Behavior issue-help

Dear All,

I have posted before about bringing my OTTB out hunting and have really appreciated all the good advice and encouragement from the group. Here is where we are now: After a year in 3rd flight we moved to 2nd. The first year he incrementally moved up from jigging the whole day to walking most of the time. When the other horses trotted he canters but he’s never been racy or tried to run off. Standing at checks can still be problematic but mostly we circle at a walk not a trot and he stands a good bit of the time. We’ve had 2 rides in 2nd flight and they were great. We had lessons in the summer and they were also good-nice jumping, no refusing. I can tell he likes them. On the way to the hunt he is still nervous-shaking, sweating, but much better once we are there. He had been so keyed up the first year I had to tack him up at home-I had several instances where I almost didn’t get the tack on he was so jumpy.

He has always been an odd little horse-for example letting other folk in the group trot off while he was staring at a car driving on he field road a mile away. BUT his pasture is 30 feet from a train track and he’s never been bothered by trains zooming by.

So, at a lesson yesterday, he’d not been ridden in 4 days, but since I’m a 9-5er that’s not unusual, never been an issue, he came off the trailer looking around and sweaty but I figured he thought he was hunting. He was at the kennels where we go on hound exercise, which he likes and is generally calm about, and where we have lessons, and sometimes he’s been shod. He focused on some dump trucks about a mile away. I tacked him in the barn and he seemed a bit up but not awful.

The trainer, who is also first whipper in, got on and he just would not focus at all. He refused to walk for the whole lesson. His head was stuck in the air. He kept looking across the fields at where the dump trucks had been-after a bit they’d moved off. You could tell he was paying no attention at all to where he was but was entirely focused on the stuff a mile away. She was finally able to get a few steps of walk-sort of a Paso Fino like gait. I got on and finally got maybe 3 steps. She got back on and tried again, no better. So we quit. It had been maybe close to an hour. No fussing with him just quiet riding. He was acting so odd that I thought maybe he was having an aneurism.

He was still so wound up that when I took him to the barn to untack it was almost impossible. He was fidgeting, staring all around, slinging his head, pouring sweat, trembling. The trainer gave him a shot of sedative, iv, and I put him back in the trailer. He seemed calm enough. My deal is that I help with some chores and I did for about 1 ½ hours. When I went back he was still trembling a bit but not sweating-still staring across the way where the trucks had been. I put his rug on and we went home. When I got back he seemed pretty normal.

The trainer said I should think of getting rid of him. She said I wasn’t getting any younger, humph! but true. She said there would be a young 3 day eventer who couldn’t afford a made horse and who would deal with this weirdness in exchange for a good jumper. She said she was not saying don’t get on him, but I didn’t need to have to put up with this.

I don’t need to add that I am heartbroken. I have put so much energy and time into this horse. The plus is that he never did anything bad-no bucking, bolting, rearing, the minus is that it was just so weird. And as I told her, he’s acted this way when I was hunting last year. But yall it really was so strange. And I do not want to get hurt. What do you think?

Regards,
Huntin’ Fool

The second year hunting is the real test of whether they are a hunt horse or not. The first year they don’t know what is going on and the second year they start catching on. Some figure the game out and some just kind of lose it. It’s hard to say since no one here knows your horse.

I will say this, I don’t see how hunting a horse that you don’t trust or brings issues into the field is any fun. Also, there are other people to consider. Horses that act up can also effect horses around them and that is not fair to other members.

I will add that just turning in a circle when a horse is up isn’t always effective. If you need to move him around then make sure you are doing different things (e.g., figure 8’s, serpentines, changes of direction, etc.) in order to get the horse to pay attention to you.

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FitToBeTied I agree with all you say! But that’s not what happened here. He is actually, generally, better when hunting. This was a lesson in our usual place :slight_smile:

One lesson seems a very short time in which to assess and change your mind about him. You have invested a lot, as you say, and it could just have been one odd day amongst all that steady progress you have made together.

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You need to spend a LOT of time on desensitization. It sounds as if much of this has been skipped with your horse because he was showing great progress in other ways, and now it is showing up.

