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Less reactive Arab lines?

2335 Views 47 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Remali
This is really just for my own curiosity and for the sake of discussion. Of course, every horse is an individual regardless of breed, but does anyone know of performance Arabian lines that are known to produce brave, relatively calm (in the context of Arabs) animals?

My half Arab mare is terrified of the most random and annoying things. Things like semis and motorcycles are perfectly fine, but certain objects that she sees on a daily basis don't get any less scary. Barrels are terrifying. Signs are terrifying. Mailboxes are terrifying. Milkweed plants are terrifying. Painted lines on the road are terrifying. And we encounter most of these on every single ride in the exact same spots they've been in for as long as she's been here. If she spooks at something once, I know she's going to spook at it every single time.

She is perfectly tolerating of desensitization training. I've spent hours throwing hula hoops onto her neck and bouncing exercise balls off of her back and things of the like. She doesn't care one bit. She doesn't care about most things that move and make noise, and wild animals don't phase her one bit. But she hasn't ever gotten any less spooky about the stationary items she has constant exposure to and have obviously never tried to eat her. I can tolerate all her other quirks, but I am beyond frustrated when she throws herself into a ditch because she almost stepped on a painted line and noticed at the last second.

Anyway - the reactivity is a big part of what turns me off from getting another horse with Arab blood in the future. I know brave Arabs exist, but I'm wondering if there are lines that are known for it or if some individuals are just a lot better than others.

@Dreamcatcher Arabians and @phantomhorse13, I know you two have lots of Arab history.
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Halter lines are often quite hot, but some do make really good performance horses. Others... not so much.
Yes, that is my issue. The Arab half of my mare is halter Arab. I joke all the time that she wasn't designed with riding in mind because her sire is a halter Arab and her dam was a Standardbred, assumably a harness racer with how ground-covering my mare's trot is. She got the Arab halter line brains and the Standy jackhammer racing trot. Neither particularly bred for or suited to riding. She's... a lot. 馃槀
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My first horse was a polish (out of Winsz-->Cytrys-->Trypolis) arab gelding and he was pretty good with most things too except in the arena. In one corner there was several plastic barrels and the infamous "tarp flapping in the wind". Believe me I was not afraid of that corner but he absolutely refused to get close to it no matter what. No amount of baby steps or leading him over to look at it or anything else would convince him to change his mind. We would be walking along fine in the rest of the arena then when we neared that corner he would either veer away or kind of drop and go sideways!

Another time we were out trail riding and all of the sudden a cow elk came up over the ridge right in front of us. None of the horses reacted at all, including my arab. I was a bit startled but he didn't care--and she was almost as big as the horses themselves. The elk looked pretty surprised though and turned right around and went back down. 馃槃
Ugh, the barrels. There are barrels in both arenas here and April has yet to get over them. She spends the whole ride actively avoiding getting within 15 feet of them. One time we came around a corner at a slightly different angle than we did in the previous lap and when she saw one of the barrels in a slightly different light, she teleported ten feet sideways without any warning and with a single leap. You could see four hoof-shaped chunks taken out of the grass where she pushed off the ground and four hoof-shaped chunks taken out where she landed.

Thankfully, April doesn't mind deer at all, or any wildlife we've encountered for that matter. Cows, on the other hand, she has a full on meltdown when she sees them from a quarter of a mile away. Usually her spooks are reflexive startles or balking, but when she sees little cow-shaped figures on the horizon, she freezes, shakes from head to toe, then bolts in the opposite direction, and nothing can screw her brain back on until they're well out of sight. She doesn't have this reaction for any other farm animals.
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This is my experience. I bolded the most important in my experience. A reactive person handling ng a reactive horse is a recipe for disaster. Seen and experienced the fall out first hand.
I actually wish my mare's issues all revolved around my own lack of handling skills - at least then I'd have something I could work on fixing myself. I get along very well with reactive horses, and April is phenomenal on the ground anyway. She's also got a good mind under saddle when she's not spooking. Most of her spooks are jump-scare-style where we're going along relaxed and happy at a trot, then something comes into her vision and she startles at it immediately, then carries on a second later. It just gets obnoxious because her version of startling is slamming on the brakes from a brisk trot to a halt, and her version of carrying on is leaping back up into the trot. The balking can get annoying but at least then I can work with her through it.
I appreciate the input on particular lines - it's always fun to learn more about the diversity of Arabian breeding.
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I will say that I personally have not owned an Arabian myself, but I used to board (privately) at a retired couples place and she had Arabians for the purpose of endurance riding.

