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November 2017 - AAEP is on Stall Rest

AAEP is taking the month of November off from "Ask the Vet", but will be back in December to answer your equine health questions concerning winter weather care for your horse with expert, Dr. Christine Tuma.



Click here to read this month's questions and answers.
  1. I have a 13-year-old OTT Thoroughbred that I have owned for two years. He can be quite excitable and because it takes a while to warm him up before asking him to train dressage, I thought he would benefit from being lunged before riding, but not for him. When I attempt to lunge him (using a caverson head stall without a bit) he becomes aggressive, charging at me and threatening to kick. If I try to persist he rears and bolts. I do not ever touch him with the whip or punish him for this behavior as some have suggested I should. Initially, I thought it was a trust issue so I did not attempt to lunge him for 12 months after I bought him, but even when I thought we had established a good relationship both on the ground and under saddle, I recently tried again to lunge him, the same behavior surfaced. I have tried lunging him in an indoor arena, a 20 m round yard and in an open paddock with no success, so I've given up. I don't think he's confused because he understands verbal cues otherwise both in hand and under saddle. He is happy to be rubbed all over with the lunge whip so I don't think he's frightened. I know he doesn't see me as a threat because he is very affectionate toward me in every other context and comes to meet me when he sees me approach his paddock. Is it something I'm doing or is this perhaps a hangover from his previous life? Can I fix this, or should I just accept that lunging is not for this horse?

    (View Answer)

    He has had a bad experience lunging that he refuses to forget, and he has clearly expressed his wishes to no longer be chased around a round pen or chased at the end of a lunge line for no one, including you, anymore. Someone ruined Ott’s attitude regarding lunging, probably with a whip, so please follow Ott’s wishes and as you suggest forget lunging. Being chased by grounded humans does not work for him, and he is not alone in this regard. 

    I have never been a fan of removing a horse’s ability to flee and then chasing them to train them.

    Round-pen and lunge-line chasing presents lots of unnatural problems to horses. I was raised with Indians on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and that is not the sort of country anyone with any sense chases their horse. When you separate from your horse in this country, good luck getting home afoot. Chasing horses is not necessary or even preferred. Horses have always know to run from those chasing them, and there is little sense in building on this phenomenon. I always want my horses to come to me, so therefore I never chase them because they live in open country. When I show up, the horses run to me, so I am not going to mess with that phenomenon, either, by using chasing as part of my training protocol. For those who never leave the arena with their horses, maybe chasing has a place, but I doubt it. The running of horses to exhaustion in a round pen and then claiming they have paired with you when they give up is not in accord with the humane principles of training. 

    Many activities guardians wish upon their horses are things that are not in the horse’s behavioral inventory. The humans erred in their lunge training of Ott, and he is over it forever. You gave it the college try, and now you know lunging is not for Ott. What he would like before riding is a long hand walk and the opportunity to graze some fresh grass, so why don’t both you and he take a nice long relaxing walk and graze before riding, and leave the lunging to others. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  2. I recently purchased a 16-year-old Percheron gelding. He use to live on a major highway and was told he would travel down a highway being ridden or pulling a cart. I have tried walking him down to the road with a rope halter and a truck and trailer drove past and he went crazy. He was very hard to handle and it took forever for him to settle down. I have tried standing him at the end of the driveway with his back turned to the road, but if a car or truck goes by he tends to get nervous. How can I get this horse to go out with anyone being hurt? No other horse at the barn is able to travel down the road. He is amazing in everything else.

    (View Answer)

    The horse always has the last word. Perch has indicated highways and roads are no longer for him. He had a bad experience on a highway, and he is determined not to have another. He is no longer willing to share the road. At 16, his road travels are over. He is too old and determined to change his mind about this. The risks of highway travel for Perch have outweighed the benefits at this stage, so please stay off the road with him, and appreciate the people who sold him to you provided inaccurate information.

    Remember, the horse always has the last word, and in Perch’s case his definitive word is no more vehicles speeding by me, anymore, and perhaps evermore. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  3. My mare is 12-years-old and unshod. We usually ride in the forest with the paths sometimes covered with pebble stones. Especially after a new trimming, she will stumble forward with a nose dive and pick herself up on her right front hoof. Now she has added something new, it feels like she drags the right back hoof in trot. Friends tell me that I should be firmer in using my legs and pick her up with the reins in front. I do not feel comfortable with this advice. I know my horse should round her back but I feel that this should be of her own doing more than me pulling and forcing. Sometimes when we have a nice rhythmic jog and everything is steady she will for no reason, stumble forward again. What can I do?

    (View Answer)

    Your horse is exhibiting all the classic signs of lameness and soreness, likely in the hooves. Hooves have to be carefully prepared to handle long walks over rough terrain, gradual acclimation, abundant daily walking between long rides, etc. You are correct that this is not a horsemanship issue, so heavy handedness is out of line with this clinical presentation. The solution is to have your favorite veterinarian do a comprehensive lameness exam with the trimmer present. Have your vet bring along their radiology gear, please. Perhaps you have exceeded her hooves and lower leg bones adaptability to handle rough going at age 12. As well, soft tissue structures may be inflamed. Shoes may be the solution, as there are many types, materials, and fashions these days. 

    Barefoot trail riding requires extensive hoof conditioning and preparation, months if not years of exercises over incrementally rougher terrain. Not all hooves, however well prepared, can handle barefoot going over certain terrains and surfaces. That said, most all horses can go barefoot in arenas. My brother Wylie wins all his cutting competitions barefoot, and my daughter Nina wins all her dressage shows barefoot. When we venture into the Bob Marshal Wilderness under Glacier National Park, we go shod. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  4. My 5-year-old RMH gelding insists on pooping in his "small holed hay bag", on the ledge of the kick boards in his stall and onto the ledge of the window in his stall. Do you have any suggestions on how to stop this annoying habit and can you answer why he does this?

    (View Answer)

    He is a clever communicator, that horse of yours. His message is that he needs much more time outside the stall, and as well, the stall needs to cleaned of manure several more times each day than it presently is cleaned. Horses detest standing in manure, as standing in manure leads to a variety of hoof and pastern ailments. A horse’s nature is to defecate somewhere they will not have to stand, and with limited choices, your horse has found his solution. Stalled horses need miles of daily walking and hand grazing. Walking and riding aid digestion and promote elimination outside of the stall. Digestion, respiration, hoof health, behavioral health, and musculoskeletal health are all dependent upon miles of daily walking.

    If your horse knows he will be outside for periods of time each day, he will likely withhold defecation until those more appropriate opportunities arise. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  5. I have an 11-year-old OTT. She hates to be bathed. I have even tried warm water, being sure not to get her head wet. She paws aggressively and lifts her front legs up as high as she can get them. Any other time she is a pleasant sweet mare with the farrier and the veterinarian. Its very annoying that she is so wiggly and aggitated when I bath her especially since she is a grey and LOVES to roll in the dirt! 

    (View Answer)

    Ixnay the athbays, please.

    She has hydrophobia, the non-infectious version.

    The mare has made it clear she doesn’t like water baths, which is a natural tendency. Let her roll in the dirt all she wants, as that is a natural fly-repelling tendency as well as being great for her digestion, spine and musculoskeletal system. 

    I suspect that you are not going to change the grey mare’s nature any time soon. You either have to make getting a bath a good deal for her (good luck) or utilize brushing and grooming and rain to clean her.

    You can’t teach the old grey mare new tricks, it seems. Someone made bathing a bad deal for her, and she can’t forget it. She is pretty certain that bathing is an unnatural thing for a horse, and she is correct. Grey skin has it’s idiosyncrasies, and water sensitivity is one of them in this case (make sure she sees her veterinary dermatologist each year for her annual melanoma exams).

