Sudden-Onset Hyperreactivity

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Sudden-Onset Hyperreactivity

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  • Horse got vaccines now freaking out when ridden
  • Sudden onset of behavioral issues with horses

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    04-21-2011, 02:56 AM
Sudden-Onset Hyperreactivity


Problem with Mack, my dad's horse. 11yo Paint gelding, good trail horse, gentle, always been reactive and deals with stressful situations by rearing, but always manageable in the past. A humane twitch usually works wonders, and he freezes and lets you do whatever unpleasant thing (clipping, vaccination, etc.).

Last week the grazing muzzles went on, 'cause the whole herd is fat. And around that same time, Mack started freaking out. (Now, his nose is raw and sore from the muzzle, but it was not when the behavior change started, though I'm still wondering about the obvious time correlation....).
He snorts far more often than he should, both with and without the muzzle. He seems distressed, and stands off by himself, sometimes not grazing. Under saddle, he has started bad, violent head-tossing. I thought his loose tie-down might be the problem, but nope. I took off his normal snaffle bit and put a Little S hack on him, and that worked for one ride, and then he was right back to the head-flipping, something he hasn't done for years.

And you all of a sudden can't touch his face. He's always been a little on the headshy side, but never this violent. The vet came out to check him today, and he wouldn't let her get near him without rearing and striking--he's bad, but he's never THIS bad. I finally got some Dormosedan gel under his tongue, but it had no effect. Then I managed to get a shot of IM Xylazine in him, and again, that barely took the edge off, and he was still running backwards every time the vet approached. She had to give him two additional doses of IV Dormosedan, to the point where he was covered in hives and barely able to stay on his feet, before she could examine him.

She found nothing in his ears. His eyes seem normal. Same for his sinus. No nasal discharge, swelling, or foul odor. She did a thorough oral exam and again, nothing. In short, no physical cause for the sudden behavior shift.

I still want to place the blame on the muzzle, but I'm not sure that's it. I'm going to treat this like a training issue now, since he's regressed back to where he was when we bought him five years ago. If there isn't a physical problem, I'm pretty confident I can fix him again. But what if there is and we're overlooking it? Any thoughts? While neurological problems are a possibility, he has no other symptoms...
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    04-21-2011, 07:45 AM
Super Moderator
You are past due for addressing his behavioral issues. HE IS SPOILED. You have been 'sneaking' around his issues and 'steeling rides' for 5 years. Now, he has gone downhill to the point that he is completely unridable and even more difficult to handle.

He would have been unacceptable to me in the beginning. But, everyone places their 'behavior bar' in a different place. Yours is MUCH lower than mine. I refuse to use a twitch for things a horse should be trained to accept. I refuse to alter MY routine and comfort zone to accommodate a spoiled horse. I want the horse 'fixed' or he would be gone -- period.

You should start out with a comprehensive program that instills respect and yielding to your will and any pressure that you put on him. He sounds like a very dominant horse and he needs to be taken down several pegs on the pecking order. You should always be at the top -- no matter what.

I just gave spring shots and dewormed 60 horses -- including some that get handled only at times like these. NOT ONE horse got upset and not one horse required a second person to 'hold' them. A horse that will not allow you to touch their head or anything else, that will not allow you to doctor an injury, that throws a fit when you try to give it a shot -- and the list goes on and on -- is just plain spoiled. That should be addressed before anything else is done to or with any horse.
    04-21-2011, 10:39 AM
Super Moderator
While I agree that he does sound like he's spoiled and has gotten away with a bit more than he should; from what I read, I am not ready to call it a behaviorial issue.

I have a gelding that went wierd on my last summer. He had some type of virus at first, we tested him for EPM, Lyme, Tetnus and some other stuff but never figured the issue out. After he got over it he was really spooky and head tossy and absolutely not a sane horse.

I mentioned it to my vet when she came out to do shots and she realigned his jaw and neck and boom... normal horse back.....? I dunno....
    04-21-2011, 10:41 AM
Green Broke
I would dry-lot him with just hay, no muzzle. Let those wounds heal around his face and work on his training.

I agree with Cherie, get him behaving for you. Work on ground manners first, then riding. I like to use treats/rewards for good behavior, to give the horse more incentive to behave. If a horse is "independent" enough, then he will start running from the halter if you use only negative reinforcement and I'm not big on chasing them down, lol. I have no problem whippin's some butt when needed, but I believe in rewarding the horse for the behavior I want, even if it was a stuggle to get it. Feeding treats is another training opportunity, teaching them to accept a cookie or some pellets respectfully.

Did the vet check for allergies? That could be part of it. Or his raw nose is making him more sensitive to bugs flying around while you're riding.
    04-21-2011, 01:17 PM
It's rather unfair to say the horse is spoiled and dominant without knowing much more of the story. I can get him to accept anything--wormer, clipping, whatever--but my dad can't, because he's not much of a horseman. He does let the horse get away with murder, but if I hop on and ask Mack to do something, he'll have a minor temper tantrum, try a little rear, I'll give him one good whack and then he's a model citizen. He absolutely knows that I have control and that he has to listen.

