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How do you know when a horse is just done?

My once calm and laid back horse has turned unpredictably explosive. Calm and lovely one day, and explosive the next. How do I move forward from this when he has already put me in the ER?

10 months ago I welcomed a new horse into my life. Gorgeous and handsome WB gelding of everyones dreams. I knew when I acquired him that he was diagnosed with shivers, and was cleared by one of the best vets on the east coast for flatwork. I knew there was a link between the shivers and facet changes in C6/C7 in his neck. He showed no signs of shivers, and rads were taken to ensure the facet changes hadn’t progressed over time (of course, I know a myelogram is the only guarantee way to confirm this). Vitamins E levels also taken, WNL. I took all the necessary precaution to make sure I was setting this horse up for success for a life of easy going flatwork. This horse has always been very laidback, and has a goofy personable, curious personality. I noticed he was dropping weight at the facility he was at, so I moved him. His personality stayed the same and he gained the weight back quickly. A few months later, I moved out of state. He followed behind shortly. Since being at the new barn, his physical condition has improved dramatically. He looks phenomenal and seems really happy and relaxed. Riding him was a dream. He was quiet. He was soft. It was wonderful. (I would like to say that I am a very experienced, soft, and calm rider.) Until suddenly he wasn’t.

He exploded one day under saddle. Took off bolting and bucking, which put me in the hospital. I ended up having to have surgery on my arm. I am so lucky I didn’t break anything else. Honestly, I contributed it to being in a new place and feeling the best he’s felt in a long time. Every time I would hand walk him in the indoor when I couldn’t ride he was on the verge of exploding. Again. While I was out of commission the trainer was riding him 2x/week. She said he was a little fresh at first, but has otherwise been very laidback and easy going. I thought I finally had my horse back.

Finally, I am cleared to get back on my horse. The first ride back was uneventful. We just walked and it was perfectly fine. A day later, I go to the barn and get him ready to ride again. I decided to lunge him beforehand. I am so glad I did. I put him on the lunge line and all he wanted to do was haul around, buck, and try and pull away from me. What I saw wasn’t just a fresh, excited horse. It was 18hh of explosion. Any time I would put pressure on him he would threaten me. I can’t say I have every been scared of a horse until now.

While he was acting like a clown I noticed a few subtle things. He was “wringing” his LH when walk/trot. Toe dragging RH. Whenever he would buck or kick out it was always toward the right. Before he would take off bucking, his RH would jerk up. Pretty “classic” shivers IMO. My brain is telling me that something is hurting him. I am a firm believer that horses aren’t acting out because they want to ruin our day. They are trying to communicate with us.

When he stands at his hay feeder he stands with his LH brought forward and inward, almost under his belly. To me that indicates discomfort in his hind end. He never acts explosive in his paddock.

I plan to have a vet do a neuro eval on him and repeat rads on C6/C7. Maybe Chiro and acupuncture would help? Do I test for EPM? PSSM? I am not going to ignore what he’s telling me. I know shivers is progressive, but I didn’t think it would progress this much this fast.

I am trying to prepare myself for bad news. I know something is wrong. This horse is not aggressive or mean, but this behavior is outright dangerous. To me, that screams that there is something neurologic and painful going on.

Even if we are able to figure out what’s going on, I’m not sure I even want to ride this horse again. I certainly can’t re-home a horse with this historical behavior. I guess I could retire him. He is only 9 though.I don’t want him to live the remainder of his life uncomfortable and in pain.

Has anyone every been in a situation like this before? I suppose I am looking for advice and to hear about others experiences… I don’t want to feel like I am giving up but there is only so much I can do, and I’ve already been put in the hospital once because of this horse.

My first thought is that he perhaps became very fresh at the new place and injured himself somehow. I’m curious how much his feeding regimen has changed with the new place - you said he has put on weight and looks great - is his diet perhaps causing him to be too fresh? Has turn out changed as well? How much turn out is he getting?

I second having a vet take a look to decipher if the lameness is new or if this is a neurological component. A lot of shivers horses do better with exercise. If this is perhaps a dietary issue and a secondary injury then maybe this can be resolved.

That was my first thought as well after the accident. In terms of feeding, his grain (Triple Crown Senior & Outlast) stayed the exact same when he moved. In fact, we slowly transitioned him off grain because we didn’t want him to become overweight. He only gets Purina Outlast 2x/day now. He was eating mostly orchard and supplemental alfalfa previously. He is now eating mostly alfalfa with some grass hay. He lives in a paddock 24/7, he is never stalled. He has the freedom to move around as much as he wants. Before I got hurt he was doing light work 4-5 days a week. Now he is being ridden twice a week and I am able to lunge him 2 to 3 additional times. At first I thought maybe the behavior was linked to the change in feed, but when he “explodes” it doesn’t look like a fresh, fit, happy horse. It is very bizarre.

I forgot to mention… he received the full loading regime of Adequan 6 months ago. I noticed a different within 5-6 weeks of administering.