    If you want to counter condition her, you can try. When she first sees water, feed her. When the water gets closer, feed her some more. Do this for 30 days until she looks forward to eating pleasurably in the presence of running water. Feed her a bunch as the first drop of water touches her for the next 60 days, but stop the bath at that first drop of water. For the next 90 days after that, run a stream of water on her left front hoof as she eats. After she is good with the left try the right front for a few months. You get the incremental picture. In a few years, she’ll be loving the water and you’ll have spent 6000 hours training her to enjoy water bathing her appetite with treats. This activity has been known to incite other sets of problems, some behavioral, some medical, some disastrous. Still, after all the attempts, it is quite likely the ol’ grey mare will be what she used to be: hydrophobic. Clicker training utilizes positive reinforcement, so you could also take some courses in positive reinforcement training, develop your timing until it is as impeccable as a horse’s, and clicker train her to love baths. 

    I’m siding with the mare, and recommend that you just go with the brushing from here on out. Invest in several different brushes, and you’ll soon find the one that sweeps that dirt right out. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  6. I have a well behaved 9-year-old Morgan gelding that is great for anything but shots. He will fall on you if he sees or feels the needle. I have a capped syringe that I stoke his neck with as I give treats and he is fine but as soon as a needle is attached watch out. What else can I do?

    (View Answer)

    The benefits of vaccination have to outweigh the risks. In this case, injectable vaccines might best be avoided. If he allows intranasal, go with the intranasal flu and call it good. If horses in the neighborhood begin dying of diseases that can be prevented with vaccinations, we will change the plan and give the injections. In the meantime, let him enjoy an injection free life, because in his case, the risks outweigh the benefits. The message I am getting from Mr Morgan is that he has received enough injections to last a lifetime. 

    Horses can cause human injuries and fatalities, and in this case human safety may take precedence because we can accurately predict there is going to be horse trouble with Mr Morgan when the needles are brandished. Previous humans failed him, you see, and he’s fairly certain no human on the planet knows how to properly give an injection. He has been taught this. When you give injections, make certain the horse is not going to feel them. For example, I change needles after I use a needle to draw medication from a bottle, because that dulls the needle. Horses despise dull big needles. I like 23 gauge needles. I numb the skin where the needle enters the skin by pinching the skin to numb the needle entry area. Veterinarians offer the most finesse when injecting horses because they have been beat up and kicked most often by horses that did not appreciate their crude technique. Take it from a pro: horses are best served to have veterinarians provide all of their pain-free injections, please. Otherwise, some of the horses might end up like Mr Morgan and his permanently entrenched needle-phobia. 

    He was taught to be fearful of needles by needlers who failed to make sure he felt no pain when they injected him. This is a taught behavior, and has to be unlearned. Good luck un-teaching him. Even Pat Parelli might have trouble convincing this horse that injections are good idea, it seems. He can be counter conditioned over a period of time. This involves making getting injections a good deal for him. Brandishing a needle must be accompanied by treat feeding, so that brandishing a needle becomes a good deal for the horse. Then you have to teach him that plunging the needle into his flesh is a good deal for him, but that might be impractical, however tasty the treats. Preventive health has many components beyond vaccination, so follow all those disease prevention protocols for him, please, and make sure all those other horses on the property are vaccinated on his protective behalf. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  7. I have two geldings that nicker softly to me when I dismount after riding. What are they saying?

    (View Answer)

    Humans will never know for certain what and how horses think, but we do know they most certainly do cogitate and communicate on a near-constant basis with one another and with their pair-bonded humans.

    They are likely asking to make sure you do not forget to rub and brush them down nicely after the ride. They enjoyed the exercise, and that next time more would be even better, and don't forget the green grass grazing each day.

    All horses should be rubbed down, massaged, and throughly palpated all over before and after each ride to assure early detection and resolution of minor issues before they become significant. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  8. I just sold a 17-year-old mare, her 12-year-old mare and her 7-year-old mare as a group. The 7-year-old was never trained to saddle but was easy to handle in all other respects. In the last month before departure she had begun to fight with the older Alfa mare of the herd presumably to take over. The other two of the smaller herd sold have no desire to be the leader. Since arrival at the new home (where there are no other horses) she has become extremely mean to the other two and the humans. She charges, bites, kicks and scares everyone. New owners have called to ask how I feel about putting her down. A veterinarian has not yet examined her. I wonder about West Nile or an undiagnosed health condition? There are many mosquitoes in both Arkansas her previous home and Tennessee her current home. Please tell me what this sounds like to you.

    (View Answer)

    Yet another unfulfilled ménage à trois, it seems, another unsuccessful triad. We have seen this before. The solution is simple. In addition to a arranging comprehensive veterinary examination and stable situation evaluation, the mare needs a reliable pair-bonded other of her own, so to speak. Once she is paired with a compatible horse, she will be socially fulfilled and will stop her aggressive behavior. You have failed to fulfill her social needs, it seems. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, you know. Horses prefer pairs (groups of two) within their herd. A herd of three is unnatural and difficult for some (but not all) horses. Horses generally prefer to pair off in, well, pairs. The reason there is trouble in your trio seems to be that the grumpy mare does not have a reliable pair-bonded other. Even numbered herds have less of this trouble than odd-numbered herds. There are examples of trios and quints getting along fine, but remember that each horse prefers his or her own pair-bonded other horse, and some do not like to share their partners, such as this mare. Horses are like people, you know, that is why they merged with us. She needs another. Please appreciate the importance of assuring that each and every horse has a compatible pair-bonded other. Pair bonding is the nature of horses, and the horse’s desire to have a pair-bonded other will unlikely abate. As well, it seems the resources are restricted in the new situation. There needs to always be forage available and space for all three horses to eat in peace as they please. If there are three horses in the enclosure there needs to be four feeders of hay and they all need to be full with the appropriate forage all the time. 

    Make sure the horses have plenty of space and 24/7 forage to minimize internal conflict, please. The current awkward herd should not be together in restricted spaces without forage, as has been demonstrated. Exercise and ride all of them more often. Take each horse out alone each day and hand graze them on the fresher grass outside the pasture, or perhaps take two out at a time. You can ease the triad tension in this fashion. If another horse comes along, nab him or her for that lonely and frustrated mare, please. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  9. My 13-year-old OTTB gelding with mild DSP is acting anxious. He doesn't want to be groomed, handled, etc. He is NOT acting as if he is in pain and there have beeb no diet changes. His vaccinations, teeth and feet are all current. Where do I begin finding answers to his sudden change in his usually calm demeanor?

    (View Answer)

    The kissing spines are perhaps kissing too much, again. The first order of health care is to have the dorsal spinal processes re-evaluated along with a comprehensive lameness examination by your veterinarian. Follow this with a professional evaluation of the saddle fit, and clean all the blankets, cinches, and tack. Sometimes the horse is anticipating pain to come when he is brought to the tacking area, so as you suggest, he may not be painful at the time, but he is anticipating pain to come. This behavior can reflect that the last ride was painful and unrewarding. Was it? Were those spines kissing under your saddle? Bone grating on bone is never a good thing for a horse.

