Thoroughbred Owner Needs Our Help!

I got an e-mail from my good friend Ktlyn615 about a horse and owner at her barn that needs some help. I know that you all have the most wonderful, creative solutions to issues so I want to see what your thoughts or ideas are. My heart goes out to this woman because my sweet Mexican General had a rearing problem when I got him and we were able to work though it. Here is what is going on…

A friend of Ktlyn615’s has a thoroughbred that she got for free about a year ago. The woman who owned him prior to her couldn’t ride him…she kept falling off. They are pretty sure he never raced and he has come a long way in a year her friend has had him. He has developed a lot of muscle, and is wonderful to ride. He gets scared pretty easily on the ground, he is super sensitive to noise and shadows and he can be pretty spooky sometimes. But he is an absolute teddy bear and when he gets scared he doesnt try to hurt you, he kind of just panics.

So here is the problem she is having. About 2 months ago she was tacking him up in his stall/runout (the door was open to the outside) as she always did. She put his saddle on and the girth, and the girth was snug but not at all tight. He was fine, not girthy or anything. But when he went to take a step forward, he freaked out, reared, and flipped over. Since then he intermittently has done this. She has tried different tack, a girth cover, tacking him up in different areas, but mostly the same reaction. Sometimes he doesn’t freak out so bad that he flips over but still gets pretty nervous. So a week or so ago she started him on an antacid, thinking it must be ulcers. (even though he has been PERFECT to ride, no issues mounting or under saddle at all). This did help, and since he has been on the antacid he hasn’t been rearing for tacking up.
But, the other day the farrier came to do his feet. He has seen this farrier many times before and it has never been an issue. Someone was holding him and he reared 4 or 5 times, once flipping over and tearing a blanket bar off of a stall door. And we have no idea why. The vet said she had no ideas as to why he was flipping over.

So here is my question to my amazing readers…Why do you think this horse is rearing and flipping over? Is there anyone out there who has any good ideas as to how to get this behavior to stop?

Now Gen used to be like that when I first got him. I mean, he was free because when you would ride him and he would get stressed he would just rear and flip over backwards because he just wanted the stress to end, he didn’t care at all about if he was hurt, he was that overwhelmed. He also SUCKED on cross ties and would rear when you would brush his mane and flip over if you tried to pull it as well as just rearing and breaking the cross ties whenever he felt stressed. When I very first got him I went through 5 halters in 3 weeks as well as countless cross tie ties. Because Gen had the problem on the ground and under saddle and I am crazy I taught Gen to go forward when he was overwhelmed and then look to me for comfort once he was not in full blown panic anymore. Looking back, that was probably not the worlds safest thing to do, but it worked for us at the time, even if it is one of the reasons I am reluctant to bring him out of retirement. Gen has not flipped over backwards in about 3 and a half years (impressive since I have had him over over 5 years and since before that it was at least a few times a year if not more he would do it) but again, I don’t know if my way was the safest way to handle things.

I know that many of you have Thoroughbreds, some of whom are off the track,  and that many of you have horses of all shapes ans sizes who rear or who are anxious. I know that my once anxiety ridden horse is now a giant puppy dog, but I don’t know if I took the right path to get him there. Any and all thoughts are welcome. The barn owner is putting a lot of pressure on this owner to get the problem resolved, which breaks my heart because I was in a similar situation. I am counting on your all! You have never let me down yet so I know someone out there has the answer…

19 thoughts on “Thoroughbred Owner Needs Our Help!

  1. That’s a tough one- it’s a very dangerous situation for everyone who has to handle this horse, and it sounds like the BO or management wants it “cured” as fast as possible.
    There was just a thread on :

    about a horse that all of a sudden started exhibiting dangerous bolting behavior. There may be some suggestions in there for your friend to check into.
    Good luck.

  2. A horse at my barn just had a very similar problem. She is also a TB, never raced I believed. All of a sudden she started freaking out either when the girth was being applied/tightened or being mounted. She would either flip over or collapse to the ground.

    They had all sorts of specialists and vets and tests and what they discovered is that she had nerve problems in her back and that was what was causing her to freak and either flip over or collapse. Unfortunately they didn’t have any treatment plan to help improve this problem so they ended up retiring her. Was a shame because she was otherwise a very nice horse!

    Don’t know if that is what is wrong with this TB but it certainly sounds similar. Sorry I don’t have a better report.

  3. Okay the TB is a Right Brain Extrovert, which is pretty much typical for a TB. Mine cerntly was. She is now a sweet mare. What I ended up doing was get into Parelli.