This is different. This is not a sane, reasonable horse we're dealing with this week. Even when the vet put a lip chain on him--something that should make a horse freeze--he continued to panic and sat down in the corner of the stall. The fact that he took so much sedation should tell you that this isn't purely a training's a horse with serious psychosis problems or something pretty painful going on. It wasn't a slow and gradual backwards slide to this point, either. It was business as usual one day, and unhandable horse the next.

Farmpony, how did your vet know that your horse was "out?"

Luvs, I think bugs may be a factor. He does have absolute fits out in the pasture over buzzing botflies--he'll spin in circles, walk backwards, weave his head, and all in all look like he's having a seizure. But bugs aren't that bad yet, and he's never reacted this terribly. The vet did mention photosensitivity, but didn't say how we'd know for sure or how to treat it.

Wish drylotting was an option. But right now there are two other horses in the drylot who would eat Mack alive....sigh.
    04-21-2011, 07:25 PM
Green Broke
Can you take the muzzle off of him for now? Just let him get fat for a bit. I would take him off all other feed if you can, get his diet "simple" and see how things go from there. Keep him well sprayed for bugs and use SWAT around his face and muzzle. I would just let him be for a bit and see if he comes out of it on his own.

Other things that can cause anxiety include deficencies (sp?) in B-vitamins and Magnesium. Has his diet changed before or during all of this, besides just restricting his grazing? If not, does your feed look/smell/feel any different than previous batches? Any new supplements? One gal I know on another forum had a mare go nuts shortly after she added an MSM supplement to her diet. It took a good 2 weeks for it to completely get out of her system and another month or so for her behavior to settle down.
    04-21-2011, 07:32 PM
Super Moderator
Originally Posted by bubba13    

Farmpony, how did your vet know that your horse was "out?"

I explained her what was going on and mentioned the spookiness. Now, he's always had one of those quick "uh oh" and veer the other way spooks, but he was too the point that the farrier felt like he was goign to explode at any moment when he was out and I had a hard time leading him because he was acting like something was about to eat him. She said that sometimes a sudden onset of spookiness is a simple thing such as a jaw being out alignment. I had no idea....
    04-21-2011, 08:55 PM
Super Moderator
always been reactive and deals with stressful situations by rearing,
A humane twitch usually works wonders, and he freezes and lets you do whatever unpleasant thing (clipping, vaccination, etc.).
He's always been a little on the headshy side,
he wouldn't let her get near him without rearing and striking--he's bad, but he's never THIS bad.
These are all your own words. I did not try to be too judgmental, but these characteristics would cause me to question his training and manners.

I'm sorry I offended you, but sometimes it is difficult to see a horse objectively when you have learned to deal with that horse's problems. This horse is acting in a dangerous manner and really needs some serious mannering.
    04-21-2011, 09:48 PM
Anybody check his teeth? Sharp hooks create ulcers in the cheeks which a grazing muzzle would likely aggravate, as would a halter or bridle.
    04-21-2011, 10:29 PM
Luvs, his feed has not changed (it's a complete feed / ration balancer with a small quantity of rolled oats, then hay and pasture). Should be getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs. I've been putting Bag Balm on his nose to try to keep it soft and comfortable.

Farmpony, that's super interesting and something to keep in mind.

Saddlebag, yep, the vet did a full oral exam yesterday, plus he got his teeth floated a few months ago.

Cherie, you have to allow for some of the horse's individual nature. Maybe I've just explained it poorly. I don't know. But when he's rearing and striking, this is not a "mean" horse--it's a horse scared out of his mind, and there's not a thing you can do to punish him for acting out of fear. It would have just made the situation that much more dangerous for both horse and human. I really don't see twitching to clip ears as that big of a deal (9 times out of 10--until this week--if you just show him the twitch without even putting it on he'll freeze). The only times he's ever acted remotely violent since the first few months of owning him is for the vet, and again, he's never tried to strike out before!

I'm hoping I can convince my parents to leave the muzzle off, but in the end, it's not my decision--not my horse. I really don't think it's just the grass, though, unless it has some sort of brain-altering toxin in it....he's not "hot" or "fresh," just super headshy and unhappy (even when in the field turned out).

I rode him today. Caught him and another horse, hopped on bareback with a halter, and ponied the other horse up. He flipped his head but listened. He was normal to brush and saddle. When I mounted to ride, he started flipping his head right away, and correcting him by snatching back made it worse. So I started trotting some circles. He was responsive and not pissy at all, though at first he was flinging his head so low I thought he was going to buck (he didn't). He was not, in any way, acting cranky, just upset. Gradually he let up on the head stuff. After a while of trotting I walked him out, and there were a few minor head-tosses, but nothing serious. So I don't know what that means.

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