    We always have to make sure the horse’s other life is great, as well. Make sure your horse has abundant friends, forage, and locomotion on a daily basis. He needs a pair-bonded other of some sort, for sure. Socialization and daily turnout are always a good thing for the physical and mental health of horses. Stalled horses require miles of daily walking to maintain hoof health. Horses that do not receive adequate walking and locomotion have a tendency to have hoof problems, you know, and this could be a sore feet issue. He may be expressing that he has sore hooves after pulled from the stall. As well, he may be unhappy that he is pulled from a stall where his locomotion has been restricted for hours, and then taken to cross-ties to only stand some more. All horses that have been stalled should be taken for a long walk and hand graze before they are tacked to ride, please. Cross-ties are a miserable thing for a horse. A horse should never be expected to come from the stall to the cross ties without a decent walk first, please. To take away their head movement is to mute them, and horses like to communicate, you know. In fact, they need to be heard, and their guardians need to listen, to know the horse’s language and listen. He’s telling you something is not right for him, something to come, perhaps, something wasn’t right last time out. 

    When he comes out of the stall, I prescribe a long walk, with abundant hand grazing, before he get’s cross-tied and groomed. Horses are born to move, and move they must. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  10. My 4-year-old gelding keeps pinning his ears back and charging me. He was good the first few weeks I had him, but now he seems unruly.

    (View Answer)

    His message is that his life is unfulfilled, and his behavioral needs are not being met. 

    For a clear appreciation of what horses expect to have re-created for them while stabled, please read my article Equine Behaviour Through Time published by Horses and People Magazine in Australia linked here. 

    http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=2539&osCsid=fv2ui1r5j5vao6q15o7c7n3vt6

    It appears your horse is finding his current stall situation unacceptable and is expressing this with gestures of aggression, which will evolve to outright aggression if his situation is not improved from his behavioral need point of view. The displays of aggression are a result of unacceptable deprivations of friends, forge, and locomotion from his perspective. He is unwilling to pair-bond with you until his life is improved and fulfilled. He is making clear that the current husbandry practices to which he is now subjected are not conducive to his contentment and behavioral health. The present situation needs to be changed and improved on his behalf. The guardians must ensure that his individual needs and long-evolved behavioral requirements are fulfilled and enriched. His behavior reflects that his adaptability to be stalled has been exceeded. His message is that the stable situation is inadequate for him. It may be fine for others, but not him. First, he requires miles and miles of daily walking in addition to a daily training and riding regimen. The riding and training must be a good pleasant and deal for him. I suspect he will benefit from properly orchestrated turn-out, exercise, grazing, and significant bonding time with other horses. Most horses require a pair-bonded other horse for behavioral stability. 

    Please take significant measures to improve his life by fulfilling his requirement for carefully orchestrated abundant daily socialization, foraging, and locomotion. Hours of daily grooming, hand walking, hand grazing, and hanging out together without a specific purpose other than becoming familiar with one another are in order on your part to establish a bond between you and your horse that will lead to a willing partnership. Horses that have guardians that know how to abundantly fulfill their long-evolved social needs for friends, forage, and locomotion are happy to please their guardians. It may take some time, but multiple efforts dedicated to fulfilling your horse’s essential needs of friends, forage, and locomotion will result in behavioral contentment and subsequently the development of a willing partnership. This is not about training the horse, but about abundantly fulfilling your horse’s innate survival requirements. Happy horses train up easily. Once he becomes happy and content with his new situation, his behavior will improve, as has proven out time and again with aggressive stable horses that are subsequently abundantly fulfilled with near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. This will take time, finesse, and patience. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  11. My 7-year-old mare has become very aggressive to an older - 18-year-old gelding in the pasture. She will tolerate him to be semi close when grazing but he was caught in the run in shed when she was in there also and she turned on him kicking him until he was able to get out. She then ran after him in the pasture. We took her out and put her on the dry lot for a couple days and when we put her back all was well, again. There are 3 horses and 2 donkeys in the herd. She is not Alfa. Another mare is Alfa over her and the gelding is Alfa over that mare. How can we get her to quit beating up on this gelding?

    (View Answer)

    Another unfulfilled love triangle, it seems, an unsuccessful triad (quintad, if we count the pair-bonded donkeys). We have seen this before. The solution is simple. The mare needs a reliable pair-bonded other of her own, so to speak. Once she is paired with a compatible horse, she will be socially fulfilled and will stop her aggressive behavior. You have failed to fulfill her social needs, it seems. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, you know. Horses prefer pairs (groups of two) within their herd. A herd of three or five is unnatural and difficult for some (but not all) horses. Horses generally prefer to pair off in, well, pairs. The reason there is trouble in your trio seems to be that the grumpy mare does not have a reliable pair-bonded other. Even numbered herds have less of this trouble than odd-numbered herds. There are examples of trios and quints getting along fine, but remember that each horse prefers his or her own pair-bonded other horse, and some do not like to share their partners, such as your mare. Horses are like people, you know, that is why they merged with us. Read this article to appreciate horse and human sociality, if you please, and the importance of assuring that each and every horse has a compatible pair-bonded other. Pair bonding is the nature of horses, and the horse’s desire to have a pair-bonded other will unlikely abate: 

    http://sidgustafson.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-merging-of-horses-and-humans.html#.VfmIcbRUMmY

    Make sure the horses have plenty of space and 24/7 forage to minimize internal conflict, please. The current awkward herd should not be together in restricted spaces without forage, as has been demonstrated. Exercise and ride all of them more often. Take each horse out alone each day and hand graze them on the fresher grass outside the pasture, or perhaps take two out at a time. You can ease the triad tension in this fashion. If another horse comes along, nab him or her for that lonely and frustrated mare, please. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  12. My daughter's 16-year-old - 14\'1 Welsh cross pony started rearing and napping in the school. He now does it hacking whether on his own or with one or more horses, on familiar and unfamiliar routes. I have had his teeth, back, saddle, feet, etc. examined and done and cannot work out why this behavior is occuring. A nappy behaviour or a physical reason? It is getting to the point where he will become dangerous for my daughter.

    (View Answer)

    So if by napping you mean rearing, it appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your daughter’s pony from whatever cause, and it is worsening with time. At age 16, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system as well as the mind. Despite the assurances that there are no physical problems, I still suspect there is discomfort of some sort somewhere. Double check those hocks, please. Make sure a spavin test is performed. The pain that creates the rearing behavior can be from subtle musculoskeletal discomfort that requires extensive investigation utilizing diagnostic imagery. 

    If it is not pain, it is perhaps the pony’s lack of tolerance for the tack or your daughter’s riding style. As ponies age, they become more sensitive to bit pressure, saddle fit, and are especially sensitive to nosebands that tie their mouth shut. When horses are frustrated with their tack or rider, and do not understand what is being asked of them, they rear.  It is possible the horse is being asked to do dressage maneuvers he is no longer able to do because of advancing age and diminishing flexibility. Your daughter must have an extremely soft hand and gentle touch, with no excessive or constant rein or bit pressure so as to avoid having the pony rear all the way over. The release has to be timely when the horse responds to aids and cues. Rein pressure cannot be constantly applied. Have the instructor ensure that your daughter’s horsemanship favors the horse. 

    The pony’s stable life has to be fulfilled and content with friends, forage and locomotion. Some horses will express discontent in the arena if they are not getting abundant daily exercise, turnout, and socialization with other horses. The pony should never run out of appropriate forage to chew, as horses with empty stomachs develop ulcers and this can affect their behavior when ridden, so make sure they rule out ulcers. Ulcers are suggestive that the pony’s life is not fulfilled with adequate friends, forage and locomotion. Stalled horses require miles of daily walking and benefit immensely from a few hours of hand grazing each day. 

