How Dangerous is Too Dangerous?

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.

If he hasn’t acted this way in years, could he have tweaked something on the camping trip, and his natural inclination is to take it to 11 when he’s hurting?

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To me, a lot of what you described is too much for me to want to deal with.

Once they’re not taking into account your safely or their own in not a fan of being a part of that.

But it is to each their own to a certain point. I personally don’t mind an honest spook (which is good because my boy does regularly). He even gets a bit light on the front end sometimes too. But I’d never want a horse with a bolt or a dirty buck (not just an exuberant one).

It all comes down to whether your are having fun or not. If the answer is no, it’s not a good match. And if you develop a fear of your horse, that will only make the horse worse–you can’t hide that from them for long.

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@Ceffyl_Dwr - I don’t think so? He never seemed lame; before, during his hysterics, or after. Even today, nothing is off or wrong. He’s injured himself in the past and usually you’d never know - unless it’s an abscess in which he will become three-legged. I don’t know that there is necessarily an answer, but I just don’t feel like this is dismiss-able, either. If it had been shorter lived, I think I would feel differently.

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My riding teacher has a super, super not quite right in the head mature Arabian gelding (bad brain wiring? Brain injury? We don’t know).

Three things have really helped.

The D’yon blinkers kept him from seeing stuff to his rear, he would often bolt for “no reason” until we put these on. When I rode him to try and help out I got the impression that when he saw something “new” in a certain part of his eye he would bolt (as in sometimes he would pass stuff peacefully but the next time LOOK OUT!!! DEMONS were going to get him!)

The Fenwick Face Mask with Ears was another thing that helped. My riding teacher has told me that when he wears it he is almost safe to ride, paying attention to his rider and not spooking at the stuff to his side in the vegetation lining the trail. When she forgets to put it on her old horse is back in full force, spooking at everything, trying to bolt madly and in general he is unsafe to ride.

With these two things we turned a horse who was definitely not safe on the trails into a reasonably reliable horse who pays attention to his rider and who has quit looking for lions, tigers, and carnivorous dinosaurs off to his side, always ready to bolt mindlessly with fear.

Another thing that has helped was me getting this horse a titanium coated bit. After much experimentation she discovered that he preferred a ported Kimberwick bit, and I was able to find him a titanium coated one (titanium coated is cheaper than pure titanium.) Unfortunately I seem to have bought the last one since I have not been able to find another one (I did find MUCH more expensive pure titanium Kimberwicks.) In the titanium bit he keeps contact peacefully and pays attention to the bit and obeys it instead of madly gnashing his jaws and inverting his neck and acting like he is a totally mindless brute.

She has even started talking about letting me ride him again in the ring for my lessons. She told me that the titanium coated bit was the final “key” to making the horse happier with being ridden.

Me and my riding teacher have both had decades of experience with Arabian horses, and this is the first Arabian that we had run into that acted that way, completely bonkers at times.

Good luck!

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After this many years of OK, I’m 100% going to say something physical is going on. Is it a belly full of ulcers from camping and being overstimulated? I don’t know. Is it a pinched nerve and he panicked over it? I don’t know.

That he got so upset that he bit you is something.

I don’t know what I’d think were he mine. I have a pill of a gelding who used to be a total handful of nuts, and now he’s my handful of mixed nuts, we have a good deal. At 17 he’d just retire with me were this sort of thing to happen with him, but not everyone is in a position to do that.

If money allows I’d sure take him to the best vet and get a WTF once over.

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Two things come to mind. He may have developed ulcers or gastritis on the trail or all the excitement may have become too much for him. Possibly a combination of the two. After 2 hours on the ride, his stomach would have been empty. Do you give him Outlast, or anything to help keep his gut happy on long rides? Just because he showed no sign of anxiety earlier, doesn’t mean that he did not feel it. The anxiety may have been building up, and something pushed him over the edge. The straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

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Too dangerous is when your gut is telling you you no longer enjoy riding an unpredictable horse. Life changes happen, and that’s ok. There’s a right horse out there for everyone. His quirks might just be an interesting challenge to someone else. He also might have a different dynamic with another person. My horse was too much for a previous owner because he can be a brute (in slow motion!) if he sees an opportunity. With her life circumstances changed, he was no longer the right horse for her. It happens. And good because he’s the perfect horse… for me.

