Issues From The Ground: Rearing Fit When Saddled

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Hello Julie,

I was on the Internet searching for info on rearing and found your web site. I have a question I hope you can help with. I have a 6 Yr. old TB. He came off the track at 4yrs old and has had on ground training and started jumping. I noticed some lameness issues with him after a long move. He has been sent to the Washington State University and diagnosed with slight arthritis in the right hock. He was injected and released. The University also did a bone scan of the hip and stifles just for my piece of mind. Since his return he has performed beautifully.

Here comes the question…. I was away on vacation and my trainer was saddling him in the cross ties (never a problem) and he pulled back a few times. She then went to working him in hand. This is when he threw a tantrum and not just reared, but was jumping up and throwing himself on the ground. Apparently he did this about 8 times before he realized it was causing him discomfort. I completely trust my trainer. She starts many horses, and specializes in recovery cases. She said she had never encountered a horse throwing himself down like that before. She continued working with him and he eventually came around. I know he has had some “going forward” trials before…but that seemed to be alleviated after his treatment at the Vet Hospital.

Knowing his health is fine, teeth fine, feet fine, can you give any advice as to why he would go to such lengths of avoidance? And to what we can do to eliminate this rearing. Obviously we will not be riding him until he is back to his old “good boy” self in hand. We aren’t even going to trust him in the cross ties for a while. I don’t understand how he could go from being a great, well-behaved boy, to a raving lunatic? I have had the local vet check him, and my equine chiropractor is coming at the end of the month. If he has no signs of pain, I’m afraid I will have to give him up. I want to be able to trust him not to injure himself or ME! Just last week my 5-year-old daughter sat on him while I walked him around. WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY GOOD BOY?

If you can respond I would greatly appreciate any advice.

Thank you,
Kelly Sundquist

Answer: Kelly,

As I read your email, many thoughts come to mind, the first of which is that it is difficult to pass judgment on a horse’s behavior without actually seeing the horse in action. I have learned through experience that there is generally more to the story than the person relaying the incident sees, and in this case, it is being relayed third-hand. Usually if I am there in person and able to step back and observe, I can find a cause or a reason that the person handling the horse may be unable to see.

That said, there are a few other thoughts that come to mind. I am not a big fan of cross ties and I think they can be highly dangerous, as in the case of your horse. If a horse panics in the cross ties, the chances of him getting in a big wreck and getting seriously hurt are very high. If your horse were pulling back at all, I would not put him in cross ties. You may try tying him to a solid object or hitching rail in a rope halter to see if that would discourage him from pulling, but sometimes a rope halter can make a puller worse because of the additional pressure on his face. There are several Q&As on my website about horses that pull back and also the use of cross ties, so read more about it there.

The other thought that comes to mind is that this is a cold-backed horse. I am not totally clear on whether or not the horse was saddled when this incident occurred, but it sounds like he was. A cold backed horse will sometimes react violently to the saddle, but typically not until it has been put on, the girth tightened and then the horse moves. When he moves, he suddenly feels the constriction and pressure on his back and blows up, often throwing himself on the ground. I have found this to be especially common in TBs. It is possible that she inadvertently got the girth too tight too soon and when the horse reacted and was cross-tied, a full-blown panic set in. This would also be consistent with a reluctance to move forward.

Horses rear either in a refusal to move forward or when forward movement is inhibited. Pain can certainly instigate rearing in a horse; however, it does not really sound like the previous lameness issue is a factor here. It is possible that when he first blew up in the cross ties; he tweaked his back and then was in pain. Hopefully your chiropractor has made a determination on that. There are also several articles on my website about rearing and the causes and solutions.

Going on the assumption that your horse is cold-backed (which is my best guess), all you need to do is make sure he is not tied in any way when you saddle, massage the girth area before tightening and tighten the girth very slowly, walking him between each tightening. Often cold backed horses will crow-hop a little when you first ask them to canter and you need to just work them through that by continuing to move them forward. These measures will alleviate the problems.

I hope your horse is doing better now. Good luck and be careful!

