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At wits end with horse's injuries and behavioral problems

I am looking for opinions on a somewhat complicated situation with my horse.

I’ll preface by saying that he is sound and will stay with me for life. The worst case scenario here is he just gets an early retirement.

I am stuck and burned out with my horse. 8yo OTTB I bought as a restarted 5yo. When I first bought him, he was pretty quiet for TB standards and very sweet. Sometimes spooky/quick under saddle but very manageable, great ground manners, and good curiosity which allowed me pretty quickly desensitize him to everything.

He has had multiple, unrelated, serious injuries since I purchased him - the true definition of accident prone. Some injuries required lots of diagnostics. Two required surgery. He recovered 100% (clean ultrasound, x-ray, flexions, bloodwork, scope) from everything except his latest surgery, which was for kissing spine. The kissing spine was caught as he recovered from his last injury, and ultimately no treatments were able to keep him comfortable so we did the bone shave.

Since that surgery, I’ve worked with a physio to make a plan to slowly bring him back to work. Lots of in hand work and stretching. About 2-3 months into the rehab, he became extremely unpredictable/nasty on the ground - bolting, rearing, striking out, bucking, often completely unprovoked. He was treated for ulcers but this behavior started around the time he scoped clear. Vet couldn’t find any physical source of pain, chalked it up to cold weather (this was December) and him being bored of all the in hand work/walking. The vet and physio agreed his muscle development and posture was drastically improving, so he was working correctly during this time. No back pain detected.

I started positive reinforcement training to help rebuild trust and keep things more engaging for him. It worked until it didn’t, and I had to revert to protected contact only and basically couldn’t continue his rehab. I sent him to a highly recommended rehab facility to further his rehab because I couldn’t handle him anymore. They were able to keep him in work, but needed to drug the CRAP out of him to make it happen - all under my vet’s supervision.

Winter ends, and after a couple months at the rehab facility I get him back looking by and large the same as when I dropped him off - no loss in muscle but no major improvement. I am able to continue his rehab for a while longer. The meltdowns don’t go away but they are rarer and I’m able to work through them much better.

When I was close to getting back on, he then got a 1-2 month vacation because of my own personal circumstances. When I got him back into work, I opted to take a step back in his rehab to ensure I didn’t overface him. Correct work in the walk, mobility, core strengthening, and lots of positive reinforcement to keep things interesting. I “restarted” him two months ago and I can tell he is slipping backwards, again. He started to have unprovoked meltdowns in trot in hand, so I brought him back to walk work. The meltdowns have gotten steadily worse.

This week, he had an absolute meltdown out of nowhere just walking back to the barn from his field. He’s been so inconsistent that he’s regressing in his rehab again. I haven’t sat on him in a year and at this point I don’t think I ever will again.

I’ve tried giving him more work, less work, turning him out with more friends, by himself, bigger stall, stall outside, changing facilities to somewhere more quiet, letting him run in the indoor by himself to “let it out”, longer warmups, and tons of R+. He’s out 12-15 hours/day, can’t handle longer. He gets all you can eat grass hay in stall and turnout (grass isn’t great where I am), grain, and a gut supplement. I had him on calming supplements but they didn’t do anything so I stopped them. When this behavior started, we did some testing and turned up empty handed so I’ve been trying to just slowly work through it.

Every “trainer” I’ve tried to have help me has either drugged him, attempted to exhaust him, or man handled him into submission. The R+ I have done has been by far the most effective with him but when he’s truly melting down it does nothing. I literally cannot bring myself to spend more money on diagnostics for this horse, but I feel just utterly defeated by the circumstances. I could have imported a warmblood with how much I have spent in vet bills, not to mention how much time I have spent slowly bringing him back from his various ailments.

Posting partially to vent, partially to see if anyone has been in a similar situation/has thoughts. What would you do in my situation?

I would assume there was pain, perhaps intermittent. I would take off his shoes, and put him on a big field in a small herd for a year, and see what you have after that. Drugging or man handling a horse in pain gets you nowhere.


Agree that this horse is either in serious pain, or that you are severely over horsed. Doesn’t sound like you are over horsed.


Obviously pain is the first instinct in these situations. And he could be in pain someplace and you never know. @Scribbler 's idea isn’t a bad one.

I will share the story of my OTTB though because that’s what you asked for. Got him when he was 6 and he was pretty typical in that he was looky and spooked but was honest and got better and better over the next couple years that I owned him. I moved him to a different boarding barn (because I had moved). Slowly but surely he became less and less predictable and reliable. Would randomly explode and was decidedly not the horse I had come to know over the last few years. I held out there for too long because we were prepping our own property for horses. Ended up moving him to a friend’s place in the interim. He had some very quick and immediate positive changes, then slowly and steadily became an honest and trustworthy horse again. He’s been home almost three years and I rode him bareback and pregnant last winter.

