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Yesterday I rode a haflinger mare that I've ridden maybe ten or fifteen times before and we started out our ride very well. She was very responsive, listening to me pretty well, only acting up a little bit which I worked out as we progressed in our ride. In the beginning she would sometimes stop and try to sniff my left foot and nudge it around before I got her moving again. I wanted to get a canter out of her during this ride, so I slid my leg back and she responded. We went around once before I brought her back down to a trot and that's when she started to act up badly. She suddenly decided to stop and look at my foot again and I told her to walk, which she did reluctantly and she tried to go in the opposite direction. I got her to walk straight for a bit and then she stopped again and looked at my foot. I took it out of the stirrup to see if there was anything about my boots or halfchaps or something that could maybe be rubbing against her and bothering her, but it was all smooth and I know that my feet weren't resting on her sides. No flies on her flanks either. I asked for a walk but she acted distressed and started to back up, chewing on the bit and pinning her ears back. I turned her in a circle to get her to move and then straightened out.

She walked a few feet and stopped again, looking at my foot. Turned again, walked again, and I asked for a trot. She did NOT like that. She backed up again, looked at my foot AGAIN, and lowered her head and tensed up. I sensed a buck coming on so I turned her in another tight circle and didn't give her any slack to put her head down. The owner came by and got me a crop which I walked her to the fence to get, but as soon as she saw the stick she darted away. The owner then told me that she is absolutely terrified of the crop, which is the one tool that I really needed... I tried to get her to move again but she was completely unresponsive, continuing to look at my foot. I kicked her and asked with my seat and kept the reins up on her neck when I asked so she knew I wasn't asking her to stay.

She's a very sensitive horse so I'm baffled as to why she was ignoring all my cues. Does anyone have any theories as to why she was acting like this, and only towards the end? She hadn't been ridden in about two weeks, but if that were the cause why wouldn't she show it in the beginning? Do you think it was something I was doing or did she just suddenly decide to stop working? And what was up with my foot that she kept stopping and inspecting it? I know these are a lot of questions, lol, but if anyone has any answers I'd love to hear them! I asked her owner if the bridle and bit were the right fit and she said yes.
 

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Are you sure its your foot she's looking at? She could be trying to let you know that she's in discomfort in that part of her body and your foot could just be in the way of her gaze. The more I think about it the more I think that's what it is.

Is it something she does with the owner? Maybe there's something in her tack pinching her or she has ulcers or something.

Can you ride bareback safely and see if she does it again? I would also not only check her saddle fit, but check the pad and saddle for anything that might be rubbing, pinching or poking. Also check the girth and the buckle where the girth attaches to the saddle.
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I'm thinking that it must be something with the tack as well because I'm nearly 100% positive that my heel wasn't rubbing her or anything.
The owner is in her 50s and doesn't really ride her anymore. Probably about 6+ months ago she stopped working with the mare and now her and her buddies are really only companion horses. She's at least level 1 Parelli but I'm not sure how far the owner got with her. I doubt that she has ulcers, I think the owner would have noticed because she spends a lot of time with the horses and she's a pretty responsible owner (not to say that even the most responsible owner might sometimes not notice an ulcer, I just think it's unlikely).
Everything looked normal when tacking up, but it's possible that I missed something or the girth was too tight or any number of things... I'm hoping to go back next week and see if this behavior continues. The other mare she was raised and purchased with has done that sort of behavior with my friend as well but I think it was pure stubbornness because I got on and sorted it out with a crop and she worked beautifully after she realized she wasn't going to get away with being naughty.

Her buddies were also in the next paddock grazing, do you think that might have anything to do with it?
 

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I'm thinking ulcers. They probably only bother her to that extent when she is stressed out, which is why it only started bothering her so much later in the ride. Plus, if she isn't ridden often, it could be a stress she's not used to. I would ask her owner if she can have some GastroGaurd or something similar.

Ulcers may not show up ALL the time if they aren't severe. They could be triggered only in these situations, and if her owner doesn't ride or work the horse too much, she might not notice simply because the horse isn't in pain. It's worth checking out, IMO.
 

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I also believe she was trying to tell you about some discomfort. You're certainly doing the right thing evaluating tack, saddle pad, girth etc.
First, I'd check the back for muscle pain, bumps, rubs. Then lungeing W/T/C without tack both ways to see if it triggers any reaction.
Then evaluate saddle fit, which is such a common cause of pain.

Is there any change in the tack you are using? Girth, saddle or pad? Because my mare absolutely HATE my Coolback Toklat pad and would try to bite my leg when I used it. Another horse I know can't stand the neoprene girth when it becomes hot/sweaty. Fine early in the ride, then acts up.
 

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Has it crossed your mind that perhaps this horse has learned that it can stop and stand there? If you've checked the tack and looked her over for soreness and girth galls/irritation and she's clear I'd be inclined to use the toe of my boot to discourage her from turning her head in like that and get her moving out.

Sometimes the first reason we think of IS the reason a horse is doing what it's doing. If she can move out freely on a circle and in a straight line then I'd be inclined to think she's found a reason to stop that works. Also, is she stopping in the same place in the arena and the head turning is just her cue to tell you to quit because she's done?

Sometimes we find every reason under the sun to make excuses for a horse. Sometimes it's valid, other times its just the horse training you.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I'll ask her owner/suggest maybe she has ulcers, but I don't want to come off as thinking I know more about her horse than she does or implying that she doesn't know her horse all that well, if that makes any sense. I feel like it's just a tentative subject.

No changes in tack that I know of. Everything went on just like normal. Owner said everything should be okay in terms of fitting and she even came over to help me hold her while I put the bridle on since we tacked up outside so she knew what the tack looked like on the horse and didn't tell me to adjust anything. Next time I get on I'll ask the owner to go with me and do a muscle soreness check since I don't think I have the keenest eyes in detecting that.

Muppet, she was doing it in a particular area, mainly the first half of the paddock. She liked to try and stop at a certain corner and I'd kick her on and she'd reluctantly go forward all loose and stretched out, not at all collected. I don't think the head turning is her cue to call it quits because she was willing to work in the beginning and she was still doing it then. I initially thought it was just her deciding to stop, pure and simple, because God knows how many times a stubborn lesson pony has tried to do that to me. Usually I can show them who's boss by just not giving up but this went on for about fifteen minutes and neither one of us was ending it. I finally decided to get off when I got a half-decent walk in a relatively straight line, the most progress I'd gotten since her behavior went downhill. Again she's a very sensitive horse and she wouldn't have just ignored my heels digging into her flanks like that unless she really didn't want to work.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I just texted the owner and asked her if Cedar (horse) has ever done anything like that with her before. Hopefully I can steer the conversation towards possible ulcers without sounding confrontational, lol.
 
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