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Mare is suddenly very reactive/fearful, ideas?

Looking for some ideas as to what this could be… I know it’s long but trying to give as much background/detail as I can.

10 y/o OTTB mare. Rescued from starvation/neglect in May 2012, spent a couple months with the vet carefully re-gaining weight on a careful re-feeding program/vet monitoring. once she was healthy (didn’t have any health or lameness issues pop up) came home to live in a 24/7 turn out situation with 2-3 other horses, hadn’t started work yet, did just fine over that winter, other than that she seemed bored, and was a bit cranky about being blanketed. Would pin her ears and wring her neck as the blanket went over her shoulders occasionally nippy about it, no problem with straps. However if she was eating or distracted by something she wouldn’t even notice that she was being blanketed. Nice quiet mare, especially considering she is a young OTTB. Vet looked at her, determined that she did have some chiropractic soreness, we tried ranitidine for a while to see if it was ulcers, no change in her behavior whatsoever. (Our theory included that some of her behavior could be due to real soreness, but some could be due to a bad previous experience if she had a poor fitting saddle or blanket in the past). Her withers have a slight divit in them but other than that no sign of any previous trauma. She did have dental neglect when she was rescued but teeth were floated and rechecked and haven’t shown any problems.

Went to a boarding barn in March 2013 to start work with a professional trainer (4x per week) as the chiropractic adjustments would not be very effective if she had no muscle to maintain them. Started out very slow as she was very out of shape, light lunging, some use of side reins to help her develop the muscles in her back to carry a saddle/rider. Found that she was very green, but very willing to work, smart and incredibly kind. Had no major problems settling in, seemed very comfortable with the routine/barn set up. Turn out every day. she got monthly chiro adjustments. Her training moved along just fine, nothing out of the ordinary for a green horse, had maybe a little more trouble than your average horse with straightness, her body seemed to naturally be slightly crooked or pop out in weird ways (lots of horse there, ~16.2 hh) and had trouble picking up the left lead canter, her right front is not COMPLETELY straight. She is a nice mover and didn’t have a problem working long and low. Occasional muscle soreness associated with building muscle and using them. Saddle fit had to be adjusted several times as her muscles changed (she would “tell you” if her saddle was uncomfortable). Occasionally touchy about her ears, had no problem being bridled or haltered but every once in a while reaching up toward them would cause her to snort and throw her head up. did the same thing with blanketing as with saddling

the summer went well, she went to 2 small shows and did great, very brave and quiet, started doing early lateral work. Occasionally would worry about something but not overly spooky or hot (including if she had several days off or at a show). later in the summer started doing chiro appointments every 2 months as she did fine going the extra month without one. had one near panic moment in the cross-ties, when the girth touched her leg, a little unlike her but figured it was a ‘thoroughbred moment’. And she is not a fan of clippers, especially not near her head. Doesn’t get mare-ish when shes in heat.

Had been on a vitamin/mineral supplement, probiotic, joint supplement, and omega 3 since we got her. Fed grass/alfalfa, beet pulp (and strategy grain when she was in work). briefly was without supplements from Oct-Nov, but was on strategy at the time which contains some vitamins/mineral. Back on the vitamin/mineral supplement only around mid-november. Moved to 2x a week training starting in October. Around the first week of November she started to have a couple more frequent incidences of being very cranky about blanketing and saddling again (she had previously worked through most of it), intermittently ear shy, moving very stiff. noticed that though she wasn’t lame she was not tracking up with her right hind. Schedule the vet out for chiro (and a full exam), figuring that something in her back or hips was out of wack and it was making her more reactive because she was uncomfortable. was constantly resting one leg, usually the LH but sometimes the RH.

Mean while she became more and more difficult to halter, way more reactive/spooky at things that didn’t previously scare her (i.e. a shovel that was next to a different feed cart than it was the day before). She also became obsessed with her salt lick (a 50lb standard trace mineral) chewing on it obsessively. The barn owner found that if she left it in over night her stall would be soaked in urine and it looked as though she’d been pacing and chewing the salt lick all night. added apple cider vinegar to her water in case its a pH balance issue, and started alternating salt lick access (out at night but in with her for at least a couple hrs a day).