There were a few minor management issues, but nothing that I would have thought caused such a dramatic behavior change. I honestly think it came down to the BM’s personality/lack of confidence/fear and my OTTB being a really sensitive dude. I was out there 6 days/week and still wasn’t able to overcome it with my handling and training.

No idea if you have any issues, but that was my OTTB weird behavior story. Good luck.


Agree with @Scribbler - Dr Green is holding on line 1…

If that doesn’t work and his pain is making him dangerous he should be euthanized for everyone’s sake. I’m sorry :frowning:


I would probably do a bute test for a couple weeks to see if that helped any pain issue, and if no result turn to dr green.

If he’s difficult to handle and gets worse there is no shame in euthanizing.

Was he ever treated for hind gut ulcers? You can not scope for hind gut and they do not respond to gastric ulcer treatment.

What happens when he is on 24/7 turn out?


Was a neuro exam/EPM test ever done? Intermittent/sudden explosive behavior to the point of being a danger to himself, his handlers or other horses immediately brings that to mind. High stress situations like surgery/rehab can bring on clinical symptoms.

I’ve also personally seen two horses recently diagnosed with EDM (distinct from EPM) between ages 5-8 while displaying similar behaviors.

Might be worth looking into that before turning him out or making other decisions.


Thanks guys. I like the idea of a short bute test and like the idea of putting him out for a year and maybe bringing him back in after that. I’ve gotten very little complaints from my barns staff on his behavior but it’s rare his bad behavior manifests on the way to/from his field - I am hoping this means I won’t have to euthanize.

I did treat for hind gut ulcers when we thought ulcers. After his rounds of gastrogard and he scoped clear, I kept him on hindgut meds for a while longer. His initial ulcer symptoms (specifically discomfort when you manipulated his ribs/pressed his sides) went away completely around the time he scoped clear.

I have not done any neuro tests. By the time I thought maybe neuro I was apprehensive about more tests. Especially since he behaves himself in turnout for the most part.

He hasn’t been turned out 24/7 because he gets kind of sleep deprived and he is a very slow eater, so benefited from alone time to get his grain. If he’s not in work and has better grass the grain might not be a blocker anymore.


Some of them take a real mental hit when they go through enough serious physical issues (and the associated layups and rehabs) at a young age. Plus it sounds like he’s not totally comfortable somewhere. Maybe not something you will find even if you do keep going down the rabbit hole. I’ve been there and also tried to help some others in similar rehab situations and it really, really sucks. It sounds like your horse is even more of a danger to you than these others were if he’s so bad on the ground for all but super basic handling. If he’s a horse who could just sit, I’d do that. It won’t make his back any better, but maybe it will help his mind. Unfortunately my horse that was like this would start bouncing off the walls after a couple of weeks and likely find a new way to run up a big vet bill.


How are his feet? I’ve found with KS horses, especially post surgery, it can really impact them. After surgery, did he receive any sort of pain medicine or therapy? Osphos? Back Injections?

I’m with the others. You have done everything right. The last thing to try might be Dr Green. The only thing is, the KS isn’t going to go away. If you put him in a field, you’ll still have to rehab him down the road if you decide to try to ride him again.

Owning a KS horse myself, I can tell you the best thing I ever did for him was fire my then farrier and put him outside 24/7.


I’m sorry you are going through this. Made me think of this article–


My one serious KS horse also benefitted from 24/7 turn out. He was overriding in several processes and explosive under saddle. Badly under muscled and fitness was bad. I threw him out in a 3/4 acre pasture on a hill for a year while I was deployed. Came back to a pleasant mannered and (pasture) fit horse who’s posture and conditioning had done a complete 180. He was round and muscled over his topline again. I put him back to work with zero issue, and he is still to this day a 2’6" Eq master for smaller kids who can stay off his back. I have no doubt he would be dead and gone by now if I hadn’t given him a year in a pasture.

Though no idea if this is applicable to this horse. I think EPM is worth looking in to as well…


I knew another KS horse like that. It’s weird and you can’t go 100% off the imaging. Some really gnarly looking backs do just fine, and some minor KS probably have some nerve interference somewhere that isn’t immediately obvious.

Dr Green is a great idea because he won’t have external inputs messing with his comfort, he will hopefully move around the discomfort, relax, and let any nerve damage heal. Pain perception and anxiety are so linked in humans. I can’t imagine there isn’t something similar in horses.


