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I need some advice. I have taken on riding a 12yr of Percheron x Hanoverian mare that came from a horse dealer and was promised to be bombproof. Only she wasn't bombproof at all! The first time I sat on her she freaked out. I have been riding her for a few weeks now and she is improving, some. However, she's very reactive. If she sees my hand in her peripheral vision, she bolts, or if my helmet scrapes a branch, she bolts, or a loud motorcycle going by. She doesn't rear nor buck, but panicks, throws her head up and takes off. It is not every time I ride her either. I really think she's scared of me on her back mostly? I'm very calm and quiet with her and she generally will get on with it once she realizes nothing is happening to her. How can I get her to be less reactive to her rider's movement? Would blinders help? I'm trying not to give up on this horse, but am afraid the owner will never be able to ride her bc she is very timid herself. I'm open for any suggestions. I'm sure most will say go back to groundwork, but most of her problems are when I'm on her back. Ulcers?
 

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#1 - she likely wasn't abused - this is a common 'fear' thing for younger horses and even less experienced horses.

Start on the ground, starting with waving things over her back, in and out of each sides of her sight. Start with something quiet, like a whip. Eventually, work up to something louder, like a plastic bag tied on the end, and then a plastic bag with pop cans in it. Once her tolerance for 'scary' things increases on the ground, move up onto her back. I usually will have them go in a small circle to keep their reactions small while making the scary noise or doing the scary movement. Reward often for even the smallest of progress.

One of my Arab's I trained in college was scared of the tree branches scraping on my helmet too, and she would bolt forward. I ended up breaking a piece of a pine branch off and rubbing it on my helmet while leading her, and then on her back with going in a small circle. My Morgan now was scared of clapping on her back, along with 'big' movements on her such as reaching for something. Same thing, started on the ground and progressed onto her back.
 

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Hi & welcome,

First & foremost I would STRONGLY suggest you do not ride the horse. It sounds plain she is not near ready to be safely ridden. I don't know what has caused you to think she was abused, or what kind of abuse. Of course, she could well have been, but from what you've told, just can't see anything that would make me assume that.

Sounds like she needs to be 'restarted', assuming she was ever started properly in the first place. I'd be treating her as if she'd never been handled & starting at the beginning, including steps such as desensitising, as Cleardonkey described. That way, if she was started well in the past, but has some 'niggles', you might progress to getting to the bottom of them quite quickly, but if she never had a good start or has many 'holes' in her training, you'll be able to address them from the beginning, without going too far.

Just trying to 'hide' the scary things from her with blinkers is not a good move IMO - and they aren't going to help 'hide' noises like your helmet scraping or a noisy motorbike anyway. Could even make her more reactive, as she now can't see what's around her.

Yes, ulcers, nutritional imbalance, such as lack of Mg, other health issues, or pain issues, such as back probs, uncomfortable saddle, etc, along with the way you ride, your attitude, bodylanguage, etc, can indeed be a cause for a horse to get reactive too, so are possible causes/contributors. But without more detail, we can't know much more than just this horse isn't ready to be ridden yet.

Perhaps I'm wrong, just got your words to go on, but sounds like you're a novice and haven't a great deal of experience training horses? I would strongly suggest you find a good trainer to work with your horse first, then teach you, so you & the horse can learn better, without so much risk of... things going pearshaped! There's only so much you can get without hands-on instruction in 'the real world' & while there is some great info & advice to be had thru the forum, there's only so much can be conveyed by words on a screen. So, by all means, continue to ask away here, but also get some hands on help too, if at all possible. If you can't do that, and I guessed right that you're a novice, then I'm thinking this is not a good horse for you to start with.
 

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Hi & welcome,

First & foremost I would STRONGLY suggest you do not ride the horse. It sounds plain she is not near ready to be safely ridden. I don't know what has caused you to think she was abused, or what kind of abuse. Of course, she could well have been, but from what you've told, just can't see anything that would make me assume that.

Sounds like she needs to be 'restarted', assuming she was ever started properly in the first place. I'd be treating her as if she'd never been handled & starting at the beginning, including steps such as desensitising, as Cleardonkey described. That way, if she was started well in the past, but has some 'niggles', you might progress to getting to the bottom of them quite quickly, but if she never had a good start or has many 'holes' in her training, you'll be able to address them from the beginning, without going too far.

Just trying to 'hide' the scary things from her with blinkers is not a good move IMO - and they aren't going to help 'hide' noises like your helmet scraping or a noisy motorbike anyway. Could even make her more reactive, as she now can't see what's around her.

