My guy is coming 18. His way of spooking is usually to stop and stare at the deer that just tried to jump on his head. And he still takes off a few steps when snow falls off the roof over his head. They're going to do that under saddle.

                Frankly, if your mare is working herself into a nervous state just standing in her stall and the snow control measures you're putting in place don't help her, and she's putting herself in danger by being an idiot, I would be inclined to sedate her on days you know there's going to be snow coming off the roof so she doesn't kill herself in her stall. It sounds like she's being a complete fruit loop and is going to hurt herself or someone else in the comfort of her 12 x 12 if something in her management doesn't change, and it also doesn't sound like she's acclimating to this at all.

                I would also be upping her work-load if possible to see if a tired horse would be less likely to throw herself against the wall.
                "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

                Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
                Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.


                • #9
                  Is there any possibility you can turn her out in the indoor, where she can have the opportunity to be scared and work herself through it without dumping you? Or better yet, turn her out there with a buddy or two who will not react?


                  • #10
                    OP, no solution for you, but I can empathise. We had a horse who could not cope with the sight of snow out his window. We had to nail a burlap bag over it in the winter. He got so he would go out in it, but the first sight of it never failed to flip his lid. We found him a nice home in a warmer clime.


                    • #11
                      I would definitely try a little turn out in the scary arena if that's possible and safe. Have you tried playing music during your ride? If she won't tolerate ear plugs to deaden the noise, maybe music would help cover up any sudden noises like snow falling off the roof, etc. Kind of "out there", I know, but maybe worth a try.
                      Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


                      • #12
                        I had the same challenges with my OTTB: he was a mellow saint on days above 70 degrees, and wild man/saddle bronc on all others. Here's what worked for me:

                        1. Ear poms. Own them. Love them. They were my best friends when I was riding him between the months of October-April.
                        2. Turnout: is your horse getting enough of it? I always found that my guy was way naughtier when the weather was too cold and icy for safe turnouts, but I worked with my barn manager to ensure that my horse got out every day: even if it was in our indoor ring early in the morning.
                        3. Check your saddle fit. Cold weather has a funny way of making the ouchy spots feel ouchier (just ask my back and knees in December) so make sure you're ruling out anything physical that's causing the sillies.

                        Hang in there! I know how frustrating it can be to live with a horse who gets nutty when the barometer drops!


                        • #13
                          While she'll probably never get totally over jumping a bit or spooking when she's in the arena I'd tell her "toughen up cupcake" in her stall. Stalls are "homes" and horses feel safe in them, she'll get over it, even if she does flinch a bit. Especially if the other horses don't care.


                          • #14
                            I empathize. I too have an OTTB who has Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. He is lovely and fun as long as the weather is, oh above 45 and sunny (and NOT windy). As soon as the weather changes - so does he! He was a royal mess on Monday of last week and it was cold. This weekend we had a warm front move through and it was AMAZING...like a whole different horse. So...I have accepted that he is now middle-aged and will never be any different. I do make him work through his silliness. I mean work HARD. I am as non-reactive as I can be, but if he has enough energy to spook, then he will work on whatever I have decided is necessary for the day. I find that the more demanding I am the less likely he is to have a chance to be super reactive. This does not mean he won't react, but he will let a lot more go by when he is really dialed in to what we are doing. Best to you and remember you aren't alone! Winter


                            • #15
                              For the most part, they just have to get used to it. Here are some things that have worked for me:

                              1. Ear plugs.

                              2. Turn out in the indoor when the snow is popping, cracking and sliding and let them figure it out. When they are first figuring it out, I don't ride them on those days. I don't want them to feel any tenseness on my part. It is kind of counter productive if I jump when the snow moves or tense up in anticipation of their reaction.

                              3. When you do ride, go slowly and build up. As in don't expect them to focus on complex things. Do just enough to get her focused on you, then reward her, be done and put her away. I have found the more you go around and around trying to make them calm down and get used to it, the more amped they get or they start to calm down, then something sets them off again!

                              4. Be confident. Easier said than done! Don't go around the ring going, "Whoaaaa, e-zeeee, good girrrrl ...". If you feel her tense, tell her matter of factly, "its alright," pat her and move on. If she does spook, pull her up or push her on, whichever is more appropriate, when she responds correctly, tell her good girl, pat her and move on. One thing that has worked for me is laughing when my horse spooks. It relaxes me, which in turns relaxes my horse and helps him get over scary things that much faster.

                              5. As the snow is usually cracking, popping and sliding off the roof usually coincides with reduced turnout, I try to find constructive outlets for their energy. I will turn them loose in the indoor for a few minutes to let them roll, run, buck, play and otherwise get out some of their pent up energy.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Renn/aissance View Post
                                I would also be upping her work-load if possible to see if a tired horse would be less likely to throw herself against the wall.
                                This was similar to my initial thought, which was work the stinker until she's too tired to spook.

                                But in all seriousness, I am being frank. If she were mine, she'd get a sympathetic expression but told that life's tough and to get a helmet, because we're going anyway

                                What is she like if she's turned out in the indoor to free lunge? I've seen spooky, neurotic horses in winter indoors act completely normal when they are just in there to chill. For some reason, adding a rider turns them into froot loops.

                                I'd make sure to lunge her before each ride, and then simply ride her down every time you get on and she acts nutty. If she leaps 5 feet sideways, push her forward and make her GO - canter, trot, circles, what have you but make her feet move and her mind think. Some riders can't do this, however, as they just aren't comfortable with the forward ride. If that's the case with you, try to find someone to exercise her with this in mind, or get a no-nonsense trainer on her back.

                                ETA: Forgot to mention that if you do this ^, don't be mean about it. Don't growl and boot her forward, otherwise she'll think she legitimately has something to worry about. Keep soft hands and firmly ask her to move out, and don't forget to praise when she has her relaxed moments.
                                Lucy (Precious Star) - 1994 TB mare; happily reunited with her colt Touch the Stars