    Please have your veterinarian do another thorough physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require yet another thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. Please have a professional evaluate the headstall, bits, saddle, and tack for comfort and fit, and please clean everything. Make sure the horse is groomed and massaged for a half hour before being tacked and ridden. A nice walk ahead of time is also beneficial. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding or rider has started to aggravate. Old ponies can only handle 20% of their body weight atop them, so do the math and make sure your daughter has not gotten too heavy for the pony. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring comprehensive veterinary assessment and therapy. Again, make sure the pony’s non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  13. My daughter’s 15 hand Connemara/Thoroughbred occasionally bites, especially around food and when his food is being prepared. He will bite at other occasions sometimes. We don't feed treats or tidbits by hand. How can we stop this behavior?

    (View Answer)

    Horses should never run out of appropriate forage, as when their stomachs become empty they become grumpy, mouthy and bitey. Most biting seems to occur after horses have been deprived of forage for some time while being stabled or stalled. Horses evolved to graze and forage at all times (24/7/365) in the company of others, and should. As well, horses that are not in race training or a similar type of strenuous activity do not require grain. The combination of stable horses running out of forage and then being fed grain can cause a multitude of behavior problems such as biting (some buck), so make sure he never runs out of appropriate hay. The only supplement he should need is a forage balancer to balance his forage diet with all the necessary minerals and vitamins and other required nutrients. He does not need unstructured carbohydrates. Forage deprivation + grain=ulcers=horse unhappiness, so make sure your veterinarian rules out dental disease and ulcers.

    His forage balancer ration should not be prepared in his presence. If he is stalled, he should be hand walked and grazed before being fed his forage balancer ration. He should generally always be fulfilled and enriched with friends, forage, and locomotion before being fed. His biting message is that he is not fulfilled and content with his essential needs of near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. Please have his ration balanced and designed by your equine veterinarian. Make sure he walks abundantly each day.

    He will likely stop biting after you have assured he never runs out of hay and is walked and hand grazed before being fed his forge balancer supplement with grain. Biting is one of the few unacceptable things we punish horses for, but only after making sure all the previous guidelines have been fulfilled (never runs out of appropriate forage to chew, walked or ridden abundantly before feeding, abundant daily socialization with other horses, and no or very little grain unless in race training). If we do decide to punish a horse for biting, the punishment has to occur within one second of the offense for the horse to equivocate the punishment with the unwelcome behavior. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  14. Thanks for your great answers to people's behavior questions about horses. Mine may be more medical but hope you might have some recommendations anyway. My 13-year-old Arabian gelding just returned from Montana where we went to a packing school and then rode in the "Bob." Being from Alaska, he had a hard time with the heat and altitude (or so I thought.) He had little endurance and sweat profusely: complete opposite of his usual energetic self. We've been home a month now and he's not getting better. I took him to the veterinarian and his lungs are clear, his heart sounds good and the blood work came back unremarkable. Can you suggest any next steps for diagnosing his lack of perfomance? He's a great trail partner and loves to go, even now. He just doesn't get very far these days. 

    (View Answer)

    Veterinarians observe and utilize reports of the horse’s behavior to assess and diagnose medical conditions. From the behavior you have described, the differential diagnosis would include pain of musculoskeletal origin that is aggravated by light exercise. This can be explored further by your veterinarian. Inflamed hooves sometimes cause painful behaviors and reluctance to proceed, for example. 

    From your history, respiratory embarrassment appears to be a primary concern. Pulmonary disease needs to be ruled out. I suggest you have his respiratory system further evaluated by your veterinarians for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; COPD or heaves, and other similar conditions. An exercise tolerance test is in order, along with a thoracic ultrasound. Radiographs and CT scans could offer a definitive diagnosis, or rule out lung issues. At rest, the lungs and heart may auscultate fine, and the blood may look oaky. Nonetheless, if his lungs have lost their elasticity from chronic progressive inflammation, which may have gone unnoticed in its earlier stages, he may no longer be able to tolerate exercise. 

    Allergens and dust from hay fed in inadequately ventilated quarters incite aggravate and aggravate the immune-mediated condition, which often progresses over time. Long trailer rides with hay in close quarters and the inability of the horse to have his head down on the ground while eating have been known to incite pulmonary dysfunction. Lung health in horses is dependent on abundant daily walking and head-down grazing, along with pristine air. 

    Whatever the eventual diagnosis, his hay needs to be of the highest quality, and it needs to be wet down, never fed dry. Pasture is the preferred treatment, making sure to encourage and facilitate head-down foraging whenever the horse eats. Horses need to eat with their head down to maintain pulmonary health. Low grade pulmonary infection is possible, as are localized abscesses and tumors which displace lung function. 

    You can assess his day to day pulmonary function to assist your veterinarian diagnose, treat, and monitor the condition. His resting breathing rate should be 8-15 breaths per minute. Please start monitoring his respiratory rate. Record it daily. Breathing is hard to detect in normal healthy horses. Please monitor all of your horses breathing rates, and compare your ailing horse to the healthier horses. Get in touch with your horse’s breathing, and remember, for a horse; to breathe is to walk, to walk is to breathe. We also monitor the gums for pinkness and capillary refill. The best time to assess his oxygenation potential would be when he is exhibiting his uncomfortable breathing behavior during exercise. We like pink gums. If the gums are pale, or leaning purplish, then adequate oxygenation may be an issue. 

    Treatments to alleviate exercise intolerance of cardiopulmonary origin aim to improve airflow and lung perfusion, and subsequently; increase oxygenation and exercise tolerance. Your job is to establish his normal breathing rate. Measure how long it takes for his respiration to return to his normal after he walks a mile, or trots a quarter mile. These parameters are measured and recorded day to day to monitor improvement or deterioration, and to adjust the medication dosages. 

    Remember, that in a normal resting horse it is difficult to see movements of the thorax associated with respiration. If you can easily see your horse’s breathing movements at rest and count an elevated respiratory rate, pulmonary issues are suspect, especially if the resting respiratory rate is over 20 breaths per minute. The horse can be scoped, as well, to visualize the upper respiratory system. There are effective nutritional and management strategies along with medications that can help once an accurate diagnosis is arrived upon. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  15. I recently found a new home for a 14-year-old OTTB gelding I had for 7+ years. He was bred, owned and trained by my sister - she was a race horse trainer. I bought him at age 6 when he was retired from racing.

    I told the new owner when she came to look at him before adoption that he challenges fences - showed her that I have 1 electric wire all the way around my pasture. He is very smart/clever/mischevious and will challenge you (not being malicious). I also told her not to ever let him win.

    He has been at his new location since the end of March. The existing horses are a mare and pony mare. The new owner emailed me two weeks ago to inform me that he has been breaking fences and his stall to get to the mare. He hollers for her when they are separated. If they are not in the same field he runs the fence line until his is lathered. He has popped a splint and may have other lameness issues from the constant pounding. He does not stop to graze or eat hay and has lost weight. He is acting like a stallion with all the behaviors including mounting - the mare is a willing participant in this behavior.

    He was a ridgeling and was gelded at age two - this required a operation to remove them from his body cavity as neither were descended. He never showed any stallion behavior when he was with me, but he was always turned out with geldings.

    The new owner says she has done everything she knows to do - different turn out arrangements and a lot of prayer and at this point needs to place him elsewhere - did I want him back. I cannot because of health issues, which is why I had him up for adoption in the first place but I feel responsible for the horse. I talked to a equine behaviorist/trainer and told her what was going on. She said it sounded to her like a management problem. I tend to agree but in order to be fair to the horse and the new owner should he be tested for hormones to see if he somehow was "proud cut"? Why is he acting like this after all these years? Is there any way to manage this via training or medication or is finding a new home for him the only option at this point? The behavior has been going on unmanaged for about 5 months.

