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Ugh...behavior still not resolved!? (Very long)

Okay…this will be very long…but this is much as a way for me to summarize the past year as to see what we might be missing. There are some past threads on my gelding (the one who broke his ribs)…but I’m going to start a fresh thread, for fresh thoughts and ideas!

Coming 5yo warmblood…I bought him as a late yearling. Summer of 3yo started under saddle. I thought he would be easy and went to start at home, but a rider above scared him, so I sent him to an exceptional trainer who starts young horses. They start with ponying and do a lot of trail riding - this program is exceptional and is about creating confident youngsters. He was there August to April, and came home April as a 4yo.

A month before he came home he had a freak laceration under his chest. 3 weeks off, stitches, antibiotics, bute. Healed beautifully. Went back to work about 10 days prior to coming home.

Came home and was doing really well…still green to ring work but making progress. Started to get a bit spooky. I put him on 1/2 tube Ulcergard given the meds/travel combo. Slightly better about spooking and making solid progress. I had about 2 months riding him at home with things going well.

Memorial Day weekend - best ride ever. Next day take him to the outdoor and he is wild and just acting up (unusual)…lunge and opt not to get on, since this was out of character. Next day, back to indoor and get on. Suddenly very resistant and balky to ride. Stopping and pawing, putting head down, shaking head, cow kicking, won’t move, etc. Decide to go to vet clinic because this is so not him.

First trip to vet clinic in June…xrays show no kissing spines, no lameness, maybe a tiny bit neuro. Maybe an irregular area at C5/6 (it was a stretch), but inject to be sure. I ask vet to scope for ulcers, because why not? Found to have grade 3 ulcers throughout the stomach. Think, yes, we have a reason! He comes home and we treat full tube UG and sucralfate for 6 weeks…no riding/work, just lots of turnout (grass fields). Rescope at 6 weeks…100% healed. Wean off UG, but continue to keep him on sucralfate. Try to ride…first ride not good, but sort of able to walk around. Next day, ride…soon as I put my leg over, he feels like he will launch me and is super anxious, refuses to turn left. Not sensitive to palpation along the back or anywhere. Happy to be groomed. Eating well. Mad about being blanketed. Anxious in general. Very bad about loading on trailer despite having been trailered a lot and being previously easy.

Back to vet clinic. Full work up again. Put lidocaine in mouth and he lunges better. Head CT…only unusual thing is craters where the wolf teeth were removed (his were huge). But, those would have been there since he started under saddle as they were taken out as a 2yo. Nucl scan…two broken ribs on the L - T17 and 18. Yay! An answer! Except later that day he colics from all the sedation (he was also very anxious at the vet and needed more sedation for all the imaging)…fluids and tubing and pulls through. Next day was going to get the ribs ultrasounded…spikes a fever and won’t eat. Tests show anaplasmosis. Sent home on minocycline after a few doses of oxytet.

That was August. We go back up for an ultrasound on the ribs in Sept after he has recovered from the colic and anaplasmosis. Both ribs are showing a fracture and are slightly bent. Plan is to rest 4-6 months. Mind you he was not out with another horse, so the only thing I can think of was he sideswiped a tree when goofing around.

So he is completely off from Sept to March…just lots of turnout and grooming. He became much more relaxed. No spooking, easy to handle. Just a happy dude. Go back for ultrasound of ribs in February - they are deemed healed…some remodeling on the 17th rib and it still has a kink, other rib now looks normal. Cleared to return to work. I decided to send him back to the trainer, so he can start with nice walk trail rides and go back to what was happy work for him. Did full tubes of UG before and after shipping, still on sucralfate.

Trainer gets him, lets him ease in. First ride in outdoor, seems okay, able to walk on a loose rein for a few minutes. Bit fussy to saddle (Western saddle used). Next day…super anxious to saddle (biting at her and pawing). Gets on and he is balking and cow kicking just to walk. Okay…next day, goes on a trail he is super used to with a really quiet horse buddy…he balks and kicks and shakes and tries to throw himself on the ground the entire (walk only on loose rein) ride. Hmmmm…next day pony him only, no bridle, just saddle with no rider…not as dramatic, but still trying to bite her, shaking head and stopping.

