Shocked by horse's behavior

lisae

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I'm going to attempt to make this post as close to a fact pattern as possible without coloring it by my emotional reaction.

1) It was a beautiful day here, sunny and cool. Mid-afternoon I went out to the barn carrying saddle and equipment, intent on some ridden work with 5 yr. old green broke Mara the Haflinger whom I have raised from birth.

2) Said mare is in season.

3) Horses were recently turned out in a new section of pasture with a high clover content, so turn out has been limited to 4 hours a day for the last week.

4) When I arrived at the barn door, Mara threw her head up and did a stallion-esque neigh/squeal and the flehman lip response.

5) I put on my helmet and gloves and decided not to saddle her, but only put on the bridle for lunging. Put it over the halter because she was evading me and I wasn't 100% sure I'd get her bridled without it.

6) Whip and lunge line were in the front paddock, which requires leading her around the barn through the back paddock.

7) Using a standard lead line clipped to her halter, we headed for the barn door.

8) At the door, she balked, and popped up a little (fronts off the ground an inch or so)

9) I kept leading, assuming that she would follow. I am ahead of her by about two feet; we are moving out of the barn.

10) Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement, and spin away. Something bangs my helmet above and behind my right ear. (Front left hoof, I am assuming, perhaps her jaw, I don't really know as it happened so fast.)

11) When I turn back around to confront her, she is already shying away and takes off bucking around the paddock. I let the leadline go because I want her away from me.

12) Since she's rodeoing around, her reins start to hang down from where they were secured by her chinstrap and by now my 3 seconds to 'make her think she's going to die' are over.

13) I calm her with voice and am able to take her back under control. We get into the front paddock where I then work her for an hour, first with a few minutes of free lunging, then regular lunging both ways.

14) She behaves 90% of the time during this time frame although she looks pi$$y. (well this in not a 'fact', it's my impression.) She does not do any NH licking and chewing.

15) Since an hour is longer than she's usually worked, I put her up, walk into the house and burst into tears.

SO, she learned that trying to kill her mentor didn't get her out of work. I, on the other hand, am absolutely mortified that she would do this - without the helmet I would have been hurt. Helmet is slightly scratched not broken or dented but still. I didn't want to have anything to do with her for the rest of the day, just threw her hay over the gate.

This is the first time in five years she has EVER struck out at me. She is not a kicker either - but who knows now? She has also started taking little nipping actions in my direction without actually connecting. (last two days).

I know it's all about respect and who is the leader, etc. but I really don't want to lose my confidence with this horse.

What would YOU do next?

I will note that I came out and lunged little Penny (avatar) who was as good as gold. (Three year old).
 

julia gulia

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As it was such an unusual thing for her to do, first incidence in five years, I probably wouldn't have thought it was a question of respect or who was the leader...I would wonder what has changed? she could have spooked and banged into you...you said yourself that you aren't quite sure what hit your head. Has anything changed? Her feed...new member to the herd? Anything at all that you can think of?
 

Showjumper

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I'd be inclined to get her checked for pain. If it's something that's come on recently, that would always be my first starting point.

You mention she's started nipping at you - is this when you're catching her/tacking her up/other? If one of the first two, this would probably go in line with a pain response, "I don't want to come with you, being worked hurts".

From the sounds of it you handled things very well and I'm so glad you were wearing a helmet! :)
 

Mehitabel

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2 and 3 were warning signs - restricted turnout and rich grass when they are out = lots of pent up energy, and even the kindest 5 year old can't be expected to retain their manners under all circumstances. had she been 12 years old and experienced and adult, i'd expect her to know better and woudl have been furous, but a 5 year old who has recently started work is IMO another thing. yes, it was entirely unacceptable - but kids do unacceptable things sometimes, they can't contain themselves. when petal was 5 i was in an inhand class and she did exactly the same thing - in an inhand class you all stand in a line and one by one trot to the rear of the line round the ring, so the judge can watch you trot. it was the first show for her for 18 mothns, she was excited and it was a buzzy atmosphere. as we went into trot she squealed and leapt in the air and took my hat off with her front foot. no malice, no intent to hurt, just physically couldn't stop herself from leaping. if she did it now at 14 she'd get the shock of her life but young horses cant always control themselves - that is what we teach them as we work with them.

