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Horsey OCD, fence-walking, and aughhhh!!!

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  • Horsey OCD, fence-walking, and aughhhh!!!

    This is sort of a long story that I will try to keep as short as possible.

    My horse, a 19-year old Tb ShireX mare, has a bit of a history of pacing up and down the fenceline. She is turned out alone (has been for years) due to her habit of attacking and chasing other horses, but she has horses in paddocks on either side of her.
    The fence walking became really problematic several years ago. She would do it all day until she was dripping with sweat. You could leave her too it, or you could go rescue her and bring her into her stable as soon as it started and it didn't make much difference. At the time, she was at one of these DIY yards (self-care in American) where everyone was on a different routine and I deduced that she was upset that she was brought in and out at different times and so was everyone else. I moved her to a yard where all the horses are on a strict routine and the pacing went away. Win. That was almost two years ago.

    It came back a few months ago. Nothing much has changed at the yard. I was told that she paced like a maniac on a day when most of the horses were brought in early due to a lot of people riding at the same time, someone having a vet appointment, etc. Fine, that normally doesn't happen. But she continued to pace for subsequent days. After scratching our heads, the yard owners and I noticed a correlation between her pacing and the weather. If you got that classic Scottish wind and horizontal rain combo, she'd pace. So I bought her a shiny new rug (blanket in American) with a neck cover and big tail flap. It's like wearing a shed. It seemed to solve the problem for a few months. Then yesterday, we had wind and snow, and I went to the yard to find the horse covered in sweat and the yard owners told me she'd been pacing most of the afternoon. As soon as the weather, kicked off, so did she. Arghhhhhh!!!!!!! I didn't ride, as the horse needed to be cooled out more than ridden and I was feeling pretty grumpy at her and there is no point in getting on a horse you're pissed off at. I'm at a loss for how to deal with it. Bringing her in when she starts pacing isn't an option, as it doesn't suit the YOs and she will go ballistic if she's alone in the barn when all the other horses are out. Also, buggering about with her routine (which was attempted at the previous yard) makes her even more neurotic.

    I have speculated that it might be like an OCD (not the arthritis acronym) thing, her default behaviour if she gets stressed about *anything,* be it the weather, other horses being moved around, whatever. But because it is an obsessive behaviour, once it starts, it doesn't stop.

    I put in a call to my vet today. He should get back to me this afternoon. Some years ago, I had a different vet examine her due to this behaviour and he didn't find a thing wrong with her, but my current vet is more of a "think outside the box if need be" kind of guy, so perhaps he has some ideas. I don't know. Do they make horsey Paxil? If she were a person, I'd put her on an SSRI.

    A final thought about the weather. The horse was born and bred in Colorado and I moved her to the UK with me in 2006. Colorado gets 300 days of sunshine per year. Scotland doesn't. Anyway, she paced a wee bit when I had her in the US but it seemed more manageable -- possibly the way US barns are set up? We'd just put her in the right sort of paddock and as long as she went in there the same time every day, she wouldn't do it. It's gotten worse here; I don't know if it's the weather, the funny accents, the way UK barns are, or if she's just getting more neurotic as she gets older (aren't we all).

    If any COTH people have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.
    Help me keep my horse in peppermints and enjoy a great read! My New York City crime novel, available on Amazon.

  • #2
    Cribbing, weaving, stall/pen/fence walking are OCD behaviors, you are right.

    All you can do with horses that do those is to try to manage them so they don't spend all day doing them.

    Like any other continuous motion activity, those may eventually have consequences, wearing the horse down, be it it's teeth or legs or whatever that activity may affect.

    Over the years, we have had some fence walkers we tried everything to keep them from it, but they were so confirmed there was nothing we could do.
    One would walk the fence in his pen, we opened the gate and walked him to the yard prettiest grass, left him grazing there and a few minutes later he was back in the pen, walking the fence, past the open gate, back and forth.
    That was where he wanted to be, all day long, would not hardly eat or drink, had to be shod to keep from wearing his feet into nubbins.
    We tried adding bales of hay along his path and he would walk and stumble over them and keep on walking, as if the bales were not there, back and forth, time and again.
    Turned out, he would ignore other horses and walk a stretch of fence back and forth all day and night long.

    I don't know much you can do with such horses.
    Depending on how bad those OCD behaviors are, I am not sure those horses have much of a quality of life.
    I am not sure you could give those horses enough medication safely to keep those OCD behaviors at bay.

    Will be interesting to see what your veterinarian comes up with.


    • #3
      She sounds pretty bad, but have you tried some sort of calming supplement, that might "take the edge off," as it were? Not a sedative, but just something that calms her a bit, so that she looks at other horses going in or the weather changing and says "Okay, that's worrisome, but I don't need to pace about it..."

