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New pony is an anxious mess :(

I got a new pony about 2 weeks ago now, and she’s anxious/fearful of just about everything. Here’s the main issues:

  • She backs into the corner of the stall and pins her ears back when I try to put the bridle on, or really when I come near her at all.

  • I have yet to be able to pick her back hooves because she’ll swing her butt around and about step on me, or back up real fast. The farrier wasn’t even able to trim them this week. She’ll let me brush them, but the second she thinks I’ve got a hoof pick she freaks out.

  • She won’t stand to mount or dismount. She backs up/pins her ears.

  • She lashes out and is downright nasty to other horses, but I believe this is also fear related.

  • Under saddle she is also anxious, however she hasn’t spooked or bucked or done anything naughty. She just walks and trots really fast and is huffing and puffing the whole time. Editing to add that she stops on a dime, will stand and be fine. She’s obviously been ridden, she’s just rusty.

Overall she’s just an anxious, nervous wreck. I feel awful about it. I know she’s only been here two weeks, but it seems like the behaviors are only getting worse. I will note that she has been in a pasture by herself this whole time because she has a mystery skin issue that is causing her hair to fall out in patches (stress??) that the vet is coming to re-evaluate. I go out and see/ride her almost every day, trying to build a relationship with her. I will say that she is very sweet at times and has never done anything bad purposefully, I can tell she’s just scared and doesn’t trust anyone. Do you guys have any advice on how I can help relax her and get her to trust me?

I think a thorough vet exam is needed here! She is trying to tell you that things are not right. Good that you are having the vet out.

I think you should not push her to work until after she has been looked at by the vet.


She needs to be looked over by an experienced horse vet. Her fears and behaviors could be caused by many things that may be hard to see.
The hair coming out could be rain rot and she may have “sore or raw spots on her back” that hurt when the saddle is on and you sit on that spot.
She may be sick with something else. Did you do a pre-purchase exam with vet before purchase?
Was she ever trained to allow hoof picking? This may be something new to her. Is she lame at all? Could be sore feet- abcess- or something else.
How well was she taken care of before you got her? Was she thin? Malnourished?
She could have Ulcers and that can be painful.
What is her diet now? How much hay does she get?
Do you have an experienced person helping you? Do you board or keep her at home?
Tell us more.


I would honestly just leave her alone for a bit. Let her settle down and learn her new surroundings. I got an OTTB off the track in October and I expected that after 2 weeks I could start working with her. She ended up being an absolute menace for like 2 months. Anytime I put her on crossties she would swing back and forth and try to kick me and just panic. Now, she is a GEM! I love her more every day. And this came from me doing nothing with her but feeding her and spending time with her in her field and letting her know her new life will be nice! I am not saying you have to give this pony two months but I would start with just letting her feel out her environment before jumping to thinking something is wrong. Do things with her that don’t make her anxious, as low key as they might be, and slowly increase activity.


She is being boarded at my trainer’s barn. She is at a good weight, and besides the hair loss appears to be healthy. We don’t know what her background is as the seller only had her a few days before I bought her. She was just wormed/had her teeth done/front hooves trimmed.

She gets unlimited hay and my trainer gives her a scoop of Tribute a day. She doesn’t appear lame. She lets me pick up the front feet okay, the backs I can’t pick up without her moving. There are no spots where the saddle goes, they are on her neck/shoulders/face. I did not get an official ppe as the seller had her seen by a vet to address the skin issue, which she had before I bought her. That treatment didn’t work. Had another vet out a week ago and she thought it could be lice, though I’ve seen no lice and she hasn’t responded to lice treatment at all.

We thought it could be rainrot, as she had some blanket rubs too. There are no sores or any raw spots, its just literally naked, and sometimes flaky skin. They don’t appear to be hurting her. Trainer suggested treating with antibiotics but I want the vet to see her before we try anything else. Might call a 3rd vet.

I wasn’t planning on riding her for awhile but everyone at the barn told me I needed to keep her in that routine, since “things would be new and scary if she went to a show but you’d still ride her right away then”. I guess I’m afraid that if I don’t ride for weeks or months she’s going to be an absolute terror to get back on. Its a pain because it gets dark so early and its freezing cold where I live, so its not really plausible to go sit in a field with her. I’ve been taking it easy with the riding, just walking around and a little trotting. Rides aren’t too long either. Lots of praise. I’m really hoping the vet will be able to help out. This is my first “real” horse and I feel like I’m already doing it wrong :persevere:


Definitely calling the vet this week! I know her issues could be caused by so many different things, so the vet will hopefully give me some peace of mind.


Then this is not a horse I would try to be doing much of anything with until you solve this very first issue. I would not be trying to brush this horse, trying I pick out her feet, trying to mount the horse, and absolutely wouldn’t be trying to ride the horse. She told you she’s not comfortable with you at this very first interaction and then you still go on as if everything is fine and it’s clearly not.

