Explosive under saddle

I had almost exactly the same situation 14 years ago. 17.1 hand Hanoverian mare that was broke at the age of 4 and lightly backed (maybe rode once a month) for 2 years, if even that much. It was all mostly trail rides and and was way on the back burner. Then no one rode her for about 5ish years. She was handled regularly by her owner who kept her at home and fed and groomed her often, but never ridden.

I entered the picture when she was 11. Her owner spent maybe a couple of weeks longeing her before she stuck me on her (I was 14). Maresy attempted to throw me every ride, and succeeded probably half the time. No rears though, just big, powerful bucks. I’m not sure how I would feel about the whole rearing thing…

Anyway, she tried to kill me every ride for about 2 months, then only occasionally for about 6 months, then she turned into my rock star children’s hunter. I was insanely determined to have this horse back then. I can’t imagine going through all that as an adult, but it worked out for me when I was a teenager.

All she needed (and all I suspect your mare needs) is riding and training time. My mare came around and was my 3’6 horse.

Cold Backed

Check your saddle fit by a saddle fitter

Have her adjusted by a reputable chiropractor

If not better have the vet come, may need radiographs of her neck and spine.

I had a wonderful, big, warmblood mare in years ago. She had wonderful ground manners, lunged beautifully, long lined. She stood perfectly still to mount. You could walk her forward, but as soon as you picked up the trot she would randomly become explosive. Think bronco. That was her. She was cold backed and need a saddle that fit her well and needed body work done regularly.

She also always benefited from a few minutes on the lunge line prior to getting on.

I would get in touch with whatever trainer started her back a couple of years. See what she was like then, how she accepted the very little training she has had.

Five is awfully late to get any kind of starter training, even for a WB. Where was the mare before the divorced couple got her?

Just think if you get the backstory fleshed out more, you are going to get a much better idea if what you are dealing with now. Like a couple of the others upthread, dont believe that backstory 100%, its a common one and usually leaves out some details. Not necessarily on purpose, sometimes people get lied to when they buy one.

You have an at least 7 year old (are there papers with the foaling date?) soon to be at least 8 that has gotten this far with a grand total of 8-12 weeks of training split into two sessions two years apart.

To me her behavior is what you would expect in an almost 8 year old that has never had more then very, very basic training, never been in regular work or developed a work ethic. At 4 weeks, I would not expect her to be any further along then she is. Typically you need at least 90 days to get a good start but that’s with a younger, more impressionable horse less set in its ways.

Are you concerned about how this is going or has your trainer expressed their concern to you? Little surprised they are riding so much, or trying to. I’d prefer to see ground driving and lunging in the tack with side reins and other baby steps along with learning to work on a regular schedule to let this mare muscle up and learn to carry herself better before adding a rider.

That might be part of the problem, mare is uncomfortable and lacks balance, strength and was not allowed to slowly build before adding a rider. Unless you specifically set a short time limit, IMO, trainer is asking too much at this point, mare can’t do it comfortably. Doesnt want to either after standing around almost 8 years.

What are you doing with the 5 year old?

In addition to the very good advice you have received, you may want to put her on about 10 days of robaxin/bute (check with a vet for dosage, blah blah blah) and see what happens. Because if all the problems disappear after about day 3-5 (when the loading effect is reached) and reappear about day 12 (when it wears off), well, you’ve narrowed down the filed of suspects.

However even if problems don’t disappear or become significantly less severe, you still have detective work to do. It could be behavioral, it could be medical but very likely it is medical and rapidly becoming behavioral as well. And it would be super nice if bute+robaxin is the definitive test, but sadly it is just the quickest/easiest thing to do to rule out certain issues.

I recently ran into a similar issue. I started my young horse and he was fine, just super easy. And we went on a few years and he was fine. Looking back I realize he was increasingly more “nervous/worried” under tack starting about two years ago, but between a work schedule from hell, elbow surgery and some craptacular winters, I put that down to a whole lot of hit or miss riding. But starting last summer, I noticed he was a lot more cold backed for increasingly longer periods, and if I didn’t pay attention… Yeah, lawn dart (he’s um, extremely athletic in this area. It’s 0 to bronc with no middle ground). I had the list: bute/robax, saddle fit (seemed less likely since he wears 3 different saddle type at any given point - butet, western and hybrid for trail riding) followed by chiro/vet for further dx. Eh, the chiro came first for a variety of reasons, and much to my surprise, it was literally a magic cure (I expected at best, some improvement). So I put it down to some acute injury that was helped out considerably by adjustment. Had a few more sessions and he was back to his normal self. Relaxed, easy going, not cold backed after you walked him out about 20 steps (which is how he has always been).

Then a really bad thing happened: in a Very Bad Day, through a series of events, the hybrid saddle ended up underneath his stomach, and let’s just say I’d just as soon NEVER relive that again. Neither would he, I’m sure. How he was alive and both he and the saddle were 99% unscathed is beyond me. But NOW he was super worried about the saddle, and I can’t exact blame him. And that PTSD (post traumatic saddle disorder) pretty much hid (to me, anyway) that it really wasn’t just PTSD, the pain was coming back.