    You can try for a quick fix but it will come back and bite you and in the butt. Do the program you will have a partner.

  4. Given that I don’t and haven’t ever owned a horse, take this with a grain of salt. But my first instinct is: get a different vet out for a second opinion. Make sure they check for neurological and vision issues as well as the nerve issues Amy Rae suggested above.

  5. I would actually echo Amy Rae here — I wonder if the horse has structural problems in his back that make tightening the girth painful. I would have a specialist vet look at the horse’s back, have an equine chiropractor have a look, and get x-rays and ultrasounds. The horse might benefit from a P3 machine every couple of days, too. His neck might hurt, too, in a way that doesn’t show up when he’s being ridden. I wonder if EPM is a possibility? You all have possums in NJ, right?

    I would guess structural problem, I guess is what I’m saying. My heart definitely goes out to the owner — I hope she finds an answer quickly!!

  6. I read you blog regularly, but don’t post much. But, just wanted to say I love hearing your stories, trials, and tribulations. It’s an inspiration to me with my own current horse also an Appaloosa, that I’m working with towards dressage.

    You might try contacting the owners of Bits and Bytes Farm. They work exclusively with off the track TB’s and have a lot of training knowledge. Their website is

    I feel for her and the horse. My first horse had a lot of issues with bucking/spooking. Despite everything I did, and my trainer did I think eventually she outgrew them simply by aging/life experience.

    Good Luck!

  7. Thank you everyone for the suggestions!!!

    I agree that it could be a back/structural problem, but he has had no problems mounting or while being ridden. He is actually going very well at the moment. Which is why originally she thought ulcers. But also, he is fine when the saddle goes on and the girth. But when he takes a step forward he panics. He panics worse if he is attached to something.

    After treating with the ulcer medication he had gotten better- he would get nervous but not rear. But then the farrier incident. The vet suggested EPM, but then ruled it out because he isnt having any other syptoms.

    The other thing that she had considered is that maybe now it is a habit or a learned behavior that he has. He gets scared so he rears and flips over. Does this sound like it could be a possibility to anyone?? And if so, how do you cure a behavior like that, especially when other people are handling your horse??

    The very frustrating thing for her is he hasnt had this problem (on the cross ties or in hand) in the year she has had him, but now it is becoming a problem. I really hope she comes up with a solution, because is such a sweet, nice horse and he has come so far. I will keep everyone posted!!

  8. I agree with getting the back checked out. All that nervousness could be pain.

    When I read this “He gets scared pretty easily on the ground, he is super sensitive to noise and shadows and he can be pretty spooky sometimes.” I remember some advice I read that said to up the magnesium in the horse’s diet. But, the vet might want to check for a magnesium deficiency before you add the calming supplement. Maybe a hay-only diet too, no grain?

    And, Is his eyesight okay?
    Also, maybe the Gincy Self Bucklin group might have some advice…

  9. Kissing Spine. Have the horse checked for that before trying anything else.

    Common (VERY) in TB’s.

    Behavior modification *IF* Vet clears horse. First and always- eliminate any physical issues.

    Hope all winds up well for everyone though.

    Kiss Genny from me 😉

  10. We have a dead broke 13 yr old Paint who never spooks at anything while you are riding but when we first got him, he kept spooking in the cross ties and would go flying backwards. He didn’t really rear, just moving super fast until he hit a dead end. So we stopped using cross ties and tried just a single tie. That seemed to work slightly better but it would still happen once in a while and this was at two different barns!

    Finally, we started grooming and tacking him in his stall with one of us holding him. This was his safe place where he knew nothing could get him – we’d even keep the door part way closed – just enough that we could get out easily. Eventually we started using a trailer tie in the stall. When we moved barns again, we immediately tried him in their grooming stalls with cross ties. These are two “stalls” next to each other with just a rail between them and open across the front. He’s never had an incident there.

    I sort of feel like he doesn’t like being tied when there’s nothing behind him but he ties to the trailer just fine.

    Anyway, try grooming and tacking in a stall – just wear a helmet and be super aware of what’s going on in case he does go up. I’d even stay in there for a little bit and have him circle on a lead after being tacked just to make sure that going forward feels safe too.

    Good luck!!!

  11. Kissing spine was my first thought too. If he’s flipping himself over all the time, there is a very good chance that he’s hurt himself at some point, or it could have been a problem for a long time that has become increasingly painful. If he were mine, I’d take him for a bone scan to see what his back looks like. You’d be amazed at how a horse can appear completely sound even when his back is a complete mess, but usually if it gets painfully enough they will start letting you know somehow. I really hope she finds a solution soon. I’m sure she loves her horse very much and it must be incredibly frustrating and scary.