Yes, ulcers, nutritional imbalance, such as lack of Mg, other health issues, or pain issues, such as back probs, uncomfortable saddle, etc, along with the way you ride, your attitude, bodylanguage, etc, can indeed be a cause for a horse to get reactive too, so are possible causes/contributors. But without more detail, we can't know much more than just this horse isn't ready to be ridden yet.

Perhaps I'm wrong, just got your words to go on, but sounds like you're a novice and haven't a great deal of experience training horses? I would strongly suggest you find a good trainer to work with your horse first, then teach you, so you & the horse can learn better, without so much risk of... things going pearshaped! There's only so much you can get without hands-on instruction in 'the real world' & while there is some great info & advice to be had thru the forum, there's only so much can be conveyed by words on a screen. So, by all means, continue to ask away here, but also get some hands on help too, if at all possible. If you can't do that, and I guessed right that you're a novice, then I'm thinking this is not a good horse for you to start with.
I am not a novice by any means. I have trained my fare share of horses, but this one has me stumped. So far, I'm the only one that has had any success with her. I was just simply trying to get some advice, not talked down to like I'm an idiot. Never make assumptions dear. I managed a foxhunting barn of 27 hunt horses and 10 polo ponies for 12 years. Again, this mare is different and I have never posted on here, but now I'm thinking that was the wrong idea. I appreciate any helpful feedback.
 

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not talked down to like I'm an idiot. Never make assumptions dear. ... I appreciate any helpful feedback.
I only have your written words to go on, of which you gave very little, and so I was left to guess at a lot. I said, I was guessing & could well be wrong because you hadn't elaborated. That is not assuming btw. I did not 'talk down to you' in the least, only gave respectful advice, based on the idea you gave me of your situation.

Especially if you give so little info - and granted, writing on a forum about horses leaves a lot of guesswork regardless of your details anyway - we can only give advice based on our best guess/assumption of what might be going on. It's not reasonable to get upset about people assuming wrongly about what you have said.
 

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One suggestion I would have and it's only a suggestion. If this is the horse in the picture and she is very reactive, do you really need the spurs? perhaps if she jumps and catches you off balance she might get a jab with the sprurs. Just a thought, I know that is one thing I would do.
Another thing is when you take her out before getting on, lead her around for a bit and scratch or scrape on your helmet so she gets used to the sound. I have done that with a horse that reacts to branches on the helmet. this seems to bother a lot of horses until they get used to it.
good luck with her. If that is her in the pic she is a lovely horse.
 

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Another suggestion since you mentioned blinders, was she driven at one time? Sis has a mini that can react to a little rider if they swing or move their hands, he is also driven so she put the bridle on him with blinders and that did help a lot. as time went by and he got to know the children this was not necessary
 

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Since she came from a sale barn I'm assuming you only have whatever the seller offered as her experience to go by. Can you tell if she pulled a cart I'm wondering if she wasn't previously used as a riding horse. (Maybe just had someone on her back here and there) but pulled a cart? TOTAL SPECULATION I know. Just wondering.

I would not think it would hurt to consider ulcers. You could always do a couple doses of ulcergaurd. Have you only been working with her for a few weeks or has it been longer? you are right that ground work is a good place to start. I am assuming you've already checked the tack fit and you don't feel like there is any pain or soreness.

Do you think she could have a vision problem or you only think it is just fear? Where are you riding her? A ring? Indoor/outdoor?

I'm just trying to picture what you are dealing with. Is she high energy or just really spooky?
 

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I need some advice. I have taken on riding a 12yr of Percheron x Hanoverian mare that came from a horse dealer and was promised to be bombproof. Only she wasn't bombproof at all! The first time I sat on her she freaked out. I have been riding her for a few weeks now and she is improving, some. However, she's very reactive. If she sees my hand in her peripheral vision, she bolts, or if my helmet scrapes a branch, she bolts, or a loud motorcycle going by. She doesn't rear nor buck, but panicks, throws her head up and takes off. It is not every time I ride her either. I really think she's scared of me on her back mostly? I'm very calm and quiet with her and she generally will get on with it once she realizes nothing is happening to her. How can I get her to be less reactive to her rider's movement? Would blinders help? I'm trying not to give up on this horse, but am afraid the owner will never be able to ride her bc she is very timid herself. I'm open for any suggestions. I'm sure most will say go back to groundwork, but most of her problems are when I'm on her back. Ulcers?
When you say "bolts," I am assuming she doesn't actually bolt, but only darts forward for a distance? That I would categorize as more of a spook. Some horses spook by a quick rush forward. So she might be a horse that is just a little spookier than ones you've been used to. Probably she is just green, although she might simply be a horse that spooks once in a while. I'd call it a bolt if she took off galloping for a quarter mile or so and you couldn't slow her until she calmed down.

