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Ulcers, Lymes, or Burned Out Mare??

I am at wits end, any advice or idea is sincerely appreciated. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place for the future of this talented mare.

As of August 4th, my mare was confirmed Prix St. George with piaffe, tempi’s down to 2’s, and could easily school the halfpass zig-zags from the Grand Prix Special. She was a superstar mare (slightly biased) that caught the attention of many international clinicians- and, best of all, I had done all of the training on her. However, I went from having a Small Tour princess to a training level dud within 10 days, and it has stayed that way since.

After the week of August 4th, my mare started balking two or three times a ride. Nothing too serious, and easily fixed with a walk pirouette or leg yield away from the wall. About four days into the little balks, I decided to take her out on the hills for a week- and she loved it. After a week working in a field, I brought her back to the arena and she had never felt better. Great! Problem solved- just a tad ring sour.

NOPE! Unfortunately, I came off a young horse that following week, and suffered a severe concussion. I was not able to ride from August 13-21, however my trainer rode my mare two or three times over that week. Trainer said she was wonderful once she got through the balkiness.

I competed in a schooling show the weekend of the 26th, which was a complete nightmare and caught us in total entropy. Many factors played into this: the mares at the barn come off regumate towards the end of August (as per the approaching winter season), her hooves had been trimmed too short the day before, and her new turnout schedule had lead her to put on quite a bit of weight pretty quickly. (Come to find out, she was also turned out right across from the stallion). Warmup was a disaster, and I knew she wasn’t feeling herself. Flat-footed, cow-pony trot, cannot hold the canter for more than a stride or two, profuse squirting, moving croup-high, tight through the entire body- all caused by the previously listed factors. Within 15 minutes of the warmup, I got off and called it a day.

After the disaster at the schooling show, I decided to give her the next week off due to her sore feet and Regional Championships. Leading her to and from the field was a 15 minute ordeal as she crawled down the gravel way, her feet still incredibly sore after a week off and applying turpentine twice a day. After catching her in the “founder stance”, I decided to call the vet with the fear of founder coming over me.

Unfortunately, it was laminitis. We pulled x-rays, and they all looked wonderful- no movement of the coffin bone or dropping of the toe. The vet was very confident that she would just need three days of bute and no grass, and she could go back to normal work in 7 days. Within a week, she was sound and happily galloping around her turnout field (which was no longer across from the stallion). The chiropractor came to adjust her, and she was moving wonderfully on the lunge. Everything was looking up.

Or, so I thought. Once she was back under saddle, the balkiness became more aggressive to the point that my trainer no longer felt comfortable working with her. She would lunge perfectly beforehand, only to become a totally different horse to ride. It didn’t matter where she was ridden- indoor, outdoor, field, hills, trail- she would balk and buck at the slightest touch of the leg. It has escalated to the point that I can only walk her.

Can horse’s get ulcers if they aren’t under much stress? The only thing that has changed from June to August would be a slightly more intense training regimen (3 days of hill work, 3 days of arena work as opposed to 5 days arena work). My trainer doesn’t think it is ulcers, as she hasn’t left the farm since June. And I would hate to spend the money on ulcer treatment if that isn’t the case. My trainer mentioned that it could be Lymes Disease or that she is just burned out, but I am not convinced. This mare is my little girl, it breaks my heart to see her be so uncomfortable and angry under saddle. I hesitate to believe that she is burned out because this is all so sudden; she still runs up to me in the field and is perfectly normal on the lunge, I don’t believe a burned out horse would eagerly do those things.

I would also like to add that this horse has never had ANY soundness issues, as perfect as x-rays can get for a 10 year old competing FEI, no history of behavioral issues. The only health issue she has ever had were ulcers in her Larynx in 2015- though she was tighter in the neck and jaw prior to treatment, her work ethic never changed. I am moving across the country the beginning of the year to take a training opportunity, and it wouldn’t be fair to ship her all the way out there if she is going to continue being dangerous and feeling so peculiar. If this isn’t treatable, my only other choice is to retire her at my parent’s house. I struggle to resonate with that possibility, as she doesn’t seem like she doesn’t like Dressage, and this is all so suspiciously sudden to just be burned out. Any advice or ideas???

TL;DR: Perfect mare suddenly becomes dangerously resistant when ridden. Behaves wonderfully on the lunge. Bucks and kicks out once asked to move forward under saddle.

Possible line of reasoning: Gained weight, now unhappy = saddle

Call the vet. Explain what’s been going on. Ask for advice.

This could be Lyme, ulcers, lameness, or a lot of other things. But someone with a toolbox needs to lay eyes on the horse and suss it out.