don't hold it against her, and try not to let it affect your confidence. but next time, be extra-aware, keep her attention on you, don't let her get out of your sight (stay by her shoulder) and at the first signs - head tossing, squealing, pawing, let her know that it is not acceptable, give her something else to do. circle, back up, trot on - it varies what works, but let her know that you know what she is saying and that you're on the way to let her get the tickle out of her feet.
4 hours out is 20 hours in, and that is alot to cope with for a horse who is at an age where they have a lot of energy anyway and an active mind.

try to pre-empt it - if she loks sparky then take her out with the minimum of fuss and doign things before hand - just get her out, ge the lunge line on and go - let her have her leaping around time and get it out of her system. then she works and then you carry on as if nothing had happened.
 

lisae

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thank you, I feel a lot better this morning! I'm also feeling a little achy in my neck and upper back area and I'm thinking now that as opposed to a strike she more likely did a 'mounting' type action with her head and chest and the sound agains the helmet was her jaw. She would have had to be pretty high up in the air to hit me with her front foot and she was not in the air when I turned back around.

Definitely not a spook or fear, she was really in a mood and nothing in the barn to cause it....pain question would have had to happen in the field, she has not had a lot of ridden work. She was cantering in the field yesterday morning and I thought she was not rounding her back as well as usual, can mares get a painful ovulation situation? This may have affected her response to the saddle appearing! although I didn't push the day by going forward with my ride.

They do have their paddocks attached to their stalls so not totally stallbound, but it's not turnout either! I'm trying not to overgraze the new seeding they just got turned out on, plus we've had drought (while you guys are having too much rain) and the 75% in grasses went dormant and what should have been 25% in clover has taken over when we did get rain.

I have our entire sideyard where they used to be pastured that was eaten down, probably the best idea is to re-fence that and let them out there all day again. That, or work her twice a day, every day.

Well, I will keep you posted as I'm determined not lose the plan here. Yesterday afternoon I would gladly have traded her for a geriatric donkey. (No offense to longears!)
 

julia gulia

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I'd be inclined to get her checked for pain. If it's something that's come on recently, that would always be my first starting point.

You mention she's started nipping at you - is this when you're catching her/tacking her up/other? If one of the first two, this would probably go in line with a pain response, "I don't want to come with you, being worked hurts".

From the sounds of it you handled things very well and I'm so glad you were wearing a helmet! :)

Yes..thank goodness you were wearing your helmet. I always wear mine when I ride but must admit that I don't when I'm handling the horses:eek:
 

lisae

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Last year I had an episode when we were leading the little herd home from summer pasture along the road and I ended up leading the yearling stallion. He spooked at a car going by and tried to climb into my lap, leading to me tipping over and getting a knock to the head.

Ever since I have worn the helmet when doing anything beyond feeding, or grooming a relaxed horse. Don't have many brain cells to spare anymore! :rolleyes:
 

carthorse

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Mehiabel has said what I was going to.

Could you break up her stabled time by giving her a couple of short work periods a day? Maybe lunge or freeschool once & ride the other, anything really to get her out of her stable & mentally & physcally active.
 

sheryl

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I'd agree with Mehitable too.

Glad you're not hurt. I always wear a hat too:)

Maybe she does have belly ache from her season:confused:

Is she getting a non-heating diet?

You sound like you know what you're doing, so just be careful!

Just think of a plan on how to react, if it happens again, so that you don't miss the 3 secs;)
 

Afellpony

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I agree with Mehitable.
Horses can sometimes do things we dont expect them to do - that's why you need to be alert when doing things with them. She could have actually been testing you when she started nipping at you. Is it not possible to keep her out more? As someone else has suggested, have her checked for pain.
What are you feeding her?
It may be wise to look into her work and see if you can change the routine a bit and may be do something different so she doesn't get bored.
Is she normally aggessive when she's in season?
Is there a stallion nearby that she can see, hear or smell?
I really hope everything goes well for you and in the meantime, take care.
What would I do next? Get the a vet to look her to make sure she's not in any kind of pain or discomfort.
By the way, glad you're ok.
 
