First horse and it's all going pear-shaped :(

Nellzim

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Mar 31, 2022
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Hey all,

I recently bought my first horse! https://newrider.com/threads/settling-in-a-new-first-horse-tips.257494/#post-3159003

It's not going great...there have been a few hiccups and now I am a bag of nerves. Merlin (/Bambi as I've started calling him to try and see the funny side of his skittishness) is obviously picking up on me being a walking pillar of nervous energy and is acting up accordingly. I simply cannot keep my adrenalin down and relax and instead of bonding I feel like our relationship is deteriorating :(

Firstly, he has a lovely setup I think. He's on 24/7 turnout with a field shelter, he has horses and ponies to talk to and muzzle over the fence, I top up his water and haynet everyday, salt lick, I paint his hooves with treatment (when I can get near them) and he'd be lathered with affection if he wanted it.

The problem is he is very wary. I don't think that's a new horse thing, he was pretty standofish with his owner (who backed him) when I went to see him. I suppose I thought, naively, it was just because she herself was quite reserved (on a sidenote I wonder if horses pick up the personality of the people who back them? Prob not I wonder if there's an influence), and maybe he'd change with oodles of hands on love.
I've tried not to come on too strong and I'm giving him the space he's asking for. The problem is I need to be able to handle him of course, and everything is difficult! Getting his rug on and off is a nightmare, he stands almost trembling and the second it's undone he bolts off (like my bf described it "like Black Beauty escaping the fire"). On a few occasions he's bolted before I've had a chance to finish the straps and then of course races around freaking out about the rug flapping on him like it's a tiger on his back.

The first time I went to pick his back hooves he kicked me. In nearly three decades of being around horses (with breaks) I've never been kicked, so that really shocked me. Unfortunately it's also made me really nervous around him which has been disastrous.

Riding...I took him on walks in hand for the first couple of weeks, then just slow and small hacks. He's actually very good under saddle (although very spookish). The first time we went into an open space though he started bucking, so again nerves sky high. Also I went out once with another horse here who unfortunately was very nappy. Every time he started napping Merlin followed suit. Eventually Teddy would listen to his rider but Merlin wouldn't respond to anything I did and only moved forward with Teddy. We had a really hairy moment on a busy road (A37) when crossing Teddy napped, Merlin planted and was like a statue with a lorry bearing down on us and leapt over just in time. Really stressful ride.

I'm trying to persevere and get him into a good routine of riding out for a bit each day, getting handled, groundwork etc. Bearing in mind I have kids and a job I am giving Merlin all my free time but I don't have hours of freetime to work with him on hte ground unfortunately. I'm trying to sort extra childcare just so I'll be able to.

Yesterday when I went to tack him up he reared up when I was doing the girth - again a first for me. I was so rattled I ended up taking off the saddle and bursting into tears :( Which was another decimating blow to the last remaining scaffolding of trust between us.

It's so hard...he seems so sweet, he'll come look at us over the fence (probably for treats, which I have had to resort to for catching him but am weaning off because don't want to create a bargy treatseeker!). He is mostly a lovely ride, very soft in the mouth and responsive to weight aids.

Of course the obvious question is: is he in pain? I did a 5 stage vetting and the vet didn't find anything. The saddle fitter and farrier didn't think anything was up with his back. I'm getting physio out to confirm. I can't just haemorrage money on dentist, vet etc just in case. I've tried the NAFF "magic" calmer, he's been on it for a couple of weeks now.

Just feeling really hopeless, he's a lovely looking and mostly sweet seeming boy but really tricky on the ground to handle. I was so hoping for a placid, friendly family horse that I could pop my daughter on to lead around down the line, and that we could all dote on and groom. Merlin is going on 16 years old - I wonder if his personality on the ground could even change at this stage?

Any advice would be hugely appreciated, but just typing this out has actually made me feel so much better! Sorry for the ginormous essay, if you made it this far thank you for reading!

Edit: I read this and I realize it sounds very melodramatic and moany - I know the truth is Merlin is just scared or in pain. I just want to help him but I feel like he doesn't want me anywhere near him so it's hard to know what to do!
 

Mary Poppins

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Oct 10, 2004
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Sorry to hear that things are tricky. New partnerships often are and it takes time for horse and owner to settle together. Have you spoken to his old owner for advice? If he was backed by her it is possible that no-one else has done anything with him and he is actually very scared about being put into a new environment. If you are nervous around him and he doesn't have a leader to follow and this could mean he is frightened.

While he has horses over the fence to touch, he may be missing living out in a herd (if this is what he previously did). Touching over the fence just isn't the same thing.

