Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Defiant Horse (?)

My work with Brumby has been pretty good the last few months.  But in some ways the rollercoaster has started on it's downward track.

 I'm sure we've all known horses that could be stubborn. Horses that get tired and try to evade work, maybe try to head for home or even give a buck once in awhile. But I'm used to horses that, for the most part, work with you. In my view, a normal horse is fairly co-operative and willing to learn most of the time. One of the lesson horses I used to ride would get seriously pissed-off if you did something wrong or were too strong in your aids. I consider that within the range of normal - she had a reason for behaving that way and if you did things right she would give you some amazing work.

I am not used to a horse that constantly tests the rider and is generally defiant. This is, apparently, Brumby. A number of months ago I mentioned how much weight he had lost over the winter. His owner was thinking it was the stress of the abscess since he was very lame for quite awhile and was kept inside therefore separated from his buddies. But he just wasn't gaining it back as you would expect of a young gelding with free-choice hay and twice daily grain. About 3 weeks ago, his owner realized he wasn't getting nearly as much grain as other horses his size so she has been increasing it.

Within about a week I started having issues with him again and so did she. Although we were getting some good work in, I was also began having more issues with brakes, bucking, trying to go home...basically anything he could throw out to try to get his way. It is becoming difficult to balance ending on a good note and not letting him get away with the behaviour with not starting a battle I might not be able to finish. 
Not all bad.

His owner says this is the horse she knows him to be and attributes it to the increase in food (which includes sweet feed). She says he gets this attitude from his daddy. But his sire was extremely successful, so it must have been channeled better, I guess. I've mentioned that I think too much sugar could be part of the defiance issue, it doesn't always manifest itself as a "hot" horse in the typical sense. Apparently he was like this at the old barn with a "very bland" diet. But at that time he also had a saddle that was pinching him quite badly.

What do you guys think, is he just a grumpy gelding with a poor work ethic? I know there are a million variables you don't know (or me either, for that matter) but I'm curious if you think some horses just have a strongly defiant attitude and don't really like to work with people.  As I said, I've never met a horse with an attitude quite like this.  Or is it more likely that some outside factor (e.g., feed, pain) is influencing this behaviour. His saddle was professionally fit in the fall by the most respected fitter in our area. He saw the vet for vaccines & herd health stuff in the spring and no issues came up that I know of.

Now, some pictures from a good day. We were working on a gymnastic of 3 jumps - trot in, a one stride, and a bounce. They were only about 2' but it was a very good exercise and not a bad start after not jumping in quite awhile. Hopefully this won't be the last good jumping lesson! I will cry.
Trotting in to the first "jump" the first time through.
The first time through is just two low elements.

One stride to a cavelletti.
Next a bounce was added.

Hmm, I think we took the first cross rail 
out and added this final element at the end. 
This became a little oxer later.
Never a dull moment, anyway.


Jason said...

I'd say it's possible that he might have gotten "hot" from the increase in grain but of course there may be (lots and lots) of other things going on too.

Some grain mixes (think heavy in wheat, oats, barley) are very high in available carbohydrates and are much more likely to provoke this sort of response.

1. You might see if the owner would try a low NSC (low carbohydrate) senior feed where most of the energy comes from fat (as opposed to oats, corn, barley, wheat, etc.) and see if this helps calm him down some.

2. Don't worry too much about the molasses on sweet feed. It's the grain sources under the molasses that are likely causing the problem, not the molasses.

3. If the owner is unwilling or unable to switch feed sources, it might be helpful to increase his current feed *very* slowly to give his stomach microflora time to adapt to the change. By very slowly, I'm thinking no more than a half pound of additional grain over what he was getting per day.

I can explain all of this in a lot more detail if required, but hopefully this will suffice for the moment. You can find additional information in a series of "ask Jason" posts I did on our blog.

Hope all is well in the great white north tonight ! :)

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

It can be so many things, diet, poor tack fit, maybe he would benefit from massage and/or a chiropractor . . . so hard to guess without seeing everything in person a few times. And this is why horses can be so expensive, both financially and emotionally! Yet we keep coming back for more. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with Jason on the grain - my horses get none - just a vitamin and mineral pellet. For weight gain, rice bran or soaked beet pulp will do the trick without increasing the energy level overmuch. If he's grumpy or resistant, there's a bunch of things to check out, some of which you've already done - saddle fit, chiropractic, ulcers, teeth/bit fit - you just have to work through them one by one until you get it sorted. In my experience, there are very few horses that are inherently resistant - they're almost always trying to tell us something.

RuckusButt said...

