Behavioral Issues - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 33 Old 02-25-2009, 07:54 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2008
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Behavioral Issues

Hi Guys,

As some of you may know I have a 5 1/2 year old horse named Indy. A little background for those who do not know him:

I bought him as a four year old, he was started under saddle at 3 1/2, but before that he was out on 100's of acres in North Carolina. Until he was four he only did light work, walking on trails some trotting. When he was four I bought him and had thirty days of his original trainer riding him. All was well.

It is a year and a half later and I have "made some observations":
1) He is much better behaved outside rather then inside, in the indoor
2) He is a lot more hyper and... not uncontrollable, but more strong willed during the winter
3) As he has gained weight he has had a lot more energy

We have been doing things to balance him out. We work outdoors and indoors, making sure that nothing is left "undone". We work him harder and longer (with a longer cooldown period, don't worry ) in the winter, and we have adjusted his feed (amount) a couple of times (gradually of course) until we feel he is at the proper amount to hold his weight but not be to filed with energy.

Lately I've been having some problems with him though. One thing you should know is that I am a full time student which severely limits the time I can spend with him during the week. I can only be at the barn two hours a day which usually translates to about an hour and fifteen minutes of work with warmup, workout, and cooldown.

When I bought him, he was the amazing four year old that was unflappable, didn't give me any problems, and was perfect. No one believed that he was a four year old. Then the winter rolled around and some people labeled him as "crazy" telling me I should sell him and find something more of a schoolmaster. Now, I have been riding for 13 years and while I by no means think this means I am the best rider in the world, I do consider myself in being fairly competent when working with horses. I stuck it out through the first winter and was rewarded with an extremely responsive horse who everyone at my barn was envious of. He would do anything and everything I asked of him, no ifs ands or buts.

Okay, so this winter rolls around and all of a sudden the "physcho" horse is back. He has loads of energy no matter how we feed him, he is testy, he bucks a lot, he tosses his head, he has been biting lately.

Now I'm going to address these issues one by one.

He has IMPECKABLE ground manners. Leads no problem with or without a lead rope. Stops, backs, turns, moves over etc. all just by where you walk towards. (example: I stop, he stops. I stand next to his shoulder & walk towards his tail, he backs up. I walk towards his hindquarters, he turns etc).
Recently he has started nipping at me. He never actually bites or gets a hold of me but he makes faces and opens and closes his mouth. He also chews on EVERYTHING. His leadrope, my jacket, etc. When he does this, I usually reprimand him with a tug on the leadrope or a smack on the shoulder. This stops him, for an hour. Then he tries again. Same thing. It's not that big a deal, just something new that I am trying desperately not to let get worse.

He round-pens as if he has been doing it his whole life (which he hasn't). He walks, trots, canters, ALMOST auto lead changes when he picks up the wrong lead, switches directions at the raising of my hand, etc. No problem. Then he follows me around like a puppy dog.

The problems really only start when I am riding. I have thought about the fact that he may have ill-fitting tack or may be in pain, or that I may be doing something as a rider but I will address that towards the end.

I get on. We walk on a nice loose rein. Practice turning, stopping, backing up, stretching, bending, walking over poles, etc. No problem. He's perfect. Then we start trotting and sometimes he tosses his head a little bit. The first few times he tried this I thought it may be due to a bridle issue or maybe he was in pain (such as his little tiny baby teeth with a bit hitting them). Barn owner/manager checked bridle seems to fit fine, and it shouldn't be to close to his baby teeth. Okay so next time I ride him, I smack him on the shoulder when he starts this. Problem solved. He stops. Happens a couple times then problem disappears.

This is where it starts getting interesting. We trot for a while, really get warmed up. Then I ask for the canter. He is fine for a couple of rounds but then he starts to get fast, I check him and he slows down. Then out of nowhere, no warning or anything, he has a bucking fit. No warning or anything. Sometimes he will try to put his head down but then I circle him and go back to what we are doing. And I don't mean he bucks once or twice. I mean he does his best impression of Namayuna (
). Jumps straight up in the air, bucking twisting, anything trying to get me off. I do everything I can, sit back, try to get out of the saddle a little bit, keep his head up. The weird thing is, he can find a way to get his head down to buck. If I have his reins shortened up, he wont rear, just jump straight up into the air and throw his head down. This usually lasts about three minutes and I ride it out. Then he's fine. This happened maybe, twice or three times a month for a couple of months. (Knock on wood) I have not fallen off him yet. Then I started to get scared when he did this because he would run at the sides of the arena or the fences and get a little close for my liking. So when he showed signs of wanting to buck, I would get off, roundpen him, then get back on. Then he would be absolutely perfect. No other signs of misbehavior.