    (View Answer)

    Let the horses live together. I am not sure why letting the gelding and mares live together has not already been accommodated, as the gelding has successfully communicated his wishes clearly that the best pasture for him is the one with that certain mare. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, and their social nature is not going away. For behavioral health and prosperity, each horse requires a strong pair bond with another horse of their preference. It appears that it will best serve the horses (and humans) to let the OTTB gelding stay with the mares, please. He has been separated from mares long enough, and the memory of that idyllic life with his dam will not be forgotten. He knows all about mares. His mother taught him so. He needs them for security and companionship.

    Even numbered groupings are best, but horses can make do with trios and quints, mixed sexes, as well. Horses are made to live together, so they often find a way when resources are plentiful. Solo horses do not thrive, as a pair-bonded other horse is essential for behavioral fulfillment, and behavioral fulfillment is essential for overall health. 

    Please appreciate that most all horses require a significant pair-bonded other horse. You cannot expect the social horse to live without a pair-bonded other.  American Pharaoh has Dusty, you know. In Germany and other European countries, it is illegal to keep a horse alone. Solitary confinement of horses is considered a welfare issue, and horses and veterinary behaviorists do not like seeing horses isolated without abundant measures to provide equid companionship, along with abundant daily locomotion and constant forage availability. When horses are stabled apart from one another, they have be able to smell, see, hear, communicate with, and hopefully touch other horses on a regular if not constant basis to maintain their health. 

    Horses treasure grazing and foraging along with other horses. It is their most preferred activity. Humans are obligated to fulfill this requirement. Humans who know how to please horses have horses who are happy to please humans, you know, such is the nature of our domestic relationship with Equus caballus.

    You are obligated to find the gelding a pair bonded other, and the good news is that it appears your search is over. Get him over with those mares, and everyone will be content. If you want the gelding to sometimes separate from his mare-friend, you have to make his being with you a better deal than being with the other horse. This is accomplished by grooming, riding, hand grazing the best grass, and other creative measures to enrich the gelding’s lifestyle while he is temporarily separated. This can be accomplished with time and finesse when applied with an appreciation of the nature of the horse. 

    Geldings and mares can live together harmoniously if the resources of forage, space, and socialization are abundantly provided and the process is properly orchestrated in a sequential, horse-sensitive fashion. There is no need to separate geldings from mares  in properly managed stable situations. This requires 24/7 appropriate forage availability and the space to forage without interference while connected with the other horses visually. If the horses are heavy, they need more activity, space, and exercise rather than extended periods of forage deprivation. Deprivations of socialization, forage, and locomotion lead to stereotypies such as weaving and cribbing. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. You don’t want that, so let the horses be horses together. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others.  In natural settings, all horses of all sexes and ages live together with the exception of transient bachelor bands. Separating gelding and mares is not necessary in properly managed stables and pastures. It is an amateur tradition. 

    Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking. Other horses help with that. The horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. Try to re-create the natural situation as best you can, and you will have happy, quiet, content, and healthy horses. Physical health is dependent upon behavioral health, and behavioral health is dependent upon abundant socialization with other horses.

    The mating behavior may be seasonal, or perhaps this happens only when the mare is cycling. If the mare is not a suitable partner, and the mating behavior is unacceptable, then another more suitable partner should be sought. In any case, all horses need a pair-bonded other horse. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  16. How can I stop my green broke horse from jerking his head and neck away from me violently when I'm leading him? I have already injured my shoulder from this behavior. I know he is trying to stop me from controlling him but I'm not sure what to do. 

    (View Answer)

    You have to make leading a good deal for him. Please make sure the halter fits nicely, and that his dental health is evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out dental or jaw pain, as well as his general and musculoskeletal health. 

    He also has to feel that where he is being led is going to result in a pleasant experience. If this pulling occurs at the same place each time, don’t go by that place anymore as a bad experience is associated with it. Make the place a good experience with grooming and brushing, if possible. 

    If he is usually stalled for a long period of time before this happens, he needs to be walked and grazed and loosened up before he is taken to the task at hand. Coming out of the stall has to lead to enrichment of his life, rather than something uncomfortable like cross ties, for goodness sake. The riding that follows the leading has to be a good deal for the horse. Make sure that is the case. As well, you need to play closer attention to him when you are leading him for your shoulder’s sake. You should be able to see that he is going to pull before he does it, and let go. Physical punishment is seldom a viable solution.

    His other life has to be fulfilled and enriched with friends, forage, and locomotion. He needs to believe you are leading him to comfortable place and experience. Green grass grazing is a definite comfortable place and experience for horses, so make sure you lead him to green grass, often. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  17. I have recently become an owner of a lovely cob gelding. Before he came to me, I saw him being groomed and easily picking his (very big) feet up to be picked out. Since then he will not give up his feet to me at all. He stamps and moves forward, or with his hind legs he just kicks out. What am I doing to offend him?

    (View Answer)

    You have not yet adequately pair bonded with him. An hour or two of grooming and hand-grazing each day before attempting the feet, please. There are universal cues to ask a horse to pick up his feet. For the front leg the chestnut on the inside of the forearm is gently pressed. Many horses are taught by horsemen to give the leg to this cue, like the thousands of Thoroughbred racehorses I taught during their pre-race exams in New York, Washington, Montana, and California. To ask for the hind leg, we touch the point of the hock. This is after we have thoroughly familiarized ourselves with each horse we handle. The amateur way to ask for a hoof is to go straight to the fetlock. This can aggravate a Cob. Start with the nose, work your way up the head and around the ears, down the neck, shoulder, back, hips, tail. You are getting close to establishing a relationship that allows a hoof to be picked. Work your way down those legs, carefully, slowly, with finesse and feel.

    You are not asking for the feet like the other people were, it seems. You have to make picking the feet a good deal for the horse. Your horse needs to know more about you. This takes time and effort on your part to enrich and fulfill his life. I am not sure what you did to offend him, but it was surely something, probably not getting to know him well enough before asking him to do a bunch of stuff. Horses forgive, so you have to earn each hoof. Get brushing. Hand walking and green grass grazing work wonders for a human/horse relationship. Horses are happy to please folk who know how to please horses. You have to please him more than you have. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  18. Why does my horse like to lick me all the time?

    (View Answer)

    Because you have failed to provide 24/7 salt. Horses require salt, water, and appropriate forage to be present for them at all times. You have salty skin is likely why he continues to lick you. Don’t ever think of traveling without 24/7 salt available for your horse. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  19. I have a 22-year-old Arabian gelding, pretty spooky and not ridden but when I ask him to do something, he will do the baby jaw thing. Not sure what you call it, but he throws his head up or around his body and rolls his eyes and starts making his jaw go up and down but not closing his jaw. It's what I have seen young foals display. Why is this old man acting like a young foal?

    (View Answer)

    Senescence perhaps, no? Dementia some might say. Not that unusual altogether, and not problematic, it seems to this equine behavior teacher. This lip smacking behavior signals neutrality and appeasement to others. As animals and humans age, they yearn for youth, you know, sometimes trying to reinvent it. Maybe he just knows how to stay limber at his age. Let’s consider it okay and normal for his age, no problem, yet. Just let him do it. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  20. Is aggressive behavior on the trail towards other horses innate or changeable? I have a 1/2 Mustang gelding that exhibits dominance in both pasture and trail environments. Is there anything I can do to modify this behavior?

    (View Answer)

    This behaviour is easy to modify when riding the horse if the rider is an accomplished horse person with impeccable timing and a keen feel, one who understands equine learning science. When your mustang exhibits aggression, he has to be disengaged immediately, which is turned to the side; put in a position which makes forward impulsion difficult for the horse by disengaging the hind legs. First, the horse has to be taught to disengage, first in hand on the ground, then seated atop.

