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Possible PTSD in new horse -- obvious trigger.

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  • Possible PTSD in new horse -- obvious trigger.

    This is the same horse I've mentioned in a few other threads -- 8 yr old OTTB turned failed track pony/outrider's horse. Horse didn't like the job, lost weight; became vicious to horses being ponied. Came to me just over a week ago. He's being treated for ulcers with success (is eating well) -- not being ridden; horrible feet, under weight, needs time -- great to handle, great with his turn-out buddies -- all around gentleman. However.....

    ..... the mere sight of tack -- yes, the mere sight of a saddle & bridle as I carry them through the barn towards one of my other horses -- sets this horse off.

    He begins to whinny loudly, frantically and repeatedly. He then looks in every direction, whirls around in his stall, tests his webbing as if intending to break through. Since he hasn't whinnied at all (only nickers at feed time), this sudden vocal explosiveness (screaming really) is specific to seeing tack, as are the other behaviors.

    When I approach him during this behavior (calmly of course) he flies backwards in the stall with extreme head-shy movements. Yes, like he's expecting a terrible beating.

    It takes patience and a completely benign posture on my part to then get a halter on him (plain snap-on lead rope) and once I walk him outside the barn and he sees where he is (not the racetrack) he calms down. But.....

    .....the walk itself is not without terror for this horse. Not only is he 'on the muscle' (much like a racehorse heading to the paddock pre-race) but he's also wincing with every step, is overtly headshy. Yes, like he's got a chain over his nose and is expecting to be nailed with it over and over again with relentless force.

    It's not the headshy behavior or the fight or flight zone this horse gets into that saddens or baffles me. It's the screaming, plaintive-like whinnying -- a chilling first response to the mere sight of tack.

    This horse is saying something. And I have all the time in the world to find out what it is or might be. Probably I'll never know for sure, but it's worth investigating. I have my own ideas. Would love to hear yours, so.....

    What do you think this horse is saying? And/or why do you think he uses voice at all?

    FYI: Horse's connection told me (and I quote) : "He's a little bit head shy. It's not that bad, he just takes a step back in the stall if you make any sudden movements. Don't know why. He's never been beaten or anything like that."

    ^^^^^ Couched warning? The truth? Doesn't matter.

    And please no advice on how to work with, re-train or otherwise handle this horse unless it's germane to whinnying as per your own direct experience in similar situation.

  • #2
    I have absolutely no experience in retraining anything, so take my opinion for what it is worth. I have always felt that a Whinny is more of a stress "Where are you" "Where is my herd" type of thing, then an conversation type thing between horses. Calling out, instead of talking. My horses talk to each other, and to me, with nickers.

    Good luck, and bless you for being willing to take all that time in the world to help this guy de-stress.
    Facta non verba


    • #3
      I would suggest tying him in the back of his stall if you plan on tacking him up, brushing him, or just desensitizing. That is what they are used to and usually helps calm.

      He could be anticipating the race, friends leaving the barn etc.

      I had a horse off the track who was also head shy and he was never treated badly ever, never ear twitched nothing. It was just his personality from being a race horse.

      My newest OTTB would scream her head off when I first started working with her. At first it was the entire ride. Then half the ride, then just at the beginning. It just takes time, and getting used to the new routine.


      • #4
        Is the horse whinnying or is he screaming? I think I remember Henry Blake discussing horse screaming in one of his books, as a communication of great, great, great distress.

        I have worked with horses with PTSD, but NONE of them started screaming at the sight of tack, in fact none of them used any vocalizations to communicate their distress, so I can't help you there.

        Just out of curiosity, does he vocalize when he sees a Western saddle with a horn or is it just English saddles?


        • #5
          If you've got 40 bucks to burn call Lauren Bode, animal communicator.


          • #6
            LOL shes a fake


            • #7
              I'd probably leave tack laying around for him to see everywhere. Hang a cheap bridle in his stall. Put a saddle on the paddock fence and put some peppermints on it. Maybe start clicker training and build up his self-confidence and to touch the saddle and bridle. Build a new meaning with it if he is truly scared of it.

              It's most likely the shell shock of a new routine and new people, not due to the track itself. They thrive on a set schedule and knowing exactly what is going on. Change can be very upsetting to a TB.
              "Anyone who tries to make brownies without butter should be arrested." Ina Garten


              • #8
                The only thing I can say is that horses have amazing memories, both for good and for ill. And it may be that he was not mistreated (and I doubt you'll ever know that for sure) but that he has some other (perhaps bad) memory that is activated by the sight of the tack.
                "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


                • #9
                  If there's any way to get a video, I'd be interested to see it. I knew an off track once who got really pumped when he realized he was being tacked up, but in his case it was because he really loved riding out. Became almost unmanageable from the moment the penny dropped until the moment you could swing a leg over him, and remained that way for at least the first few weeks we had him. No pain, no trauma, just really, really happy to do his job. Like a dog when you grab the leash. (He didn't vocalize it though.) I'd be interested to see if yours reminds me of that one!

