Sudden onset of resistance in 4yo - Update #44

Ugh…here I go again, but different 4yo. Would love some help narrowing down the possible causes. Just to note, a previous youngster who had similar issues ended up with SI/nerve root issues (and did make a full recovery)…another ended up with acute on chronic pancreatitis…and about a year and a half ago, my other gelding ended up with an EDM diagnosis (confirmed on necropsy). So you can see why two days of behavior issues are giving me major PTSD. I am thinking maybe goldfish…or stuffed animals, as these horses are seriously stressing me out!

So 4yo comes home from 8 months of being started under saddle…great young horse program where he gets exposed to lots of stuff (parades, fire trucks, you name it) and spends majority of the time hacking all over the place. No issues by the time he is ready to come home…though before coming home he gets a deep slice on his chest…no work and limited turnout for 3 weeks because it was a bad cut. That fully heals and he was back to working 2 weeks before coming home.

Comes home 6-7 weeks ago…able to get on and ride right from the get go. He is green to arena work and finding a connection, but that is to be expected. Otherwise is very rideable but not the most balanced in his work. Take our time, lots of walking, sort out tack…all good. Start making lots of good progress. He is super willing, a bit spooky but nothing that bad. I hurt my back so we spend some time just walking and doing low impact work. Then I am better and he spikes a random high fever (gets IV oxytet and exceed…looks like tick illness, but tests all negative). Recovers in a few days and everything seems fine. Ride a bit, then a few days off while I am away. Back on and making really great progress last week.

Yesterday, took him outside and he was a bit up…so lunged and then took him to the indoor to ride. He starts stopping and pawing really aggressively under saddle. Get off, as I figure maybe he has to pee or is colicky. Nope…nothing.

Today…go right to the indoor. While hand walking he is trying to stop and paw. He doesn’t seem to want to itch or pee. So I correct the behavior and move him forward. Get on and he’s having a pawing melt down (we end up standing over the mounting block)…get a few steps…stopping/pawing/backing up. Okay, he’s putting on weight (which he needed to) and girth was pretty snug…let it down a hole. Take off flash attachment (which was loose anyway). Get back on and same behavior…stopping, pawing, backing up. Do some spirals and after about 15 minutes, I get some walking. Lots of praise and we manage to start walking quietly at one end of the ring. Try a bit of trot…he starts half trotting half cantering…very stuck feeling. The more I try to just encourage a trot on light contact the more irritated he gets (little mini bucks - but not a naughty buck you off type). So I give up on that and go back to walking. 1-2 major launch sideways spooks, but ride through those. Able to walk on a loose rein with a few stops/paws that I can circle him out of. Never had a hint of this behavior before.

So…he’s not the type to be naughty just to be naughty. And he’s been in consistent work for some time now. It feels like something is bugging him…but the question is what?

He is on ulcergard for the past 20 days. When he came home, he wasn’t cleaning up food and coat was a bit dull plus some spooking. Given he had been on bute and in with the cut, I just started him on ulcergard…his coat looks great and he is now cleaning up food.

Turnout…he was out all night on grass…so it’s not a lack of time out (out until the bugs got bad, in for a bit and then back out for the night). Been turned out on grass since coming home and acclimating to the different field. He is out solo (was in a group at trainers), but he has my other gelding next to him.

Saddle - the saddle had been fit to him before he went for training…it’s not perfect right now, but it’s not bad either. Also have been using a sheepskin half pad or pad with the sheepskin under to help make sure it’s comfy. He is in a standard eggbutt…flash is fairly loose (I did tighten it a bit one day but lots of head flipping that day).

Farrier did his front shoes Thursday…he rode fine Friday. Not lame…maybe a bit less smooth circling to the left. Have a call into the dentist (was done 8 mo ago)…and will call the vet after the holiday since it’s not an emergency. Call into trainer to see if this ever came up when he first went there.

I do worry about maybe something pinching in his neck as he is riding in much more of a frame…he has been tripping a few times (mostly when he fusses about the contact…he can’t walk and chew gum yet). And he does sometimes loose all steering…which I was chalking up to baby horse, but…

Thanks if you stuck it out to the end of that summary…maybe it’s just a bad day and I am having a bit of PTSD after my last youngster ending up with EDM. This guy is not related but from the same farm (bought him as a yearling).

There’s something wrong physically.

Normal resistance would be balking or bucking in canter transitions or getting mouthy bitey.

I would stay out of the saddle do longe and groundwork for several days and observen


Definitely agree something is wrong…question is what (and how/why)? Also, there is no back soreness to palpation.

Plan to just do some hand walking or easy ground work for a few days until I talk to my vet (she’s great, so if I call her on a holiday she would answer).

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Something is wrong, and it sounds amazingly similar to a COTH blogger’s article I just read:

This young WB ended up having PSSM and it was resolved through diet and a couple other simple measures! Best of luck to you.


Yeah, the PSSM thing jumped right out at me too, particularly now that he’s out on grass. It can also be a 4 y.o. thing, but I’d be wanting to rule out PSSM2, for sure.