As a general stereotype, Arabians tend to be very SMART and do tend to be more SENSITIVE. So...... you lack confidence one time, or mess up one time, they're going to remember that. (Now, not saying "you" as in "you" but just talking generalities.) These can be exceptional traits, when handled correctly. And of course, that can apply to any breed of horse - not just Arabians. My horse Lilly is like that. She is smart as a whip and super sensitive - I love it. But, when I make a mistake (and I do, I'm not perfect), then it takes longer for me to overcome that mistake with her, because of how she is. For example, a year ago, I made the mistake of getting after her too much when I was practicing opening a gate. I got frustrated and then she got frustrated, which was all my fault. It took MONTHS to regain where we were, and have her approach the gate calmly, with patience, instead of rushing and jigging. Red, Dexter, or Shotgun? Ah, they've forgotten by the next day and I'm forgiven, LOL. But not Lilly.

So you said, if April spooks at something once, she spooks at it again. There's that "smartness". She won't forget that scary object - she remembers.
So you have to work extra hard, to redirect her mind. You have to figure out how to get her out of the reactive fight-or-flight way of thinking, and back to thinking. Some horses have a hairpin trigger switch to flip to being reactive - very hairpin. And those are harder to train to "come back to you", but it can be done.

But I wouldn't necessarily label Arabians for being that way, because yes, all horses have their own personalities. And certainly other horses (quarter horses, paints, TBs, etc) can be a more reactive-type of horse.

I took a horsemanship clinic with Phil Haugen earlier this year. Excellent! He talks a lot about this. And he's a big advocate of simple, simple, basic steps. Like a one rein step. A pivot. A sidepass. Move the shoulders. Etc. Etc. You're just teaching your horse to be soft, engage their mind, and do some very basic things. And you can put those tools to use when the horse is in a reactive state, to bring their mind back to thinking.
I could actually go on and on about why I think she's inherited a sweet and dumb personality from her Standy side, but I think I'd be typing all night! She is the "forgive and forget" type, always very quickly. She doesn't understand new concepts fast and she takes a while to retain training (this isn't just me - I've trained a handful of horses and she's been the slowest of them all, and much more skilled riders than me have had no more luck with her than I have. Though, trick training for treats has a faster effect with her). It's almost more like she forgets the "scary" objects entirely and then re-startles herself every single time.

I have attempted the "bring her back to thinking" a handful of times and it just makes her hotter, no matter how cool and collected and soft I keep myself as I'm asking. Definitely works for other horses I've had to use it on, but not her. I've talked on the forum in a few different places about how easily she gets amped up with certain aids because of how someone in her previous home rode her. With balking/fixation-type-spooking in particular, it's like she goes "Mom, look! I don't like it." and when I go "how about we sidepass? Circle? Shoulders out?" she goes "BUT MOM!!! LOOK! AT! IT!" We have done this for upwards of half an hour before, hoping eventually she lets go of her fixation, but she will work herself into a lather of her own accord and snap her head back toward the spooky object at every opportunity.

Out of everything I've tried, what works best for her spooking is to just keep moving steadily forward and keep my outside leg and rein on (in perspective to scary object being on the "inside" - and I do this to keep her from stepping straight into the road or thick brush, which she absolutely does if not stopped). She doesn't necessarily get over it, but it keeps her from escalating, and then we can let it go once we're past. It's like saying "Yes April, I see it, but it's not a big deal," so she goes "Okay... fine, but I still don't like it." And she will just never like it.
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Marq My Words (Muscat & Vallejo Marquessa), SVS Il Divo (*Padron, Khadraj NA, Kouvay Bey), Desperado Moon (Sundance Kid V & Hucklebey Berry), Lady B (Barbary) SVS Viado (Desert Heat VF (Fame VF X Khadraja Bey)

There are lines that are considered "Halter" and "Performance" and most are all around types. I admit to being very partial to Russian, Polish and domestic lines bred by Sheila Varian and Bazy Tankersley (Al Marah Arabians). Sadly, Sheila and Bazy are no more.

Marq My Words was one of the best trail & parade horses I've ever ridden. He was one of the most level headed horses I've ever owned. He was by the *Muscat son, Nokitov out of Vallejo Marquessa, one of the best producing mares ever, so I expected no less. *Muscat was Russian, 1st Triple Crown winner (US National Champ, Scottsdale Champ and Canadian National Champ), all showing halter. He was also an excellent Western Pleasure horse, worked cows, and rode out on trail. I have always kicked myself for selling Marq.

SVS Il Divo aka Cloney is my gelding by SVS Fornaio who is a Khadraj NA son out of SVS Kouleysza (Kouvay Bey X Fetyszka) out of Patrice C, a Coleal mare, *Padron X Aaire, an SX Saladin daughter. That's Russian and Polish lines and all Halter and Racing (Fetyszka was a *Deficyt daughter), so you'd think hotter than a $2 pistol but he's anything but. Cloney CAN be hot, but it's all for show, he's not losing his mind while he does it and he's far from spooky. He's shown at the National level in Main Ring Halter, Sport Horse in Hand, Hunter Pleasure and up to 2nd Level Classical Dressage. He's super athletic and very good minded.