    Set your self up to succeed by avoiding the situations that you have previously allowed him to be aggressive. Ride at the back of line, please, until he is taught it is better to please you than chase others. Each time he makes an aggressive move, he is tightly turned with a direct rein until his hind end is disengaged. Correct him in both directions. One, then the other. Mix it up. Not harshly, or painfully, please. You have to release the pressure, as he soon as he disengages, of course. No hanging on the reins. No harsh bits, por favor. If your timing is perfect, he will soon learn that it is easier to remain passive than aggressive. Horses always take the path of least resistance, you know. Hold the oats, no grain for horses except those in race training or a similar athletic endeavor, please. An accomplished horse professional will rectify this rather easily if you cannot manage to alter the behavior. Where we have more trouble managing aggression, is when we are not riding the horse. When we are riding the horse, we can directly use learning science to effectively change this behavior first hand. Timing is essential, and timing is what most horsemen lack. Horses teach horsefolk timing, and it takes some time, folks. 

    Get rhythm.

    Horsemanship is all about moving with the horse, and never against her. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  21. I have a 10-year-old Thoroughbred/Connemara (3/4 x1/4) gelding that was left in a herd but was bred for cross country/eventing. I purchased him two years ago. When I purchased him he didn’t know what Velcro was and spooked at it and other things. He is extremely smart and learns quickly. I work at his speed as I believe he has potential.  

    The issue is: For the last year I have tried to back him but he almost panics when something is higher than his head. He will line drive, lunge (with and without the line) as the ground work has been laid even with voice commands. Other than having somebody "buck him out", which I am not inclined to do, do you have other suggestions?

    FYI: vets/chiropractor have checked him for pain points and was cleared.

    (View Answer)

    You have to make getting on his back a good deal for him. You have tried to rule out pain, so now he has to be gradually desensitized to all moving things above his head. This requires finesse and horsemanship, as well as patience and an extensive knowledge of learning science, along with a month to two of regular training sessions that are fun for the horse. The training always has to be a good deal for the horse. He is not yet properly prepared to be mounted or ridden, ‘backed’ as you say. There are no shortcuts. I think you need to brush and groom him for an hour each day to develop a closer bond and familiarity with one another. An hour or two of hand grazing a stabled horse each day results in a horse that will let you do most anything. 

    If a previous bad experience has caused this fear of things above his head, he has to be gradually counter-conditioned utilizing positive reinforcement. On object such as a flag on a stick is incrementally introduced, but never so fast as to exceed his flight threshhold. In each progressive step, he is rewarded when he tolerates the incremental heightening of the flag. When it becomes a good deal for him to have flags waved about above his head, and he is carefully and incrementally habituated to cinches and saddles on his back without exceeded his flight threshhold, he is within sight of being mounted. Looks like he is a month or two away with regular daily work that enriches his life while he is taught that nothing you do will threaten or hurt him. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  22. My 17-year-old gelding is a retired polo pony with advanced arthritis. I have put him with a friend's horse for company and they ran around to such an extent that he suffered from inability to walk for a week. That said, I had to move him out of there and back into his own paddock - by himself. This was 3 months ago and it has bothered me incredibly to see him day in and day out with no company and he can't be ridden. Is he suffering from extreme social isolation? He can SEE other horses but they are not next to his paddock. I am deeply disturbed and maybe it's not a problem, can you advise me please from what you know?

    (View Answer)

    Horses are dependent on daily walking within the parameters of their physical ability, which in his case has been exceeded. Ideally, he would pair up and live and graze with another similar pensioner. Please attempt to secure him a suitable, similar equine partner that he can pasture with that does not exceed his pasture mate’s exercise adaptability at his age and condition. All pasturing has to be carefully orchestrated to accommodate each and every horse in the herd.

    Horses that are isolated require abundant daily contact with their guardians and daily full body massages, as well as abundant hand walking and grazing, hopefully with or near other horses. Your veterinarian can help you facilitate graceful aging for your horse with some professional measures to alleviate the arthritic discomfort so he can exercise more comfortably. As well, he/she can help you decide what is best for your horse on all other levels. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  23. I recently rescued a 16.2hh Warmblood gelding, and he is sweet as pie. However, as a yearling, he was left in a pasture by himself for 4 years. He suprisingly has no problems with seperation from other horses, but when I (and only I) leave, he gets very nervous. Also, he follows with or without a lead, but keeps his nose against my back. It's not a hard press either, just a slight touch. He doesn't bite or nip, so is this behavior okay? Also he is in training to be a jumper. I have read about horses getting very hot from that. How can I help retain his sweet nature?

    (View Answer)

    It seems you and he are pair-bonded! Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses and humans.

    Please make sure you leave his vibrissae intact. The vibrissae are the long whiskers on the nose and over the eyes. Horses use their specialized and treasured vibrissae to identify objects they cannot easily visualize. Horses use vibrissae to drink and graze. You hear from the veterinarians about all the eyelid and nasal lacerations they sew up, and all of them are on horses with clipped vibrissae. Think of the vibrissae as eyes, as they help the horse feel (see) everything around their lips, eyes, nares, and chin. As well, the whiskers detect the rate of acceleration, lead, and location of horses running in close company with other horses. We like to leave all sensations in the horse intact for safety reasons. If your horse had intact vibrissae, he could sense where you are without touching you as he does when being led. The behavior is not too big a problem, however, and as such, need not necessarily be corrected. Let him have his vibrissae, however, please. They are essential sensory organs. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  24. Why does my mare always try to rub her head on me after every ride?

    (View Answer)

    She is requesting that you properly clean and fit her headstall and mouthpiece so it does not cause so much irritation and untoward pressure during the ride. I hope you do not tie her mouth shut with a noseband while she is ridden. Horsemanship is a better alternative. As well, she is reminding you that she requires a full facial and head and neck massage before and after each ride, and apparently you have been failing to fulfill her need for that requirement of hers. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  25. My horse jumps the pasture fence. Even with a good pasture mate she goes for "Walk-abouts". She can clear a 7' fence without a rider. She bores easily and also gets into other trouble - taking gates off pin hinges, unhooking hotwire handles with the fence on, unclipping the carabineer from her stall door to open, etc. I can't ride every day and she does this on days I can't ride. Any suggestions? She has gone into town before (3 miles) and eaten the grapes at the vineyard next door. She won't play with Jolly Balls and putting jumps in her pasture didn't help either. Her fence is currently at 6 feet and hot.

    (View Answer)

    Well, this is easy. Horses form strong pair bonds. If you notice, most horses in groups are paired up if given a choice. Domestication was facilitated by the fact that horses form strong pair bonds, so strong that they will even allow a human to slip in to bond a bit. At the end of the day, unlike a dog, a horse needs another horse. Your horse is looking for another horse to pair bond with. Find your horse a suitable pair-bonded other horse, and enjoy her choice to stay home with him. Even though you believe her pasture mate may be the one, she is seeking that special other. Your job is to find her a soul mate, it seems, a truly bonded other, please. Some horses have meaning in their actions, and it is apparent that she likes abundant activity and exercise as well as nourishing green grass. The more of that you offer at home, the more likely she may be to hang tight.

    Also, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it seems. 

    As well, the Olympic tryouts are coming up, so go with the leaping and enter up, please. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  26. My Molly Mule has a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. One day she will come to me in the pasture put her head down and let me put her halter on without a problem. A different day I can't get near her. What is going on with her besides the fact that she is a mule?