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@Jackie Cochran - Interesting! I am not usually one for gadgets and gizmos (we ride in just a rope halter as bits will send him over backwards), but the Fenwick Face Mask with Ears is something I had never heard of. I’m glad to hear that other people out there are willing to work with the “off” ones and give them a chance.

@Djones - a “WTF once over”! Love it! I feel the same as you… he’s “my handful of mixed nuts”… never once in all of our years of some seriously trying times have I questioned our relationship in the way that I am now. Then again, he’s never once bitten me. I honestly think he was just so eager to run and he knew I was preventing him that he felt like that was an option.

@Incantation - I don’t have any experience with ulcers or gastritis. I have always put him on U-Guard when we’ve moved stables, but that was more of a precaution. Do they affect horses that quickly? He hasn’t been girthy, is eating his grain fine, isn’t kicking or biting at his stomach… I’m guessing that would go with Djones post of “WTF once over”, but I would think there would be other signs/symptoms?

@B-burg Dressage & @Ceffyl_Dwr - I think that is the question… will I enjoy riding him from this point forward, and that’s honestly what I don’t know. And maybe I’m asking the question too early since it was just this weekend, but for the first time I am questioning him. Up until that incident there was no doubt in my mind that he would be my forever horse. And maybe he still will be, but I am questioning it. I just cannot for the life of me imagine walking away or making a decision without doing my due diligence first and knowing there isn’t “something else”.

Thank you all for responding - it’s nice to just be able to talk about it!

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What you describe is for a horse out of work or green.

So if he has had less work and still being fed or grass has grown etc etc etc. I would excuse it and put more work into him and it takes just as long to get out of that realm as it did to get onto it.

That said a horse that has been in training for 10 years should not be squirrely. 10 years they should not be putting a step wrong as routine. Of course no horse is perfect every single day if out of work.

For me I took an unrideable Arab mare out of the herd at a trail ride place and worked with her. No one was riding her. She would rear if not at the front etc etc, but after a few weeks she was getting really good. She was in work. She was settling down.

Then I had 2 days off and left work, got back and I had the worst ride ever on her. She reared and jumped a creek. Shexwas not happy. She was not the same. Something had happened while I was away.

I found out that one of the other staff members had stated that she was not my horse and she could ride her she wanted to and had done so.

What she said was true, but the mare had gone so far backwards that I stopped riding her. They could have her. Funny they didnt want her then.

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I wonder if it’s an Arab thing. And I say that as the owner of an Arab who has similar crazy episodes. I love my horse, but I will be the first to admit that he’s dangerous at times. He’s had moments where it seems that he’s lost any sense of self preservation and that can be terrifying.

I’m a mom now, too and I get where you’re coming from, OP. My gelding is part of the family and his home will always be with me, but I definitely have days where I question retiring him from (the very light riding) that we still do on occasion. I love riding him when it’s good, but it’s really not worth the risk on a bad day.

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IMHO, this kind of crazy comes from pain. I would certainly want a good vet to give him a once over. Assuming he palpates normally all over and jogs sound to your eye, ulcers would be my first thought. There are not always clear outward symptoms - one of mine won his FEI dressage test on Sunday with nearly 70% and scoped with grade 4 bleeding ulcers on Monday. His only symptom was teeth grinding when concentrating. For some, it’s just a more tense/spooky demeanor. They don’t all bite you when you do up the girth - although that would simplify things.

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@SuzieQNutter - sorry if I didn’t explain that well. It’s not routine for him to be squirrely, but he definitely has the propensity to and I know I can’t simply train that out of him when that is his personality. Nurture it, foster it, work with it, yes… but he will always be who he is. Unfortunate about the little Arab mare. Doesn’t seem fair to her in the slightest.