Desperado Moon is a Varian bred Western Pleasure horse I owned, by Sundance Kid V X Beyberryeloquence (Hucklebey Berry X Chosen Destiny (Well Chosen). I took him on because of his sire line, and pretty much in spite of his tail female line. A lot of people thought a lot of Aladdinn but he was never a particular favorite of mine. Moonie had been left a stallion solely because he was black and for no other reason. He was a good looking horse but he'd been allowed to be an absolute pig. So, the first thing I did was geld him. That improved him immensely. He turned into the sweetest Western Pleasure horse you could ask for. Even as a stallion he wasn't a hot head, he was just not real nice. After he was gelded and we showed for a season, he was the sweetest horse and I sold him as a child's show horse. By the time I sold him, I really didn't want to. I'd take another Varian bred horse any day.

Lady Barbieri (Barbary) was a Varian bred mare by Barbary, a champion Park horse, so you'd expect another hot horse. She totally wasn't. She was very kind and loved attention and going for rides. She taught me how to ride saddleseat, Country English Pleasure, she didn't trot high enough to be a Park horse like her sire. She was my first Arabian and got me into Arabian horses. She was a total character. Very dramatic, but not spooky in the least.

I also liked to cross Russian/Polish lines on Varian breeding (Bay el Bey). I had an old mare Cachmere (Ratzi X Sacudida) and her daughter Carmel Bey a Bay el Bey daughter, and her daughter Khadraja Bey by Khadraj NA. These mares made some lovely foals and they were mostly sensible. I also had SVS Viado who was by Desert Heat VF, a Fame VF son, out of Khadraja Bey. Desert Heat and Fame VF both were champions at halter and Western Pleasure stallions. Viado, unfortunately, was extremely high strung and spooky. Sometimes all you can do is all you can do.
I also loved Magic Dream CAHR (Ali Jamaal X The Dreamspinner) and he was very level headed. Crossed on Sanadik el Shaklan was a very popular cross but I found it produced horses that were so hot and silly that finding a trainer to work with them could be really frustrating. I bred a foal out of Sanadika Shaklana who was prettier than both of her parents but had a sieve for a brain.l Not a breeding I would repeat,.

What's your mare's Arabian pedigree?

I agree that sometimes the reason a horse is spooky and nervous is because the handler/rider is spooky and nervous. For instance, the mare spooks at barrels and never desensitizes to them. Sometimes that is exactly what's happening. Other times, the rider/handler knows they're going to be passing near the barrel and expects the horse to spook, so tenses up and the horse feels the rider's anxiety and feeds on the heightened energy. Only you can know what it really is.
Thank you for sharing! I absolutely love a lot of the horses in those lines. I have a soft spot for the working Arabs with straighter profiles. I looked up Marq My Words and saw pictures of him in another one of your posts - he's absolutely stunning.

I think you have seen April's sire's pedigree (Infidels Design) before so it might look familiar. He doesn't have much of the modern halter Arab appearance but he has The Minstril in his line twice not very far back, which I understand is known for his fire.

"Sieve for a brain" is pretty accurate for April too 馃槀
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Figured I'd chime in here:

I have my 2nd Arab now. She is young and VERY green, AND was just shipped up from TX where most of her life was spent in a pasture.

I have found she is very sensitive to things. However, she is a smart, and a quick learner and doesn't explode, but rather tries to sort of think out the situation.

Once I realized just how limited her training was, I went backwards with with her training... started with basics, and groundwork.
When I first got her, she was terrified of everything in the ring. Now?
Now I can walk her over tarps, plastic baby mattresses, you name it.
I find the trick is like @RoadRider said... if you do not hesitate or have fear, then she/they will not.
My story with her is slow and steady, I'm building a wonderful relationship with her patiently.

But my post is just to say that I find most Arabs are a bit hot, or spicy if you will... but that is why I love them. They have such a dynamic personality.
I like my people like that too LOL
There are definitely a lot of horses out there whose spooks can be fixed with a bit of confidence, but there are also some that are just inherently spooky no matter what. I know it's hard to speak without subjectivity, but I would call myself a relatively confident rider. I ride a lot of the tricky problem horses that no one wants to sit on and I don't seem to have problems with them. I've put lots of people of hugely varying experience on April too, and none have been able to "cure" her spookiness. She tries hard to babysit inexperienced and nervous riders by staying far, far away from anything that's scary, which can be problematic in itself. She gets very worked up and almost explosive with overly confident people who push her too fast too hard through a spooky area. And, nothing is going to stop her reflexive and instinctual fraction-of-a-second startles as we're leisurely trotting along.
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I've ridden some Varian horses and they had very gentle, less reactive temperaments. These included a Khemosabi granddaughter who was his same color with the high whites, and a Bay el Bay daughter. She could carry little kids.