PSSM is on my list of things to be concerned about. He has been on grass all spring - at the trainers he was on good KY grass there, so that’s not a new change.

Did talk to trainer and her comment was he’s usually too lazy to bother being naughty.

Also, when he had the fever, we did send out a Lyme test and that was completely negative.

Is he on a full tube of Ulcergard? My first thought was tummy from that behavior.

I had a horse act similar once…not the pawing, but the out of his mind fretting and wanting to throw himself on the ground with some freezing episodes. Turned out he had developed sweet itch and he thought his skin was on fire. The timeline sort of fits, from what you describe; the gnats have gotten bad here just recently so it’s on my mind I guess. Your guy seems a bit young for it to be that bad, but (shrug)


Been on 1/2 tube ulcergard for the past 20 days…the under saddle behavior issue only started yesterday.

One note on Lyme tests - it takes a few weeks for antibodies to build up, so if you tested right away it is possible to get a false negative.

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If he did have ulcers, you’d need a full tube to heal them same as with Gastrogard. And some types of ulcers need different drugs. So it’s possible his tummy has gotten worse in this time.


My first thought was teeth, will be interesting to see if the dentist finds anything…

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I know you said your saddle was fitted to him but that was a while ago , he is growing and gaining weight on top of that. It may look like it fits but he is the ultimate judge of that.

He is also still a baby( of sorts) and they can have bouts of temper tantrums just like any others. You are doing things differently than the trainer ( sounds like) in doing more arena work and he may not be too happy about that. It takes a lot more to do arena work than just –

Not saying it isn’t a medical issue but I would look at overall soreness due to higher demand under saddle.


How did he get a “deep slice” in his chest? Trauma?

With him having that fever I’d be looking at EPM or Lyme. I may be inclined to treat even if the tests came back negative.

Also, at 4 they are still growing and sometimes they have growing pains and stuff hurts. My now 9 YO needed the vet to come out and give IM muscle relaxers because his growing pains were so rough when he was 2. Nothing that was wrong was permanent, he was just having the problem that his bones were growing faster than his ligaments and muscles and it hurt. So it may very well be absolutely nothing ‘wrong’ with your horse, just that he’s having a hard time growing up.

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Trauma of some sort…he was turned out in the indoor at the trainers as they were having bad weather. She only stuck him out there an hour or two and came back and he had blood dripping…chest, but top of the inside of the front leg (not near the girth thankfully). Really odd spot…and they even checked on the cameras and didn’t see him do anything funny.

Definitely could be growing pains, he is butt high. Saddle does need to be worked on so that’s still a possible issue, though seems odd for a sudden melt down over that. He did feel more sore to palpate through the back today. I am leaning towards back pain…whether it’s saddle/growing/something more problematic, I don’t know. He is using different muscles and different work…but I’ve been really mindful of that and not drilling arena work. Lots of walking and breaks on loose rein with short spurts of work…and the overall ride not too long. And some days off. So, while I can’t rule it out…I don’t think I’ve been asking too much of him. And this was a sudden 180* change…not a gradual build up of resistance. Friday he was awesome…Saturday he was having a melt down. And that’s not been his way of coping when things get hard. He’s pretty easy going.

Lyme…we did test and he was negative…maybe we tested too early but there should have been an IgM spike to show early/acute infection. Could run again if the vets think we need to.

After today, I am thinking back soreness…but have a call into the vet clinic for an appointment (and a call to the dentist). Hopefully it is saddle fit and growing pains. But I really don’t think it’s a baby tantrum (at least not without a good reason).

This is for human Lyme testing, and the principle is the same. IgM antibodies need 1-2 weeks to develop, so if you tested right after he spiked a fever they may not have been detectable yet.

I’m certainly not saying it’s Lyme - just that the negative test result should be taken in context of when your vet drew blood.

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Have you longed him with no tack on? How about no tack + some robaxin? That would be valuable info.

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Lyme test probably was done too early…at least he was 100% negative, so if we have to repeat it and something shows up, we know that is a change!

Giving him today off…got on yesterday and got some video for the vets. He was much more annoyed…the day before I could make a little correction and get him going, yesterday he definitely would have unloaded me if I got strong with him. Doesn’t want to turn to the left under saddle. You can circle him to the right to get his feet moving (though it doesn’t mean he will actually walk off). Definitely something physical going on. He did run around the field this morning without issue. Will try a little lunge with and without tack this week to see what his behavior is so I can let the vets know.

Have an appointment in a week at NBC with the sports med vet I’ve used many times…she’s awesome and is squeezing him into her already full schedule. They will also have neuro do a quick screening too. That way if we need to do more imaging or scope for ulcers or something else, they can just do it so we can hopefully find the cause. So frustrating…I’m just hoping for something we can treat and fix.


Really sounds like saddle fit to me. He runs at pasture but won’t move when you get on.

I have never had a young horse have back pain from just growing. Ever.