I wouldn’t work on anything for awhile. I might just go in and take the horse for a walk and hand graze it maybe or do something to convince her that interactions with me aren’t so miserable. Then maybe when she tells me she’s ready I’d work on some light ground work and then eventually work up to having her under saddle but I wouldn’t be working this horse at all.

I’d be anxious too if I was telling someone I’m uncomfortable and they just completely ignored me and acted like they didn’t even hear or care what I had to say. Just my two cents.


If you can get a subscription to Warwick Schiller I would start watching some of those videos.
This is a horse who is either in physical pain / discomfort and needs a vet or is in emotional turmoil (and likely it’s both). Regardless, Warwick’s videos will help you read body language much better. And, if it is truly fear / anxiety that is not routed in physical pain, then his videos will be a good start to rebuilding this horse’s confidence from the ground up and building a relationship of trust between the two of you.


Having the vet out ASAP sounds like the right approach. Consider it a post-purchase exam. (Next time, do the PPE! A vet exam for a skin issue is not a good substitute. Live and learn.)

It’s unfortunate that you don’t have better information about the pony’s training and experience. Perhaps it is a vet issue, but it does also sound like the pony is either quite a bit more green, or has more trauma in her past, than you expected.


The people at the barn tell you one thing, she is telling you something else.

The hardest lessons I have ever had to learn, were when I didn’t listen to my horse.

There are many skilled trainers here who can give you expert advice, but speaking as an amateur, I would let the bad weather be a good excuse for giving her time to settle in.


So sorry you’re having these issues with your new pony. Agree with others to take it easy and give her some time to settle in.

I don’t agree with the advice about comparing this to taking her to a show. By the time you take her to a show, you will have built a relationship with her, she will trust you, and you would know how to best settle her down so it’s an apples and oranges comparison in my opinion.


I agree. We were told she came from a “camp”, but my trainer believes its more likely that she came from an auction. She is certainly NOT a kids’ pony.

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Stop trying to ride this horse.

Don’t bother trying to ride her until you have her handleability on the ground addressed and she shows you she feels much more confident and relaxed about having people ask something of her.

This is tough because you are reporting this is your first “real horse”, which means you are likely relying heavily on input from others. To be frank, do not listen to a word they are telling you unless those words are “man, that pony is really struggling, maybe focus on just some basic trust and handling for a while until she learns she can relax around you a little bit”.

Someone else said it higher in the thread: the hardest lessons learned are those where where you ignored the horse. I’ve learned it the hard way, too, and now there isn’t a human on this planet I would listen to over my horse.

Rushing under saddle as you’ve described is one step away from deciding she cannot tolerate you any longer and needs to get rid of you. I teach horsemanship for a living - if you were coming to me and this was your report, I’d be very concerned you were cruising to get seriously hurt by this horse not because she WANTS to hurt you but because persisting as you are leaves her, in her mind, no other choice but to make it even clearer to you that she’s not okay.

Honestly, it sounds like this mare is above your level of experience and skill and I have real concern based on what you’ve written here that the people at the barn she is at are not equipped to help HER (and therefore helping you). It sounds like more of the same old populist paradigm of “you must do XYZ because otherwise the horse will learn they can get away with ABC”. It’s a lot of bull manure, all of it. You’re dealing with a living, breathing animal that would love to get along but cannot for some reason right now. She’s afraid, angry and insecure. She’s telling you she’s afraid, angry and insecure. Please believe her and find yourself someone who is not going to keep feeding you lines about pushing through it.

ETA: you aren’t “doing it wrong”, OP. You are trying to do right by her, and I commend you for that. This just sounds like it’s over your head. I would encourage you not to think about opting not to ride her right now as “giving up/giving in” or as a choice that might lead to her being horrible to ride later on. Address the fears she has right now, without tack involved, without a rider involved. She does not sound like she is truly broke to ride, TBH, but has been shoved through a program and is kind enough to tolerate someone sitting on her without launching them sky high. Even with that in mind, you’d be surprised how much horses are willing to do for you when they trust you are paying attention to their needs.


Ill add that I wholeheartedly agree with everything being said, especially by @Abbie.S. I will add that I do sympathize with your situation and I know how hard it is when you have a trainer and barn mates telling you one thing and your horse and your gut is telling you another.

“Old school” thinking is that you have to be the “bOsS mArE!” And that you cant let them “get away” with anything, because they’ll learn they can take advantage of you. To a degree, that’s all true but when we’re talking about a new horse who pins it’s ears and backs away from you just from walking into her stall, that’s a totally different situation. IMO that’s not a horse that’s being “disrespectful” that’s a horse that has an issue. The issue could be pain or a lack of trust or fear but it’s not that the horse is being deliberately defiant.

I think you should go with your gut, take time off and just play around with the ground work maybe. I also second warwick Schiller videos as he’s really great with doing relaxation: trust stuff.