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puzzles

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I agree - lack of turnout, her being in season, any other feed/companion
/exercise, etc, changes ... i think horses are far more sensitive than we give them credit for. :-/
xxx
 

lisae

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Feed has been a handful of pellets (14% protein, 6% fat) in the AM to give her a Magnesium/B vitamins supplement. And a few pellets at night, because the 3 yr old gets a big tub-full as she was very under-nourished until rescued in April. And, they are on a new pasture with too much clover.

Some of the issues are a new companion (here a month now) although the new horse has ceded the top slot in the herd to Mara. So they are turned out together with no confrontations.

There is a stall/paddock off the front of the barn that gets a view of all the action, and one off the back of the barn with no view of the road or house. Front paddock is definitely preferred by Mara as she will try to go there first. However, she was relegated to the back since the back stall has a rolling door that Penny insists on rubbing against, making noise at night, which Mara does not do. So I've put Mara back in "her" front paddock just in case that's an issue!

Today I worked with Mara again and things went much much better. First off, mid-morning I went into the field and just moved her around with a lunge whip and a show stick, got her cantering, circling and just generally reminded her that I control the grazing. In mid-afternoon, I brought her into the front paddock directly, no haltering, no fuss, and just free lunged. Outside turns and inside turns, and whoas. If she didn't stop I started her going again. We got so the stops were good, and then I put on her halter and lungeline, and lunged again. We then worked on putting on the halter! I felt like we were at square one but the first time I put it on her, she had grunted at me, which I took as disrespect. So if she stood and accepted the halter, she got a nice rub, if she tossed her head or pulled a face, she went back out on the circle.

She earned some apple pieces which I had laid out on a box outside the paddock by standing ground tied several times. So we are getting there!

My other concern is perhaps her teeth are bothering her. She had them looked at a year ago and they didn't need rasping but at age five now perhaps she has grown some hooks. So I am going to have the vet look at the teeth. (We don't have equine dentists in our area.) My clue was she seemed better lunging in just a halter today although I'm not ready to feel her teeth at this point.

Or, it could have been the round pen work too.

Or the apples - she is very food driven and I was impressed by her patience and willingness to stand to earn her treat. I've never used treats during a training session before but I thought perhaps if she saw a benefit for her, she might get away from the idea of fighting with me.

I feel like a detective.

A lot is my fault, too. In the past, I've only asked her to be minimally safe around me, I've never really insisted on her trying to do things properly and with respect (i.e. waiting for a gate to be opened, if she didn't barge it was good enough for me, even though she might be standing with her head pressed against my shoulder. Best practice would have her well outside my personal space.)

"She's spoiled" my husband has said; now I'm needing to undo some of that.

Thank you for all your feedback, over the years I have learned a lot from this group!
 

KateWooten

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Now, my "Big Red Flag" in your first post is this :
Put it over the halter because she was evading me and I wasn't 100% sure I'd get her bridled without it.

Regardless of what's causing her behaviour (which you also have to look at, with your 'long-term' hat on)... when faced with the horse in front of you, you have to train the horse that's in front of you ! And right there, if you couldn't easily put a halter on her, then you need to do a half hour of haltering. So you'd start with getting her to turn and face you, over and over and over .... and then to stand and dip her nose down to the halter ... over and over ... until you're getting a good response.

Doesn't matter what the horse could do yesterday, or last time, or what they should be able to do ... it's what they are doing that counts, and that's where you have to start each day.
 

Mehitabel

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i'm glad things are going better today lisa. it is easy to get complacent with our 'babies' - and thenwhen we start insisting on discipline and they have the teenage tantrums we realise it. mara sounds like a lovely girl at heart, i am sure you will get her over this phase.
 

lisae

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Kate - it was setting off alarms when she was evading the halter. BUT she was also turning her butt to me, grunting her 'warning' grunt, and because she is so 'front end' (more likely to use her fronts than kick out behind), I wanted her out of the barn and underway with work as opposed to me standing closely next to her shoulder trying to halter. I guess I should have seen the whole 'jumping me from behind' thing coming at that point!