My mare with pssm ties up. She has never had explosive behavior, ever. She is not coordinated at the canter and cross canters badly behind and will crow hop. She never does anything nasty under saddle despite her physical issues. She may crow hop but it’s not malicious in any way.

It does sound like something is hurting him. Maybe some video would help us see what he is doing?
How much turnout does he get? Is he allowed to run around and get some excess energy out?

If it is painful, I would expect it to be pretty bad to cause that type of reaction. Most horses (like with arthritis or lameness issues) can still be ridden despite some pain.

Sometimes it’s just plain behavioral. Many horses want to run like fools on the lunge line and buck and leap. Or jerk the lunge line out of your hands.

Can you elaborate on this part?

I love your username, by the way.

I also agree with 4horses, video could be really helpful if you have any.

When he “explodes” he doesn’t do so in a way I would translate as being playful. No tail up, or relaxed playful expression. When his leg jerks up before he takes off he lays his ears back and his expression changes.

I don’t have any video, but I will try and get something.

He is in a paddock 24/7. It is decently sized, but he wouldn’t be able to build up any speed. I am going to see if the barn has room in one of the big pastures for him. Hoping maybe that change will help.

I don’t have any video currently, but I will try and get some. It’s hard to predict when he will do it. Some days he is laidback and relaxed, and then the next it’s like he’s a different horse.

Just a side note… for grooming and general handling he is always really good. Always stands quietly in the crossties, etc.

So there are a lot of things that could be done to try and figure out the horse’s behavior and possibly find a remedy …

… but when asking the question “when is it time to throw in the towel?” plus saying that you never want to ride him again is a strong indication that the owner is overwhelmed and ready to pass on this task. You are free to either change the circumstances to mitigate it, or else hand it off to someone more emotionally equipped to deal with it. (Possibly financially as well? And time?)

Asking COTH “when is it time to throw in the towel?” is a major sign that it’s time to do something other than dealing with the explosions. Turn the horse out for the rest of his life. Let him go to someone who has the expertise, wallet and time for it. Or something so that it isn’t your worry any more. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make such a decision.

Plus, an exploding horse is not a happy horse. It is ok to just not put him through it anymore. It makes no difference how old he is, there is no law of the universe dictating that horses must earn their keep in some kind of work until xx age. Horses have been retired much younger, even before they were backed, for whatever reason. OP, you owe no one a justification for whatever decision you make.

There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone has their own boundaries, their own comfort load for how much of what kinds of burdens they can carry. It is not destiny that you have to carry on with this, OP. You don’t need anyone’s permission to find another way forward that takes you out of dealing with this. Good luck and hoping you and this horse both find peace.


Oh boy. I could write a novel or two about dealing with shivers in horses, but I have to agree with @OverandOnward that when you’re asking yourself this on a BB, it might be time to re-examine how much this horse means to you. Remember that the best time to move on from a horse is before they hurt you… again.

You clearly have an astute eye to notice the quirks of his - kicking to the right, LH being under him at rest past his belly, etc. these are certainly signs of discomfort that may or may not be related to shivers.

Is he with a buddy in turnout, any grass?

My experiences with shivers makes me think that major life events - moves, shows, colic, loss of buddies in turnout, basically any sort of elevated stress living can bring out symptoms and even progression with a vengeance.


Thank you, so much for this. I am overwhelmed. Primarily because I was so seriously injured and I’m afraid that will happen again because of this behavior. I don’t want to give up on him, but I’m also not afraid to admit when a horse and rider don’t compliment each other. I am also afraid that passing him off to someone else would get them injured. If I have to pasture board him forever to guarantee he has a soft place to land, I will do it. I do love this horse, he has such a wonderful personality. I just know something isn’t right with him.


Oh boy. Not to be an alarmist, but every one of your horse’s symptoms checks a box for EDM. There have been several topics here about it, as well as a few articles in the Chronicle recently. It is being correctly diagnosed more and more now and presenting very similarly to what you are describing:

  • big, fancy warmblood, that was previously quiet and nicely behaved
  • seemingly random episode of some uncharacteristic, often dangerous behavior, such as falling or exploding like you described. It is unpredictable and out of character
  • odd “posturing” when standing - the LH being placed funny
  • maybe some obvious neuro symptoms but maybe not.

Consult a vet. The only way to positively confirm EDM at this time is on necropsy, but they do a whole series of tests of basically eliminating everything else it could be to diagnose.


If it has any relevance, and maybe it doesn’t … I’ve had a horse that had symptoms of pain in the back and hind legs, who was a lovely ride except when he wasn’t. He also could be explosive although not as bad as OP’s. And when he seemed to be experiencing pain, he was anxious, spooky and unhappy.

Had many vet examinations. Treated for several possible physical conditions and ailments and EPM.

A number of rounds of holistic medicine from several providers (one at a time). Also chiro, bodywork, and a couple of years of ‘horse yoga’ stretches.