      This doesn't relate to the schedule changes, but could the weather changes be making something uncomfortable for her, and she moves as an attempt at avoidance? Humans always complain about their bad knee flaring up in bad weather.


      • #4
        Yikes. What a headache.

        I think that both Gallop and Bluey are dead on. I second a supplement. I finally broke down and put Herself on Vita-Calm for the winter. She hates the cold, and this really helped settle the wackadoodle side of her. Best thing ever.

        Can you also try moving her around so she has a paddock closer/further away from the barn? Sometimes musical paddocks is helpful. A bit of a PITA, but better than a lame horse!

        I bet a friend would help a lot as well, but I know that you said she isn't really 'into' friends. It's a tricky situation! One that I hope you get figured out soon.


        • Original Poster

          The first vet did a soundness exam and as far as I or even a vet can tell, she's very sound and works well when ridden. Even all through the worst of the pacing, once you caught her and groomed, tacked up, rode, she behaved (and behaves) perfectly.

          One thing... she's always been one to get a bit sharp and anxious at weather changes, even when she was much younger. When she was young, she would dance back and forth when tied, making for fun tacking up, and be sharp as a tack under saddle if the barometric pressure dropped quickly. I wonder if it is all related. I was thinking of trying one of those calming supplements. I'm just sceptical of the efficacy of over the counter supplements. Do they really have an effect?
          Help me keep my horse in peppermints and enjoy a great read! My New York City crime novel, available on Amazon.


          • Original Poster

            Cross-posted with Superminion.

            I don't think the yard owners will move her, as one paddock with a track along the fence is enough. I think it would also make her worse, as she always acts a little bit unsettled when she moves paddocks.

            I wonder if it could be a diet thing? It always gets worse in the winter, which could of course be the weather, but I wonder if there is something she's not getting when she's just on hay. Dunno.... something to ask the vet.

            I wish there were a way to just solve it, forever, rather than experiment with management changes when we can only guess as to what is setting her off. And experimentation is limited by being at a livery yard (boarding stable in American). If it were up to me and money were no object, I would build her a shed in her paddock and buy her a pony. She is generally dangerous to other horses, but is mostly okay with very submissive ones who run away, no questions asked. But at a yard, no one, especially the YOs, are going to take that risk. YO isn't going to build a shed, either.

            As a side anecdote, I have been training a horse for someone else at a different yard. The yard owner also breeds Arabs and was selling on a broodmare as a riding horse, as the mare has different bloodlines than the YO wants to breed, but has the movement to be a nice dressage horse if trained to do so. The mare is also an OCD fencewalker. Joy. YO asked me if I wanted the mare and I was like, "One fence walker is all I need... for the next LIFETIME of horses. If I am horse hunting and find another, I am running away no matter how nice it is."
            Help me keep my horse in peppermints and enjoy a great read! My New York City crime novel, available on Amazon.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Caol Ila View Post
              I wonder if it is all related. I was thinking of trying one of those calming supplements. I'm just sceptical of the efficacy of over the counter supplements. Do they really have an effect?
              I am skeptical too, but there are some that actually work. Magnesium can calm horses down, same with Vitamin B12 (I think 12) for the mares. I know they won't ship to you, but check out the reviews on SmartPak's website, and see what gets good reviews on there that you can get overseas.

              I started my mare on Quiessence because she just always has a SHARP edge and when she gets upset about something, that's it for the day, she's upset and there's no talking her out of it. She's never bad, but it ruins any chance of productivity. Just stressed. I had my gelding on Quiessence for IR issues, and brought some over for her to try. It's only been a week, but I am actually pretty sure I'm already seeing improvement.

              A friend had great luck with Vit. B for her mare.

              Edit: At the race layup barn I worked at for a while, we got in a stall walker. She would walk herself into a lather if we didn't tie her, and it was just heartbreaking, so I understand your frustration. We could just tie her, or keep her out...paddock walkers are frustrating. I boarded a TB for years who would walk in the pasture....out with four buddies, on lush pasture, and he was trotting the fenceline the whole day. His track is still there three years later! You have my sympathies.


              • #8
                I have one that is like this when she is not in constant work. I put her on Mare Magic (Raspberry leaves) and that really seemed to help calm her down. She is worse in the cooler months than warm...so there may be something to the weather.


                • #9
                  Mine seems to improve if I treat for ulcers. We don't get real weather here, but he is also sensitive to the cold especially with wind, but he has EPSM so I believe the cold makes his muscles tense/spasm which gets him going... I've also put obstacles in his way to "break" the pattern and a small hole hay net to keep him occupied. He is on a calming supplement, but that hasn't done much...


