Input appreciated (longish)
Him - 12 yo gelding, not sure of his background
Me - 47 male, we had a couple hotses when I was young but not much involvement; got Festus 9 months ago and heve been riding/working with him 1-2 d/wk on average but less in jan and feb, 4 day riding clinic with Josh and John Lyons, lots of you tube watching, horse forum reading and Brannaman clinic planned in August
Issues- Festus has always seemed respectful of space and nonaggressive; he is very jumpy or startles easily when i touch him but only intermittently. Went through head shyness and we worked through but has returned the last couple days when approaching from the left or off side. He got startled and jumped away and ran to end of lead rope and obviously in fear. He then did not want to let me on that side. He usually lunges very easily but had to push him to turn to his left for the next few minutes.
He is not easily startled under saddle and is very eager to do the what i want ( when I first got him he would want to run as soon as I got on him but this has resolved). He is sometimes difficult to catch but can actually free lunge him in a pretty large paddock and get him to "join up" with me after 5-10 minutes.
He always seems to be a little on edge. This may be due to me since I am probably wanting to do the right thing, hoping things go smoothly, and may be too cautious due to my inexperience. Thoughts/advice?
Have you ruled out physical issues? Sounds to me like he could have some vision troubles. Are these issues more in bright sunlight or darker areas?
An old blind Appy of mine when he had a little sight left he'd spook over everything! Once it was gone all together he got better though. The bright sunlight can be as bad as the real dark too.
I have thought about vision as a possibility but not checked it out as of yet. It is so intermittent and lighting does not seem to be an issue. His muscles are very jerky when lightly throwing lead rope onto withers, belly, flank...... and have been working on this by keeping doing and then praising petting when he does not flinch. Seems to be more his nature, or maybe I am the issue.
I wouldn't rule out vision - if he knows you're there and is paying attention to you he may not get too nervous, but if he's looking at something else his peripheral vision may be lacking. I'm not an eye expert - I'd have a vet check it out.
It could also be ulcers (the parts of his body you mention he is nervous about makes me think that and if he's such a nervous horse it really could be).
I'd be asking my vet.
Next question, what's his diet? Some diets can just be too 'hot' for horses making them more reactive (making things up to get nervous about just because he has too much energy).
A scoop of sweet feed could certainly be adding unneeded heat. Sweet feed is truly garbage feed. If your horse stays healthy on grass hay alone you could supplement with a ration balancer, if he needs extra weight you could add some form of cooler calories. Ask around on the health forums.
Often when horses have hotter diets and less exercise theyre more reactive than they should be. My mare is a quiet bred draft horse, on a grain diet she was spooking over nothing in her paddock. Put on just a ration balancer she calmed right down in a matter of a few months.
My horse is one of those that is more reactive on sweet feed. When I first bought him he was reactive (was on a sweet feed diet) and when I switched him to a grass based pellet he calmed down and became more accepting.
Initially I went with SafeChoice for a few months, but after deeper research switched him to a ration balancer. He is an easy keeper and sweet feed was doing us both no favors.
Anyway, just my $.02 worth on ration balancers.
My belgian is underweight (just got him) he's on a ration balancer + rice bran for weight and oil. So if you find he isnt keeping the weight on with ration balancer alone you could add rice bran.
Any and all diet changes should happen slowly and spread out over days.
When I do a switch in any of my animals (I have a large variety of critters here) I slowly add just a little bit of the new diet for several days...
like 7 parts old feed to 1 part new.
Then, 4 parts old to 1 part new for 3 or 4 days.
Then 1/2 and 1/2 for three or four days.
Then 1/4 old to 3/4 new for three days, then fully over to new diet.
Same with forage switches, jut not quite as drawn out.
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