My first Arab was a Bask granddaughter and mostly polish, she was the spookiest horse I've ever been around. She only stopped spooking quite as much when she was very old and I don't think she could see or hear as well.

Endurance bred Arabs like Rushcreek horses I've been around were steady and unflappable.
My current Arab is level headed and she has almost entirely polish bloodlines. The difference between her and my first polish Arab is that her lines are more performance oriented rather than halter, and no Bask.

I had another Arab that was definitely purebred but with no papers. She was not as spooky but super hot.
One thing I've found true with almost every Arab I've been around. They're sensitive, and if you treat them right they are people oriented. I think people believe that sensitive and spooky go hand in hand. They really don't. My super spooky Arab was that way regardless of any rider nerves and continued to be that way after lots of training and many experiences. My less spooky Arabs were also that way naturally.

It's always helpful to work with a horse and give them more experiences, but don't think you'll stop a very spooky horse from being that way just by being confident. @phantomhorse13 is a very confident and very experienced rider and she also has had Arabs that were very spooky despite what she brought to them as a rider and handler.
I've only heard good things about Varian and Rushcreek. I believe Rushcreek is no longer breeding - is that correct? That's a shame. Hopefully some dedicated breeders pick up those likes and keep them going.
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@Aprilsswessmiss, I've known many horses who have Ruminaja Ali in their pedigrees who were very reactive. After my cross with Magic Dream & El Shaklan, and how bound and determined the filly was to be an absolute spooky GIT, I steered clear of it.
Oh good - I mean, not good that she has this line showing up in her pedigree twice, but good that her reactivity is probably not all in my head 馃槀
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Nope, it's not. Has she forgotten you were there and walked over the top of you and then looked at you in total shock like, "OMIGAWD, where did you come from?". That's what the MD X ES filly did. She literally forgot you were standing/walking beside her, up riding her and would do somd kind of brain dead stunt and be utterly shocked to find out she'd just squashed you flat.
That is absolutely, 110%, how she was when I first got her. We had quite a few very strong conversations about ground manners and she hasn't done it since. I watched her do it to the rescue's trainer when I went to pick her up too. I knew what I was getting into when I got her... There's a reason she was free!
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And to add to it - if I play "passenger" on a ride and let her walk on the buckle, sooner or later her brain will drift off into the clouds and she'll attempt to veer off the path and into the brush/ditch/trees/whatever. Totally forgets that I'm on her and doesn't even pay attention where she's going herself, and that the least I expect is for her to go in a straight line.
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I am wanting to post my girl鈥檚 lineage.
I honestly am not familiar enough to really know how to compare.
Feel free! I am no good at reading pedigrees, but some others here are.
Yep, I stopped riding every step on my spooky Arab mare once and she ran her head into a tree.
She also closed her eyes once and ran over the top of me. Totally innocent, I had " disappeared."
I couldn't ride her into dirt or sand clouds when galloping because she'd try to close her eyes.
It's almost amazing that my mare survives out in the pasture with all the brush and trees that she could get herself stuck in. She is the only horse in the herd that comes in every. single. day. with burrs all throughout her mane and forelock...
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Dreamlet was so ditzy that I ended up sending her to an outside trainer in despair, and said, "Fix her or kill her, at this point I don't care.". After 6 months, there wasn't a whole lot of improvement.

One day my hubby had been standing next to her, petting and grooming her, and he saw that the bottom rail on the fence had broken a weld. He squatted down to have a closer look and she 'forgot' he was there and moved over and ran his head into the fence post, which was a steel pipe. Knocked him smooth out. And then freaked out because she didn't know where he came from. There was no malice in her, she was just a total ditz.

I used to pony her out on trail when she was a young filly, and surprising enough, she was actually pretty good about not being utterly stupid on the trail but she'd 'forget' she was on a pony line. One day she decided to roll in the river bottom while we were out riding. Almost took me off my horse with her nonsense. Another time we were going to cross an old railroad bridge, one she'd been across many times, and she decided she wanted to go down the bank and across the river bottom. No wonder I've had 2 surgeries on my right shoulder. Jeeez. BTW, this was in Southern Arizona, so the river bottoms were dry and sandy, not full of water.

I sold her overseas. She's now living her best live in Saudi or Dubai. Good place for her. Oy!
April has recently taken to trying to go sideways over the trail bridges that don't have railings. Thankfully she is respectful when I tell her we are ABSOLUTELY NOT doing that, but I know she wouldn't hesitate to sidestep straight off the edge of a bridge if I didn't stop her.

I'm honestly glad to know I'm not the only one who's had this experience with a horse of this lineage. It normalizes a lot of the experiences I've had with her. What a doofus.
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