I agree that this horse could very well be un broke, and have had some unfortunate experiences when people tried to ride her.

I have been working with a fallen through the cracks unbroke mare who was sold as brood mare only, because she bucked off her first owner repeatedly. She was less overall nervous than your pony, but when I picked up a foot, approached her with a bridle, or showed her a long whip, she ran backwards sat down and popped up in front. She was terrified of people trying to get on her.

I have been working with her for a full year. I’m experienced and competent at ground work, liberty, in hand work, and clicker training. In November I sent her to a colt starter for what ended up being 90 days training, after she bucked off my regular coach when we tried to back her. Mare is going nicely w t c for colt starter now but the little bronc panic thing is still there. I had hood rides on her at the colt starters barn, and now need to get on her here at home after our polar vortex thing clears up.

Anyhow, I give you this novel to say that you need to assume that the pony knows nothing, and start from square one.

That’s too much acting out for a broke horse. A broke horse may be nervous under saddle or in a new place but he will usually allow you to bridle, halter, pick up his feet, etc.

From what I see here, you have been sold basically a feral unbroke pony, and no one around you has the skills to deal with this.

Why did your trainer let you buy this horse? Did anyone ride and try the horse?

You have a long and interesting and educational road ahead but you are not going to be ridinf this horse for ateast 6 months. Maybe a year.

You need to find a good colt starter horsemanship person to guide you.


How did she act when you saw her at her previous place? Did you handle her or ride her at all? Or even see her ridden ?

Two weeks is usually plenty of time for a horse to get settled . No way would I just let her be.

Sounds like she is a good candidate for starting from scratch since you have no idea what kind of training she has had.

The fact that she pins her ears at you when you enter the stall and backs away tells me that is where you should start. I have no idea why you would bridle her in the stall, but work at getting her to approach you ( clicker training or treats) so you can get a halter on her and start with groundwork and building some trust with her.

You say you have a “trainer” but what exactly does she do for you? These are things she should be able to work on?


@candyappy @Scribbler She is definitely broke. She comes up to me in the field and lets me halter/lead her just fine. She’s okay with being groomed, minus the back hooves. The reason why I’ve been grooming/bridling in a stall is because the barn is a busy lesson barn, and the lesson horses often pick on her when they walk past, causing her to lash out and kick them. I had her in the aisle for less than a minute last night, and a horse reached out of the stall and clipped her with his teeth, causing her to kick the metal door.

When I went to see her, the seller’s 11 year old daughter rode her just fine. My trainer did come with me when I tried her, though she was a lot less focused on us and more focused on one of her younger students who was also trying a horse out at the same place that day. She was speedy when I tried her, and a bit anxious, but she is controllable. Hasn’t bucked/reared/spooked/bolted since I’ve had her.

Despite the issues, she thinks that this pony is a good match for me, and I don’t disagree. She’s very sweet when she’s not nervous about something, like if I’m just out in the field with her she’ll follow me around. Once I’m on her, she’s fine minus the faster pace. She stops on a dime, and will stand just fine. Her trot is getting better, and by better I mean slower/more controllable. Its too muddy to canter right now, and I want to go slow anyway.

I’ve been taking weekly lessons with this trainer for several years, and she is the one who found this pony. My board now includes 2 lessons a week with this new pony.

So, I don’t think its a matter of her being unbroke, but more of her being anxious in a new place and not being part of a herd (due to her quarantine status). I also believe someone in the past might have done her wrong, which could be part of why she won’t let me pick up her back hooves. But, I’m not an expert and will never claim to be, so once the vet can rule out any other physical issues, it might just take time and experimenting with different housing/feed/handling options.

Slow down. You are going too fast.

Even with your routine it is incorrect to put the bridle in when catching her in the stall.

You want her to come to the door and you put a halter on. Slow down the grooming. When grooming it is when you make the relationship with her. She should enjoy it and want to be with you to groom. When you start riding her you groom the saddle areas first and put the saddle on with the girth extremely loose. You tighten it very slowly as you continue grooming. The bridle is put on last.

The way you speak you are a horse rider, and not yet a horse trainer, even though without knowing it you are actually training her every time you interact with her.

You need a horse trainer to learn from, not horse riders that have only ridden trained horses.


Read this again OP

If your new pony is backing into a corner and pinning her ears when you approach her, you need to STOP and REGROUP. You should address this issue with your pony first before you move on to the next step. When you can walk up to this horse in its stall with a bridle in your hand 3 days in a row with none of the backing up behavior you will be ready to move on to the next step.

The basis of all good horse training is to train each step of a process until the horse has it down pat before moving on to the next step.

Rushing the training by skipping forward before each step is solid is not going to do you any favors.


That sounds dangerous! How wide is the aisle? Skinny aisles and open stall fronts can be dangerous.

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