Thank you. Post-surgery he got a slew of stuff I can’t remember. He was on some cocktail of pain meds and I know we had him on Robaxin to help with muscle spasms - I continued using it for the first few weeks of rehab. Poor guy reacted badly to other treatments even though his X-rays weren’t terrible, which is why we moved to surgery. The whole shape of his back changed immediately a few weeks post surgery, it was truly amazing and I know I did right by him doing it.

Hoof angles are a total black hole to me but I did switch up farriers 6ish months ago when I moved barns to someone more decorated. Unfortunately didn’t make a difference but of course issues could be lingering…

I’m definitely leaning towards Dr. Green at this point.


Your horse is lucky to have found you. You’ve been a marvelous horsewoman fo work to sort this out.

These are some suggestions to consider.

Really good X-rays of the back with oblique angles and send them to Dr Honnas in Bryan, Texas to see if anything could be improved.

X-ray hoof angles for the farrier for optimum comfort.

Saddle fit saddle fit saddle fit. It may take several different fitters.

Blood tests for PSSM 1, Lyme and other tick borne disease, and EPM with the labs going to UC Davis.

The experimental blood test for PSSM 2 genetic factors with Equiseq or do the muscle biopsy with your vet.

Experiment with different diets and vitamin and mineral supplements. The diets for PSSM 1 and 2 are all similar yet in some ways different and not all horses react the same to diet changes.

I’ve tried all of these and found kissing spines on the second look when I was considering euthanasia. Saddle fit, hoof angles, fitness, and surgery have been the most helpful for my horse.

Good luck to you and again, what a great owner you are. Good on you for your care of your horse.


If you can do it, I would try a well monitored Dr Green. It is very possible that everything you have done for him will help, but he needs time to heal.


OP, I’m so sorry to hear about this!

In addition to what others have said, I’ll provide some alternative POVs.

It does sound like pain but possibly also frustration. TB’s can be so sensitive as someone else has mentioned. If I were you, I’d:

  1. Reconsider the pulling of the shoes and pasture turnout for a year. Some horses just need shoes to stay comfy and sound. If your farrier is still shoeing your horse while you haven’t ridden, ask him why. Consult with your vet and farrier. Pasture turnout could exacerbate a health issue. My good friend had an on-and-off lame horse for about a year and turned him out with a small herd for months. Well, that running around made the damage permanent and now he needs $$$ shoes, individual turnout and meds to stay basic riding sound. Mr. Green is not always helpful. Consider this in the context of your particular situation.

  2. Find yourself a QUALIFIED natural horsemanship trainer. Anyone can hang their shingle up but find one who is highly rated and well qualified. They can tell you if you are presenting to your horse with lack of leadership or fear, teach you many methods to help you to show leadership, and teach your horsemanship (don’t be offended! I don’t know your level of horsemanship! Feel free to ignore!). They can also tell you if your horse is likely responding from pain or if there is a behavioral component.

I mention #2 because my horse was a nut case as a youngster and I had to send him to a NH trainer. I never left the barn. The very basic stuff I learned 9 years ago I still use today when he occasionally behaviorally melts down in the wash stall because he suddenly decides he can’t see his buddy but thinks he needs to. I am intolerant of any breeches of safety with this horse and have learned how to direct his mental meltdowns.

I will say that he went through a phase of occasionally bucking when being mounted. Luckily, radiographs were pristine for KS and my vet said “I have no idea why he does that”. I yelled at him when he tightened and threatened and that seemed to work, he’d relax and put his head down. He did that occasionally for maybe 6 months then stopped.

I have no idea if this advice will apply to your horse -I’m just throwing it out there. Your vet should be able tell you if the surgery provided adequate clearance for the spines and a second opinion could be helpful.



I sorta had this horse, except it was a mare. No matter what I did with this mare, nothing worked out. She had some behavior issues, some pain issues, and I was just done. I unloaded her on a poor shmuck - who she rewarded with a lovely filly that didn’t show when she was checked prior to selling her.

If it were me, I’d turn the horse out and distance my self from him. It’s ok to sell him or put him down if he doesn’t come back sound or usable in 6 or 12 months. I went a couple years without wanting to see a horse, talk horses or be in any way associated with them. Best. Thing. Ever. Then I ended working with a young trainer and got back to driving and have been showing the last couple years.


Can you put a camera in his stall to see if he can lie down and how easily he gets up?

Your remark about sleep deprivation stood out to me.

It is not well studied in horses, that I know of , but if he can’t lie down or get up easily he may not be getting enough rest.

Humans can get irritated and short tempered when sleep deprived. I think horses can and do too.

I know you’ve spent a lot on diagnostics ,but it might be worth it to take radiographs of his hind hooves and check for NPA.

NPA could create problems which exacerbate back issues.

Hope this helps.
Good luck