Rehabilitation Behaviour Issues

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Question: Hi I have just started to care for a 5 year old Irish Draught x TB – he has a tendon/tendon sheath injury and was about to be put to sleep by his previous owner, due to lack of time and money and the possibility that he may not be able to be ridden again – but as he is normally such an impeccably behaved chap I said I would care for him. He has been stabled now for three months and apparently has not been behaving very well in his 12 foot x 12 foot stable (he is 17.2 hh) – I have moved him to a much larger stable in a quiet yard and he seems much calmer and is great to handle in the box and on the yard. However the vet advised that he can now be taken out for short walks 10 mins twice a day (increasing weekly by 5 mins each walk for the next 4 – 6 weeks) and to do this I take him across to a barn – he is perfectly behaved going to and from the barn but once we get to the barn he is fine for 5 minutes or so and then from nowhere at all comes a little rear – this morning though he did a massive rear and was absolutely vertical -once he came back down he behaved like nothing had happened and wanted to be fussy with me etc. Although I have had my own horse for 10 years now rearing is something I have never had to handle before so I was wondering (a) do you have any ideas why he would be doing this or do you think it is purely a boredom/excitement kind of reaction (he has been known to rear with his previous owner when ridden on the odd occasion). (b) what should I do to stop this behaviour and (c) how should I react when it has occurred. I have only been looking after him for 1 week now and the vet thinks he is likely to be stabled for another three months. When he has done his little rears I told him off in a firm voice and then have just carried on walking him around. Today I stood my ground which was pretty scary and then when he wanted to cuddle and be fussy I just pushed him away from me and told him off – by his reaction it looked as though he was expecting to be thrashed and kept on pulling his head up as though he had also maybe been hit in the face before. If I was able to longe/freeschool him I know I would be able to do something with him but right now due to the injury all I can do is walk him in hand. I hope you will be able to give me some advice as I don’t want either of us to end up injured and three months of this behaviour seems a long long time. Thank you for your help
Best Regards, Georgie
Answer: Georgie, The most important consideration right now is that the horse is rehabilitated. I think from reading your email that you have a very good sense of what is going on with your horse and you are handling it just fine. Imagine the horse’s frustration at being held prisoner in his stall and getting small glimpses of freedom. In this situation, you have to have a great deal of patience and empathy with the horse. Where you would normally not tolerate his disobedient behavior and take corrective action, you are limited in what you can do in this situation. His fractious behavior is stemming from his confinement and is not his fault. The corrective action you would take would be to circle the horse forward when he rears and make him work hard, but you cannot do that because the risk of re-injury is too great. If he just throws one little rearing fit and then is relatively manageable, then I would just ignore it. There are several articles on my website about rearing, but basically, it is either a refusal to move forward or a reaction to having his forward movement inhibited. In your case, I would guess the latter. The solution is always to move the horse forward. In the case of a horse in rehabilitation, when he rears I would just move out to the end of my lead and continue walking forward like nothing was happening. Make sure you stay well clear of the horse’s hooves. I am sure that you have cut back the horse’s ration drastically and it would not hurt him at this point to go down in his weight. Less feed will help prevent him having too much energy in his confinement and the lower body weight will help his recovery. One more suggestion would be to use a rope halter with a 3-4 meter training lead. The rope halter gives you much more control over the horse and is a far superior tool for control and training than is using a chain over or under the horse’s nose. I think you are right on in your intuition about this horse and that you are handling him well, so keep up the good work! I have known plenty of horses to fully recover from tendon injuries. The key is to give them enough time to recover which in some instances may be a couple years. The biggest mistake I see people make with these types of injuries is to try and bring the horse back into work too soon. Once the vet has cleared him from confinement, I would seriously think about turning him out to pasture for a full year. Good luck!

Horses In Confinement

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Question: Dear Julie,

I just moved to a home on 40 acres (with a live creek) in Missouri. I’ve never owned a horse (of course, always wanted to) and haven’t been around them for a number of years now. In order to get them the care they need, I have to catch them first. I watched the episode of your TV show on [the hard to catch horse] and was thrilled to see my instincts were correct. I’ll be putting up a round pen to start working with them. My question is this: The former owner had allowed them to roam the entire 40 acres; I want to section off an acre for them to stay in. I’d love to have three sectioned off, but just can’t afford it right now. I have cleaned out a section of the barn for them to get protection, but they must have a favorite spot “out there” because they don’t use what I made them. They’ll also be getting more of a stall set-up. Can I change them from “free roam” to confined? I love animals so much and just want to be sure these horses get the best care I can provide. Thanks for any help you are willing to give. By the way, I have two mares and two colts (yearlings) quarter horses.

Sincerely,
Mary

Answer: Mary,

Your horses should not need to be confined in order to catch them. As you saw on Horse Master, training a horse to be easy to catch is not too hard. The method demonstrated on the show is very effective and I call it “walking a horse off.” It is explained in an article on this site.

You can also easily train your horses to come when you call by using a grain reward. Start at feed time by yelling or whistling a unique call. Then shake the grain can to get their attention. If they get a small bite of grain every time you call, in no time, you’ll be able to call them in at any time day or night. If you establish a routine of when you call them in, they’ll be waiting for you every time.

As for your horses not coming in the nice protected barn you made for them—that is the oldest joke that horses play on humans. Countless people before you have spent time and money on what they thought were ideal, cozy shelter for their horse, only to find him standing out in the pouring rain, through gales, blizzards and heat. Many a horse owners have made this frustrating realization, but it should really come as no surprise—horses are flight animals—confinement is not their thing. Plus, they are well-equipped to survive in adverse conditions.

Research has shown that run-in sheds are more favored by horses if they are not fully enclosed and there is ventilation at the bottom and tops of the walls. Being able to see the horizon is a key factor in how comfortable a horse is when he is confined. The better he can see his environment, the safer he feels.

Horses can become habituated to a shelter, particularly if you feed them in there. Horses do like to have shade and a wind break in extreme weather conditions, but they have to feel comfortable and safe in there. If you spend quality time with your horses in the barn, they’ll come to feel safe in there and seek out its comfort more often.

While I am sure you can get your horses habituated to confinement, it may not be necessary. Your horses will be happier if they can run around and be horses. I would bring my horses in the barn for feeding and grooming and get the youngsters used to being tied up in there, etc. But then let them be turned out the rest of the time.

If you wanted your horses to get used to being in stalls—which is not a bad thing for a horse to be comfortable with, especially if you plan to show him or go to events—you could bring them in at night then turn them out for the day (or visa versa). Horses get used to this routine easily and seem to enjoy it.

You will probably need to figure out ways to separate the youngsters from the mares at some point so they do not become too herd bound. In fact, you’ll probably want to find opportunities to separate the all horses at various times so that they learn to be calm and independent away from the herd and are easier ride out.

Good luck with your new herd!
Julie

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