Aggressive Horse Behavior
You hear so many stories about dangerous horses. Horses that were completely "normal" at one time. Nice, ride-able horses...but at some point they changed. They became resistant, reactive or dangerous under saddle, mean on the ground, and no one can figure out what caused the change. As a result, many of these once loved and well cared for horses are either retired to pasture, sent to auction and kill pens, or euthanized.
Now, I am sure that there are horses out there who are just mean; I am not debating this fact. Although I would say that it's very uncommon for one of our Gaited horses to be "just mean".
I am also not going to debate the fact that there are many reasons why a horse's personality may change for the worse (trauma, abuse, poor care, mistreatment by owners or other caretakers, etc...). But if you have a horse who suddenly changes its personality and you can rule out the obvious causes, it's probably a good bet your horse has some sort of health issue going on.
I've already discussed mouth care (Why it's important to Float a Horse's Teeth) in a previous post.
The following post...
was written by the president of Gaited Advocate Intervention Team, Inc., Denise Parsons. It's an update on one of their rescued horses, Tessa.
This horse found herself in the dealer pipeline and was pulled from the kill buyer with her USDA ship sticker attached to her hide. No telling why she wound up there, although I would like to speculate that her personality issues probably put her there.
A side note about those USDA stickers...They are made not to come off! According to Denise:
"It was all I could do to get the sticker off of her without getting hurt, it had been on for 6 weeks and the glue was not coming off, but I couldn't even touch her with the scissors without having her cross tied and holding a rope halter to keep her from coming at me with ears pinned."
Following is Tessa's Story
Some pretty amazing news update for Tessa from Denise Parsons, President of GAIT, Inc - read through to the bottom, it'll be worth your time!
Tessa arrived from a kill pen with no known history back in November. She was very sick in quarantine and had a hard time getting over the upper respiratory infection. I personally decided to take her to my place to foster once she was done quarantine, thinking I'd be able to get on her, do her evaluation and get her placed for adoption. Her kill pen video showed a very quiet, good moving mare!
Well, when she arrived, I was warned that she was "bitchy". I NEVER want to label a horse, it actually makes me angry when people do that. Animals tend to live up to people's expectations after all and if you expect "bitchy" that's what you're going to get. BUT it was quickly apparent that we had a BIG problem on our hands with Tessa. She wasn't "bitchy" she was EXTREMELY sensitive to touch, evasive and reactive. If you touched her anywhere, even with a hand, behind the shoulder and back, you were immediately met with threats to bite, strike, foot stomping and/or kicking. She was DANGEROUS! She was overly protective of herself and one of the other horses here to the point of snaking and threatening me in the field and paddock.
Step 1. Observation - she wasn't nasty with the other horses. And if I just left her alone, she seemed to be quiet and at peace. So the first thing I did was remove the horse she was protecting. Ivy was ready to move on to her next step for adoption anyway, so I pulled her out of here and moved her to her short-term foster while we looked for her perfect adopter. This gave me the freedom to work with Tessa without her being distracted by Ivy's need to be protected. (read, keep Ivy away from the human at all costs including attacking the human...)
Step 2. Farrier care - Tessa was slightly off in the front, Patty Lynch came and patiently worked with her until she was able to at least get her front feet trimmed. It was a task working on a horse that was threatening to bite or kicked any time you touched her! But she got the fronts done (backs were completely off limits) and she was instantly comfortable after the long toes were cut back and feet balanced. The goal, remove any obvious signs of pain that could be causing her behavior.
Step 3. Diet and Supplements - I immediately started her on a healthy and balanced weight gain diet, she was about a 3 on the body condition score. Also to help relax her, I added organic raspberry leaf, an immune boosters, digestive supplement, magnesium and a calming supplement that contained triptophan. All in hopes of removing stress and dietary imbalances that could be causing her behavior.
Step 4. Ulcers? - ok, any horse that is going to get reactive when touched around the stomach is going to be suspect for ulcers, so I immediately started her on Sucralfate, Aloe Juice and Omeprozole (formulated for horses). And treated for 14 days. Again, remove any source of pain.
Step 5. The Vet - I called the vet in on this one! Blood work was ordered and she was tranquilized so we could safely work on her. Blood was drawn for testing and we tested for pregnancy, hormone levels and lyme. The vet was not able to safely palpate so we had to rely on blood work. FYI - lyme and pregnancy tests both came back negative.
So far, 3 days has elapsed in the above timeline (except for test results) after arrival at my place.
Step 6. Call in more Experts - Ginny Braden volunteered to do a remote reading and talk with her, why not, nothing to lose. She told Ginny that she hurt and she needed to protect herself. Ginny explained to her that everything we would do for her was to help her. We then called trainer, Jeff Michael of Split Creek Equine, and asked him to come do a short training session with her and help evaluate her. She left Jeff completely puzzled and that rarely happens. While he did help get her more responsive to us handling her, she really hadn't made enough progress to make her safe to handle or be around.