                  • #10
                    Her stomach may get upset during weather changes. Could you try giving her gastrogard the night before a big weather change or ranitidine the day before and the day of?

                    What forage options does she have? Possibly adding in some small hole hay nets with good hay may keep her occupied.

                    Also, possibly add in some sort of magnesium supplement.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GoForAGallop View Post
                      I am skeptical too, but there are some that actually work. Magnesium can calm horses down, same with Vitamin B12 (I think 12) for the mares. I know they won't ship to you, but check out the reviews on SmartPak's website, and see what gets good reviews on there that you can get overseas.

                      I started my mare on Quiessence ....
                      You can have vet pull blood and test - even if she is in normal range (but LOW normal) a magnesium supplement like Quiessence WILL help. (My mare gets 2 scopps/feeding at 2 feedings per day.)

                      They sweat magnesium out, B12 supposedly heps they absorb magnesium better.

                      On the other hand if it was summer it could be her cycling and raspberry leaves/Regumate might help. Before I tried magnesium I tried Regumate and it did make things better - but Quiessence is much less expensive. I saw a result in about a week.

                      I tried Raspberry leaves/Mare Magic and saw no "real" response. I treated for ulcers and so no improvement. Tried Quiessence last and was thrilled - mare went from ridable but NOT trainable, to able to be trained.
                      Now in Kentucky


                      • Original Poster

                        She's been known to do this on nice, green grass. Forage doesn't seem to make a difference.

                        Today, the weather was calm and so was she, although she was very much in season as she was flirting shamelessly with one of the geldings on the other side of the fence. She wasn't impressed when I took her away from him and I had to give her a lickit to keep her quiet in the stable while I tacked up. Once working, she settled down. That's pretty standard for her -- she is always prone to anxious behaviour when in a strong heat but the focus of a dressage session seems to calm her down (whereas she will be a complete lunatic on a hack if you take her out in that state of mind). I wonder if that's related to the weather yesterday setting off the pacing. Perhaps I should try the moody mare stuff first and if that doesn't work, try treating for ulcers (as gastrogard costs an arm and a leg and it would be nice if the cheaper solution worked).
                        Help me keep my horse in peppermints and enjoy a great read! My New York City crime novel, available on Amazon.


                        • Original Poster

                          My husband wants to know if the moody mare stuff would also calm down anxious and neurotic female horse owners?
                          Help me keep my horse in peppermints and enjoy a great read! My New York City crime novel, available on Amazon.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Caol Ila View Post
                            My husband wants to know if the moody mare stuff would also calm down anxious and neurotic female horse owners?
                            Well, give it a try and let us know if it did work.


                            • #15
                              Does she do better when she's in heavy work?


                              • #16
                                Have you tried placing things along the fence line, like Safety cones or rubber feed tubs, or tires? Something that would force her to slow down? I too, would try the supplements - different things seem to help different horses. My best friend had a mare that would colic every time she went into heat. They finally had her spayed, and she was different horse - no more colics, and no more heard bound, fence pacing, and screaming at the shows.
                                The Equine Wellness and Nutrition FB Group - Come join us!!


                                • #17
                                  check out nuprafeed. I dont feed it, but I have heard testimony on how great it works for 'chilling out' an "up" horse. It is a feed with magnesium in it and its from Germany.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Caol Ila View Post
                                    My husband wants to know if the moody mare stuff would also calm down anxious and neurotic female horse owners?

                                    Actually, YES, at least it is known for its benefits for women (camps / irregular cycles) and pregnancy in the holistic circles.

                                    My health food store sells raspberry leaves in bulk, for much less than what is charged for Mare Magic.
                                    APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


                                    • #19
                                      Is it possible to move her to a different stable, one that is more quiet and low key, since you said she seems to get upset by other horses going in and out. Maybe a place that keeps them out 24/7, or a place where she can be in a large field vs a small paddock? I've had pasture/stall pacer before so I feel your pain, it's exhausting. The only thing that stopped him was being out with other horses 24/7 in a place he had ample room, but unfortunately it doesn't sound like the other horse is an option for her. Perhaps something like a donkey or a goat to keep her company? Sounds like she could have some real hormonal issues, between the walking, the weather affecting her so much and the attacking other horses.


                                      • #20
                                        What about her ears? Cold windy days were horrible for my mare. Same with pressure changes. She'd get flighty as reactive, she never paced the fence, but she wouldn't settle down either. I think it was related to her ears, as I could walk up to her fine, but getting a halter on when she knows there is a chance you might touch her ears was basically a no go. On good days, not a problem.