Mehit - it is uncanny but I have one of my 15 year old sons going through the exact same phase! He decided last Friday at 11PM he wanted to overnight at a friends, we said no (friend's mother is never home as a real party girl) and he took off in the dark on the two mile walk to town in the rain! :mad: It's the whole I can make my own decisions and I'm going to defy you if you don't agree! We collected a rather wet boy in town and compromised by having the other boy come to our house.
 

Laura+Phantom

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Hi, some of the things I noticed -

First - walking in front. I never walk in front of the horse so I can't see what they are getting up to behind me, even leading out of the stable I am pretty close. When generally leading around I make them walk alongside me, so from a safety point of view, perhaps it would be better to be closer.

Second - an hour of lunging is a heck of a lot for a horse, perhaps the prospect of doing so upset her? I never do more than 20 minutes as it is so wearing on the joints, I long rein for longer though.

Thirdly - I agree with mehitabel, the conditions and age of your horse, I wouldn't be too worried by the odd excited outburst. But I agree with Kate Wooten that it is so important to make sure the simplest things can be done without fuss first, especially if she is in a silly mood.
 

KateWooten

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Now you see, I come at it from a slightly different perspective to both Laura and Lisae as regards the 'small' things.

Often times you'll hear this story.... Someone takes their problem horse to a Big Name Trainer. Suppose the horse rears or naps or whatever and the owner wants to know what to do to stop it, when the horse rears. The BNT listens to the problem, when the problem occurs etc ,... then goes and works with the horse on something completely different. A while later, he gets on the horse and puts him in the dodgy situation ... and the horse just gets on with it without rearing, napping etc. Owner takes the horse home disappointed because the horse (once again) has shown him up by not doing what he always does at home.

Why ? What did the BNT do ? How did he 'cheat' ? How did he make himself look good at the owner's expense ?

I have a 'normal horse', well, she's kind of normal, comes from the owner of the local riding school, tries everything she can to avoid work, needs an 'experienced rider'. I just don't do all that. I don't do the having to be on the ball when riding her to stop her falling out every circle, to stop her pulling towards the gate. That's not how we work. We don't have to struggle with grumpy horses refusing to be bridled, turning their butt to me in the stall - that's all breaking the rules of our herd, and it is unaccepable. We don't let unacceptable herd behaviour slip by us. We deal with it. Each horse in the herd understands that he has a role in the herd, and that some of the time, his role is NOT herd-thinker. Some of the time (when I am there) that is MY role. It's part of our deal. I keep us safe, make sure we're well fed and watered... and in return, for an hour a day or so, they each cooperate WILLINGLY with whatever tasks they're asigned. Bad attitude doesn't feature in the contract.

Now, you might read that and say, well, isn't that nice for you, you pompous ass. But that'd be missing the point. The point is, if herd members transgress, then we don't simply move on and see what other stuff we can do ... our world stops. Without a 'spirit of try' we're nothing, really. If people are trying to 'get away with things' we stand no chance of a fulfilling, forward relationship. It would be like teaching a gang of teenagers while allowing the class joker to be throwing things at the teacher's back. Everyone sees, everyone knows, discipline is lost across the board.

When a new bod joins the herd, if they have a quirk, or a bit of an attitude... I'll catch the established members all queuing up to have a look. Often they're aghasted. Well, joe is anyway, the Big mares just watch and roll their eyes and dream of the kicking they're going to give the newbie later.

But this is what I mean about dealing with the small stuff - it's not for the sake of the small stuff ... that in itself doesn't matter ... it's about establishing the herd culture. Just as I don't ride a horse who does not stand willingly and quietly, inch-perfect by the mounting block, equally, I don't lead a horse who does not turn and face me in the stall, and easily drop his nose to the halter. For the same reasons. Because I am not trusting the horse to do 'the next stage' before we are 100% solid on the previous stage. (Unless I have to, for a vet visit, for example, obviously).

The BNT, of course, spent the first part of his work with the horse, quietly establishing the ground rules. By the time he got to the usual trigger point, the horse had already agreed to the contract.

Sign your contract first... then go out and start doing your work.
 
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