I have a person who rides him 1x a week and we were mulling this over, when I said, “he just seems nervous all the time, even when he doesn’t have a hump in his back… and that’s just not him.” So I did the bute robaxin test, with a fairly aggressive level of robaxin as well as a 3 shot series of adequan. He didn’t really change at all, it had no discernible effect. Things came to a head when I schooled him around some jumps on Friday and he was fine. Not relaxed, but given how long it had been since we jumped, well within acceptable. And then the next day he was an different horse and I foolishly trotted him over an X. And he landed bucking. Fortunately I was expecting it and mostly stepped off (then hurt both arms hanging on, but whatevs). But that was a light bulb moment for the dim witted. I have 100% of this horse’s history. It isn’t entirely behavioral. It’s probably rapidly approaching a serious behavioral issue, but that isn’t its roots. So off we went to the vet clinic.

“That’s the soundest lame horse I’ve ever seen.”

Well I guess there is something to be said for waiting until the problem is obvious. I had him scoped (100% pristine, clean awesomeness) within 18 months so we ruled out ulcers in advance, and of course the bute/robaxin test failure said a lot as well. But he was one ouchy pony on mid thoracic palpation (I believe the quote was “he’d kick me back to vet school if I do this again”). I opted to skip the bone scan since it wasn’t really changing the treatment, and I threw all the guns at him: back injection/osphos and then mesotherapy and intra-articular neck injections a few weeks later.

3 weeks after the osphos/back injection it was amazing. I actually didn’t realize how much his trot deteriorated until it was back. But it was also obvious there was a good bit of “behavioral” left. I’m sure most of it was related to the saddle slipping because he was hyper aware/worried about anything on the side it slipped down first, but I think there was a good bit of “hey, I’m a good horse, but this has been hurting for a while” as well. So I tackled the behavioral side with a lot of frequent saddlings, no hard work, but frequent short sessions, LOTS of treats when tacking up and first walking off, some judicious use of a 1/2 cc of ace to let him take a deep breath (first time with a saddle back on - buck session galore btw, first trail ride, first hunter pace) and a lot of Confidence EQ. I tried perfect prep at first, but didn’t see anything with it and the CEQ is easier, and I think tailor made for this situation. It has 10 packets per box, and I used it for every ride for the first box, and I planned to go every other ride for the next box, but I kind of forgot and he doesn’t seem to need it, so now I’m saving it for the next big change (jumping, etc.)

He’s been great physically (fingers crossed it works, but there is a chance it will not hold) and getting slowly but steadily better, mentally. I started treating him in early July, and it was last week when me and his other rider decided he has finally returned to the old horse, just happily relaxed and round, doop-de-dooping along with about the prettiest most balanced canter I have ever sat on.

And even with all that good news, I am still hyper vigilant. I’m guessing he’s now a horse that I will not be allowed to make too many mistakes on, and I have to factor that into the equation, every ride, every time. I have a lot of good history so that counts for something, but our new history sucks big time.

Which is all a really long post to say you kind of have to be a detective to sort this out, there may/ may not be a good ending, but most importantly, I think this horse is telling you she is probably not going to tolerate too many mistakes on the rider’s part, so you need to factor that into your equation as well.

I notice that you’ve stated several times now that when your trainer “gets back on her” after a “bad moment” she behaves fine. Is your trainer getting (or falling) off every time the mare acts up? If so, you need a new trainer ASAP. That’s a sure-fire way to teach a green horse to misbehave; he/she is rewarding the horse for her bad behavior by giving her a break (whether intentional or not).

I notice that you’ve stated several times now that when your trainer “gets back on her” after a “bad moment” she behaves fine. Is your trainer getting (or falling) off every time the mare acts up? If so, you need a new trainer ASAP. That’s a sure-fire way to teach a green horse to misbehave; he/she is rewarding the horse for her bad behavior by giving her a break (whether intentional or not).[/QUOTE]

This. Trainer needs to kick her forward and ride through it. Baby horses have moments, you are creating a monster by getting off!

I did do a basic vet check and nothing came up but I’ll see if I can get the vet out again and do some more tests.

She was bred and raised by the now-divorced couple. I am her second owner and there is paper work to back her breeding/foaling date.

I am not riding her at this point at all. Being lunged or not prior to mounting does not seem to be a factor. I did talk to her previous trainer and she said that she was also very nervous when she was in her training.

Ironically enough, her younger sister which was described by both previous owners as a brat is flourishing in training and hasn’t shown any behavioural issues.

Just to make sure I understand, general idea for the best course of action is:

-soundness check/pain check
-chiro/saddle fitter
-baby having baby moments of “You want me to do what?!”

I really appreciate everyone’s advice :slight_smile:

Add possible trainer switch. Above observations about riding thru bad moments instead if getting back on after horse gets a break whether planned or as a result of tossing the rider are dead on target and I think the timeline is rushed. Horse’s erratic behavior says they don’t get it yet and it’s time to back it up to more basic work without a rider.

