Horse having a nervous breakdown

Shoei

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I'm looking for any advice or experience really.

My horses behaviour has gradually deteriorated since the end of October last year.

It started with napping when leaving home, which escalated to full blown panic rearing and spinning at the same time. He remained fine in the arena both at home and away.

He then started to get very stressed about three months ago, so I put him on Hack Up Calmer, which seems to help some days and others I'm not so sure. I have also used the instant calmer with him again, works some days and not others.

He is very stressed, short shallow breathing and completely on edge. He will either work beautifully and relaxed or feel like you are riding a bomb! Quite often in the same session.

He has had a month of due to an outbreak of dermatitis from a fly allergy. The vet, dentist and physio have checked him over and all feel it is behavioural.

To try and build his confidence, whilst he has been off work, I have done lots of ground work with him, taking him for walks, clicker training and other games to desensitise him.

He has been back in work for a week. Nothing strenuous, lunging, ridden, walks and groundwork.

The behaviour is not getting any better, he has started to be mildly nappy in the arena. He is the same in the field and around the yard. Yesterday he paniced when the dog sneezed and today he took off across the yard for no apparent reason.

I'm really at my whits end. He has always been a nervous horse but he seems to have completely regressesed and undone all our work.

He is a 12 year old Gelderlander, kept at home (so fairly quiet environment).

Any help gratefully received as I sob into me tea!
 
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HufflyPuffly

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Ulcers?

I know it's HHO and that's what everybody says, but I'm in the midst of treating ulcers in one of mine and she starting being nappy, very panicky and spooky, back to normal once put on ulcer treatment. No other symptoms other than the stressy behaviour.
 
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Muddywellies

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He need a full investigation at the vets. It sounds like he’s terribly uncomfortable. My horse was uncontrollable at times and after having a full investigation was found to have grade 3 ulcers which were incredibly painful. I would get your gelding booked in with the vets ASAP - no over the counter calmers or other potions are going to help you at the moment.
Also full assessment with your saddler, including bridle and bitting, and independent nutritional advice. (Some feeds are like rocket fuel)
 

milliepops

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What has he vet checked exactly?
This sounds really hard to deal with and having had similar I can understand how you must be feeling. But I really don't think horses develop behavioural problems without an obvious stimulus (a specific event, change in management or in response to handling). Can you think of anything that would have caused it?

The feeling like you are riding a bomb/swapping between that and nice work sounds really familiar to one of mine who was then found to have a pretty significant physical problem, she was trying to do what I was asking and then periodically had these nervous explosions. I had experimented with different training approaches before this was diagnosed but wasn't getting anywhere - now it all makes sense as nothing else had changed.
 

Shoei

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Thanks for your replies guys... to be honest the vet did very basic checks when she came out. I felt it was a bit of a waste of time. So might try and get them out again as I thought that ulcers would be a possibility.

The saddler has been and checked all tack and ruled this out.

He is fed Alpha A light, which he has been on for the last 3 years.

We thought the initial trigger was a combination of fireworks and the neighbours dog chasing us down our drive... He has also been spotted loose since then so there is a possibility that he has chased the horses in the field... the neighbour has had a serious talking to.
 

flying_high

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My typical experiences across three horses and decades, has been when they behave really stupidly, and out of character out hacking, and lose confidence, it is pain related. They lose confidence because they are also hiding a pain or discomfort. Unfortunately horses are very good at hiding pain, as a survival mechanism in the wild. I’d guess you have hidden physical problem e.g. foot pain in more than one foot / impinging spines / ulcers etc. You could try a high dose bute trial or a week on ulcer medication as a simple diagnostic. Failing that I think a referral to a vet hospital.
 

Pearlsasinger

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I would immediately cut out the alfalfa, even though he has been on it for years. I had a mare (who actually was fine with alfalfa) who had apparently been eating a coarse mix every winter for about 10 years with no problems and just various treats/apples/carrots in summer, who became virtually unhandleable - think 2 people wearing hard hats and gloves to lead her 50 yards into her stable from the field, with her companions. By chance we stopped her feed and her behaviour improved beyond recognition within the week. Now I always look at feed for any change in behaviour.

Of course if that isn't the answer then a proper work-up will be needed.
 

