The Late-in-Life Restart - kicking when mounted

Looking for some brainstorming from the COTH hive-mind.

I bought a 12 year old mare that was supposedly started, and then she just sat for 6 years - apparently she was a reactive youngster. I bought her as a project/breeding prospect: I knew I’d be putting a lot of work into her. She’s sweet, smart, well-bred (Hanoverian/Russian Latvian), and she passed a PPE. Her breeder also did Clinton Anderson work with her. I have done more groundwork with her, but not the high-pressure CA stuff - just baby basics: stop, go, stay out of my space, don’t barge through me, pick up your feet. Her stifles are weak, but she was a pasture-puff. She gets ponied at the trot in straight lines to build her strength. Her feet were a mess, she now has front shoes on and I’m waiting one more cycle for enough foot to grow to put hinds on. I work with a trainer.

Red flags I noticed as I started working with her: violent reaction to pressure on her head. She broke crossties and flew backwards if she stepped on her lead or if she hit the end of the rope in ground work. She also flew backwards when we first tested the bridle. We can now bridle without an issue but it took me a solid month and a half. We also spent many hours wandering around and hand grazing and stepping on a long lead rope and learning to give to pressure. I taught her basic neck flexions from the ground in a side-pull. She still sucks her tongue back from the bit, and she sucks her tongue back whenever she gets stressed. She no longer flies backwards at pressure, but is sensitive to it. She can tie in her stall. She lunges and longlines.

On her first 2 weeks under saddle, we had no issues. She was relaxed, you could put a foot in the stirrup, flex her head slightly left and right with the reins when you stand on the mounting block, pet her on her belly, hang over her back, swing a leg over, walk and halt on a lunge without an issue. We asked for trot and got one revolution and then a stop and kick with her right hind. We took a few steps back in the program, and just did up-downs for a few days (get on/get off) and she was fine. Added walking and she started kicking again. She now scowls and kicks if you attempt to even touch her when you stand on the mounting block, and even more scowling and kicking if you touch her on the right side standing on the mounting block.

Things we have investigated and ruled out: saddle fit (it’s perfect), kissing spine (nothing on xrays or scanning or palpating), ulcers (no other ulcerish behavior: you can groom her, touch her belly, she eats normally), mare-ishness (we started her on regumate and when she first scowled at legs on her side 2.5 week ago). Bodyworker noticed that her right hip was very tight, she was muscle sore, and that she had SI pain. We’re working on all of this.

What am I missing? Did we go too fast? Do I just need to kick on? Get her out of the round pen? Ditch the saddle? Ditch the bridle and go bitless? She hates her new job/life?

TL;DR: 12 year old mare is being restarted slowly, and stops and kicks when rider is in the saddle on the lunge. Normal triggers have been addressed to no effect. What’s next?

Does she only exhibit this behavior when she’s tacked up? Does she move freely on the lunge without any kicking?

It seems you have ruled out the obvious.

It may general opprobrium from having to actually work for a living after all those years of being a pasture puff.

It may be a soft tissue injury from long ago, and as many COTHers can attest to, it may take some thinking outside the box to pin it down.

If she lunges without any signs of lameness it still may be a problem with saddle fit.

Just because the saddle looks perfect doesn’t mean its still perfect when you sit in it.

Ex: I know someone who bought a very expensive custom saddle and had the fitter come and check it several times. The fitter kept insisting that it fit perfectly and the horse was just being stubborn.

Horse got to the point where it wouldnt let anyone get near him when the saddle was put on. They tried his old saddle and he was perfectly fine, owner had a great ride.

I would check your saddle again or try a different saddle and see if anything changes.

Hope this helps and you find an answer.
Good luck.

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she moves very freely on the lines. She willingly works and moves out. Her long line work is quite advanced - lots of changes of bend and direction. She doesn’t do anything when you tack her up. The most I’ve seen is her facial expression tighten when I tightened the girth too quickly, so we go slowly.