On the ground and in the saddle. A great resource for this kind of work is the Carson James online program. CJ is going to ask you to start from the beginning, and if you follow the program, it will make a world of difference. CJ is not a show-business guy and he may seem a little bit of a yahoo at first, but his training methods are golden.

Also, Tik Maynard started an online program in Nov. 2020. I have it on my list to look into. It sounds as if it would also help a great deal.
https://masterclass.noellefloyd.com/spooky-horse-challenge?

If a horse is staring at dump trucks in the distance, don’t let that continue !!! You have to teach him to break his focus, and not to focus on things that are not part of the ride. He has to have your help to do this. Horse has no clue about his mental focus priorities, that is up to the rider.

Sounds like you’ve done some great work in helping him to a quieter mind. But he is a type of horse that will always tend to an active seeker of distractions, and needing a little help to direct his focus. :slight_smile:

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@Huntin’ Fool,

I think the “usual place” is now fraught because of all the associations with hunting. I also agree with @Willesdon that unless the horse’s behavior has been problematic all along, one episode where the horse was tense, nervous and distracted but did not actually misbehave, giving up on him now is premature.

The only thing that you said that concerns me is his unwillingness to stand at checks, and your need to circle - that’s less than ideal.

@FitToBeTied is also exactly right, the first season is kind of the honeymoon; now that the horse knows what hunting is, he is very excited by it and anticipating it. Your description of the horse’s behavior seems like exactly that - he was looking for hounds, staff and the field and was getting more worked up when he couldn’t find them.

I think you need to have another experienced foxhunter evaluate this horse and tell you whether it’s worth continuing with him and what it will take to get him to settle into the role.

At the end of the day, though, to echo @FitToBeTied, hunting is supposed to be fun. If you’re too worried about your horse’s behavior to enjoy it, it’s time to consider hunting a different horse.

PS - Please give priority to advice from other foxhunters. Nonhunters don’t always understand how uniquely stimulating the hunting environment is for our equine partners.

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Lets face it, foxhunting is uniquely stimulating to the human partners too!

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Y’all, I appreciate all the help and excellent advice!!!

Let me add to his odd behavoir by saying -we have never hunted from the kennels. That’s been for hound exercise and lessons.

He is actually much better and calmer this year than last-to my surprise actually. Last year he wouldn’t stand at checks at all til maybe the last couple of hunts. This year he stands more often than not. The speed of second flight-in our hunt some cantering and the occasional fast canter/gallop doesn’t seem to bother him-or hasn’t yet. He also walks often instead of jigging.

I will definitely talk to some other hunters but remember the trainer is the first whipper in. She brings along green horses routinely and is a very bold and competent rider. Which is one reason her saying I should think of selling the horse was such an issue.

His improvement is reason for hope-but he remains the oddest horse I’ve ever had. Just intently focused on odd stuff for a horse.

This is horse behavior. Not just hunting behavior. :slight_smile:

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What is your horse’s daily routine- stalled, turned out part or full time?? Does he get grain, how much? Sometimes tweaking horse care can be done to better suit the horse and reduce ulcers.

However, I don’t disagree with your trainer in that she knows you and your horse. I’ve never regretted moving a horse out that wasn’t a good fit for me and my hunting requirements.

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The horse wasn’t ridden for 4 days and it’s the middle of winter. One bad day and really to sell? I have to agree either you need a new ride or personally I would get a new trainer.

Set your horse up for success. A horse shouldn’t be taken to a lesson after not being ridden for nearly a week. Ride him at home the day before and get all the excitement out next time. Miles and miles of this is what makes them relaxed away from home but you have to be smart about it and put them in a position where they can and want to be good.

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@Huntin_Fool,

When was the last time the horse went anywhere in a trailer? Have the last several trailer trips been to hunts?

The way you described the horse’s behavior, to me, is classic for a horse anticipating hunting. Could be wrong, because I don’t have all the information. (I have known hunting horses that got wound up at the sight of the trailer, or the sight of people in formal hunting attire. Not to mention the sound of the hound truck or the hunting horn!) The other thing that struck me is there could be a component of herd bound behavior; if he got off the trailer expecting hound exercise, or hunting, or meeting with the farrier; he might have been expecting other horses; and got distracted LOOKING for the other horses.