    (View Answer)

    A mule is like a horse only more so, you know. That’s because the mare raised the hybrid. The mare taught the mule to be a horse, she tried, but that donkey lingers deep down in there, a very perceptive sort, a mule. So, the mule apparently does not approve of something you are wearing, how you smell, or perhaps she is not happy with that chip you carry on your shoulder on certain days. 

    She can tell by your walk if she wants to associate with you on any given day, your walk, talk, smell, etc. 

    On the other hand, being a mule, it may have nothing to do with you. 

    In my experience they like to see you each and every day, and if you miss too many days, they really have better things to do next time you decide to show up, like graze.

    When you learn to see as the mule sees, let me know. Cheers and best wishes with Molly. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  27. My horse is very difficult to lead. He tries to grab grass and he will not walk behind me. He is constantly pulling me. How can I change this situation?

    (View Answer)

    By now—for those of you following my Q and A—you can see I that I attempt to see the world from the horse’s perspective, rather than from the human perspective, which is the perspective from which most of the questions are asked in this forum, which is fine and human. I want my horse to do this, or stop doing this, you ask. Well, okay, that is simple enough to resolve. First, however, you must do this for your horse, because the message is clear something essential is missing from your horse’s life. So with me as the equine behaviour educator; the questions are human, the answers are horse. I was raised by horses, you know. The horses (and Blackfeet Indians) taught me to see as the horse sees. And then there was vetschool!

    In this case of your horse insisting to graze the grass he is walked upon, it is clear that you have failed to fulfill your horse’s ancient constant behavioral and physical need to abundantly, if not all day long, graze grass before you attempt to lead him around. Horses require 24/7 access to suitable forage. If they are restricted in this regard, they will graze when and how they can, as grazing is essential to living or horses. Grazing is their most treasured and essential physical need. If your horse is stabled, he should never be without a bite of appropriate forage, please. Your horse is attempting to convey this long-evolved constant need to forage behavioral trait to you, if only you will listen, please. Horses utilize a gesture language to communicate, and your horse’s grazing gesture conveys to me that he is not getting enough. This is not about training, this is about providing your horse with the simple proper constant forage nutrition he requires before attempting to handle or train him. Horses in natural settings graze 80-90% of the time, you know, and your horse expects no less than his wild relatives. If your horse is unable to forage any less than those wild mustangs, his brethren, expect this behavior to continue when he is led over nice green grazing grass. Your horse should never be without a bite of suitable forage, so it sounds as if he is forage-deprived before you attempt to lead him over the grass he loves. He cannot help himself but graze until you fill his daily need to forage near-constantly. If the grass is green, and he has been offered mostly hay, I tell you he knows what is good for his digestive health. Let him graze the green grass, please. Once you sate your horse’s daily need to walk and graze abundantly, you can expect him to happily and willingly lead at your beck and call, of course. I recommend an hour or two of daily hand grazing before attempting to lead him over surfaces that are barren of forage and grass. Set yourself up to succeed with him in this fashion, please.

    Horses that have guardians who know how to fulfill and enrich their horse’s need to graze and forage abundantly nearly all the time, have horses that happily lead when asked, you know. 

    For more information on how and why horses are born to graze, read this article on the AAEP website.

    http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=2539&osCsid=fv2ui1r5j5vao6q15o7c7n3vt6Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  28. I have a 28-year-old Palomino gelding. He is kicking my barn to pieces. He makes a weird "roaring" neigh and then kicks with his hind legs and has shattered boards and bent bars. He is barefoot behind. He does this behavior even though he is not confined to his stall and, in fact, has open access 24/7 to his paddock and the pasture. He can see the other two horses in the barn and frequently has a buddy turned out with him. We have checked him for just about everything. Treated him with Gastrogard even though the scope indicated only a tiny ulcer. We have put him through a course of antibiotics for possible tick infections. We have tried calming supplements and currently have him on an immune system supplement. He does seem to do this behavior to get attention or at feeding time. I have tried Quit Kick and he destroyed the receivers. I don't understand how he doesn't make himself lame, but he seems fine other than getting a scrape on his hock now and then. He had been diagnosed with cataracts, which is why we retired him a couple summers ago. I hate the thought of putting kick chains on him. Do you have any suggestions? Could he just be senile and cranky in his old age? He does stop the behavior and will move away if I catch him in the act and yell at him.

    (View Answer)

    This case is too specific and serious to address without a hands-on personal assessment of the horse and the stabling situation by a veterinarian. As you suggest, there may be some dementia. He needs a professional neurological evaluation, please. The horse cannot be coerced, nor should rigs or inhumane devices be applied. On a general note, the horses should never run out of forage, as is the case in natural settings. To allow grouped horses to run out of forage on a daily basis is to create unwelcome behaviors. Horses do not handle schedules or empty stomachs very well. Makes some crazy. Horses evolved to have forage in front of them 24/7, forage and the space to graze a ways away from others. When horses cannot chew all day long in their sacred personal space, some kick. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  29. My horse is becoming more aggressive in his stable. When I open the door he puts his ears back and strikes out. He also pins me in the corner, if I'm not careful, with his hindend threatening to kick out if I move.

    (View Answer)

    His message is that his life is unfulfilled, and his behavioral needs are not being met. 

    For a clear appreciation of what horses expect to have re-created for them while stabled, please read my article Equine Behaviour Through Time published by Horses and People Magazine in Australia linked here. 

    http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=2539&osCsid=fv2ui1r5j5vao6q15o7c7n3vt6

    It appears your horse is becoming behaviorally ill and dangerous. He has found his current stall situation unacceptable and is expressing this with gestures of aggression, which will evolve to outright aggression if his situation is not improved from his behavioral need point of view. The displays of aggression are a result of unacceptable deprivations of friends, forge, and locomotion. He is unwilling to pair-bond with anyone until his life is improved and fulfilled. He has made clear that the current husbandry practices to which he is subjected are not conducive to his behavioral health. The present situation needs to be changed and improved on his behalf. The guardians must ensure that his individual needs and long-evolved behavioral requirements are fulfilled and enriched. His behavior reflects that his adaptability to be stalled has been exceeded. His message is that the stable situation is inadequate for him. It may be fine for others, but not him. First, he requires miles and miles of daily walking in addition to a daily training and riding regimen. The riding and training must be a good pleasant and deal for him. I suspect he will benefit from properly orchestrated turn-out, exercise, grazing, and significant bonding time with other horses. Most horses require a pair-bonded other horse for behavioral stability. 

    You will need a professional trainer to help manage his behavior while you take significant measures to improve his life by fulfilling his requirement for carefully orchestrated abundant daily socialization, foraging, and locomotion. Hours of daily grooming, hand walking, hand grazing, and hanging out together without a specific purpose other than becoming familiar with one another are in order on your part to establish a bond between you and your horse that will lead to a willing partnership. Horses that have guardians that know how to abundantly fulfill their long-evolved social needs for friends, forage, and locomotion are happy to please their guardians. It may take some time, but multiple efforts dedicated to fulfilling your horse’s essential needs of friends, forage, and locomotion will result in behavioral contentment and subsequently the development of a willing partnership. This is not about training the horse, but about abundantly fulfilling your horse’s innate survival requirements. Happy horses train up easily. Once he becomes happy and content with his new situation, his behavior will improve, as has proven out time and again with aggressive stable horses that are subsequently abundantly fulfilled with near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. This will take time, finesse, and patience. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  30. How can I train my horse to quit pawing?

    (View Answer)

    Pawing:

    Horses paw unwelcomely for a variety of reasons, and many have been inadvertently trained to paw by their guardians. Rather than being trained not to paw, most horses have to be un-trained. 