Thanks so much for the input. This is where being a leaser gets frustrating. I can't make decisions about feed or care. I've made suggestions but even then I feel like it won't be well received if I say too much. After all, I'm only leasing (never mind the fact that I'm putting much of the time & money that otherwise would go into a horse on learning...but I digress).

Jason - thanks for taking the time to write all that out. His feed has already been increased and they did do it at least somewhat gradually. I am certainly no expert, so what I said to the owner was that I thought it is at least possible the behaviour could be feed related, not just in a "I feel better" kind of way. I suggested it might be a good idea to consult with someone who is knowledgeable about equine nutrition and/or her vet. Personally, the fact that he lost so much weight would have been the first clue something was up. Incidentally, I mentioned the weight loss to owner in Feb/March. Just sayin'.

The response was "more is better than less". No kidding. Apparently more of what doesn't matter. I haven't read those posts for awhile, I'll re-read even though I will probably just be frustrated with my inability to actually make changes.

Melissa - it's so true. And this is why I don't own just yet, I know I will totally be the type to try everything to get to the bottom of a problem. I want to do that in financial comfort without changing my standard of living, so I wait impatiently. I'm willing to bet he would benefit from an adjustment/massage. Or several.

Kate - that's the same sense I had, that most often it wasn't an inherent characteristic of the horse. You've had experience with a larger number of horses than I have, so it's nice to hear your point of view. I don't know if that helps my situation any though. Giving advice to horse people is tough at the best of times!

My instructor tried a french link egg butt on him and I liked it. He seemed steadier with it, imo. But I like double jointed bits usually, so I'm biased. Truthfully, the difference wasn't huge. Which could still mean there is a bit fit or tooth issue.

If this were my horse I'd be having a good time conducting mini-experiments until I got him happy, lol.

I'm willing to wait and see how the next while goes but at some point it becomes a matter of personal ethics. If I believe there is an unaddressed underlying issue, I can't continue riding that animal in good faith.

HorseOfCourse said...

French traveller here.

I would say that if all other variables are unchanged, and the change in behaviour came at the same time as the change in feed that makes it the most logical reason (even if one should be cautious with solving problems on the internet...)

Out from your description it sounds like too much grain and too little exercise.
Is he out during daytime?

I agree with Jason and Kate. Something with more fat than grain, or beet pulp might do the trick.

The owner cannot find a misbehaving horse fun either?

RuckusButt said...

Hey Horse of Course, nice to see you here! There are so many possibilities, I agree. I don't expect problems to be solved via internet but it does help to be able to talk about it freely and consider ideas.

It just seems to me that if it was just the way he is it wouldn't change like that...unless he now just has enough energy to act out (?) but it's not like he was starving.

He gets tons of turnout. From about 6am to 9pm every single day in a decent sized pasture with other geldings. He is ridden 5-6 days a week on average.

I will find a way to make these suggestions. I don't think she finds it fun either but she says he's always been that way (news to me) so I guess it seems normal.

Golden the Pony Girl said...

I had a TB like him once. Some horses really are defiant I think. However, I agree with everyone else-- a happy comfortable horse is usually a well behaved horse and even the defiant types will compromise as long as their needs are being met. That is really too bad you can not change his diet. That was the main contributor of whether I could ride my very hot TB. I guess the bright side is he is not your horse :) You are both learning from each other as well. He is making you a better rider for when you fine your better behaved dream horse.

Becky said...

My ex TB was incredibly sensitive to feed--- anything sweet made him completely unreachable--- like giving an ADD kid chocolate and then asking him to math.

He was also the hardest keeper I've ever had. I've never NOT been able to put weight on a horse, till him.

I found the magic combo with beet pulp (two scoops pellets, soak overnight, which turns into a TON of fluffy stuff), Red Cell, carrots and weight gain supplement (the powdered stuff that comes in a bucket). I had to be careful with the Red Cell (too much made him hyper) but the beet pulp, carrots, and the weight gain I could pour into him without any noticeable change. I also let him have free-range oat hay--- as much as he could handle, and kept it light on the alfalfa.

It sucks you're in a lease situation, but I really, REALLY recommend the above feed combo. If you think it would help your cause at all, I could dig up before and after photos of Jubilee when I started him on the above feed schedule.

Out of curiosity with Brumby... is he ring sour? Does he do all that stuff if you trail ride him?

Also... is he imported? I had a friend who came down from Ireland to do a riding internship. He said he LOVED the horses here in America, because while they tended to be a touch flightier, they didn't have the angry, stubborn streak that he was used to back in Ireland. Maybe it is genetic. Good luck!