No knock on trainer, this one is just outside their skill set. Another may be a better choice at this point, better at working with the special needs types. Maybe able to devote more attention and time to this mare instead of trying to fit her into their exsisting program which does not seem to be working with current trainer.

How long is she ridden each time? She went from pasture ornament to in full work in under a month. It could be that she wants to be good but when she gets pressured or is sore from trying her hardest the day before she gets explosive because she doesn’t feel like she has other options.

Is the trainer working her on a loose rein or is she trying to create any sort of “headset” or “frame”? She may be feeling boxed in if the trainer is trying to create an outline that her strength and knowledge cannot support.

She is ridden for maybe 10 minutes along with ground work and such. She worked on a loose rein trying to work on being relaxed under saddle. It’s all been walking with an extremely brief trot session.

Trainer and I have discussed and we’re going to work on ground driving and more lunging for the next few weeks while I book a chiro appointment to get the ball rolling to find out what is going on.

Who else owned the 5 year old? You said both her previous owners said she was a brat? She didn’t come with her older sister?

If older sister is coming unglued with 10 minutes of walking? Something either hurts or she’s no where near ready for a rider. Or both.

Both of them were owned and bred by the same person and I purchased them from her (well, her ex). The younger one has completely exceed expectations. She takes everything in stride. The first time loading her into a trailer took us 10 minutes despite her never having been in one at all. The older one has a lot of fear issues and I’m wondering if something happened in the two year period where the breeder wasn’t with them (due to being withheld by the ex).

Also, the older one is very relaxed when it comes to ground work, lunging, tacking and mounting. It is just when it comes to moving out under saddle that she gets nervous.

Does she give any warning signs before she lights up? In my experience, regardless of whether the outburst is pain or behavior related, if you don’t act the second you see the warning sign, you are SOL and will find yourself with a horse who has a habitual unpleasant habit.

My only other piece of advice for a nervous nellie is ROUTINE. routine routine routine. Not just undersaddle but the day to day. Her mind may just need to settle down and realize the potential of the sky falling everyday is minimal.

I’ll be curious to hear what the vet says. The bute/robaxin trick is definitely worth exploring–narrow your options as much as you can.

Everyone is giving some great advice. Another thing you may want to consider is ulcer treatment/supplement. I’ve known of horses with similar behavior of being great one day and randomly exploding the next that got a lot better when they were treated for ulcers.
After about a month of treatment, the bad behavior started to go away. You do have to be patient because it often times takes about a month to start seeing improvement if it is ulcers. Which is why you want to rule everything else out in the meantime.

I’m not sure I can help you but I am also going through something very similar. From what I’ve heard, it’s kind of a thing that is really common for breaking and backing older horses. They are used to ground work and take well to it but having someone atop is so foreign that it takes a while for them to relax and accept it.

My gelding is 10, I bought him in August directly from his breeder. He is the oldest and last of their babies from their one stud horse to sell.

He was started at 5, from what I was told using a certain Method that he did not take well to with a saddle that did not fit well. He was also very girthy which made the ill fitting saddle even worse. So instead of putting the time and effort into him, they focused on all their other, more saleable horses and he was mostly turned out, brushed occasionally, and round penned occasionally for nearly five years.

After a month of lunging in tack, I tried mounting and he stood still (and shaky, nervous, blowing) but every time I asked him to walk forward he took a few uncertain steps, then spun quickly, standing up and kicking out. He managed to dump me every time so I laid off the under saddle attempts and went back to lunging and then my trainer tried getting on. Gelding’s main problem is when he feels leg AND rein at the same time. My trainer has ridden him three times (one time pony managed to dump him off, which is a feat in itself) but since he is so nervous we have gone back to lunging and long reining.

Long reining is really great because it allows them to get used to and relaxed with responding to the bit before someone climbs on, so they at least have clear guidelines when it comes to the head. At this point, from what I’ve read about other similar horses, we are taking it super slow and not attempting mounting until he is completely relaxed. It will most certainly take longer than I would like.


So miss mare got checked out by my vet and with regards to any physical ailments or problems, there seems to be absolutely no problems in that department. “There is nothing wrong with that horse” was a direct quote. She thinks that it may just be that nervous miss mare is getting overwhelmed with being ridden undersaddle despite having no issues with groundwork and lunging/ground driving. She doesn’t see any sign of kissing spine as she has not problems when being lunged with a saddle.

She also doesn’t believe that ulcers would be a liable cause as miss mare has a very low stress life with 24 hour turnout with a herd.

She suggested that some natural supplements might be a good idea to try and reduce miss mare’s nerves under saddle. I’ll be putting her on Chill for a few days and see if that causes any difference. If that doesn’t work, my vet suggested a new supplement made from bovine colustrum (which I forget the name of) that they use for horses with casts, bratty stallions and OTTB’s that need to relax while on stall rest. Hopefully that will cause a difference.

But it sounds like no xrays or scoping were done? Kissing spines isn’t generally diagnosed by lunging in the saddle. As you stated previously the mare is fine for ground work. I’d have her back xrayed.

How about ponying her with and without a saddle on?