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I have a mare that became increasingly balky under saddle. Long story short, it turned out to be ulcers. She did not have any of what I considered to be the “typical” symptoms (I.e., going off feed, dropping weight, etc.) and she had not been under what I considered to be stress (she was not competing, lives at home with turnout, not traveling). I started her on ulcergard and could tell a difference by the third day, the difference was astounding. I was shocked that was the issue! I think it is worth trying ulcer treatment to see if you can tell a difference. My understanding is that it may take ten days of treatment to start seeing a difference but hopefully you will see a change sooner. Good luck and keep us posted!

IMO any horse could have ulcers. The potential is always there, because the possibility of horses in a stabled environment, in a training barn, whatever, encountering some sort of stress is very likely. This change in attitude that’s come and, by and large, not left and has even intensified, I would consider scoping the mare. If you don’t want to pay for the scope (~$500 depending on your area), you could diagnose through treatment. Start on a treatment dose of GG and see if things improve. If you see some improvement in the first week, one could imagine she does have ulcers and continue with the treatment.

I would suspect ulcers before Lyme unless she’s exhibiting other signs of Lyme to accompany the attitude change. Shifting lameness? Joint stiffness? Low grade fever? Do you live in an area with ticks?

Speak to your vet about your concerns. This mare sounds like she has a lot of promise, and that you care for her very much. Scoping for ulcers and subsequent treatment can be expensive, and unfortunately, is not foolproof.

You mentioned she was on Regumate. Are her heat cycles bad? Does she cycle irregularly? Does the balky, unhappy behavior align with her cycling? Ovarian cysts came to mind, but this may be a very unlikely culprit.

Ulcers or repro issues would be high on my list, but you need a thorough vet exam. So many things can make them reluctant to go forward. Sore feet, sore backs, suspensory problems, etc. etc.

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Once balking becomes established as an avoidance behavior it can remain in a mare’s toolkit even after the pain is resolved. Thus I d say give her time off and really get to the bottom of things and resist any urge to ride it through. Fighting about it will just ingrain the behavior. Have you considered putting her back on Regumate?

Agree with earlier posters. Try a week of Ulcerguard/Gastroguard. Farmvet has them for $30 a tube. Merial has a $2 rebate on each tube and shipping is free. Order on the telephone and ask Farmvet if purchase qualifies for 5% USEF discount. You’ll know within a few days if GG is the answer and it costs a lot less than a scope.

Certainly ulcers are a possibility, as well as a connection to coming off the Regumate.

But I also have to wonder about her feet. “Trimmed too short” then “feet still incredibly sore after a week off.” Then the “founder stance” and “beginning laminitis”. And your vet said 3 days of bute and 7 days off grass and she’ll be fine? That seems odd to me.

Why was she laminitic in the first place - and are you sure the first instance was actually too short of a trim and not laminitis then? (Not to mention, how does that actually happen - new/different farrier?) Did you put her back on grass after 7 days? What else are you doing to prevent laminitis now? Sore feet would definitely be something that could cause balking.

PS I’m surprised you were cleared to ride after only a week off following a severe concussion. I have a friend that is still suffering post-concussion symptoms after several months and she didn’t even fall off a horse.

This, and S1969’s comments about laminitis. You mentioned she is “galloping around her field,” I would not turn a laminitic horse back out on grass without a muzzle for the rest of the season. I’d put her back on Regumate and do some ground work to get rid of the “balk.” That has been allowed to develop. A walk pirouette or a leg yield does NOT fix a balk. When the horse is saying “no,” you need to make the situation uncomfortable for the horse.

Thank you all so very much for your replies!! I felt like I was shouting into a void until now. To answer your questions:

bitranchy- No fever or unsoundness that I can feel or see. I had her flexed when the vet came out in early October the check her sacroiliac and back for kissing spines. The vet (different from the one that came about the laminitis- that was an on call vet) said she flexed like a five year old and her back/sacroiliac was normal. She had been on regumate year-round since the second year I owned her. This was merely because I went to Florida for a couple months and she began squirting so terribly that I couldn’t ride her around gelding, However she was otherwise fine. When all of this first started in mid-august, the vet recommended that we up her regumate from 12cc to 16cc and see if that made a difference- unfortunately, it didn’t.