  12. I think you have already got a lot of good info here to try.

    My horse (non raced TB) freaks out in the cross ties but only before he is ridden. He is 14 and I have had him all his life so I know him well but have no idea why he rushes backwards while tied. He doesn’t rear.

    My trainer suggested I lunge him before I do anything, even before I groom him. So we do that and then I never rush him, always take my time and stay relaxed. I never tie him to anything anymore, just have everything ready before hand so its right there.

    After he has been worked and we are done for the day I can put him in the cross ties and he is always fine then, so if I need to do anything else with him I do it after being worked.

    Good luck and keep us posted.

  13. I knew a horse that was out in her poll ( sp?) and they think it was pinching a nerve. Every time pressure was exerted, whether by a halter orbridle, she would rear and did flip a few times. Everyone thought the horse was a wild card and was just misbehaving.

    A very qualified vet missed the diagnosis.

    It took a chiropractor to figure out what was wrong. They did one round of injections in the spot she was out and have kept up with routine chiro visits and the mate has bee fine for years.

  14. I would agree there may be a nerve issue. I know that their is a nerve near the girth area or back (can’t remember) but when cinching it can cause the horse to fall down. It’s happened to Laz twice since I’ve had him and I always cinch up slowly and over a few minutes and it still happened. Instead of rearing though, he just fell to the ground on his front knees. Still scary.
    I have also heard that once they flip, they can do MAJOR nerve damage (its fixable most of the time) in their backs so it may be it’s worse now that he’s flipped over a few times.
    I would seek a Chiro’s help to see if it helps before it turns into a mental issue. Perhaps slowing down their routine and taking it back a few steps will help her horse mentally. Sometimes we have to stop and re visit basic steps.
    Good luck to her friend, I’m sure she will find the solution.

  15. I agree get him checked by a Chiropractor. But, on a behavioral note… has she tried just walking him backwards first before walking off to change the pattern that he’s gotten into? I was watching a Monty Roberts video and he teaches all his horses to take a step backwards before walking off at the mounting block so that they don’t start getting the idea they can just go and leave you hanging mid mount. It might work for this too if she’s ruled out all medical issues.

  16. I agree that she should get him checked out by a chiropractor and more then one vet to make sure that it’s not a physical issue.

    But, on a behavior note, has she tried backing him up a step or two before walking forward? This would break the habit he’s gotten used to being in. I saw Monty Roberts talk about how he teaches all his horses to take a step back before walking away at the mounting block so that they never get the idea that it’s okay to just walk off on you mid mount at the mounting block. Just a thought.

  17. I’ve had a similar training issue with my TB, though not to the extent of flipping over. When he is startled or upset by something, his MO is to go backwards. If he’s tied and can’t go back and get away, he sticks around and fights, which includes some lovely rearing. I did the same thing with him that you did with Gen OTB. We worked very hard on getting forward … leading, longing, groundwork, under saddle.

    I’ve also done a lot of work with him to put his head down any time I put pressure on his poll either with my hand or a halter. This was tough going at first, because for a long time any time I put pressure there he’d throw his head up. But he eventually learned to put it down, and now with the slightest tug or tap he’ll drop his head. And now I rarely have issues with him rearing or going back while tied. He will get spooked and occassionally pop up a bit, but when he feels that pressure on the top of his head he stops immediately and puts it down. It’s take us a good year and half to get to this point, but the time and patience has really paid off and made him a lot safer to handle!

  18. It seems that everyone is pretty unanimous in that the horse should be checked for health problems, to me, this is the first thing to check for.

    I recently read a quote that really inspired and challenged me: ‘First, seek to understand, and then seek to be understood’
    Its great that you’ve written this post, because its evident that you and your friend are trying to understand the situation, so that you can do your best for the horse.

    One thing that I am pretty convinced about, is that everything a horse does is for a reason, and its our job to find what that reason is! Is it pain-related? Fear-related? Stress-related? Dominance-related? And is the behaviour instinct-based or learned-behaviour?

    If you’d be interested in learning about different horse types, and what motivates them, have a look at the Parelli horsenalities here:

    Hope you manage to help the horse soon!
    Kerrin Koetsier
    Parelli Central

  19. I would not rule out a medical condition, but in the mean time I would change his environment where the incidents are happening. I would not saddle him anywhere but in an open area not tied. This will help with safety of the person doing the saddling and if he is on soft ground could save him from head and back injuries if he decided to go over. I would also re-start the sacking out training as if he is a baby. This should help his confidence and the riders confidence in handling. good luck

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