Tag Archives: behavior

Horses and Headshaking: Symptoms and Remedies

Marijke van de Water

A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER, B.SC., DHMS

Question: I have an 18 year old horse who has been head shaking for several months. He only used to do it when we rode but it is now almost constant. I’ve tried everything from diet changes to medications but have had no success. I am at a loss as to how I can help him.

Answer from Marijke van de Water: Head-shaking syndrome symptoms include flinging and jerking the head – sometimes violently – sneezing, scratching, nose-rubbing and any other activities that seem to give them relief, including blowing the nose, holding the nose under water or sticking their heads into trees or corners. They often become lethargic and/or depressed as the constant discomfort “gets them down”. Many of these horses have been tested with blood work, X-rays, scopes and/or scans but unfortunately most times there are no positive results.
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Young filly busts through fences to get to lead mare

Question from New Zealand: I have been working through your site for answers to a lot of questions  :-)  and have found it invaluable as I work with my wild caught mare who is now 7 yrs old.  She was only broken in at 5 and then we just got her home and a couple of months later she broke her foot.  So after a year out with that I’m starting her all over again. She was trained by Trisha Wren who’s methods are similar to your own.

BUT the issue is with her little paddock mate.  A warmblood 3yr old, almost 4yr filly (Pipsqueak) who each time I take Charity away from her gallops and bucks around her paddock.  The last time she wasn’t even out of site but took off around her paddock and chest crashed a gate twice.  The 3rd time she knocked it off it’s hinges.  Very luck for us she didn’t cut herself but it must have bruised. Many times I thought she was going to jump the gate. Now she hasn’t always been like this.
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My Horse Changes Direction With NO Warning!

Question: Hi April, I have a quarter horse that is 7 years old (gelding) that walks, trots and canters. Turns on the forehand, sidepasses.  For the last 4 weeks he has been doing the strangest direction change at a canter.  He will all of sudden decides he doesn’t want to go that way and will change without any notice.  Only tends to do it in one direction.  He also has started around the same time running into the corners of the arena. We have no idea why he is doing this.  I have started lunging him more then usual since this began and he is fine when I do it. I walk with him up and down the center of the arena when lunging and he doesn’t do the sudden change at all. But as soon as I ride him he does it.  I have tried putting alot of leg on him at the same point in the arena and pulled on the rein but he manages somehow to do it anyway.  There is no other reasons we can think of why he has started this. He does it with our trainer as well.  I was wondering if there is anything else we can do to control this sudden turns and running into the corner. Thank you.

Answer from April Reeves: Hi Cindy, That is one of the strangest things I have ever heard, but I may have an explanation.
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My jumping pony needs to be calmer: how can I do this?

Question: I have an 8 year old jumping pony. She is 14.2 hands. She seems to be picky on her jumps. She has the one plank that is red and white and she refuses it all the time. When I mount her she may sometimes take off or start rearing with me. After a jump she may sometimes take off but after that she calms down a little. She is scared at almost everything. Once at a show a man started fanning himself with his hat and she whipped around and then continued the next jump. She needs to learn to be a lot calmer but how? Help me.

Answer from April Reeves: This is such an important question and if you read my past posts you will see I say the same thing over and over again. Let’s review this, as we keep coming back to it, time and time again.

Why do horses lose their nerves? Why do they get edgy and do things we don’t want them to do? I want you to really think about this question, because if you can’t answer it, you can’t train or ride your horse past where you are now, and it’s likely you will get worse. The question poses a problem, and within every problem lies the answer. Now – start thinking…

What did you come up with? See if it matches anything I’m about to say.

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Hard bits: where to go from a twisted D ring snaffle?

Question: My horse tends to get very strong while we are jumping. I have a twisted D ring but I just feel as though i cannot stop him. Do you have any suggestions for a bit that is not too harsh, yet will help me slow him down? My trainer told me to look into a D ring with hooks but they are all very expensive.

Also, I read some other answers to similar questions like mine, and all the answers state that it is all the riders fault. I would just like you to know that I am a very good rider and I am never harsh on my horses. I just simply cannot find an appropriate bit, and am looking for suggestions. Your help is appreciated!! Thanks! Olivia

Answer from April Reeves: Hello Olivia. Thanks for asking me this question, as I will be honest and keep it real, but it may not be what you want to hear. I urge you to consider my answer, as it is the only way you will fix your problem.

My first suggestion: consider another coach and get the softest bit you can find. I kid you not, and this is why:

When a rider comes to me with a problem like your having over fences, it has nothing to do with bits and everything to do with lack of a good foundation on a horse (and rider). You won’t solve the problem with a harsher bit: it will only slow down the horse for a few days until that bit also becomes useless, as his mouth gets tougher and tougher and he gets stronger and stronger (ie: his brain). I’m not being mean: I’m just keeping it real.

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Arabian gelding has serious anxiety issues

Question: I have a 10 year old arab that I’ve switched from the Arab circuit to eventing. I bought him as a 5 yr old and did Arab shows for a couple years. He’s a gorgeous horse and an amazing mover, but has a really hard time keeping himself under control. He is always a happy horse, with ears pinned forward. My problem with him is when we get to shows he gets so excited that he literally can’t contain himself. He ends up rearing/jumping/bucking nonstop. I’ve had a chiropractor out, a vet out, and he has no issues with back or saddle fitting. If I take him to school at a place, he’s a pretty good boy. He just really feeds off the commotion of the show. Eventing has been better, he loves to jump and does great on cross country and stadium. But dressage is the first phase and he usually rears and leaps through our test. I’ve tried lunging him for an hour before, and he just gets more excited. We generally get there the night before and that hasn’t made a difference either.
If you have any suggestions on how to get him to calm down, please let me know!!!! He has amazing talent, but he is just like a child with ADHD.
Thanks! Stefanie

Answer from April Reeves: Arabians are one of my favorite breeds: they are highly sensitive and intelligent, and learn fast. And they’re just incredibly beautiful as well.

They also can get a little out of control, which always brings me back to groundwork. An Arabian can never have enough groundwork. It’s great for their minds and they catch on to it faster than many breeds.

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Pushy 8-month-old Cob needs to learn manners.

Question: Hi, I hope you can help. I have had my little cob for about 9 months, at first he was very bossy and wouldn’t even let me touch his face without trying to bite and ears flat back , he got loads better and now I can stroke and even brush his face, he is great to catch and comes when called , but lately, even when  I go to greet him as he comes over when I get there, he puts his ears flat back and does that trying to send me away thing , he will try to bite if I persist in trying to touch him, unless I can get to scratch him in his fave spot. I spend a lot of time with him , he will not let me pick  his feet up most of the time either, I know his previous owner and I know she would hurt him too , how can I get him to respect and trust me, I am rather nervous of him now but I love him and won’t let him down.

Answer from April Reeves: Hello Carol from the UK! I’m glad you spend a lot of time with this horse. It is the best therapy you can give him, short of a few ground lessons that I will give you that should keep you busy for about half a year.

One thing you didn’t mention was whether he was gelded or not. This would make the world of difference if he wasn’t castrated yet. Once that is done, his whole attitude will change. However, even as a young male he should still show respect and manners, as it will carry forward when he is gelded.

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