Shoei

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I would immediately cut out the alfalfa, even though he has been on it for years. I had a mare (who actually was fine with alfalfa) who had apparently been eating a coarse mix every winter for about 10 years with no problems and just various treats/apples/carrots in summer, who became virtually unhandleable - think 2 people wearing hard hats and gloves to lead her 50 yards into her stable from the field, with her companions. By chance we stopped her feed and her behaviour improved beyond recognition within the week. Now I always look at feed for any change in behaviour.

Of course if that isn't the answer then a proper work-up will be needed.
Is there anything you would recommend instead. I'd rather feed a forage based diet. He only has a scoop for his supplement
 

milliepops

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you can get various grass-based chaffs/nuts that you could swap to, alfalfa makes one of mine itchy so that's what she gets. I use emerald green, dengie do one now which your alfa-a supplier should be able to get. but I would be making plans to get a proper work up with the vets anyway.
 

Pearlsasinger

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It's a long time ago and we had to feed imported alfalfa as we struggled to find cereal/sugar free feeds. Nowadays, all our horses have soaked grass nuts/haycobs or dried grass chaff, which is what I would probably give yours. I woud check the supplements carefully too, as many of them use alfalfa as a carrier.
Your 'nervous breakdown' description suits my mare perfectly, first I stopped riding on the road, then I stopped riding at home too and then we had problems just leading her. She was very tense and obviously worried, although she was dangerous, she never meant to hurt any-one and would try to avoid doing so, while standing on her back legs. We were looking at pts until we changed her feed.

ETA, my mare suffered withdrawal symptoms so I would give yours a few days off work, for every-one's safety. IME most vets (or drs, come to that) don't understand reactions to feed. So I would wait for a short while before booking the work-up.
 

bubsqueaks

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We had a ticking time bomb & turned out to be glandular ulcers.
Alfalfa sent ours over the edge totally.
Stop the feed.
Get a proper work up done.
If nothing found Id always scope for ulcers.
Also have you read up on Sue Dyson facial pain expression - very interesting & useful diagnostic tool similar to a human grimacing when in pain & now used by most informed Vets.
Your horse is shouting out something you need to get to the bottom of - good luck.
 

HeyMich

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Ulcers.

Mine started napping, spooking and spinning really badly, totally out of character. Had her scoped and she had Grade 2/3 squamous and pyloric ulcers. Treated properly, and treated for hind gut ulcers too, and normal behaviour returned! Anytime she starts spooking/napping I get the vet out for more ulcer meds.

ETA - I also changed her feed, as people suggest above. I cut out alfalfa, cut out all unnecessary sugar, changed from haylage to hay, and now she's out 24/7. Natural forage and natural routine, she's much better.
 

paddy555

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Ulcers?

I know it's HHO and that's what everybody says, but I'm in the midst of treating ulcers in one of mine and she starting being nappy, very panicky and spooky, back to normal once put on ulcer treatment. No other symptoms other than the stressy behaviour.
I would guess you have a horse in pain who is trying to tell you. Sometimes he won't be in pain and that is when he is working OK but then the pain comes back, often in the same ride, and with it comes panic.


Ulcers I would check. I don't see how any professional can say this is behavioural without checking an obvious thing like ulcers and they are a very definite thing to test.. Then you move onto things like PSSM and muscle problems. You could blood test, that may indicate a problem area. From experience with this sort of problem I would blood test early on. Bute for a few days, You could try equishure for a short while and see if there is any improvement. That may point you in the right direction.
I would guess that if he is stressy and in pain even in the field then dogs, which normally most horses wouldn't care about, may well seem a real problem to him . Charging around with other horses may be painful if he has ulcers or a muscle problem.

I think the biggest thing though is to keep a diary. Remove alfalfa, what happens and record it but most of all does the result (or lack of it) continue or is it short lived. Do one thing at a time because I think this will be a very slow process of elimination. Presumably he is shod but if he was barefoot I would make very sure he hadn't been footsore because that would have moved up to the way he carried himself and cause a knock on effect. I would record how he goes if you starve him before working, only for a short time, and then if you give ad lib hay before work. Any difference? can you come up with a pattern? Of course your vet (or at least a good horse vet) should be involved but he will only see the horse for a work up. You see him every day and can get a much better guide to breaking down his reactions. Massage him all over. Are they any tight areas, especially over the hind quarters, does it feel like rock or jelly. Can you happily groom his sides, under the girth and pick up his hind feet or is he touchy?