S1969- Her new turnout schedule had her out 7 more hours a day (16 vs 9) in a very lush field, and she put on a lot of weight very quickly. Her feet were warm and her overall disposition was very lethargic, along with the “founder stance” led me to call the vet. The vet believed that the trim is what could have set off a very slight laminitis. But we caught it so early that it only would have been a clinical laminitis if she had continued like that for several days (I hope that makes sense). We cut her grain back significantly and gave her 10 days off (with several days of bute). She went to a dry lot for three weeks after that, only going to a grass turnout two weeks ago and for 6 hours vs 16. I think the turnout has allowed her to keep her sanity through all of this. Unfortunately, the farrier is notorious for trimming horses too short (I did not know that!). She now has a farrier that keeps her happily walking up the gravel way.
Also, in regards to the concussion- I make a living riding horses and taking the week off, itself, was financially difficult- especially with all of my girl’s problems.

I wish horses could talk!! Would make this so much easier!! Thanks again, everyone!

Check for saddle fit (especially since she put on weight), ulcers, and hind suspensory issues. Also, I imagine her feet could still be sore even if she’s galloping in turnout.

You dont say where you are located, but I would haul her pretty butt to a well respected clinic and have a full fledged, multi test workup done on her. Good w/out rider, bad w/ rider may indicate something compressing when weight added. Laminitis thing is scary - wonder if it was the extended turnout in lush pasture rather than trim? Ulcers always possible. Too many questions IMO that aren’t necessarily related…


Taking her off Regumate after her being on it year-round could certainly have influenced some or a lot of this behavior. As 2tempe said, lots of questions that may not be related. The laminitic episode, the Regumate, the balking, could all be pieces of a bigger picture or standalone occurrences. I’d consult with a vet, either your current vet or a clinic or school, include all of your concerns and what you’ve told us here. Folks on this BB can offer great insight and ideas, but the best idea is to get on the phone with a vet. Good luck!

We can all guess on Lyme’s or ulcers, but these need to be specifically ruled in or out by your vet based on exam and testing. Based on the description and the waxing and waning, neither of these would be particularly high on my list of things to check into right now.

I am not familiar with mares, other than being a human version myself, so can’t speak to issues with Regumate, etc.

Balking can be a learned behavior, a way of communicating displeasure with an activity, or it can be the result of physical pain, many times back pain. I would add that to your list of issues to look into, despite her chiropractic treatment. My usually very good natured horse was VERY balky at one show this year and I scratched classes…everyone asked me what was wrong with him as this behavior was so out of character for him. It ended up being a bit issue with his curb hooks. Something so minor as tack that is pinching may also cause issues. I certainly do believe horses can be ring sour too, especially at upper levels of competition where they are under pressure to perform. This can be worked on with a variety in training and activities with your horse and simple things, such as some ground work or games, and bonding time with your horse where you are not asking her to do anything more than be herself.

I’d took at mare issues or back issues first, and get an opinion on Lyme’s or ulcers. Once cleared physically, address the tack and behavioral issues if needed. Hopefully you will find out a reason for the behavior. It’s very frustrating when they are out of sorts and you can’t pinpoint why.

Hi everyone- just an update. Not ulcers, not lymes. But, she is testing for EPM on Monday, and from speaking with the vet, it seems that is most likely the case. With the symptoms showing for nearly 4 months, there’s quite a bit of permanent damage that could be done. Retiring from the FEI stage (and competitions in general) is a given. If she test positive, she will be treated and then moved to a retirement farm where she will go out on several acres 24/7 to just be a horse. I will still ride her, but only light/happy work and hacking a couple of days a week. Like they say: “it’s horses.” Heartbreaking, but hopefully she will finally be happy, and that is most important. Thank you, all, for your advice and insights.


Best of luck for you and your mare. Seems she’s in very good hands with you.

I am fascinated by the diagnosis based on the symptoms. OP please let us know the results of the blood test. DD’s mare is so similarly behaved and my vets have never suggested EPM. Thank you and good luck.

Not long after this, I brought my mare home to retire with the diagnostic of EPM with founder as a side effect. We treated the EPM, but the several vets that looked at her all agreed that the founder was quite severe and that they did not feel comfortable giving me a recovery timeframe (ie she’s probably not going to come back from this). Fortunately, the EPM had wreaked very little havoc on her body; so my very wonderful farrier (she is barefoot), kept a keen eye on her hoof growth. In November, I took a position as an Assistant Trainer across the country and left her at home to be an expensive lawn ornament. However, last month, the farrier and barn manager noticed a huge improvement, and the vets cleared her as sound (rock solid, in their words). Blood tests showed that the founder was hormonal, instead of due to the EPM- which makes sense about the regumate and odd cycles. I now have her on a medication/supplement for her hormone imbalance and lamina support. She is doing more than well, so next month, she will join me and we will start our journey back to Grand Prix. Thank you, everyone, for your input and advice. I never thought I would get my little girl back.