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Issues From The Ground: Pulls Back When Tied

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Hello Julie,

Your Incident article has prompted me to write. Thank you for stressing the dangers of pullers, and the comment of kissing a horse on the muzzle (one of my pet peeves this last year). I’ve been looking for more information on horses that pull back and what can be done to train them not to do so. In our operation we use high lines extensively, and it may be because of this I have no experience with pullers. The question in my mind is – do horses that spend a lot of their time on high lines not develop the tendency to pull back, or can high lines be used to reset the mindset of a puller? Fortunately, I don’t have any pullers to try this out on. Have you had any success in using high lines for this problem? Or perhaps some one else has the experience to enlighten me. On the issue of kissing – I’ve given clinics on horse management in the backcountry and seen people do this!! It’s so confusing for the horse to have someone show such submissive behavior to them, then try to be the boss. I’ve encouraged people to understand what they are doing from the horses’ perspective and instead of talking against the impulse to kiss their horse I encourage a realization that where you kiss the horse is important. They’ll respect you more the further back on their body that you place your kiss! Hey! it’s their perception that counts!

Jim
British Columbia

Answer: Hi Jim,

Thanks for your email. I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article. Pulling back can be a real problem and it is quite possible that horses on a high line would be less prone to pulling, since they would not have the sensation of being affixed to a solid object. I have studied a lot of veterinary textbooks on horse behavior but have seen little or no information on pulling, so I’ll give you my own personal opinion.

There are two types of pullers, obstinate pullers and panic pullers. The former are horses that have learned that they can break a rope or halter and get loose. They are pretty easy to spot because they will test the rope and pull back in short fits, being fairly calm and relaxed between pulling attempts. Generally once they determine that they cannot break the rope or halter, they quit pulling. A panic puller is a whole other story. These horses may stand tied for weeks on end and then suddenly something triggers their flight response (usually a human crowding their face) and once they discover their flight response is not available to them (because they are tied) a sheer panic sets in. The panic is very obvious in these horses as their eyes get big and the they will stop at nothing to get away. Often these horses shut down and sit back on the rope and freeze up. The only thing you can do to relieve them is to get the rope untied or cut the rope. Horses can do severe damage to their necks and backs in pulling episodes.

Panic pulling is very common in Thoroughbreds and I believe this is because we have bred these horses for hundreds of generations to do one thing: run. Therefore the flight response in TBs is very strong. I have had many TBs that could not be tied but otherwise were very compliant and obedient horses and would stand willingly all day long at the hitching rail with the rope just looped around it. If the flight response is triggered and they can move away, they do not panic.

When I was younger (and dumber) I was under the illusion that if panic pullers were trained right, they wouldn’t pull. I was working on a TB breeding farm and one year we had a very nice yearling filly (the cream of that year’s crop, a grand-daughter of Bold Ruler) that was a puller. By George, I was going to break her of that so I found a big fat rope, a strong halter and a strong post and tied her up. She fought and fought and then reared up, turned up side down and hung from the rope with her neck twisted and suspended in the air. I cut the rope and she lay there, stiff and unmoving, shaking all over, with her eyes rolled back in her head, and I could not get her up. I was sure she had broken her neck. As I looked out my office window at her, waiting for the vet to answer the phone and thinking how I was going to explain this one to the owner, she leapt to her feet, shook off, stuck her tail in the air, and took off at a full run! I considered this an inexpensive lesson and since that time I have accepted the fact that some horses will just never tie.

But I do think the obstinate pullers can be rehabilitated with the above method. Also, I have seen overhead devices for tying pullers, which make them less likely to pull because they never hit a fixed object (which gives credence to your high-line theory). We use a tie-clip, the Safe Clip, that is good for for pullers and if they pull, they get a slow release on the rope, which keeps the panic from setting in.

One caveat about tying horses that fight the rope: if they bruise their poll (a highly sensitive area) this may exacerbate the pulling problem. The “Be Nice” halters are made of narrow nylon rope with metal knobs at the poll, specifically made to put pressure on the poll to encourage the horse not to pull. This will work well on an obstinate puller but will make a panic puller much worse since pain is added to the panic.

I do think that a horse would be less likely to pull on a highline because there would be a fair amount of give and there is nothing fixed for him to pull against. However, if one horse did start to pull it could set off a chain reaction of pulling since panic in one horse will lead to panic in another (a simple fact of herd behavior, horses tend to act like the horses around them). That is another reason why most trail operations will not keep a horse that pulls. I’ll be interested to hear from our other trail operators to see what they think of pullers.

Julie Goodnight

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.