In these circumstances I would always advise phoning the vet, but if he has flown through a 5 stage vetting, I would say everything was fine. I would however ask the vet to test the bloods (if they took them). It is sadly not uncommon for horses to be drugged during a vetting and this would only show if the blood sample was analysed. Normally the vet will take bloods but only go to the expense of testing them if there turns out to be a problem, which in your case there is. It would be worth asking the question.

Otherwise the only realistic option is to get a professional to come and help you. Or to return him to his owner. I am afraid to say that it may be the case that he needs someone more experienced and confident than your stage of riding, and perhaps it will be better all round to sell him on. Some horses really do need an ultra confident and skilled rider who they feel safe with, if you don't feel you can offer this it may be wiser to part company before an accident happens. It takes courage to admit you may be over-horsed, but it may be a question to ask yourself.
 
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Jessey

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I’m really feeling how hard this is for you from your post, there is always a setting in period and it can be very difficult especially if he’s only known one person and way of things before. Is he your first own horse?

Given he so recently passed a 5 stage vetting another exam is less likely to find anything. A physio and dental check may be in order, I’d probably go dental over physio if funds are short only because you’ve had his saddle checked already and they should have noted if there was any back soreness.

Welshies and/or Arabs are not everyone’s cup of tea, they’re naturally hotter and more lookie and can have quite a stubborn streak.

Company of a nice quiet horse would be pretty high on my list of priorities, both in turnout and for riding. They learn an awful lot from field mates, and will be more settled in company. Even the simple stuff like standing to have a rug changed, they take confidence from a friend being there and them not being upset by it. Alone they are more likely to be on high alert all the time.

Getting an instructor in to help you will very likely be a huge help at this stage, and I’d tend to go for someone that isn’t a friend or relative as they can be more objective. Ask around for recommendations and don’t be afraid to try out a couple of people to find the one that suits you both best, and get someone who’s willing to work on your handling issues as well as ridden work.
 
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newforest

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A couple of things stood out to me in your post.
You are wanting a horse that you can be affectionate with and you have bought one that doesn't want it. He was standofish with the owner could be because that's how he is, workmanlike. Or, you might find as he gets to know you he may approach you in the field for a fuss.
So as much as you say you've given him space, your energy is probably saying that you're itching to itch and touch.

The other thing if he's 16 and the previous owner backed him, how many years did they have him? It's possible that they've had him over ten years in the same place and now you've come alone and he's totally lost. He's been given everything except the person he's known for years.

Does he need rugging, does he need his hooves painting?
You knew he wasn't good with the back hooves, I wouldn't expect to be kicked, but that's possibly what not good meant.
He can plant on a hack, that's napping, nervous of small objects, that's spooky.
 
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carthorse

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We seem to have two threads going here. If people would like to reply on the other one then I'll put a link to this one on it.
 

Nellzim

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Mar 31, 2022
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Sorry to hear that things are tricky. New partnerships often are and it takes time for horse and owner to settle together. Have you spoken to his old owner for advice? If he was backed by her it is possible that no-one else has done anything with him and he is actually very scared about being put into a new environment. If you are nervous around him and he doesn't have a leader to follow and this could mean he is frightened.

While he has horses over the fence to touch, he may be missing living out in a herd (if this is what he previously did). Touching over the fence just isn't the same thing.

In these circumstances I would always advise phoning the vet, but if he has flown through a 5 stage vetting, I would say everything was fine. I would however ask the vet to test the bloods (if they took them). It is sadly not uncommon for horses to be drugged during a vetting and this would only show if the blood sample was analysed. Normally the vet will take bloods but only go to the expense of testing them if there turns out to be a problem, which in your case there is. It would be worth asking the question.

Otherwise the only realistic option is to get a professional to come and help you. Or to return him to his owner. I am afraid to say that it may be the case that he needs someone more experienced and confident than your stage of riding, and perhaps it will be better all round to sell him on. Some horses really do need an ultra confident and skilled rider who they feel safe with, if you don't feel you can offer this it may be wiser to part company before an accident happens. It takes courage to admit you may be over-horsed, but it may be a question to ask yourself.
Hi Mary Poppins! Yes...I'm really disappointed in myself but I fear I may just not be confident enough. Your right, it's a hard thing to admit but it may be the best for all of us if he has a stronger owner. Poor thing - I think he is just looking for a leader and not finding one in me. That must be terrifying to him so no wonder he's leaping out of his skin at the sight of his own poo or rug! It's hard to know what is just natural teething and settling in period behaviour and how much is just deep incompatibility between my lack of his experience and his need to get confidence from his rider. I suppose some horses do that less?

Anyway - I will persevere for a few months I think and just see if we both get more confident and trust each other more...I think what doesn't help is that I don't have bags of time do give him the one-on-one and groundwork that both of us really need...Thank you so much for your considerate and helpful reply, I really appreciate you taking the time!
 

