Losing Marbles around other Horses

Joined
23 September 2021
Messages
5
Backstory:
I have had my OTTB for a little over a year now. He is 6, 17.2hh, and a bit immature for his age though with a lovely puppy-dog personality on the ground. Max has always been a bit opinionated and I'd describe him as quite sensitive under saddle but he has been coming along lovely. That being said, he has always been VERY preoccupied when other horses are in the ring. If we are walking he is okay but as soon as he is trotting/cantering and the OTHER horse is trotting/cantering then he pops a small buck or pulls some little hop/skip/jump and gets nervous. We have always been at small co-ops until we moved to a large eventing barn this fall.

Current Issue:
A few weeks ago, I was riding around in an open grass field neighboring the arenas going at a trot. Another rider brought her horse to the same area, and as we rounded a turn I saw that she was cantering her horse up towards and past us. Max totally lost it and scooted out from under me. In hindset I think he was quite startled by this (being an OTT), but I made him canter on until he settled and then allowed him to stop.

I disclocated my finger later that week, the weather turned cold, and Max got a kick injury, so the two of us have been out of our prime for about 3 weeks. That being said, I have a far worse mount. I got on recently and was given a total run for my money. There were four or five horses schooling around and a parked trailer in the grass lot, but he responded to EVERYTHING with anxious upwards/sideways/leaping/scooting energy. I'm talking a horse going into the canter, a pony walking towards us, a car door closing all sent him in a tizzy and I ended up having to circle tightly to gain control.

Since then I've been lunging before I ride, always wearing my vest, avoiding all sugary treats (has never been on grain). One of the days I did not do this, we were in a ring with three other horses and he could NOT keep it together (hopping, spinning, rearing). I'm having a hell of a time figuring out if it is a fear response or he is enjoying being naughty? Originally when he reacted I made him work harder but now I'm thinking I should focus on just standing or walking when horses pass. My trainer (a 5* rider) is new to me and when I asked for another lesson she recommended I get a "cowboy" for "troubled horses." My heart totally sank with that...I just don't think he is being given the benefit of the doubt but i just don't know how to proceed. Any suggestions?
 

stangs

Well-Known Member
Joined
18 September 2021
Messages
353
First off, this is definitely not him ‘enjoying being naughty’. a) Horses don’t really have the capacity to be naughty (naughty implies that they know something is bad, beyond it not being reinforced). b) The behaviour sounds like it’s stemming from anxiety rather than any happiness.

When was he retired from racing? And is he currently used to having lots of horses around, does your barn have a lot of horses? Does he ever hack out with other horses?

If I had to guess what was causing the behaviour, I would say that he associates lots of horses circling around him with the racetrack, which results in spikes of anxiety/adrenaline, a high alert state and thus causes the behaviour.

You say he’s okay if he’s walking - by okay, do you mean a nice stretchy walk, or a head up looking around but otherwise not acting up walk?

If I were you, I’d start from the ground up. E.g. getting him comfortable watching horses being ridden while he’s tied up on the yard with lots of hay to chew on (and process), progressing to in hand work with one other rider in the arena, etc. In general, you want to be reinforcing calmness.
 

humblepie

Well-Known Member
Joined
5 February 2008
Messages
4,501
Sounds like just needs more time to get him settled- as above small steps, perhaps go to some training clinics where you can work on this - explain to the instructor in advance and ensure that others are happy for you to do this.
 

LegOn

Well-Known Member
Joined
14 September 2010
Messages
642
So when I got my horse as a 4 year old, the only outings he had off the yard was hunting and he was a machine to hunt & had to be up the front. When I got him and stuck him in horsebox and brought him to a show, other horses around and the anticaption of hunting sent him into a complete and utter freak out. He would canter on the spot and basically just attempt to run in any direction that there was horses incase he missed out on the hunt!!! He was just wired on the adrenaline of hunting or the anticipation of it because it was all that happened to him when he got off a horsebox, saw other horses, it was hunting time!

Your horse is probably jsut conditioned as a racehorse to run faster than the other horses and when other horses are around, you must go to them and beat them! Its not naughty, its just conditioning.

You do need to work on new conditioning but it takes time. So I brought my horse to the carpark of shows, and he got schooled around until he was calm, then he got a long rein, walk around, back in the box & home. Every outing was him working, by himself and only rewarded when calm and not paying attention to the other horses. Eventually we progressed into going into a warm up, and eventually competing, jumping or whatever we were doing! Actually showing was great for him cause it thought him manners in the show ring and learning to gallop in a group without losing his mind! It takes time but its conditioning, not just being 'naughty'. I would safely say it took me 6 months of every weekend going to a place with other horses and no exciting hunting taking place for him to realise that every outing wasnt a hunt party!
 
Joined
23 September 2021
Messages
5
I'm glad that others believe it is conditioning or anxiety rather than "negative/naughty" behavior. I feel like I need to advocate for my horse and don't feel that he is understood by this instructor, or by the "cowboy" I was recommended who told me it sounded like he was having fun. I use a Pivo cam and I got a very similar reaction on camera when a dog ran at us from nowhere. He spun around and acted as he did with the other horses in those other scenarios and I saw for myself that he looked quite alarmed (chomping bit, tail swish, whites of his eyes, and leaping sideways away from the threat). I got him to stand settled, scratched his wither and he eventually walked up to the dog.
 
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