and the Evil Bitch Mare
So Phoenix lost his Mojo back at the start of January. This has caused a lot of stress on my life for the past month. My Fat Spotted Pony is a baby so he will still have baby spooking and bolting moments every once in a while, but last month it was out of control. It all started about a week before my saddle fitting. That is when I noticed that Phoenix was much more on edge than usual. Normally Phoenix is a pretty laid back pony, but I could tell when I was riding him that he was constantly looking for something to spook at. During my last ride before my saddle fitting, as I was walking him back up the driveway from the ring to the barn, Phoenix spooked so bad that we ended up in the front lawn at the house. I chalked up all these naughty moments to the fact that Phoenix was young and that it was very cold out.
As you all read about, my saddle fitting was a disaster. Phoenix was scared of EVERYTHING. What horse is afraid of a stall door?!?!?! That was just not Phoenix. My baby horse is not afraid of his shadow. At least he didn’t used to be. I have often heard of young horses suddenly changing their attitudes, and I was scared that this was going to be a permanent change, and not for the better. I had hopped that maybe it was just going on an overnight field trip away from home that got him upset. I was optimistic the next time I went to the barn that my normal Phoenix would be back.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Phoenix spooked coming out of the gait from his field and nearly ran me over the day after he got back home. Aside from being pissed at him for being stupid, I was starting to worry that this was just my new horse. Phoenix’s eyes were huge the whole time I was grooming him and he was also such a spooky mess under saddle that I was nervous riding him. We were starting to get into bad horse/rider habits. By the time I had my lesson at the end of that week my trainer was very concerned about Phoenix. Her exact words “I have never seen Phoenix so unconfident. What happened to him? Why is he so scared?”.
That got me thinking about what had changed. The only thing that I could think of was the trip to the fitting, but it didn’t make sense because all this had started before that. Over the next week I worked on inhand stuff and began the process of lunging Phoenix. As I mentioned before, Phoenix and I sort of skipped over that step in his training so it was hard work. Not helped along by the fact that Phoenix was being a total idiot and constantly spooking and trying out his new trick of leaping. I was not a happy camper. My poor back is still sore from him pulling me around. I was also very worried because Phoenix was just in such a state ALL the time. Even in grooming Phoenix he would jump up and back straining against the cross ties at the slightest sound or sudden movement.
Two weeks after the saddle fitting I had reached my breaking point. I had been working on safely challenging Phoenix trying to build his confidence back up, but he seemed to be getting worse instead of better. I didn’t know what to do. I had reached out to friends who practice Parrelli and others who do natural horsemanship. I was willing to try anything to get Phoenix’s confidence back. The Nice Local Trainer (NLT) saw me freaking out in the barn after I had tried to lunge Phoenix one day. Phoenix had spent more time exploding away from me then he had working. I had not seen the NLT in a few weeks and when I told her my problem she told me a story back.
You see, Phoenix had a new neighbor in his little 3 stall barn. The Evil Bitch Mare had moved up top a few weeks prior. Unbeknownst to me, Phoenix and The Evil Bitch Mare were not getting along so well in the stall. In fact, the night before they had made such a ruckus fighting back in forth in their stalls that the NLT could hear them from her bedroom…which is on a second floor of the house, which is not attached to the barn at all, and with the windows closed. They were fighting LOUD!!!! Not only that, but when she came down to check on them they almost broke the wall down between them and there was a clear indent from where Phoenix was throwing himself against the wall.
That got us thinking. What if Phoenix hasn’t been sleeping…in weeks. I ran the theory past the NLT and she not only agreed, but countered with how stressed out Phoenix was all the time in his house. He couldn’t even eat in peace. No sleep, constant stress and fighting over food were a perfect storm for an unhappy horse. We took action right away. With a quick call to PO for approval, musical horse stall began. Phoenix kept his stall because he gets along so well with the stallion who lives next to him. The Evil Bitch Mare got moved below and a sweet old warmblood came up in her place. I cross my fingers that I would see a difference the next day in Phoenix’s behavior.
I was optimistic when I showed up the next day, and you know what. I had reason to be! Phoenix was 80% better already. Instead of multiple explosions, he only spooked once. Not only that, but he was totally fine on the cross ties! It was a huge improvement in a single day. Over a week later Phoenix was almost back to his normal self! I cannot believe that all that stress and strain was caused by a bad neighbor! Who knew that the Evil Bitch Mare had so much power over my Fat Spotted Pony?!?!?!? And it was a great lesson to pay attention to everything in a horses life. I would have never thought to look at who Phoenix was living next to if the NLT had not brought it up. My poor tired pony was trying to tell me something and I wasn’t listening. I am just glad that we figured it out!