@glitterless - my friend is convinced it is an Arab thing. We’ve put in at least 12 rides this year (as in going out on the trail rides, not just riding around the barn rides) with no issues and then just this one time in this one day in this one situation. But isn’t that how all accidents happen? He’s 20 now and I like to think that we have enjoyed our time together, but I wasn’t prepared to think that those times might be coming to an end. We (my friend who was with me who he stays with) were both just so surprised. Like I said, it’s one thing to be aware that a horse is squiggly, wiggly, nutters… it’s another to think “this horse could have killed someone today”.

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@joiedevie99 - Wow! What a good man… giving you his all. <3 Definitely good to know. He needs his teeth done soon, so after hearing quite a few of you all mention ulcers it is something I am going to have to look in to. I know I will call my vet, but what is the general cost? I feel like I should know, but honestly have just never had a horse suspected of ulcers. To be fair, he’s only my second.

I would definitely have him scoped for ulcers and perhaps neck and spine x-rays. This is dangerous behavior and it isn’t an “Arab thing”. Some horses just aren’t wired right,

A good and thorough vet exam is in order. If they can find nothing that may be causing him pain, then you’ll have some serious thinking to do because a horse that mentally checks out is indeed very dangerous. Good luck, and I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured.:yes:

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My last gastroscope was $400, plus the farm call and sedation. I live in one of the most expensive pockets of the country, so your experience may vary :frowning:

Scopes are fairly straightforward. The only challenge is getting the horse’s stomach empty so you can see it. My vet has us pull all hay/grain around 5pm, then put on a muzzle at night check so they don’t get desperate and try the bedding overnight. She comes first thing in the morning so they are all done by 9 am. Then they can eat as soon as the sedation wears off.

Mine is 19 and I know what you mean. He was foaled on my parents farm, so lots of history with him. He’s always been like this and I’ve always hoped he’d settle down as he ages, but no luck lol

I would have the vet out to check for possible causes. Then,I would retire the horse. It isn’t worth taking a chance on getting hurt due to erratic behavior…

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OP, how much had you ridden this horse to prepare for your camping trip? How many hours and days a week do you typically ride? How many hours a day were you riding on the trip? Was the terrain different than your normal rides?

My first reaction would be this horse was experiencing some kind of pain- whether it be ulcers or muscle soreness.

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I once worked at an Arabian breeding farm. They had a 4 or 5 year old mare. Beautiful. Perfect. Excellent conformation. Except she was a mental case. The professional trainer sent her back. I was put in charge of her training. She was spooky, jumpy and wired every single day. I never rode her. Just brought her to the barn, brushed, tacked up, lunged, and turned back out. Every day for months. Never made any progress. She would spook at the feed room that she walks past every day, the flowers in front of the round pen, anything you might have walked past the day before was new and terrifying the next day… Turned out 24/7 on large pasture.

Her owner rode her once and she looked ready to explode at the slightest provocation.

Just leading her too and from the paddock was difficult because she was dancing around and ready to spook at anything.

I don’t think I would have taken her for free if she was offered to me. What do you do with a horse that is that unpredictable? I don’t mind hot or forward horses. My own rescue horse was a mental case but his issues were due to trauma. He may have been a good horse if he hadn’t been treated so badly by humans.

At 20, I would probably just retire the horse and get something sane. I know plenty of horses with ulcers that don’t react like you describe. My paint had severe ulcers. It made her spooky and she lost her appetite and colicked. Nothing dangerous.

I do think it is likely something was bothering her- possibly ulcers, but it could be that she just got overwhelmed or overstimulated. My rescue had a full meltdown the last time I took him camping. He ran a trench in the ground. Took one bite, paced the pen, took a bite and paced… Was a nightmare under saddle. He was so anxious about being away from home and having campers moving around was just too much for him. If you tied him up, he dances in place and tosses his head.

He used to be notorious for trotting in place in his stall and flinging his head. That has improved at least. It is “I’m so anxious, I have to move.”

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