Today, she will be trying to pony him with no tack at all…just a nice walk trail ride being ponied without any stuff on him. She doesn’t feel it’s just behavioral, as there was no pressure and he continue to fight the entire walk ride in a place he knew with a pony horse he knows. She says he was always too lazy to fuss that much over anything.

So…if you read all that here are things we know…

  1. Ulcers - has a hx, they were cleared (by scope) and he’s stayed on sucralfate…but maybe he is super prone to them? Going to scope again as that is an easy yes/no.
  2. Has been tested for Lyme - negative.
  3. EPM - top neuro vet said she didn’t feel it was necessary to test him as he didn’t have sx consistent with it.
  4. No kissing spines…have fully assessed that. Not sore to palpation in the back or over the ribs.
  5. Rib fractures…healed as per ultrasound and he had twice as long as suggested to recover
  6. Behavioral…maybe…but when he acted up initially we went right to diagnostics, so we didn’t really reinforce bad behavior. And, he is really anxious now at the trainers, which had disappeared at home when he was just chilling and not working. It’s a familiar place and he was not anxious there before.
  7. Turnout - he gets lots (as in nearly 24/7 unless bad weather or working) so that’s not likely a factor (and currently out with others, so has company).
  8. Nutrition - was on ration balancer and a few (ie 4) alfalfa cubes…we are going to cut out the alfalfa and Vit E for 2 weeks just as a test…though he has been on those for a year and didn’t seem to cause issues prior to him having to go back to work.
  9. Has been scanned, xrayed head to tail and had 8 months of just chilling in the field, so musculoskeletal seems unlikely or would have healed.
  10. Tack is fine - when home, saddle was professionally fitted…trainer is using tack that fits and he was comfortable in before.
  11. Dental - has had routine checks…did have a second opinion on the craters from the wolf teeth and it was deemed to be a non issue by a surgeon.

So, the things I can come up with…ulcers again (will be scoping to check), PSSM/etc (has not been tested)…neuro (and I lost a youngster to EDM 2 years ago…I can’t even begin to process having to go through that again). Or behavioral…I just don’t believe he is this anxious without reason.

Thank you to anyone who made it through that book chapter! He is a super nice horse, so I really am trying to get to the bottom of it. If it is behavioral, he is in the best spot where we can basically start him over…but my gut says that’s not it.


That really sounds like pain. Now a horse can remember pain and be expecting it, but usually they work through that rather than accelerate.

It’s just not how a horse that’s mainly afraid or mainly emotional would respond. Especially throwing himself on the ground. Sounds like the saddle really hurts. IME broken bones can hurt under stress long after they are healed


What stands out here for me is that every time he’s been difficult, you’ve looked and found a real, actual physical reason.

So I’d put “behavioral” at the bottom of the list, and keep looking for what’s causing him pain this time. He’s been through an awful lot, scoping seems like a reasonable first place to look.

You’ve done a really admirable job listening to what he’s trying to tell you. So many people would’ve just called him naughty or a rogue.


Going waaaaaay out on a limb here.
You say cause of the fractured ribs was unknown.
Could this possibly be a genetic equine equivalent of Brittle Bone Disease in humans?
From Google:
The equine bone fragility syndrome (BFS) or silica-associated osteoporosis (SAO) is a chronic and progressive disorder of horses characterized by increased respiratory efforts, exercise intolerance, skeletal deformation, lameness, stiffness, and fractures .


Shot in the dark. Could he be just super sensitive? Have you tried different saddle pad? Different girth? I’ve read stories of people who’ve been through the ringer with a horse only to put them in a 100% sheepskin saddle pad (for example) and end up with a completely different animal. Or like, a tapestry girth very elastic-y rather than a leather girth. I am saying this since he was fussy to pony in a saddle even with no bridle or rider on him. I am curious to hear how he is to pony with no tack at all. I can’t think of many reasons why a horse wouldn’t be able to walk down a trail next to another horse in a content manner.