(I once was eventing a sweet young horse I had brought along and who was always willing to work apart from the other horses; there was a long middle portion of the XC course where you couldn’t see the barn, the stadium or dressage rings, the trailers, nothing, and the poor horse was TERRIFIED, we were out in the middle of nowhere and he couldn’t see anything familiar. His heart was pounding so hard I could feel it through my boots. It ended up being fine; I talked to him and pointed him at the next fence, he finished the course and did well, but I never forgot how scared he was when he couldn’t see ANYONE, and resolved to always make exposure to that part of training.)

Hunting may exacerbate herd bound behavior in some horses; they decide that they like running and jumping in a herd of their buddies so much that they no longer like to go it alone.

I am not suggesting that you disregard the opinion of the whip/professional; but I wonder what that person’s assessment was of the horse’s previous hunting behavior? Has she had doubts/questions about him all along, and this aborted lesson was the final straw? Or was this truly a reversal of his previous good behavior?

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Y’all, thank you for the suggestions and ideas.

The horse was taken via trailer for 3 days in a row Sat-Monday (because my hunt had gone on a road trip I couldn’t go on) out on our farm for a trail ride alone. The first day he did think he was going to a hunt and was wound up-nothing like the lesson. And looked around like ‘where is everybody’? But soon settled down and we rode for about an hour. The next 2days the same-except he figured he wasn’t going hunting a lot quicker and was not as up initially. We had a nice trail ride every time-mostly walking, a bit of trot, a wee canter. He’s never been herd bound-even when he was first out hunting. The lesson was the next Saturday.

He is out all day and at night too in nicer weather. Usually if he’s up it’s for about 8 hours at night. He gets grain-pretty much what he gets year round so far. He wasn’t up the night before our lesson. It wasn’t warm but warmer here -like 54.

When she’s whipping in the trainer doesn’t have time to look at me or anyone else. Haha.

I do think the trainer was annoyed at the behavior and she said she wasnt saying not to get on again, but that it was odd and unpleasant and I shouldn’t have to deal with it. He’s had probably 10 lessons at that barn. He’s gone on hound exercise from there for 3 seasons. There were several horses in the barn at the time. There were also plenty of hounds left behind from the trip.

The thing was that it was such an odd incident. He wasn’t staring where we ride on hound exercise-like he thought he’d been left. He was looking down the drive, the opposite direction, across the road, where far off there had been a line of dump trucks and now there wasn’t anything. Tho he does not like vehicles and he may have been able to hear them tho I couldn’t. It wasn’t far off his behavior on day his first several hunts -except for that weird focus across the street. When we’d make a circle he’s try to stop at that spot to stare.

He’s had 4 days off before certainly and been fine-not before a lesson though. Y’all in the winter, on a week day, I have maybe 15 min in the morning or 15 min in the pitch black dark of riding.

I know I haven’t properly conveyed what exactly the behavior was like-as I said at one point I thought maybe he was having an aneurism. The strangeness of it was the most concerning.

But I’m not going to give up! After all he didn’t do anything scary bad. And I am really having a lot of fun hunting him-enjoying second flight.

After some of the comments think I need the tools to bring his focus back if this happens again. I am definitely going to check out the recommended videos!

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Sometimes horses are aware of something that is invisible and/or inaudible to us. As an example, at a BE event, sunny day, green grass, perfect ground, horse after horse after horse napped at approximately the same spot on an open slope and nowhere near a jump. We called in the TD to check if there was anything obvious to spook the horses and the area was thoroughly inspected. Nothing. Horses, however, continued to nap. It was only some hours later that we saw the herd of llamas when they peered over a hedge a couple of fields away. We assume the breeze blew the scent of weird llama across that spot and the horses all went “What is that!??”.

Sometimes the human stopping and looking and thereby acknowledging the concern of the horse before continuing on as usual is sufficient for the horse to be reassured.

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When he’s acting like that next time, could you try lunging him for a minute? Just trot, let the circle be big, then reel him in, then out, then in. Let him burn off some of that nervous steam instead of battling to bottle it up. Then try to walk. I find with ones whose adrenaline is spiking that you MUST move to reduce it. Eventually, you won’t have to move as much to get them willing again. Finally, you won’t have to move at all, and they’ll settle.