I realize that I probably shouldn't get off when he does this, but he is by no means being rewarded by my getting off. He is made to work harder when I get off. Then I get back on, with no problems as I stated before.

By now I have chalked it up to me not being a good enough rider to handle him. I start doing more research about different things I can try with him, I work with the trainer even more extensively.

Then, about a week ago, he threw one of his fits and I couldn't handle it. I got off, took him in the round pen, got back on and then finished on a good note. Then I proceeded to call the trainer and ask her to have one of her guys ride him. They usually ride him once every couple of months for a tune up.

For the first time EVER, she called me to let me know that he was misbehaving worse then she had ever seen him. He didn't buck or rear (knock on wood he hasn't reared with anyone on his back). But he refused to do what they asked him to do no matter what they did and she said he looked like he was going to try to unseat the rider at any moment. She also said he was tossing his head quite a bit. A problem which I have not seen in about a month now.

They worked with him for two hours, ended on a good note, and are going to work with him again tomorrow.

I have thought that maybe his saddle doesn't fit right. His first saddle was a bit to small so I bought him a nice new saddle, much bigger, wider, fits him better. This didn't seem to change his attitude. Could his saddle pad be bothering him? I have a special one that deflects the sweat so the pad is not soaked by the time I am done riding. It is rigid but not hard and it molds/conforms to his back.

This is my question to you: What do I do now?

I have thought about sending him to a professional trainer, I have thought about selling him and buying something more "suitable" I guess to my time constraints but I can come up with pros and cons for every situation. I do not know what outweighs the others.

The one thing I never let him do is get away with anything. If he won't do it, we go back to it in ten minutes when he is calmed down. Sometimes I feel like he gets into these moods out of nowhere. He is such a sweet and loving horse on the ground. I just don't know what to do anymore.

Thanks for reading this, & cookies to anyone who reads it/responds to it
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post #2 of 33 Old 02-25-2009, 08:18 PM
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From what you've said (now remember I'm not there watching him) it sounds like he's a Dr. Jeykl, Mr. Hyde pesonality. You said that he loves to chew on everything. This is a sign of a very busy mind and a more extroverted personality. I would stop punishing him for this behavior. It's just who he is. Instead, take that talent he is showing you and use it to your advantage. Teach him to pick things up, redirect that mouthy behavior into something you would like.

He kind of sounds like a QH I know. When my friend got him he was dead broke, and he was only 4. But the longer she had him the more his behavior started to change. He was in a show barn before and had been trained....and that's all they did with him....was train train train. So he *seemed* to be a nice, quiet, broke horse. But then he started acting very reactive, nervous, etc. He could not relax. She stopped riding him and just did ground work to get a better foundation on him. And then his behavior changed again.....he stopped being nervous and started showing a TON of confidence and extroverted behavior, to the point of sometimes being dominant. So to me, this is what happened.....when she got him he was introverted and "checked out" because of all the training they did to him. So when things changed and he came out of this introverted state he was reactive and unconfident, but once my friend helped him gain confidence his TRUE self was revieled...which is a playful, confident, extroverted horse. Perhaps this kind of thing has happened with your horse. It's not the same kind of case, but you know what I'm saying lol.

When you say that be bucks "all of a sudden with no warning" that makes me think that when you're riding, at some point he goes introverted (in which he will seem obedient, calm, etc) and then all of a sudden an explosion happens, and it's BIG when it happens. Basically, if this is what he is doing, something causes him to be unconfident and to cope with the stress he goes introverted, and when the pressure becomes too much he explodes. These horses are very dangerous if you don't know what to look for.

I'd be getting your saddle checked for fit for sure. Also maybe get a chiro out to see him. Rule out any sources of pain.

Perhaps you could look into doing some Parelli with him. That's JMO, it's worked wonders with all the horses I've worked with, from dominant to extremely fearful horses.
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post #3 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 08:18 AM
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what is his diet?? Saddle fit? Teeth?? Hooves??

I have been called the NSC Nazi more then once ... I hate traditional feed methods of loading our horses up on grains and junk food :)
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post #4 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 10:37 AM
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I'm not very experienced so take what I say with a grain of salt, but here is my 2 cents:

If you are using the same tack as you do in the summer and he is well behaved all summer I would start someplace else (but don't rule tack out). Obviously he is bored by the way he is chewing and has lots of energy - physical and mental. I'm not sure where you live exactly but if you're near NC I know it gets hot and humid in the summer so that may be the mellowing factor during those months and he might just be feeling really good with some cooler, crisper temps.

Have you tried changing his diet? Not the amount but what you are feeding. I don't know what you're feeding him but he may need a dietary change if he has lots of extra energy in the winter.