Will also mention perhaps try some bodywork … massage, equibow, PEMF, to address the muscles/soft tissue. With the other issues he had going on he may have created some painful compensatory patterns in how he holds himself and uses his body naturally.

KUDOS to you! He is super lucky to have you and your dedication to understand what’s truly going on is admirable.


It sounds like pain of some sort to me, as well. We have one in the barn who had an accident-no broken bones but muscle injury which was diagnosed (if you will) because everything else was ruled out w blocks,etc. His whole body is being treated w a class 4 laser and body work. It’s helping. His owner first started w the area she thought was the problem and then went to the full body.


I also have been thinking about tack. You didn’t say anythig about the saddle fitter’s qualifications and experience. Some fitters work with particular brands. It has become more common with English saddles where the fitter also sells that brand.

You said you are riding western. Depending on where you are, someone on this board may know an experienced fitter who specializes in western tack. I’d go so far as to fly them in and pay for a hotel if that is what it takes. A saddle can look like it fits but there may be something about its design and/or construction that is driving your horse’s behavior. The shape of the tree is important. It might not fit your hose’s shape. Typical western saddles are heavy and don’t flex very much with the horse’s movement.

My horse was spooky and I wasn’t quite experienced enough to call myself a re-rider. That made me a 53-year-old begininer. I didn’t have the seat to stick with him. Noises were the problem but he jumped to the left and didn’t bolt. Once I got that figured out and had more experience I could stick with him. Rustling leaves were his biggest challenge.

Don’t give up! Can you ride on a bareback pad without a saddle? .Have someone there with you. Don’t ask him to go anywhere. If he is okay, ask for a few steps. Remember to love on him when he is doing what you want. Try to stay calm. If you are nervous, fearful, or overeact to his behavior he can feel it and will respond accordingly. If you ask for too much too quickly they can get very confused and upset. Their head will usually pop up in the air and their eyes are wide open. I had my horse for 21 years (I had to put him down in July at 28) and I told him he was a good boy the entire time. That was my training secret. Ignore what you don’t want unless it can become dangerous - but stay calm. If you do one thing consistently once a day they will figure it out themselves.

Try to break your tacking up routine into small steps. If something is not quite right go back to a step he does well and restart the steps. Is he okay when you put the pads on? If you rest the saddle on his back and he is quiet, love on him, take if off, and pause a few moments. Don’t do anything else - no cinching, no stirrups banging his belly. Repeat several times. If he will walk a few steps calmly, same idea. Can you get a second person to help? That can help you focus and the other person can help him remain quiet.

Always stop in a good place. Remember they have a 3-second attention span and repetitions are important. I agree, it sounds like a pain response. If he starts objecting when you are putting the saddle on, don’t even think about going any further. If you use a lesson plan with short steps, you may be able to get a handle on what is bothering him. If all you get is 5-10 minutes of success today, stop! Love on him. Give him a treat(s). Go for a quiet walk. It’s worth far more than pushing him to go farther and he falls apart. ALWAYS stop in a good place!


Out of curiousity, was there any sternal damage to go with the fractured ribs? I wonder if enough impact to fracture ribs would also cause trouble at the joint of rib and sternum, which would certainly be aggravated with a saddle and girth. Ribs HURT, and kudos to you for listening to the horse!


So…they ponied without any tack today. He was better. Still very anxious about grooming and spooky/fussing to go into the ring. Some tail swishing and head shaking and trying to rush ahead of the pony horse. But - no stopping/balking and willing to do a bit of trot along with the other horse.

So, the plan is to get him scoped this week for ulcers. And to continue to just pony him in the ring/trails with no tack. Then we are going to add a pad with a elastic surcingle and continue to pony. And just see what his behavior is…and not add something until he seems comfortable.

@Simkie thanks…I’m sure lots of people would have written him off and gotten rough. Luckily the trainer is also one who listens to the horses too and she knew him before this behavior.

@2DogsFarm…that’s a bizarre one! But I would think we would see fractures in other places too? He’s not had any other bone issues crop up.