                  Best of luck with him!


                  • #10
                    My OTTB mare also has PTSD with very specific triggers, though she doesn't utilize vocalizations to exhibit stress. Instead, in the beginning if you had a whip, not even using it, just carrying it or even picking it up off the ground, she immediately went into full blown panic. She would get whole body shakes, break into sweats, whites of her eyes showing, nostrils flared and if she had the option she would bolt in a very uncontrolled manner...she ran threw a fence the first time we discovered her distress. I have zero idea of what happened to cause this and I'm not going to speculate. She exhibited similar panic symptoms around ropes, particularly any rope that touched her legs. The trailing end of a lead role that accidentally brushed her front leg caused a full blown blind bolting panic attack that of course kept going for nearly an hour because she had pulled the lead rope out of the BO's hands and it continued to slap against her legs as she ran. She does have very nasty, old scaring on one of her back cannons. We cannot be sure, but it does look like she may have become tangled up in something at one point in time.

                    Ren is a particularly sensitive AND intelligent mare which means any lessons she learns, she learns very quickly. So while she could totally have been the recipient of abusive practices and even outright beatings it could also be that she just had some bad accidents with no nefarious intentions from past handlers. The thing is, the road to recovery doesn't actually change no matter how she got where she is.


                    • Original Poster

                      Originally posted by Jackie Cochran View Post
                      Is the horse whinnying or is he screaming?

                      Just out of curiosity, does he vocalize when he sees a Western saddle with a horn or is it just English saddles?
                      He's screaming -- full on open mouth. Similar to a mare separated from her foal.

                      So far only my english saddle.


                      • Original Poster

                        Originally posted by Jealoushe View Post
                        I would suggest tying him in the back of his stall if you plan on tacking him up, brushing him, or just desensitizing. That is what they are used to and usually helps calm.
                        Yes, I know about tying in the stall I used to train racehorses -- and I still tack up in the stall, groom etc. Never use crossties but I don't tie in the stall either, don't find it necessary and this horse is a pleasure to work with in the stall -- but it was not him I was tacking up, it was another horse.


                        • #13
                          Can you turn him out? I would give him many weeks or even months to chill out and not be 'triggered." Give him a break from seeing tack and whatever triggers him.

                          TTouch would do him wonders! It is very effective at releasing that kind of tension in the body that comes from fear and pain. You need to get him to lower his head so he can calm down and break the panic cycle. Lowering the head and stroking his body with your hand or a "wand."

                          Here is an article from my website: https://www.theexcellenthorse.com/tt...ring-the-head/


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jealoushe View Post
                            LOL shes a fake
                            Who would you recommend?


                            • #15
                              I won’t give training advice but observed many horses screaming in the first weeks in new surroundings. Maybe the new recreational barn routine is drastically different then his track routine? Maybe he had a buddy he missed, neighbor horse, favorite groom, companion animal? Sight of tack triggers the seperation anxiety?

                              Thinking out of that box, maybe he needs the set routine of a job on a regular schedule, about the same time everyday? He hated his last job but it was track routine job, maybe he needs more routine and just does not know or understand what to do when left most of the day on his own? Sounds like he’s never been in any routine except a track one.

                              I’d think about that before assuming he has “ PTSD” from some horrific beatings and seeing horrendous things. It’s easier to jump on the abuse bandwagon instead if trying to get inside a horse's head and understand why they are insecure and scared.

                              Horses learn from routine, it makes them feel secure. You changed the only routine he’s ever known as failed racer then track Pony, it removed his sense of secuirty.

                              Its only been a week too. Try to see it from his eyes and understanding. Might suggest relocating his stall to avoid triggering his anxiety and get him out to do something every morning, even It it’s only a hand graze, get him some exercise, give him some direction don’t leave him to his own devices...that doesn’t happen at the track. And give him some TIME. No quick fix here, it’s a big change for a horse.

                              I would suggest turn out but some horses don't really know how to do that, can be overwhelming without very gradual introduction. And...you might want to give him a little help handling his anxiety with a calmer. Once he learns to trust you,..whatever training route you want to take will be easier. On both of you.