Have you ridden her much inside an arena? It could also be that she has been an arena horse, and so is unused to being in an outdoor environment. She might be "bombproof" or show signs of more advanced training inside an arena. She could certainly have ulcers, making her more reactive, so it wouldn't hurt to treat her for them.

If she is just green, are you able to ride her for the owner for several months to see if she will be less spooky with more experiences? I doubt she is afraid of you on her back, since in your photos she appears to have had training. She might just not be used to the environment she is now being ridden in. Pretty much every horse I've ridden that had not been on trails had to be taught about the sound of a helmet scraping against branches, and also twigs breaking. It's something I assume they'll spook over, so I teach them about it pretty quickly once we go out.
 

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Consider your feeding and turnout program- remember with a draftX you want to be feeding PSSM friendly diet. Could she be on sugar load and is she getting enough outside time?

Does cutting out/back grain and adding ration balancer and longeing make any difference in how she rides? Some horses are simply overfed and underworked.

1) amajor vet work up to check eyes, ulcers and ideally xrays to rule out kissing spines.
2) check saddle fit
3) once those are ruled out, a major desensitization program, but this is most likely not going to be the perfect horse for a timid rider for a long time- if ever. Training is expensive...
4) assume this may be why the dealer was able to buy the horse at auction(most likely)
5) or see if she can return the horse
 

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Any training this mare has received, has been by me. I have been riding her since October but not steadily bc it has been so so wet. She is in an arena. She's great on the ground, and being lunged but the minute I sit on her she panics. I am very patient with her and ride out the panics. She bolts not spooks and it takes a minute to stop and settle her. You absolutely cannot raise your hand or arm out to the side without her bolting, but she's OK on the ground. She really has me stumped. I wish I knew what had been done to her? The guy the owner got her from said she might have come from the Amish bc he bought her at a sale.
 

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Since she came from a sale barn I'm assuming you only have whatever the seller offered as her experience to go by. Can you tell if she pulled a cart I'm wondering if she wasn't previously used as a riding horse. (Maybe just had someone on her back here and there) but pulled a cart? TOTAL SPECULATION I know. Just wondering.

I would not think it would hurt to consider ulcers. You could always do a couple doses of ulcergaurd. Have you only been working with her for a few weeks or has it been longer? you are right that ground work is a good place to start. I am assuming you've already checked the tack fit and you don't feel like there is any pain or soreness.

Do you think she could have a vision problem or you only think it is just fear? Where are you riding her? A ring? Indoor/outdoor?

I'm just trying to picture what you are dealing with. Is she high energy or just really spooky?
She's high energy until she settles and yes very spooky but not your typical spooky of things around her, mostly noises and rider's body. I have thought about her vision getting checked bc that could be a possibility. I absolutely think she's only been hooked to a cart and barely ridden.
One suggestion I would have and it's only a suggestion. If this is the horse in the picture and she is very reactive, do you really need the spurs? perhaps if she jumps and catches you off balance she might get a jab with the sprurs. Just a thought, I know that is one thing I would do.
Another thing is when you take her out before getting on, lead her around for a bit and scratch or scrape on your helmet so she gets used to the sound. I have done that with a horse that reacts to branches on the helmet. this seems to bother a lot of horses until they get used to it.
good luck with her. If that is her in the pic she is a lovely horse.
She is the same with or without the spur. Once she warms up good she can be quite dead to your leg. She's smart and has come so far, but dang, she just hasn't learned we aren't going to hurt her yet. She is a beautiful mover, too. I am just at my wit's end and wish there was someone that could help me that has experience with these type of fearful horses. I have two dressage trainers on the ground but this mare needs more than just flat work right now. I need to be able to lift my arm without sending her sailing into oblivion. 😒
 

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Another suggestion since you mentioned blinders, was she driven at one time? Sis has a mini that can react to a little rider if they swing or move their hands, he is also driven so she put the bridle on him with blinders and that did help a lot. as time went by and he got to know the children this was not necessary
I'm assuming she was by how she reacts to seeing a rider on her back. She's OK with you riding her until she can see you. It's weird
 

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Another thought on the subject, how do you think she would be if you tried to line drive her? That might tell you something about her history. If she is ok with it, then maybe try her with a bridle with blinders just to see how that suits her.
If she was an Amish horse in the past I would think she would be used to a lot of of commotion around her.
Maybe try just standing on the mounting block with her and swinging your arms about and over her until she sees that it is no threat to her.
And it might be a good thing to have eyes and teeth checked. My sister once had a lovely little mare that would bolt unexpectedly and it turned out that she needed the wolf teeth pulled and that stopped the habit.
Just thinking about all the things that might help you with this mare. I imagine if she gets going properly she would be a great dressage horse.
 