@Small_Change…nothing else and nothing with the sternum showed on the bone scan. In his case it was the ribs at the very end of the T spine…so I almost wonder if he also tweaked his SI joint too.

Had a long talk with my vet (as the sports vet said just to ace him…um no, I want to find and fix the issue not just drug him!). Anyway, my regular vet said to do the scope and then just start as if he was never broke and give him 4-6 weeks to see if he starts to relax. Also said we can’t rule out neuro…but she felt comfortable saying he didn’t fit the PSSM presentation. She also said he may still have some chronic pain that may never 100% resolve…but he may or may not be able to learn to work through.

He could be sensitive to tack…but we’ve tried different saddles/pads. The fitter I had is super experienced and knows her stuff (she’s been fitting for me for more than 25 years and works on a variety or horses and brands of saddles). The trainer has tried a few different Western saddles and can also try a dressage saddle with some padding. The funny thing is he is more fussy about it going on and calmer when you girth him.

Either way, we are going to pony him sans tack until we get the scope done…then try a pad without the saddle and see what he tells us with each step. But if anyone continues to have any ideas, I’m open to it!


Wow. You’ve been a great owner, trying to work this through. Not second guessing you or the trainer, but just for extra info, does he longe OK with and without tack? Have you had a really good chiro vet check him out? I agree with everyone that he’s trying to tell you that there’s an issue, not just being bad, but sometimes it can be so frustrating to figure out.


So, not entirely. The first day she put him back on the lunge, he seemed okay for a bit and then started with some cow kicking, mostly going to the right on the lunge. That was with saddle but no bridle. He seems better without any tack, but will still kick out but not as balky. When we first had the issues, lunging was an issue with or without tack. Right now we are still trialing different things to get a precise list of current triggers.

He was seen by the top sports med vet and neuro vet at New Bolton. We are trying to get more info together now, but probably will do another consult once we have a bit more info and do the scope. I’ve already put a lot of $$ into diagnostics, and while I will definitely continue to do that to try and fix him…I want to be smart about it.


Remind me, were the ribs the only thing that lit up on his bone scan?

This definitely sounds like pain, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s pain associated with the saddle/girth and then remembered/expected when unsaddled. It would be interesting to see what happens if he’s worked without saddles or surcingle for a while. If the behavior improves, then (like you planned) slowly adding “stuff” like a surcingle, pad, light saddle, heavy saddle, and rider to see how he reacts.

Can you have a bodyworker out and try a massage? Or have your vets done some soft tissue work already? I wouldn’t be one to try chiro on him personally, but if there’s soft tissue scarring or muscle spasms lingering from his injury, that may contribute to his behavior.


Another question about any bodywork that’s been done. I know when I broke some ribs, especially the lower “floating” ribs, I had a lot of pain for a long time after the bones healed. The cartilage and intercostal muscles were angry.

I would try on the ground core exercises and see what kind of bodywork he might tolerate—going slowly since he’s already cranky about grooming. Maybe acupuncture or PEMF or something like that that is more hands off. Or perhaps Rolfing/structural integration type work.

The core exercises to target would be those carrot stretches type exercises to strengthen the multifidus which supports the spine. I imagine he won’t like sternal lifts in the beginning so you can start with just forward bending and side bending as tolerated. And passive ROM movements. I’ve done a lot of that to work on the soft tissue stuff on my horse with the broken scapula, particularly when he was restricted from more active movement. But after getting back into work, he went through a period feeling like he was getting adhesions, and we had to work through that with similar techniques and reintroducing chiro.

For me, dry needling and Rolfing helped a lot. But it also has taken a lot of time. I would be careful about how big the saddle is when you get back to trying a saddle. Western tack may not be ideal given location of the injury. Starting with a surcingle is a good idea to see how he tolerates a girth at all. We also did that with my scapula horse. He wore a surcingle for many weeks for hand walks. Then we switched to his saddle after he seemed to have no issues with girths. But I noticed he had anxiety once we got into the arena and worked on just leading over to the mounting block. So I spent a lot of time working on that and treating him as unbroke for a little bit. (He’s actually very broke but it was clear he was nervous for the first time ever). Just standing by the block. Then laying some weight on, then one stirrup and laying over. Etc. Continuing the hand walks in tack. By the time I did get on, it was a non-event. Your horse has a long ways to go before I would reintroduce normal tack.


