Change in behavior - monster while hacking.

Sleipnir

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I am open to any kind of advice on what would be the best course of action with my gelding - sorry for the long vent, but I need help!

Background: - almost 9yo warmblood with a tendency to get strong in the bridle, however, very sane. Has always been a perfect hack - fearless, bold, will cross anything, jump anything, calm around vehicles and heavy machinery. Ridden bitless in a mechanical hackamore (bit is not an option). Together we have hacked extensively in woodlands, on roads, I've even taken him to the sea and he's seen everything from psycho dogs to wildlife to trains, and, although bigger and louder machinery gets him a bit fidgety, it has never caused a problem. That has applied to all the yards we've ever moved to over the previous years and he could be safely ridden in strange environment even totally bridleless.

This January we had to move again and the new yard has access to fantastic hacking in a nature reserve. We could really enjoy it...but, we don't! For the first few weeks everything was ok, we went hacking and, although there are train tracks to cross in order to get to the forest, he was calm about it and didn't stress at all about the trains we saw. Come week three, we were walking back from a nice hack and close to home when we heard a train behind of us (not even close, though!). He kind of wanted to start trotting, to which I took him back to a walk. Next thing I know, I'm in a rodeo show and fly off a bucking monster, who then proceeds to gallop home alone (thank goodness the other horse and rider stayed put). After a few days, we tried hacking again and, although we saw three trains at first, going down a path that goes along the train tracks (but some 200 meters from them), he was reasonably calm. Then there comes the fourth train, and, again, the next thing I know - panic ensues and he flips a true bolt! Luckily, I stayed on, but I managed to stop him only after quite a while and after crashing over some unsafe terrain.

Since then I've been trying to walk him in-hand just to see the train tracks and the trains, but, if a larger comes, he starts panicking even if we're just barely seeing it. To top that, if we just go to the forest far from the trail tracks, he is a nervous mess - calling out for others, spooking, on our way home - trying to buck and bolt, which, thankfully, I've managed to successfully control up to now. But where has my safe, sane hacking horse gone?!

Although I'm reasonably experienced, this time I'm out of guesses what might have caused this sudden change in character and behavior.
He lives outside 24/7 with a herd and is fed adlib hay with just a small handful of oats to mix his supplements with, which are apple cider vinegar, seaveed and garlic.
 

Nudibranch

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I suppose the first thing to rule out is any physical issues - saddle fit, teeth, back, legs, etc. Did he hack out alone at the last place? Does he have a close friend he might be clingy with? Fwiw I'd remove the seaweed as well. Not that its causing the problem but it may be causing a mineral imbalance. I would add a decent high magnesium balancer like pro balance or pro hoof. If your new grazing is mag deficient it might just be tipping him over the edge. Just a thought....
Don't bother with the really commercial calmers like NAF, I'm pretty sure there's not enough magnesium in them.
 

Sleipnir

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Thanks! I forgot to mention these things, because I always check those first to rule out health - saddle fit and chiro are up to date, as well as teeth, his feet are good and legs are clean. Also, he is perfectly normal while schooling at home - not a thing goes wrong. He used to be very good when hacking alone and some of these outbursts have happened when being out hacking with his best buddy. I'll ditch the seaweed then - I was running out of it anyway, but getting magnesium oxide will have to wait - no such thing available around here, except for NAF calmers.

Hate to be suddenly afraid to hack out with my previously perfect boy! :(
 

stormox

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Do you think the larger trains might make the ground tremble, and he can feel that and its scaring him? I have seen a TV programme where it showed how animals can feel earthquake tremors before a seismograph can pick them up, and start to flee the area.
Is the track near enough for you to take him and feed him when a train comes? So he associates the noise with a pleasant experience?
 

oldie48

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Poor you and poor boy! I guess the combination of moving homes and meeting trains has sapped his confidence.Bucking you off and high tailing it back home may also have affected your partnership a bit and horses do have very good memories. I don't suppose it's possible to turn him out where he can see and hear the trains? That would be a good way of desensitising him. Other than that I think you are going to have to rebuild his confidence in the same way you would with a youngster taking it slowly and preferably initially hacking out with a reliable horse. good luck, I'm sure you'll get your lovely sane boy back.
 

Sleipnir

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He is in a field from which he can hear the trains, but in a couple of months the herd will be put in a larger field, from which they will see the trains - I hope that will help. There's no chance to swap the fields sooner.

Good idea about the trembling being what scares him - it is true that the worst panic attacks have come from the larger trains which really create noticable tremors. I've tried feeding him reasonably close to the tracks, but, up to now, he gets too stressed to even think about the feed when a train is rushing by. But I'll keep trying and getting him used to them as slow as he needs.
 

be positive

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It may be that being near the trains is not allowing him time to properly relax when he is in the field, that combined with being in a new group, he could be in a less comfortable place in the pecking order, may be enough to mean he is extra sensitive and constantly on high alert.
I kept mine on the edge of Salisbury plain with the noises associated with the military shooting at strange times, rumbling tanks etc, they seemed fine at the time but changed so much when I moved I realised they had been on edge the whole time they were there, he may get used to it but he could find it hard to ever fully relax if he is really upset.
 

Sleipnir

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True, maybe I'm just expecting too much and too soon. :( Luckily, he moved along with two of his best buddies, with whom he has been together for years already. They seem to have settled in quite well, although fresh in the herd, but I'll give him more time and treat him like a youngster who just learns to be confident.

