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Behavior or health problem?

1279 Views 13 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  ObiWan
We got our first horse (Cochise) two months ago. My teenage daughter & I both have moderate experience with horses (I owned one when growing up; she's had 3 years of lessons). We're far from experts, though. We got our 15-yo QH gelding from a horse trader who told us that the horse had spent this past summer at a kids camp. In our test rides, and for a while after we brought him home, Cochise was quite friendly and obedient. He did give the farrier some trouble on his first visit, though.

He's still our only horse. The closest equines are two doors down--close enough to yell to, but not close enough to really interact with. He generally spends 24x7 grazing in the 1.5-acre pasture adjacent to his barn stall.

My daughter (his primary caregiver) hasn't spent as much time with him as she'd expected to this fall. She'll try to groom him now & then, but her claims of "I'll ride him every day" have turned into us prodding her to ride once a week. The colder temps (Nebraska) and shorter days aren't helping any. We do not have an indoor arena, just pastures. Despite not getting as much hands-on time with us, his care has always been very friendly and loving. He's well fed and (unfortunately) never forced to work hard.

During the past two months, he's gotten progressively more ornery. He went from nuzzling us, to ignoring us, to yanking away, to now biting when we try to saddle him. My daughter claims that even a month ago, he reacted more poorly when you'd try to brush or pet his back or near the base of his neck.

That leads us to wonder whether his poor behavior is perhaps due to some pain in those areas. The pre-purchase vet check in another small town came back clean, except for somewhat flat feet. We haven't had our local vet look at him yet. We were hoping to make use of their Spring sales, but we can have them make a special trip if anyone thinks it's likely to be necessary.

I've been told many times that the cure for a misbehaving horse is a wet saddle blanket, and despite my prodding, that's something that my daughter has yet to give him in the two months we've had him. Last weekend, we were unable to saddle him at all due to his biting, which makes working him difficult. We do have a lunge line, but we're all pretty new to using it.

So to you experts: does Cochise's behavior sound more like a health problem or a behavioral problem? Is this just something that we need to work out of him, or is it worth paying for a special vet exam? I hate to work him harder if he's in pain, but I also hate to pay for unnecessary vet visits. Any advice would be appreciated.
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being kept alone is very stressful for a horse.
I understand that completely. I don't like having a single pet of any species.

We had originally intended to get a second horse. My daughter wanted to jump competitively, and this horse is not a jumper. He was to be our kid-friendly horse. Given the reduced amount of attention that my daughter's been paying this horse, we're reluctant to put the money into a second horse unless she can demonstrate that she's willing to put in the time required. It's her--not my wife & I--that had been dying to get a horse all her life.

Even if your care is loving, you'll never be a substitute for the companionship of another horse (or donkey, goat etc if a horse isn't an option).
I wouldn't mind getting a donkey, even if my daughter doesn't improve her work ethic. They eat less, don't need all the tack, and wouldn't require much more than perhaps running another low wire around the pasture.

Biting when being saddled is often indicative of stomach ulcers. These can be caused by stress and many, many horses have them, so definitely worth getting him scoped before putting the reaction down to bad manners.
Even when he was friendly, he made it tough to get the cinch on tight. He'd bloat every time we touched the leathers, then let up when we were about to mount. I know that's common, so I'm not sure it's indicative of stomach problems.
have you changed his feed from former situation?
Unknown, but almost certainly yes. Nobody knows how he was cared for at the summer camp. He was kept loose in a large pasture of unknown grass with 8 other horses by the horse trader that sold him to us. He was only there for two months, though. The trader would give him grain only when he needed to lure him up close to catch him.

We also keep him in a pasture, but our grass looks a lot nicer. We also give him grain only when we need to lure him somewhere. He doesn't like carrots, apples, or any other treats. We give him a mix of brome & alfalfa hay, but he hardly eats any unless he's locked in the corral. He prefers to nibble the pasture down to bare dirt.

have you changed his saddle?
Probably. We ride English. The horse trader rode western. I can't say for sure, but every Midwestern kids camp I've ever seen rode western, too.

Our saddle & bridle are used, but the cinch & saddle pads are brand new & fluffy fleece. I know enough about horses to know that we're not over-tightening it.

about how many times have you /she actually ridden him since purchasing him, at YOUR place?
On average, maybe once every week or 10 days. They're short rides of less than 30 minutes around our & our neighbors' pastures, which are relatively flat & level. He used to trot readily, but keeping him at a canter has always been difficult (not surprising for a kids camp horse).

I'm actually our only family member that hasn't been on him since we brought him home. I only rode him at the seller's place. I do spend a lot of time with him, though, since I'm always working in & around the barn & pasture. He used to perform very well under saddle for my wife & daughter, until the last week or two.

Is he reactive to touch, even when you are not holding a saddle, or have on in sight?
I haven't noticed him react poorly at the sight of the saddle. He does seem to swing his head at you (not usually biting--more of a gentle "stop that" slap) sometimes when you pet or brush him. I haven't noticed any correlation to *where* you're touching him, but my daughter thinks it's near his back or the base of his neck.

can you invite a more experienced person to come and interact with him a bit to see if he is just taking advantage of you, and will shape up with a more exacting personality?
We've asked a knowledgeable friend to come over for that very reason, but that hasn't happened yet. I'm anxious to see what she says.
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OK, time for an update.

We had a vet (who was also an equine chiropractor) come look him over. She couldn't find any problems, but suggested that there was a chance of ulcers. We gave him UlcerGard for 4 weeks around Christmastime. Nothing about his behavior changed.

In February, a good friend of mine offered to sell me his daughter's 20-yr-old 4H mare, so we finally brought home a friend for our gelding. His temperament mellowed noticeably in just 24 hours after her arrival. We've now had her for 4 weeks, and the two have bonded pretty well, with her being dominant. The gelding hasn't threatened to bite or kick in weeks. He even rests his head against my chest when I'm brushing him. It looks like loneliness was the primary instigator of his change in behavior.

He still doesn't like having his hooves picked, and he still puffs up when you tighten the cinch, but those are minor issues. A trainer will start coming out next month to train both us and him, so I hope to have the remaining issues resolved soon.
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Yeah, I'm really starting to feel sorry for the one horse I had as a youngster. He lived the last 25 years of his life (died at 36) alone in our pasture. We always felt like he was fine, but I'm learning now just how little my family knew about horses back then.

Like you, I got that horse when he & I were both 11, and then I lost interest before I graduated high school. By that time, my mom had fallen in love with him, so he was just her big pet. The last half of his life, he wasn't ridden by anybody bigger than a toddler.

My 16-yr-old daughter seems much more into horses than I was. Time will tell whether she sticks around after high school--she keeps waffling between veterinary medicine and marine biology. The latter would take her far away from the Midwest, of course, but we have two nationally-renowned vet schools within 3.5 hours of our house.

I don't look forward to the day that one of those horses dies. The new mare is 20 and the gelding is 16. We might have to get a donkey or something when that happens, just to keep the horse company.
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While we LIKE the parakeets we don't really WANT them at this point, but you can't just keep one!
My daughter just donated her parakeets to the pet store when she was done with them. A and B were nice as a couple, but got mean after they had baby C, so off they went.

On that note, did you know that in Switzerland, it's illegal to own just one guinea pig? If you have two & one dies, you're legally obligated to either get another or rehome the survivor.
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