Horse was still sore – it came and went, but when it came it was not pleasant for anyone, especially the horse. And it seemed to make him so unhappy, so unlike his normal laid-back demeanor.

Had so much advice, so many suggested remedies. Do this, do that, follow sundry programs.

At last I decided that the horse and I had both had enough of the whole journey. I and a host of well-meaning healers for years had been working, pushing, pulling, therapizing, rubbing and feeding stuff into this horse’s body and still here we are.

Stopped everything and just turned the horse out with no work or therapy or anything but good nutrition and rest for several months. Visited with horse several times a week, groomed, gave him treats and fussed over him, maybe some hand-grazing in the really good grass outside of the pasture, then turned him back out with his friends. He started pricking his ears and coming to the gate when I arrived, something he had never done before. He offered and wanted affection at every visit, whereas previously that was intermittent.

A few months of that and he was like a new horse. Physically and mentally.

Sometimes there is something to be said for doing a lot of nothing for an extended period of time when nothing else has worked all that well.

Not saying that’s what OP’s horse needs. But in the midst of the constant blizzard of advice and direction from so many helpful parties, it’s an option to keep in mind. And you don’t have to explain it or get anyone else’s buy in. They would rather you keep paying for their expertise and treatments, but that isn’t necessarily what the horse wants or needs.

It’s your horse. What is right for you and him is fine, you don’t owe anyone else an explanation or a buy-in.


He does not have a paddock buddy at the moment. Per his breeder he has generally always lived in a private paddock/pasture but has always had neighbors. He has neighbors he can touch noses with but he ignores them 99% of the time. We have him in a private paddock because he will let other horses bully him and chase him away etc. I am inquiring to see if one of the big grass and drylands turnouts has room for him, maybe he can at least have one or two buddies if they get along.

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EDM is one of my biggest fears for this horse. I am going to have this guy evaluated to rule out other things. If I can at least make him comfortable, I will be happy. I want to do right by him.

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I am so appreciative of all of the positivity from everyone. This has been so challenging as a horse owner, and I am sure it has been challenging for my horse. He is a sweet horse, and he loves people. Which is why this behavior is so striking to me.

When becoming horse owners we take on such a huge degree of responsibility to ensure their needs are met. All I want is for him to be comfortable and happy.

Like I said in another reply, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by this behavior and overwhelmed by the fact that I was so seriously injured.


Here is your free pass. You never have to ride this horse again. Let’s shake hands and then a big hug and then go on to do what you think is best for you as well as your horse. :slight_smile:


I’ve seen this before with a horse with lower neck problems who shortly thereafter became clinically neuro. Only in his case the change would often be more panic versus being mean. But in any event it was sympathetic nervous system overload response. Some horses will be more flight and some more fight.

I’ve found shockwave to not be satisfying. You could try steroid injections, but they might not work. Could be worth a shot if ultrasound shows some angry joints—I’d ultrasound not xray.

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Been there, OP. Sending lots of positive thoughts.

With my horse, we were able to get (mostly) through it, though she had quite a few years off where I kind of threw my hands up and didn’t know what to do. Never did get a diagnosis of anything despite lots of searching. Part of her Jeckyll and Hyde behavior is extreme sensitivity. She blows up well before she has any obvious, detectable pain. Once I realized that, with the help of the right trainer, I was able to start seeing the signs before we hit the explosion point.

But, that doesn’t mean it will be the same for your horse. I can say, mentally, going through this has taken a toll on my confidence in the saddle. In retrospect, I wish I had done something about that aspect sooner. I had several trainers along the way, but I should have been more proactive in ways like taking lessons on confidence-affirming school horses or even sports psychology. My horse hasn’t had an explosion in years, but the thought of one is pervasive in my mind and still affects how I ride her.


If you are around horses long enough there are some that are not worth the effort of making into riding horses. I rescued a horse and put 3 years of training on him, and then when he did go on to develop health problems, I did my best to treat him. Those health problems were progressive and as he was a very nervous horse to begin with, I decided to retire him. He was not a very safe riding horse to begin with and luckily I realized this before I got injured. He was only 7 years old.

If I had not found him the perfect retirement home situation, I would have euthanized. His condition will eventually progress, but luckily his new owner is a very understanding person and doesn’t ride so he can be a companion to her other horse until things worsen.

My paint mare is now entering the retired category due to her pssm. I was not ready to have another retiree this soon. My old mare passed away last year and I had hoped to keep my paint going for a longer time, but I am starting to suspect that her condition may be progressive as well.

You don’t have to go through extensive diagnostics if you choose to retire the horse.


I had to reread, but if you’ve only had him 10 months & his behavior has changed so drastically in such a short time, I’d be considering the most complete diagnostics you can comfortably afford.

Is there a teaching vet college near you?
They have all the “toys” and access to the most current information on all equine disease, & treatments, including the degenerative neuromuscular syndrome that is shivers.

That would be my Last Straw before making any decision on this horse’s future.
Wishing you a definitive answer from which you can base a decision.