I am going to try to keep this as short as possible but hopefully provide the necessary information.
I have owned my Arab for 10 years. When I first got him, he was less than desirable. Flighty, fearful, and absent minded, and at times very much a danger to himself or others because of it. Over the years we (both professional trainers and myself) have worked to the point where he is now what we at the barn affectionately refer to as “squirrely”; he snorts, he looks at things a little longer, he’ll give little rears when he wants to keep moving, he’ll buck and play at the ask for a canter on cool days, and sometimes he will even piaffe down the trail… but he’s consistent and has become a reliable trail horse in the sense that he has not felt out of control in many years now. I have accepted his quirks, know our boundaries, and have been happy. We ride with a large array of people and horses most weekends throughout the summer with no issues.
This weekend, however, was different. We were 2 hours in to a trail ride on camping day 3 with his pasture mate; had trotted, cantered, passed scary things… then we stopped for pictures and I feel like it all changed. He did his usual little rears to show his disapproval of stopping but when we did return to the trail his back was stiff as a board. I know this signal and dismounted immediately. I joke that his brain fell out of his head when he reared, but it isn’t funny. He trotted in circles around me, ran into me, stepped on me, even bit me at one point. I tried working him to get his brain back; change of directions, back, forward, side pass, flexing from the ground, work around obstacles, etc. I asked him to back through two beams and he was so feverishly attempting to move that he stepped on one and flipped over backwards skinning his legs in the process. This continued for almost 3 hours as I hand walked him down the trail - and by hand walk I mean he trotted circles around me while I walked. The friend I was with tried handling him for a while thinking it was a “he and I” issue, but the behavior was the same. He was so dehydrated at one point I was afraid he was going to keel over right there on the trail and fear continued after wondering if he was going to colic. He settled down probably 4 miles in to the 7 mile walk back.
Now, the trails were very busy and we were near a firing range, but the friend I was riding with (an experienced horsewoman who worked with some top professionals in her years) and I talked it over many times - the trail had been busy all morning, and the firing range was busy for the duration of our ride; neither of these things “suddenly” happened. His behavior didn’t build up from slightly agitated to all out terrified. We both agree it was at that one point where we stopped; the “point of no return”. We had been happily cantering and laughing very shortly beforehand.
I don’t mind squirrely, but he was dangerous. A danger to himself, a danger to me, and a danger to other riders on the trail. He hasn’t acted this way in years. I want to say “it was just this one time”, but I have a child now and this “just one time” doesn’t seem as acceptable anymore when I have another life that depends on me. I have bruises and man am I sore! It could have been so much worse.
I am a committed horse owner and am not thinking, “gosh, I am just going to sell him”, but at what point does knowing a horse is prone to dangerous behavior become too dangerous? Would going back to basics be the best step? Are there holes in training or relationship that I am missing? Is this a characteristic that simply can’t be trained out?
Have any of you ever dealt with something similar? I guess I am looking for a sounding board more than anything, so any and all ideas or experiences are appreciated.
Edit: I should note that I have obviously talked about this with my friend who knows him, but I am looking for non-emotional, unbiased opinions - and just that; more than one opinion. She had an Arab when she was young who would randomly bolt. Maybe twice a year, maybe twice a month, maybe not for 2 years… finally had enough of not knowing and sold him.