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Well, if she shows signs she only has been trained to drive and not ride, I'd start her under saddle. Meaning, it sounds like you're just getting on and riding, but I'd begin with basic training.

To test your theory, try ground driving and see if she responds well to that. If she doesn't respond well to the bit when being driven (as in your photo), then it's also possible there is a bitting or dental issue. Or she just hasn't been trained at all.

I'd evaluate your saddle fit, because it looks like it is sliding forward so potentially that is also causing an issue. Definitely there is a downhill tilt to the saddle, so check to make sure it fits and sits level if you put it back behind the shoulder. It might be too narrow for her.

If she hasn't been trained to be ridden, better start with the basics of learning to accept a saddle and lunge or ground drive with it. Make sure she is solid on turning and bit cues from the ground. Then start having her accept the rider sitting in the saddle and walking, following your cues calmly for a few sessions before trying at the trot.
It sounds like either a dental issue, a tack issue, or she is that green so she is just not used to having a rider yet.

Video of what she is doing could help with a better evaluation.
 

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the minute I sit on her she panics. I am very patient with her and ride out the panics.
I'm guessing she might have only pulled a cart most of her life?
I am not understanding why you are riding this horse?? (One reason I guessed you were a novice) If she panics when you just sit on her, I don't understand why you think it's appropriate to ask for more. If you reckon she's not been taught much aside from pulling a cart, why did you not start her under saddle from scratch?

To 'ride out a panic' - or otherwise just keep doing whatever scares the pants off her until she gives up - is only likely to have further confirmed her fear & made it worse! Tho horses will often become 'quiet' eventually with this sort of 'desensitisation' it's more of a 'shut down' broken type reaction - sort of thing. So, not just for the sake of the horse but for safety & reliable training, I'd avoid doing that to a horse. If there is real fear, you should never be forcing a horse to just 'put up & shut up'.

Assuming this is an aside(tho could poss be as contributor to her reactivity), it appears your saddle is too far forward, sitting on her shoulder blades.
 

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I need some advice. I have taken on riding a 12yr of Percheron x Hanoverian mare that came from a horse dealer and was promised to be bombproof. Only she wasn't bombproof at all! The first time I sat on her she freaked out. I have been riding her for a few weeks now and she is improving, some. However, she's very reactive. If she sees my hand in her peripheral vision, she bolts, or if my helmet scrapes a branch, she bolts, or a loud motorcycle going by. She doesn't rear nor buck, but panicks, throws her head up and takes off. It is not every time I ride her either. I really think she's scared of me on her back mostly? I'm very calm and quiet with her and she generally will get on with it once she realizes nothing is happening to her. How can I get her to be less reactive to her rider's movement? Would blinders help? I'm trying not to give up on this horse, but am afraid the owner will never be able to ride her bc she is very timid herself. I'm open for any suggestions. I'm sure most will say go back to groundwork, but most of her problems are when I'm on her back. Ulcers?
When I bought my Red, as a green 6-year-old, he had a very serious bolting problem. I've never had a horse do that before, where head goes up, and there's no stopping them. It took a full YEAR of riding out on the trails, almost every day, to start to develop him into a more stable mount. I almost sold him during that time, as I was frustrated (glad I didn't!). For a few years after that, his bolting would come back temporarily when he had time off. He will now be 15 this year and I can't even remember the last time he has bolted. It's been many, many years. And he's so solid that I can make a "blind" run from outdoor sun, to indoor dark arena, at a full run to the first barrel, and he never falters or questions. He's my old trusty now.

I say this b/c this is going to be a LONG-TERM problem with this year. If the owner is not willing to wait that long or you cannot ride that long, then it is best to sell the horse now and find something more suitable.

Lots of ground work is key. You have to re-teach this horse to think when she is scared. And not automatically go into flight mode.

I have another horse, Dexter, that was also terrified when I would raise up my arm to the left side. I know he was cowboy'ed on and quite terrified he was going to get hit or something, I am sure. He actually came out of it in reasonable time, maybe a few months of riding. He learned I was not going to hurt him and that I would always be fair to him. He's a sweetheart and he tries so hard. He'll be my daughter's mount this summer (she will be 5 years old) and I trust him to carry her.

If it hasn't been done, it wouldn't hurt to do a full lameness workup on the horse, with particular attention to her back. Just in case there is a pain problem. But mostly likely, she just needs training.

I wish I knew what had been done to her?
And what would it matter?

I feel like people often get hung up on a horse's history but it honestly doesn't matter. You have a behavior problem in front of you. Just work with the horse you have to re-train them. Whether they are doing it out of fear or doing it b/c it's a bad habit, doesn't really matter because they're still doing it regardless.
 
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