As for food, I give mine their supplement, salt and magnesium (which could be worth trying) in 4 ozs soaked spillers high fibre nuts twice a day. That is minimum feed to keep the weight down, soaked to get the supps in and very palatable to get it eaten. It also seems very safe. When I was in your position I introduced high dose vit E and that solved my horse's problem.

Apologies for the long reply, I've been there. :)
 

milliepops

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it might be a slow process of elimination, or it might be a super quick diagnosis with a good vet ;) it's worth keeping a diary, sure, but my diaries all got thrown away as soon as the work up was done, I could have gone down all kinds of rabbit holes and never reached the conclusion that we did at the hospital in the space of a couple of hours.
 

Hormonal Filly

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he needs a proper work up not a look over.
Completely agree, a proper work up would be my next stop.

Don't mean to scare OP (yours doesn't sound half as bad) but we had a horse at a yard I worked at years ago. A gorgeous cob, quite a sweet mare. She would be fine one minute, almost act terrified the next and either bolt or just loose her head. I remember leading her once down the yard to her stable with another girl on another rope. She was walking fine, quiet day, really early.. looked like a dope on a rope. Then for no reason, absolutely freaked, not spookiness, almost like a bomb went off in her head. People use to say she was so naughty, such a rude mare but a few of us thought otherwise. I left and often wondered what happened to her, apparently she had a brain tumour and was put to sleep, think she was in her early teens.

Fingers crossed its nothing major, well worth a proper lameness work up at the vets though.
 

Mahoganybay

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I agree with everyone that says there is some pain and your horse needs a full work up.

I had this in January with my mare, I too thought it was behavioural and that I couldn’t cope, took her to a lameness specialist and they did indeed find an issue.

My poor girl had been trying to tell me, her stress bucket was full and when I took her to a cavaletti clinic and she launched me. I really do wish I had been able to read her face, as I know full well she would have been shouting at me.

She is currently at bootcamp with the professional who is helping me regain my confidence and yesterday my instructor said mid lesson, your girl is smiling.

Do you have a specialist equine lameness centre near you? If so, I would get booking an appointment.
 

vhf

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While obviously the above is your go-to advice, I'll share an experience I've had.

Sharp happy mare, bold and independent. Just started to lightly back as a 3yo, walking up the road under saddle, when she had a bad field accident. Brought back up very slowly 12 months later, as she was far nervier than previously. Got her as far up the road as she'd been before and she fell apart. Could not make herself go any further, even led. Next day, fine. The next, trembling mess again. This went on for a week, so I stopped asking for a good 18 months.
We don't know what happened when she was hurt, but she would have been suddenly alone with a head injury and in considerable pain in the dark on the road outside her field. I genuinely wonder if she had some sort of horsey PTSD and was suffering flashbacks to her accident; it was 2 years before she was mentally a "normal" horse again. It isn't totally impossible that your horse is suffering after-effects of a mental trauma given the fireworks/dog situation??
 

paddy555

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it might be a slow process of elimination, or it might be a super quick diagnosis with a good vet ;) it's worth keeping a diary, sure, but my diaries all got thrown away as soon as the work up was done, I could have gone down all kinds of rabbit holes and never reached the conclusion that we did at the hospital in the space of a couple of hours.
I get your point (but not about throwing diaries away) Mine spent 5 days in horse hospital and I was nearly 3k lighter but no answer. I found the answer by doing exactly what I posted. Attention to detail. I am not suggesting vet is left out but I am not sure every similar case is going to get the cure in a couple of hours. This horse has already seen the vet who doesn't seem to have suggested much.
 

milliepops

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OP has already stated that the vet only did basic checks. There's a very wide range of options between "basic checks" and 3k spent at a hospital.
Seems a bit of a waste of time to have a horse in that much obvious distress and not go straight to a proper work up of some kind with appropriate facilities when OP has already been trying to deal with the horse at home for some time.
 
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