You also indicated that you spend less time with him in the winter months - does he get much turn out time? He might need more time out if you're not able to ride as much. Or maybe you could get someone to ride him when you can't so that he has more to do to keep him busy and working. Even some extra ground work to keep his mind busy would be good for him.

Hang in there and good luck!!!
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post #5 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 01:51 PM
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hello, about his food, idk what you might be feeding him like a pellet or grain, or like a sweet feed. but a lot of sweet feeds can cause them to hyper up, like the point of bucking and not listening. I don't want to say its the feed. but maybe you should try him on something else.

now the biting and chewing on stuff that could be a boredom thing, or even a playful thing. i would just keep scolding him the way you have been. and the opening and closing his mouth, it is it like a foal to an adult horse? cause if so a chewing effect horses do to show that your in control!! which is a good thing

and with my experience with horses, Winter is the time they do get more hyper and more out of control because of summer time you're out there working, they are out playing in the pasture they have more energy in the summer but thats getting controlled because of all the riding and playing

winter they don't play so much...and you're in school so you can't ride as much!

maybe a possibility is to lessen the food in the winter cause they aren't burning as much energy as there getting in there food. which can cause them to gain weight also.

i have a 4 year old, turning 5 this march, he's an Arab and i was the one that broke and did his training. he was out in a pasture for the first two years of his life with absolutely nothing, no human contact at all!

when i first started working with him. the main thing i did with him was nose to his shoulder, so he couldn't turn away from me or try to run off. but you have to have quick feet. you have to be able to keep pulling his nose to the shoulder and if he wants to try to move away to face you, if he starts going in circles the main thing is to stay by his side. so you constantly need to know where your feet are!!

and instead of lunging him per cay of even riding him for 2 hours, take him into a round pen or even let him loose run in the indoor. just let him get some of his energy out. make sure there is not tack on cause you don't want something to get caught and him freak out. but the lunging could be why he's bucking. he probably wants to run to get his energy out but he's restricted to a circle. you don't want to always let him get his way, but when working and training with horses i 've always learned you need to meet them half way!

if any more questions feel free to ask!

Leann, Summer, Winnie, & Max

Last edited by neighxwinnie18; 02-26-2009 at 01:55 PM.
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post #6 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 01:57 PM
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and another thing, i would definitely not give up on this horse. try everything possible, like the feed method and taking him to a professional trainer isn't bad. especially if you can find one that comes out for an hour at a time and can work with you also.

Leann, Summer, Winnie, & Max
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post #7 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 02:02 PM
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Just going according to energy we used to have a horse at Dixie that would do that. Not in the winter but at odd times when he was cooped up longer than usual he would turn into a wack job. We used to make a game out of it though to run his energy down before the show. 2 people would stand at opposite ends of the arena with lead ropes, we would let him go and just shoo him off with the lead rope to run. Everytime he would stop, we would shoo him off again and anytime he go close to one of us we would shoo him off.
That might not be the proper way of doing things but it worked wonders when they couldn't be turned out.

Maybe try doing that before your lunging/riding to get that bit of extra pent up energy out.
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post #8 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 08:58 PM
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What are you feeding him?
Is he getting turned out?
If he is what is the pasture conditions etc?

Some feeds give a bit more energy than others.
You don't have to have the energy to get the calories.
If he's getting turned out that's great, he needs as much of it as he can get, but if it's icey or really muddy sometimes horses don't run around as much, so they aren't really getting all the energy out.
You might just want to let him loose in the indoor and just let him run around and be an idiot so he's getting that energy out.

Then there are the other things, like feet, teeth, etc etc.

I used to be such a burning example,
I used to be so original.
I used to care, I was being cared for.
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post #9 of 33 Old 02-26-2009, 09:55 PM
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Does this always happen at the canter?

I WISH I could remember the website, but they were talking about horses that would canter along fine... and then suddenly EXPLODE with bucks, and it was a pain problem associated with the hip/stifle. They had a bunch of videos, and it showed something like you're describing--a horse just cantering along and then BAM rodeo show.

Unlike everyone else, it seems like pain to me and if I can fine that website I'll let you know. Especially if you've been working him harder every time he's been bad... a pain issue would get worse.

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post #10 of 33 Old 02-27-2009, 02:51 AM
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I think the poor guy is in pain, pure and simple! Tossing his head when you go into trot ... exploding when you canter ... the fact that he's brilliant at groundwork. His tack doesn't fit, and probably the reason he's different summer to winter is that it's even more painful for him in the winter because of his change in shape.

The nipping - has he had his teeth checked recently? Between the ages of 3 and 7 the teeth change hugely and if they're not regularly checked and rasped they can have all sorts of problems. Or he might simply be telling you not to come near him with that riding stuff because it hurts when you put it on him.

I really, really don't think you should sell him and get something else, because I don't think it's his fault that he's doing these things.
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