I agree with others who suggest it’s pain.

Have you thought about shockwave?

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Yes, the two ribs were all that lit up. The rest of the scan was unremarkable.

Had not done any body work to this point, because to be honest he never palpated sore (even when the ribs were acutely broken!).

So, the interesting thing is he is only cranky since going back to the trainers. At home, I was bringing him in and grooming him a few times a week and he was totally happy and chill about it. It did not provoke any anxiety. But I do think he is now associating it with tack/work…hence the anxiety starting.

Massage or PEMF will be on the list to try once we scope. Maybe they will pick up on some things that are not as obvious. (Any suggestions for someone in the Lexington KY area)?

I sent the trainer a stretchy elastic blanket surcingle…they can start with that. He’s going to be ponied on the trails this week with no tack, so we can see if the anxiety comes down. Then will try the stretchy surcingle, then add a pad with it. I do think we may have to approach this first month or two like he was never broke…and maybe something will click.

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Definitely sounds like pain. The fact that he didn’t palpate reactive with broken ribs and had grade 3 ulcers that went undetected would make me really believe him. If he was happy to be groomed and was previously being ridden, cranky for grooming and reactive on the line seem like even more red flags. Personally, putting a sore reactive horse in a theraband when they aren’t happy and relaxed being ponied with nothing feels like setting him up for more explosive behavior. Asking a horse to get stronger and mentally become more trained when they are in a state of pain does typically end well. You’ve done so much and been really patient with timelines. I’m sure you are more than ready to have a happy performance horse but he’s telling you the best he can that things aren’t right. I’d just let him hang out until you scope and get some body work done. A good body worker often be a huge piece of the puzzle.

I’m also curious about why the trainer isn’t using his tack that’s been fitted to him but rather tack that previously worked? Especially post broken ribs he may not be a candidate for a western saddle with the larger surface area and having to pad up a dressage saddle to work doesn’t seem like a great option either. Is sending your saddle with him not an option?

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Wow, a horse that’s throwing himself to the ground is trying to tell you something. IMHO: that rib area hurt like $&@# once, if not still, and he remembers. Is there a rear cinch on the western saddle? Cowkicking on the lunge line is a loud cry about a problem. My take: this guy needs more time for a very slow return to work. The saddle routine you described sounds like he is anticipating pain from the saddle and then is relieved when you girth it, and it’s not as bad as he thought. Tough road here. Keep us posted!!


Kudos to you for really being thorough! Just a little insight to ribs. I’ve cracked two ribs way back 15 years ago. To this day I have issues with randomly having a rib out of place. Just last week I went to my chiro because my back pain has been unnameable and he found a rib out on each side. The muscle pain after the adjustment was awful and took a week and a half to settle. It’ll take a few more chiro visits to be back to “normal”.

I also once had a dog limping and my vet couldn’t figure it out. Orthopedic couldn’t figure anything out. We essentially did a full body MRI and didn’t find anything. I found a vet who also does chiro and acupuncture and sure enough a rib out. She got it back in place dog hopped off the table 100% sound.

I would def keep up with your slow approach but I’d really really consider the ribs as still possibly a problem.


I agree he is in pain somewhere. If he was mine I would have a message therapist do body work, followed by a chiropractic adjustment done by someone qualified, sure foot pad sessions and Masterson work. The ribs are a problem whether they are directly or indirectly causing his discomfort.

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I think I would try using Bute before working him, to see if it truly is pain. If you get him feeling better using drugs (obviously just for diagnosing, not working full time) and behaviors clear up, then you know something hurts. I think I’ve seen it referred to as a “Bute trial” on here. I know you’re worried about ulcers, but if the scope comes back clean that’s where I’d go next. Start with lungeing (longing? I never know which) without tack and see if you can just get him relaxed and happy doing that.