Re the sounds - he has mostly been living close to some sort of noise, both railways and highways, and he hasn't shown any visible signs of stress - always a very sane horse, except when he was a wee youngster and was taken to live close by an airport (before I met him) - he fainted when he first saw a plane landing, bless his heart.
 

charlie_george

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I can recommend trying Magnesium oxide, its cheap on ebay and better then expensive calmers, some calmers I've tried in the past have made mine more nervous. Mag ox works pretty quickly too. Not sure about the train thing sorry
 

Sussexbythesea

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I'm not sure I have any solutions but when I moved my boy (also a WB) to a new yard he had a personality change into an obnoxious idiot. He also became overly attached to a mare he was out with and became horrible to ride in both school and out hacking.

Mine was also affected by the YO feeding him molassed feeds and haylage against instruction but I think he was also very insecure and it took quite awhile for him to improve just by doing a little and often and only introducing a new track or area a little bit at a time. Better have a 20-30 minute confident hack than push further and come off. I have to say though that he didn't settle at that yard particularly well and I moved a year later (as do most people that go there) and he is totally different at the yard I'm at now although I had to gradually reintroduce hacking alone.

Perhaps as Oldie said you would be best taking him back to things he finds comfortable like a small circuit with a friend and then gradually reintroduce the trains when he is more settled. Sometimes exposing them to things when they are already upset just makes things a lot worse and you can't teach them anything in a heightened state of anxiety. Don't feel you have to force the issue as you could end up scaring both of you more permanently. Also as a temporary measure you could consider a calmer - I found RelaxMe worked really well and you can buy it online. Although it does seem to be trotted out a lot you could consider whether the stress of moving has induced ulcers which could account for such an extreme change?

I also think this is the worst time of year for naughty behaviours too as grass starts coming through, and they get a bit more jittery anyway especially if its a bit breezy. Hopefully through the summer he will be more relaxed anyway and you will gradually work through it. Best of luck :)
 

Sleipnir

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Thanks. :) All this advice is at least helping me to think more clearly and, hopefully, my boy will get better with time, patience...and MgOx. :D

And how stupid of me - I really hadn't considered ulcers! Will definitely check for them now.
 

Sleipnir

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I thought I'd update. Since the change in his behavior we haven't been riding out, but we have been going on long in-hand hacks both in company and alone. My boy has slowly been making progress and I'm patiently treating him as a youngster - and today he beautifully tolerated a heavy cargo train passing us at a distance that previously was the "panic zone". I hope that soon we will be visiting the woodlands ridden. :)
 

Sleipnir

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Thanks! He's off ACV until I get a vet out. Our last few walks have been very positive and he can now look at trains from a fairly close distance without getting too nervous. I am starting to consider hacking him out again, although my confidence is shaken, but there's no rush - baby steps. I think I'll start doing very short hacks close to home as a walking-off routine after schooling and see how it goes from there.
 

nianya

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Since you've covered everything else the only thing I could think to do would be to dismount when you know a train is coming and turn him to face it but otherwise just hang out and don't do anything. Maybe even let him nibble at something. Just be prepared for some silliness, but it'll be harder for him to run off if you're already on the ground.
 

Sleipnir

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That's exactly what I'm planning to do if we see a train approaching, nianya. And, while we're on foot, I've been turning him to see the trains and letting him get used to them until he's okay with them moving behind him.

Today I braved up to go on a slow, simple hack near home. We were at first accompanied by another livery with a very calm, slow gelding and they lead the way. My boy threw a couple of tantrums when we crossed teeny hills or transitioned into trot, but I managed to get them under control. We also tried letting him be the lead horse and, as I expected, he was near perfect like that, although a bit fizzy. Retraining to get him used to not being the lead horse every time - here we come... At last, we went home alone, heard a very loud train and he didn't even react. Could trot in home direction and stop from seat - so I'm generally pleased with the hack, although it had its' moments.
 
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My old gelding was like this he went from bomb proof hack to a nervous wreck! We found out it was the vibration of the train coming, the further away the less vibration the closer it was the more vibration, and the visual of a train coming from no were he couldn't put 2 and 2 together, made it Even worse when another train came shortly afterwards, set him off like a ticking time bomb. I tried to desensitise him but eventually lost my bottle as he was getting borderline dangerous!, safe to say we moved and went back to the horse he was before. Hope this helps might be unrelated but i think its a good possibility it's the vibration.
 

Arzada

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I thought I'd update. Since the change in his behavior we haven't been riding out, but we have been going on long in-hand hacks both in company and alone. My boy has slowly been making progress and I'm patiently treating him as a youngster - and today he beautifully tolerated a heavy cargo train passing us at a distance that previously was the "panic zone". I hope that soon we will be visiting the woodlands ridden. :)
Great news. Well done both of you.
 

Sleipnir

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It took quite a bit of my nerves as the unfortunate turn of events regarding my boy's recent behavior has taken a toll on my confidence, but yesterday I hacked alone! We didn't go over the railway, but we could hear passing trains while we were in the woods closest to our yard. And I lived to tell the tale!

Honestly, it was much better than expected. My gelding was a bit nervous and balky at first, and I picked it up from him, but we walked, trotted and even cantered with no issues at all, although I really had to push myself into giving the cue to canter. No buck, spin or bolt whatsoever! Needless to say, I'm very happy about him and feel encouraged to ride him out alone more.
 

Sleipnir

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I hope this is my last update regarding this matter. Went on a hack today with another livery and her gelding, who happens to be my boys' buddy. Although I was prepared for the worst and started off quite nervous, everything turned out perfect. We mostly rode on a free rein and the culprit was perfectly calm and relaxed, just as before our crisis! We decided to canter on turns (with the other party dismounting and waiting) just in sake of safety, but maybe it even wasn't necessary. So - yay! I've still got some confidence to build back, but things are definitely turning to the better!
 
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