the other day was her vet appointment and she was showing very alarming symptoms it took 20 mins to put a halter on her. every time someone would walk by the stall or enter she would snort and back up in fear. reaching toward her she would panic as though she were anticipating severe pain. And was not seeming to relax/realize that it wouldn’t hurt when we touched her. were able to get the halter on, looked at her eyes, she was very reactive to the light like she was with touch. Vet noted that there was maybe a slightly abnormal light response but nothing significantly visible with they eye (ie. no cloudyness or detached retinas) and take her into the arena. She walked out of her stall and around the arena just fine, walked her over a ground pole, so she is able to see, just acts like she is seeing everything for the first time and everything may hurt her. She is still eating great, pooping, drinking water, etc. hasn’t lost any weight, coat is shiny and her muscling is good. The vet was not able to get her temperature but her heart-rate and breathing were normal once she stood still long enough to let the vet take them. Got blood work (still waiting on the results) and did an EPM test (still waiting on that). Did some neurological exams… not stumbling/tripping, swaying. able to bend her neck to each side/up and down. obviously, the vet was not able to do any flex tests at the time but the trainer and I had looked at her legs recently, flexed them around and had no reactions from her. its like a switch flipped and she suddenly doesn’t remember anything and everything is terrifying. there was occasionally something there. when I just walked around the arena she almost seemed normal for a second and once the blanket was back on she stood quietly for putting the straps on. We’re still gathering evidence but the vet (and I) are pretty puzzled. going to start her on a Vitamin E supplement right away in case its something neurological that needs that.

Just to put it out there, I have no reason whatsoever to suspect abuse. Its the same trainer that started with her, she has demonstrated (and is known) as very kind and patient, and the barn owner is good, very observant, particular, and does the care herself (occasionally with 1-2 trusted friends). She has not had any accidents that anyone is aware of. She doesn’t typically run and play outside, horses have individual turn-out, hasn’t been cast in her stall. None of the other horses in the barn are having any of these issues.

Any ideas on what could be causing this? Had a similar experience? Could she be having pain somewhere so severe that its causing her to be this reactive with no other signs of lameness, illness or major neurological symptoms? A very bad reaction to winter/less work load/not getting an oral joint supplement?

Wow, that was really long… sorry.

Have you treated her for ulcers? Tested for lyme?

We have a horse who was used as a saddle bronc for a very low rent rodeo circuit. He is, from time to time, inexplicably nuts. He had a terrible past. We tried to gentle him ourselves -> failure. We sent him several times to a woman who was a follower of Parelli -> failure.

Latest, we sent him to a woman who uses the Clinton Anderson techniques, and that seems to have done the trick. Or maybe she trained us in ways to control him if he loses it. The main thing with our horse is that he must realize we are in charge of keeping him safe, and won’t allow him to get himself in trouble or hurt.

The latest trainer did a lot of work in desensitizing our horse–whatever bothered him, mostly ropes, she would do it until he wasn’t bothered any longer. (Some desensitizing might help your horse to get over her fear of having her ears touched. When I read what you’d written, I thought “that horse was earred”.)

BTW–this particular horse is generally calmer with a magnesium supplement. I use PerformanceEquine’s, which is supposed to be more potent than mag ox.

I may be totally off the mark, but thought I’d just throw this out. Some horses seem to get over bad treatment as soon as it stops, and others seem to never, ever forget it and expect it to happen again any minute. Good luck.

I would want her scoped for ulcers also. Many of the symptoms you listed are very similar to my may with ulcers. I have had a heck of a time righting the ship after a flare up from the last event we went to … and yes, I treat her before, during and after an event to minimize flare ups.

It definitely sounds like you are doing everything you can to solve the problem. Hang in there!

OP - just to clarify - the vet was not able to get a temp or do flexions because the mare was reactive? or some other reason?
I don’t have any great suggestions or ideas, just jingles for you…

Years ago I had TB mare, not fancy but great trail horse;sound, never raced. She began to be difficult to bridle for no particular reason. She also fell, three times over about a year - each had a fairly logical explanation. I sold her to another woman, no ppe, not much $, and heard a little while later that she had to be retired - neuro issues. This was in the 80’s, and I’d guess EPM. Your haltering thing made me think of this, but you are having many more weirdnesses than I did.

I would get her tested for lyme disease.

Good luck.

When my mare’s ulcers are flared she’s very touchy/spooky, doesn’t want you touching her, spooks at everything (i.e. the horse trailer that’s been parked by the riding ring for the last 6 months…) just overall horrible. Treat her for ulcers and its a completely different horse.

I tried weaning her off her 3x a week BPR by transitioning her to the U-7 (had her on both for a month, then stopped BPR completely about 3 weeks ago). Noticed last weekend she was abnormally spooky, girthy, overall reactive and touchy and started her back on 1 pack a day BPR and she’s back to my normal mare.

ranitidine won’t be enough to treat a major ulcer issue, which could well be the problem here. You need to get her scoped. Also agree w/those who suggest lymes testing.

EPM test came back, STRONG positive. So we got a diagnosis. Not great news but could have been worse. Her symptoms do all fit, and its not always common to have a very clear diagnosis with it. Going to go forward with treatment…she is a good candidate for it to be successful so we’re optimistic. She has good days and bad, today she was very relaxed for a chiro appointment.