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My last eventer would do this. It was a big problem in dressage tests, because at every free walk, every halt, he would immediately fixate on something nonsensical and far away. I would lose him, he was paying no attention to me, his neck and head were rigid, it was hard to get him back. Not so good for the score that is going to determine the competitive outcome for the weekend, since those at the top of the dressage list would all jump clean.

One weekend at the biggest event of the year for the area, it was a long row of green hedge nowhere close to us, way off. ONE BUSH in the dark green line had turned bright yellow. During the dressage test the hedge was visible across a long flat field. He could not let go of that yellow bush in the middle of the green hedge. Literally, the entire competitive weekend hung on that one dam yellow bush, it was that much of a distraction while riding this test.

I made a decision that I was not blowing this whole weekend on this horse’s fascination with a yellow bush in a green hedge. I did what I had to do to keep control of his head and prevent him from looking at it.

The rider just cannot leave it up to the horse. The horse is not going to correct the behavior. In fact, the more they do it, the more they do it, if that makes sense. What began an occasional trait becomes a habit that is harder and harder to break over time.

It doesn’t matter why he does it. He’s a horse, some horses do these things. What matters is how the rider handles it. And ground handling as well.

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I have a TB that does that–suddenly fixates on something way in the distance. He can, on occasion, completely lose all sense of control and start spinning, twirling, flinging himself about. It can be rather disconcerting for the rider (me) and I have had to hop off a couple of times because I was afraid he’d tip over from spinning so much, but he is always super well-behaved from the ground and he absolutely never tries to unseat me. I chalked it up to being raised in Santa Barbara, where his “pasture” was ringed with trees and bushes–no long views. At 6, he left that property for the first time in is life and moved to my pasture here in the high desert of Idaho. Here, you can see for miles and miles, so something new in the distance can be alarming to him, while barely noticeable to his pasture mates.
At almost 15 yrs old and 3rd level, I can bring his brain back to me fairly quickly now and, while it has affected some clinics I’ve been in, it has never affected his ability to show. Once in the show arena, he’s all business. I ride him out and about all the time, usually by himself, he is never barn sour and but he does have a melt down out there about once a year. For that reason, I never did pursue eventing with him. A clinician I once rode with, shrugged his behavior off to being “emotional.”

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Once again-good ideas!!! I am gonna work on refocusing, which is good for lots of situations.
Re lunging I let him walk around me a couple of times as is our habit at home and away.
I forgot to mention this he is good at home even, when the train comes through about 50 feet away. He never seemed to care about that train even when he first came.

Sometimes it takes a while. My heart horse was so keyed up I had to take him to hunts saddled up for three years! I never felt scared on him or like he was out of control. I just remember one day he just stood calmly to put on his bridle and I was like whoa, he’s calm! He was an excellent, catty, business like field Hunter for eleven years. It just took a while. He was better in the hunt field than at home. He figured out his job, had his briefcase and pocket square, and was wonderful.
I’ve had other horses who didn’t work out, but it was honestly other issues. One I tried for four years and it just wasn’t working so sent his butt to Virginia and got twice what I payed for him and he is still there and great for his owner.
I think holding them back too long can make them more anxious, better to move out, do those long trots to the covert and get them tired! I think that helps them to “get it” more than holding them back in a slow group. That is, if they are safe.

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That’s horses for you. :laughing:

My current one is still a bit spooky. He paid no attention at all to Papa Killdeer (little bird) divebombing him, with screeches and flapping, on one end of the arena, while in a panic about a leafy twig in the middle of the track on the other end of the ring. The bird defending a nearby nest meant nothing, but the twig – that was clearly a harbinger of pure evil :face_with_raised_eyebrow: :grin:

My last one who was so subject to fixating - I had to keep control of his head and control where he could look. It took time to get him to accept that, but really it was just a step up from regular riding anyway. One memory of my time with him was at a clinic, galloping over a short series jumps and being all over the place as the horse dodged around between a couple of distractions, while a noted clinician was bellowing "YOU HAVE GOT TO CONTROL HIS HEAD !!! " I realized how true that was, and with this horse, the usual training progression just wasn’t enough to effectively keep his attention. It was the permission I needed to become more effective with that particular horse.

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