Nellzim

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Mar 31, 2022
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3
I’m really feeling how hard this is for you from your post, there is always a setting in period and it can be very difficult especially if he’s only known one person and way of things before. Is he your first own horse?

Given he so recently passed a 5 stage vetting another exam is less likely to find anything. A physio and dental check may be in order, I’d probably go dental over physio if funds are short only because you’ve had his saddle checked already and they should have noted if there was any back soreness.

Welshies and/or Arabs are not everyone’s cup of tea, they’re naturally hotter and more lookie and can have quite a stubborn streak.

Company of a nice quiet horse would be pretty high on my list of priorities, both in turnout and for riding. They learn an awful lot from field mates, and will be more settled in company. Even the simple stuff like standing to have a rug changed, they take confidence from a friend being there and them not being upset by it. Alone they are more likely to be on high alert all the time.

Getting an instructor in to help you will very likely be a huge help at this stage, and I’d tend to go for someone that isn’t a friend or relative as they can be more objective. Ask around for recommendations and don’t be afraid to try out a couple of people to find the one that suits you both best, and get someone who’s willing to work on your handling issues as well as ridden work.
Hi Jessey! Thank you so much for this advice sorry for only replying now - kids, work and horses leave little time for this awesome forum unfortunately! It's been such a help though...thank god for newrider :)

yes, in retrospect I should never have gone for a welsh/arab cross - I suppose I thought being welsh d he would be like a placid, steady cob (I didn't know about welshie's stubborn streak etc) and v little arab. Proving to be more than I thought though! Hey ho though.

I hate him being alone - it's a huge source of concern and worry. I don't think horses should ever be alone in a field, company over the fence just isn't the same is it..they need to groom each other and get that physical contact. I had planned for him to go with two other geldings here but as he kicks out at one on a hack his owner is adament she won't share. No will anyone else! The only option is for him to go with a rather tricky and feral alpha mare who gets very attached....noone will share with her! I have avoided so too but she's now alone too and I'm being a bit of a hypocrite by not sharing with her so beginning to think she'd be better than noone? My worry is that she sends the wind up all the geldings sails and they get hard to catch or funny about leaving her...but maybe the comfort of being back in the herd would outweigh those risks...poor boy i really think he is desperate for a friend in the field (I persuaded myself company over fence would do as couldn't persuade anyone to share!).

Yes, I'll also ask around for an instructor (funny I put the thought of lessons out of my head as I can't take him anywhere but I forgot people can come to you! we don't have a school unfortunately but we could use a field).

Thank you so much! I'm going to crack on for a few months and see if it gets easier. If not will have to bite the bullet as with the two smalls it's stressful having horse that kicks and is very flighty on ground.
 
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Nellzim

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Hello everyone! I just wanted to update this thread and let you know I've taken on all this golden advice - and its worked! :)))

Merlin is being as good as gold now - he still does have the odd piggish moment planting at the gate leaving and leaps out of skin at the most ridiculous things (his own farts and poo included lol) but overall a different horse.

It's all thanks to this incredible forum so I'm super grateful for all the great tips. I tried to get an instructor out but we are a bit in the sticks and noone got back to me. So in the end it was a combination of lots of groundwork and handling - leading, stopping, starting, feeling him all over, getting him to stand still and listen etc. Now I have him following me, and stopping and backing up on voice command! He's a changed horse.

Also riding him lots - I used to dread them at first (and need half a glass of wine to work up the courage!) but he got less spooky and nappy and the rides have actually become enjoyable - yay!

I must admit one big step wasn't me at all - when I was struggling to pick out his back hooves one day one of the other riders here - a very confident ex-jockey, came over and had a go. To my horror Merlin actually gave him a nasty kick (I did warn him but felt awful) and he got really cross with him. Merlin was a bit like a chastised child after tbh, think he realized he'd gone too far or something!

He's still a bit tricky with one back hoof but the other day he held them out for me before I even asked, so it's up and down but hugely improved.

The other day I was walking him in hand (with the little ones and work it's hard to find time to tack up and ride every day) and suddenly had a whim to get on. He was a bit bemused but he let me scramble on bareback without a mounting block or gate (in a field) and walk around in the halter for a bit! I've never had the experience of having so much one-on-one time bonding with a horse, it feels so lovely.

A work in progress but so much of the latter - thanks to a combination of time, trust & tips from this super forum!

THANK YOU :)))
 

carthorse

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Well done for sticking with it, it's not easy when they've got you rattled and you're wondering if you've made a big mistake. Hopefully you'll now have a wonderful summer together :)
 

Jessey

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Well done you! This is really great to read, it can feel impossible when they get you like that but it’s worth the effort and that bond will last a lifetime with a bit of work.
 
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