Step 7. Dental - since bad teeth can be a huge source of pain, Jeff was able to address her teeth while he was here for the training session. He was able to get her teeth done without sedation, but not without her kicking at various times in the session.
Jump ahead.... After over three weeks of only making a small amount of progress where I could carefully brush her as long as I stayed away from the kicking back end, it was clear more needed to be done. We had a decision to make! Is this mare salvageable?? or is the best thing for her to allow her to go over the rainbow bridge in peace. Clearly she wasn't happy in her own skin, and that is no way for any animal to have to live. In addition she was dangerous to be around, sooner or later someone was going to make a mistake and touch her as they were walking behind her and she WOULD kick them.
So what now??? we've tested, we've done some training, we've given time and good diet to balance any mineral/vitamin deficiency, worked quietly with her daily to make sure she knew she was safe, and at this point, she's still highly dangerous to be around. BUT I wasn't quite ready to give up, she hadn't actually hurt me or anyone else despite the threats and kicks so I felt like she was trying and so should I. She had ample opportunity to be aggressive and bite or swing around and kick, but so far everything she had done was threats and backward kicks away from me (I wasn't stupid enough to walk directly behind her).
There were two more things that we could do that would not be a large financial drain on the rescue. One was to deeply sedate and palpate looking for ovarian cysts or tumors and the other, treat for Lyme even though tests came back negative. The cold weather that blew in took away option one!, it was not safe to heavily sedate a horse in temps hovering in the low 20s. Sooooo - I decided to start her on a 30-day treatment of Doxy while we waited for the weather to get better.
I started Doxy (antibiotics) about 2 1/2 weeks ago, figured it wouldn't hurt her and we would know if it was doing any good at all very quickly. The cost of the formulated granular Doxy was $150 with our rescue discount, a small price to pay if it helped, and not much lost if it didn't. Even though the lyme tests were negative, tests are notorious for false negatives AND the tests don't always show other tick borne diseases.
And here's where we are now - over the past week during the snow and ice storms, I needed to literally comb the ice or snow off of her (blanketing was not an option on a horse that you can't touch!). And I was starting to find less and less resistance to the brushing and combing, I was able to be more and more thorough and started noticing that I could even brush down the belly and flanks, something that was NOT possible before starting Doxy without having her threaten to bite or actually kick out.
Jump one more week ahead to yesterday! The weather finally broke and gave me an opportunity to actually put a rope halter on Miss Tessa and test her reactions. Hard to do when you're bundled up like an eskimo. And guess what! I was able to brush her whole body, belly, flanks, down her legs. Ok, that was a great start - let me push a little further... I got brave and started sacking her out with the lead rope - something that was done with the trainer a couple weeks before starting the Doxy. Before she was evasive, reactive and would not stand, but today, she never moved a muscle as I swung the lead around her neck, body, legs, even had the lead lightly slap under he belly and rump - nothing! No kicking, no ear wringing, just a small grumpy look from time to time. OK - awesome, one last test, I started at the front, carefully (guarding my face and head and hoping she didn't take a bite out of my exposed back and backside), I ran a hand down her front leg - nothing, no reaction!, I picked up the front leg - no stomping, not striking. no swinging the head to threaten to bite! Next frot leg, similar "normal" horse reaction, pick up foot with no negative behavior. Could it be safe enough to move to the back??? Last time anyone touched below the hock, there was instant and violent kicking! Do I dare?? Yep, gotta do it! I carefully ran a hand down the hip, now to the stifle, still good... down the cannon bone - OMG, haven't ever gotten this far before and then... I lifted the hind foot!!! SUCCESS!!! No kicking, no evasive moves, just a lifting of the hind foot like any other normal horse would do.
I am not confident that she's "fixed" one day of success does not indicate a cured horse, especially one with this much dangerous behavior, BUT - folks, I think we're on the right track, God willing. I just ordered a second 30-day course of Doxy for her and will have the trainer out next week to do some more in-depth evaluation of her current state of mind, but we might just have gotten to the root of her problems.
I'm not willing to claim victory yet, but I do at least feel like we've got some hope of bringing what I believe is a VERY nice mare, back to being a safe and sound riding horse. Let's keep the faith.
Love what we do??? Please help support GAIT, Inc. with our mission to help at-risk horses. Your donation to the 501c3 rescue is used to help horses like Tessa and the many others that come into our program. Tessa's Doxy will run $300, the two training sessions are $100 each, her dental was $65, she will have monthly board costs for the next few months of $225. We could use YOUR help to offset these costs. Send your tax-deductible donations to https://www.paypal.me/GaitInc