                              IMO, while abuse happens, former owners are unfairly blamed for it way too often by less experienced horsefolk who don’t appreciate fear and anxiety are hard wired into prey animals and can occur with changes in their lifestyle. Probably more often the cause then “PTSD” from chronic abuse. I don’t think that’s fair to former owners or unfortunate humans suffering PTSD.

                              Has he had a good vet check? Pain never helps an anxious horse. Or maybe that’s why they are anxious? I hate to suggest it as it never solves everything but..,if he’s got bad ulcers it’s not helping, venture to guess he’s got them. If he’s got back trouble, that wouldn’t lend to success as a Pony horse with somebody heavier then a jockey aboard. Come to think of it, might make him dread the tack going on. If he is physically miserable on topif the drastic lifestyle change? That makes more sense then blaming the former handlers for regularly beating the snot out of him.
                              When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                              The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                              • #16
                                I had something a little similar. Not the screaming but a horse on the end of the line that was expecting a beating when I picked up the lunge whip.

                                Trying to get away. Shaking uncontrollably. Scared out of his wits. This was after he bolted on the lunge but I saw it happening. I waited for him to hit the end of the lunge. I had yanked and pulled him up and stepped back to pick up the whip. An open paddock as he had been good in the cattle yard which was not really appropriate.

                                The horse already knew from me that Good Boy is good and a stroke on the neck is good.

                                I was able to hold him from running off. I dropped the whip. I slowly approached hand over hand on the lunge rope to get to him.

                                I spoke softly and calmly.

                                I reached him and petted him. When able I was able to let him go without him taking off.

                                I talked non stop telling him he was the best horse in the paddock. The most handsome horse in the paddock, etc, etc, etc.

                                I started off with soft short strokes.

                                By the end, they were strong long strokes the whole of his neck on both sides. I took my time. Good Boy over and over.

                                I stepped back and sent him out on the lunge again.

                                The change was immediate. The sun shone out of me. That horse would change when he saw me, even my hubby commented on how much that horse loved me.

                                The stupid thing is that horse did his utter best for me from that moment on because I did not hit him, which is what the person who hit him was wanting.
                                It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Jealoushe View Post
                                  LOL shes a fake
                                  Dude, they are all fake. I don't see your point.


                                  • #18
                                    I'm not going to comment on this behavior or the retraining. What I do want to point out is that it never ceases to amaze me that people think a new horse should be fine and the same as they were in old environment.

                                    Horses just like people are individuals and some cope with change better then others. Even the ones that cope well exhibit behaviors that tend to modify over the course of weeks and months.

                                    Imagine waking up getting in car or plane and going to completely unknown place where you know no one. I know I would be insecure and have a heightened sense of awareness. I think the first few weeks and months are the most important and shaky times with a new horse. The more insecure the horse the more acting out they may do during this time.

                                    While I do think the behavior being observed in this instance is intense and strange, to me it doesn't matter what occurred; what matters is how the horse feels and changing his perception to a more relaxed frame of mind. Sounds like the OP has these skills just surprised by the extreme reaction this horse exhibited in first week with her. It's amazing how an extreme reaction can make us all second guess ourselves sometimes! OP best of luck!


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Originally posted by LookmaNohands View Post
                                      Can you turn him out? I would give him many weeks or even months to chill out and not be 'triggered." Give him a break from seeing tack and whatever triggers him.]
                                      He's turned out nearly 24/7 with his new buddies who recently lost their partiarch. Here's my last update on that thread of mine if you're interested:


                                      This horse LOVES coming into the barn -- comes in with his buddies, sacks out in his stall, a joy to groom, etc. Total sweetheart. Only threw his head up during the trigger episode. Today he's his normal self.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Though I greatly appreciate the time posters took to offer me tutelidge on racehorses, the racetrack & OTTB's -- suffice to say: you're preaching to the choir.

                                        This horse does have a 'history' that would be lengthy to explain, and there is missing info in this history that could account for his strange yet understandable and also 'par for the course' (in part) behavior. But in all my many years of experience I have never come across a horse that felt the need to scream in the situation as I described it -- or any situation except for those I shudder to think about...

                                        Anyway, I thought this was truly unique behavior -- and it was the express focus of my post.

                                        But In hindsight I shouldn't have even posted it. There is no way for the experience to be answered other than: Try this. Do this. Is horse in pain? Does horse have ulcers? He needs time. Turn him out. No routine. Different routine. All the usual suspects. No offense to anyone!

                                        Who knows what this horse was saying -- or was really feeling. Only he knows. And he is in good hands.