I think my next step is to try bareback or with a vaulting pad because I’ve tried about 7 saddles, with an independent saddle fitter. She’s an extra wide with a well set back wither, and she has a short back. Maybe I need to try more.

if it is a soft tissue injury (maybe from a fall in her pasture) - what is the next step?

are you 100% sure that it is not marish behavior…she hasn’t worked for a long time and now she found out that if she argues (kicking) you back up… Maybe she figured that she won and now she dictates what happens? I know my mare would do this in a heartbeat if I show a weakness…


I would go back to treating for ulcers. I can’t remember the anatomy of the horse’s gut, but the right hand side indicates pain in the hind-gut.

I had something similar, and had the horse scoped. There were remnants of active ulcers. If you say she acts as she did when she arrived, guaranteed she was stressed.

Don’t discount the effect how that horse was managed, or how her training was approached, and how that might have triggered ulcers.

You can either do a gastroscopy or go ahead and treat with omeprazole and sucralfate. Abler, in Austraila, sells reasonable priced omeprazole.

If she has weak stifles and SI pain, perhaps she is too sore to work under saddle right now?

My mare had some mild stifle issues that recurred a few times and needed some time off to heal. She wasn’t visibly lame at the walk. When riding, I could feel she was off slightly at the trot, but cantering was where it really showed up.
Hopefully the back shoes will help your horse when she gets them. Mine was barefoot for her first 12 years, but when the stifles started to be an issue she got 4 shoes (back ones with trailers) and has felt much better since.

I am not 100%, but I also want to give her the benefit of the doubt before I force the issue. If it turns out I need to sit deep and kick on, I will, but I want to make sure I didn’t miss something first. My other mare is a gelding in a mare suit, so I’m rusty in dealing with “mare” behavior.


This is new to me. Thank you for this tidbit. I had the body worker do an accupuncture point scan for ulcers and nothing lit up.

The next step would be to discuss with your vet .

  1. About possible hindgut ulcers. Treatment is different.

  2. Checking her stifles.

  3. Identifying scar tissue from a previous injury. A vet can you pin point where it is and what it feels like.

  4. possible ovarian cyst. This can be quite painful for mares.

There is the possibility that she’s just trying to bully you into not riding her. It’s possible someone in the past inadvertently reinforced this kind of behavior.

But it sounds more pain based to me.

It can be very frustrating trying to find the source of pain .

You may want to cross post this in the Horse Care forum.

There are several regular posters there who can give you some guidance on pain issues.


I have a mare who stood around for several years and I was very surprised at how long it took to get her fit.

I’m a fan of trailers - I’ve seen some radical positive changes in horses with hind end movement when they get trailers. I’ve rehabbed bad stifles before and my go-to was hind shoes, estrone injections and lots of straight lines. Her canter was non-existent when she arrived, she can do a few full revolutions and a long side on the lines now. This is a good thought. Thank you.

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How long did it take you?

Mine wouldn’t kick out - she’s not overly reactive by nature - but she would stop and not want to go forward when I tried to ride her. That was often the first clue she was sore. But she has also been in steady work since I got her and she was five, so luckily I knew right away it was pain and not bad behaviour.
Good luck with your girl. I hope you are able to figure things out.

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Agreed. I knew someone with a mare that had a “touchy back.”

At some point the mare coliced…or it present as a colic, and she went to New Bolton for colic surgery where the vets found a large ovarian cyst. She was euth’d on the table.

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I did a repro exam as part of the prepurchase (ultrasound and manual palpating, back in late December) and the vet noticed no abnormalities. I guess maybe she could have developed one since then…?

I recently tried a saddle that on paper looked great. First ride was wonderful. Looked like it fit. Next 3 rides he HATED IT. Horses don’t always agree with what looks like a perfect fit.


With that in her background, then I would not think it is an ovarian cyst. So I would lean towards testing/treating for potential ulcers.

The mare I referenced had been “difficult” for years during estrus, so my conclusion is that the cyst had been bothering her for a while.

I thought of that too, after I posted that it might not be reproductive. But the days are getting longer and it is getting warmer so she may be getting ready to go into season .

You wont know for sure without another exam. And that is entirely up to you.

I do hope you find an answer.