    Pawing to be fed: Pawing is a natural behavior observed frequently in wild horses. Horses paw through snow to reach forage. When pawing becomes an unwelcome behavior associated with stabling, usually humans have rewarded, reinforced, and taught the unwelcome pawing behavior. The most common example is feeding hungry stabled horses. Stabled horses should seldom be without forage to chew and graze, nor should they become hungry or empty-stomached for over a few hours at most. In general, horses should never be without a bite of appropriate forage, mind you all. If your horses are too heavy, they need more appropriate locomotion and more appropriate, less carbohydrate-rich forage—not deprivations of both locomotion and forage, please, as multiple deprivations lead to stereotypies such as cribbing and weaving. Horses require abundant friends, forge, and locomotion to maintain behavior health and trainability.

    First, let’s review how the horses can become enamored with pawing. 

    How to teach forage-deprived horses to paw for hay: The guardian arrives to feed forage-deprived horses, who have long ago run out of appropriate forage to chew and digest. The hungry horses instinctively paw in anticipation of being fed. Pawing is an “I-am-hungry” behavior, as well as a behavior that arises from extended periods of deprived locomotion. When horses are not allowed to move most all of the time, they develop methods to move which suffice their need to move, but which are unwelcome, such as pawing and weaving. 

    The guardian rewards the pawing by feeding the hungry pawing horses, thus teaching the horses a specific behavior to achieve a specific result. They have been taught to paw to be fed. In fact, the horses have trained the human to feed them on cue. The horses paw, the human feeds them. Repeatedly rewarding the pawing entrenches the pawing behavior in the horse. The solution: The horses should never have run out of appropriate forage and become unreasonably hungry in the first place. Feeding times should not be preceded by long periods of having run out of feed. Foraging should not be deprived for more than a few hours at a time, as is the situation in natural settings. Horses are not inclined to schedules. During their evolution, schedules resulted in predation. 

    The solution is to avoid unwelcome pawing in the stable is to seldom, if ever, allow the horses to run out of appropriate forage, which is to say not to let the horses become unreasonably hungry, ever. A horse’s stomach is meant to always have a small amount of forage. Horses are trickle feeders. Deprivations of appropriate 24/7 forging create a variety of unwelcome behaviors, cribbing and gastric ulceration foremost among them. 

    Unwelcome pawing while being tacked, or tied up. Most of these horses are locomotion-deprived stable horses. Horses in natural settings move up to 80% of the time. This movement is essential to their digestion and metabolism. When horses are not allowed to freely move all the time their body calls for movement and they develop ways to move within their restricted circumstances. They paw, they weave, they stall walk, and some stall-run. Stabled horses require miles of daily walking. If they do not get it, some paw unwelcomely, as their legs need to move. Always make sure your stabled horse is allowed to walk, run, and play for a while after coming out of the stall before you tie him up to tack or ride, please. If he does not get his long awaited exercise at liberty, he will take the exercise in the form of pawing while being restrained (or sometimes will get the fill of his needed locomotion by bucking while being ridden). When horses come out of stall after long periods of deprived locomotion, the first thing they need is abundant movement. Walk your stalled horse abundantly before anything else is attempted after a long period of being stalled if it is a willing, pleasant partnership you seek with your horses. This strategy often eliminates unwelcome pawing. When horses are pawing excessively, the message is often that they have not been getting enough daily movement. 

    Unwelcome pawing before or while being ridden: Riding has to be a good and comfortable deal for the horse. If riding is not a good deal for the horse, or riding or saddling becomes confusing or uncomfortable, horses will paw in anticipation of future discomfort before being ridden. The solution is to make riding (and stabling) a good and fulfilling endeavor for the horse.

    Never is an unwelcome behavior the horse’s fault. All equine behaviors are a result of the genetics, environment, and management, all of which mankind has total control. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  31. My 17-year-old Paso Fino is perfect in hand, even waiting beside me. Even without a lead rope he is wonderful stopping, turning and backing. But as soon as he is mounted, he becomes so antsy and doesn’t follow directions I give him. Any idea why?

    (View Answer)

    It appears that being mounted to ride has become unacceptable to your horse. This is often due to discomfort or anticipated discomfort while being ridden. At age 17, it is possible senescence is affecting the musculoskeletal system. It is important that all of the tack is carefully considered and adjusted, and that the saddle fits perfectly. Resentment at being ridden is most often due to a discomfort that arises while being ridden, or a discomfort the horse feels is coming due to past painful or frightening experiences. Riding has to be a good deal for the old horse. From a learning behavior standpoint, it is possible the unwelcome behavior has been rewarded in the past. If past unwelcome behaviors resulted in the horse achieving his goal to not be ridden, the horse is apt to perform those behaviors again, especially if being ridden is uncomfortable. Utilize your veterinarian to help make sure that your horse is physically able to be ridden by you. 

    Please have he/she do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. Have your veterinarian and farrier assess the hooves, as well. Unwelcome behaviors under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that riding now aggravates. The appearance of previously absent unwelcome behaviors while being ridden can reflect previously subtle but advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  32. Have a 3.5 month old colt that is always wanting to play (rears) and is very mouthy. He will listen to me when I say NO but then does it again and again. What should I do to stop these behaviors?

    (View Answer)

    The message your colt is delivering to you is that you have yet to adequately enrich and fulfill his needs to play, exercise, chew, and forage, so I assume your colt is stabled. Horses evolved to forage and move nearly all the time. When horses are stabled, many of their natural tendencies are inhibited and restricted, resulting in the development of unwelcome behaviors such as inappropriate play, rearing while being handled and excessive mouthiness. Most stabled horses require miles of daily walking each day, along with near-constant foraging to maintain an even metabolism to establish predictable behavior. Unless your colt is in race training or something similar, he does not need grain, which often contributes to these behaviors. Please limit his grain to a handful a day, and use it as a reward for acceptable behavior. Make sure your colt gets out to exercise and play and graze or forage with other horses often and frequently, especially when he first comes out of the stall each day. Fulfill his need to move before attempting to train or tack him. If his essential abundant locomotion needs remain unfulfilled, expect him to exercise and play in fashions that are unwelcome. A similar situation exists with the mouthiness. Horses evolved to move, chew, and forage with others in a connected, communicative method nearly all day long. When horses are stabled, all of their inherent movement, grazing, and socialization needs are required to be re-created in an adequate amount for behavioral health and willingness to train and learn. Regular veterinary exams are always in order, and he is of the age that his teeth may be creating some discomfort, which effects haltering, bridling and handling.

    Horses should never be without a bite of appropriate forage. Your colt should always have appropriate hay, water, and salt 24/7. If he is heavy, he needs more exercise rather than less hay. For optimum behavior, horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion. The more fully you enrich your horse’s life with his long-evolved needs, the fewer unwelcome behaviors you will experience, and the easier the development of the willing partnership with your horse will become. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT

  33. My horse is a 17-year-old Arabian/Quarter horse mare. When I'm riding her and she is tired of going forward she starts backing up. She backs up for a long time and will back into trees, fences, anything that is in her way. Nothing I have tried to do will make her go forward unless I get off and lead her. Why does she do this? 

    (View Answer)

    It appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your mare. At age 17, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system. Indeed, you have correctly interpreted her message. She is getting tired, or perhaps sore from her ride. When the discomfort becomes intolerable, she backs up to alleviate the problem to end the ride, and thus her discomfort. As well, you may have reinforced the behavior by rewarding the backing up behaviour by ending the ride when she did this in the past. 

    Please have your veterinarian do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require a thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding has started to aggravate. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. Lastly, make sure her non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT