Why the internet isn’t the best place for horse training questions and answers (Q & A’s)

This blog title seems a bit strong considering I spend many hours each week answering questions and supplyingRoxy 2006 information over the internet. The internet is a great tool but almost every question I receive involves at least two, living-breathing-thinking beings…typically a human and a horse. Some days I think giving mechanical advice would be easier; pull out the hard drive, replace the clutch…

But I have a passion for horses and the people that go with them. The difficulty is there are so many things involved in the questions that are asked; the riders experience level, the horses training level, the riders interpretation of what the horse was doing, soundness of the horse, soundness of the rider….

I try. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. I am sharing the interaction below between myself and Caryn in hopes of illustrating this point.

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“Stacy,I have a 9 year old Arabian gelding. My problem is he will not go ‘forward’ willingly and with enthusiasm.  This applies mainly to the extended trot and canter.   He is in very good condition and does not have any health or confirmation  issues.  He is a quieter temperament than most arabs I have ridden. Once he understands he accepts things very well – he is not lazy.  He is sensitive – but not.  I stopped riding with spurs about 3 years ago- didn’t make any difference. I think he is actually doing a mild version of sulling with me every time I use my legs or a dressage whip to move forward. I have tried making S’s and squares and getting his hind leg to come under and drive him out of the turn but that doesn’t seem to work for me. I have tried roll-backs but that is hard since I don’t have the forward to begin with.   I think the simple answer to his problem is ask and if I don’t get a response ask harder but I can’t get that to work as I end up feeling like I am “beating” him (which I am) and he just accepts it.  I cannot get much of a response when I use my leg or a dressage whip on him. I’ve been told he is passive-aggressive.  He is a kind horse obviously and I love him so much and am frustrated that I am unable to communicate what I want to him – I am sure if I communicated it correctly he would willing go forward with enthusiam.  One more thing – in the pasture with other hot arabs he is quietly dominant. When they run around he is usually not the one with the most fire – he is a little quieter in comparison to them.  I hope you will help me.  He is truly a beautiful animal from the inside out.”

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Caryn,

Sorry this has taken me so long to get to, maybe you have already solved this issue!

What you are describing reminds me very much of a horse I knew when I was a teenager. For several years I worked at a resort for the shipping company, Maersk, where guests would come and visit for one week at a time. Most had little to no horse experience and I would teach them the basics in the arena and on the trail. One horse, Tate, was sweet but creative. For the first year or so he was fine. I also rode him to maintain his training but….

Tate began to figure out things about the different riders. One common statement made by the new riders was “I don’t want to hurt him” when instructed to use more leg for forward motion. It was a gradual change but after about two years Tate officially wouldn’t move for someone if he sensed that they were not committed. I could jump on and he would move forward on the slightest cue, then they would mount back up and…..nothing.

The interesting part, for those of us who worked there, was thinking back over the progression. It had been slow but by the end a guest could kick him-I mean REALLY kick him and he wouldn’t move. He had learned that he could out last them. And compared to being kicked by his pasture mates the humans best kicks were a joke. And really, who wants to KICK a horse a bunch of times when on vacation.

I am sure your horse didn’t have the same exposure but it does sound like he is applying the same kind of thinking. Unfortunately the answer is that you must outlast him, be more persistent than him. I would recommend going back to some groundwork and making the ‘kiss’ means lope cue. The verbal cue is the warning and then, if he doesn’t respond, follow through without guilt. Actually use the stick and string as firmly as you can.  Don’t be surprised if he kicks out in protest at the string making it happen. Once he knows you’re serious he will respond instead of protesting. And you have been fair because you warned him.

After several days of success with the groundwork then you would move to mounted work. The difficulty will be that he is also likely to protest here.

Ride with Faith,

Stacy Westfall

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Hi Stacy,

It was fascinating reading your reply to me – especially since it has been a year since I asked this question.  I wanted to tell you what ended up happening with this horse so hopefully other horses don’t have to endure what my poor horse did.  Also I would like to add that I am an experienced rider and this is not the first horse I have had that has had to “endure” pain because vets and trainers did not “listen”.

If you re-read my question to you, you will note there were so many conflicting statements that I made.  I said he is not lazy, he is willing and learns quickly, and he is sensitive but he won’t go forward.  What I didn’t say was that I am an experienced rider. Maybe that would have changed your answer and of course you were never able to see the horse AND I had told you he had no health issues.  I should have said no apparent health issues.

Anyway – after extensive testing – ultrasounds, scoping, x-rays, belly taps, blood and liver counts – it was found that a small part of his intestine was inflamed.  Kind of like Irritable Bowl Syndrome.  As soon as we changed him to an all pelleted diet he improved daily. He immediately started moving forward and his movement was so gorgeous I had people hanging on the rail to watch him perform.

I am now struggling with feeding him as I know what makes him feel good but it is so hard on him not to be able to eat and graze like a horse is meant to.  I am experimenting with different feeders and consumed with feeding him and keeping him healthy but the bottom line is he is and always was a willing beautiful animal but his poor tummy hurt and I nor anyone else suspected it.  I feel so badly that I didn’t recognize it.

I had another phenomenal performance horse with PSSM.  Although he was with vets and trainers for 3 years no-one figured it out.  Again,  this horse had a huge heart and simply endured.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me.  I was so desperate when I wrote – and I so appreciate your answer.  I hope I don’t sound ungrateful for your response which made perfect sense.  I know you have a lot of influence and work with a lot of horses and I just had to respond to your response.

Thank you again,

Sincerely,

Caryn

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I appreciated Caryn’s response to my response because it helps me to illustrate the complexity of internet Q &A’s. One of my standard questions is, “Have you had him checked by a vet? Is he sound? Have his teeth been done?”

I should do vet and dental referrals here….because it is true. Look for the physical issues.

But on the internet I have to trust the statement, “He is in very good condition and does not have any health or confirmation  issues.  He is a quieter temperament than most arabs I have ridden.” So I gave the most obvious advice. The advice that fits the largest percentage of horses….wrong in this case…but the most fitting due to the question.Vaquerospinaltap

As Caryn’s horse illustrates, you may have looked at the physical but don’t stop looking there. If you have issues keep asking question not only of trainers but of vets. Vets are no different than doctors. Some graduated at the top of their class…50% didn’t. Some specialize in lameness, others in breeding, others in nutrition. Some make mistakes.

To some it may sound cheesy but often it comes down to trusting your gut. Back in Episode 19 and Episode 22 & 23 when Jac had issues I wasn’t afraid to have him looked at and give him time off. If you don’t have enough experience to have a ‘gut feeling’ then keep going to the experts and for your sake and your horses don’t give up until you are satisfied.

15 Comments

  1. […] This can be a trainer, a vet or an experienced friend…or all of the above. Also remember to check in with your gut as it often can help you with your […]

  2. […] Also remember; One of my standard questions is, “Have you had him checked by a vet? Is he sound? Have his teeth been done?” For more on this please read this blog; Why the internet isn’t the best place…. […]

  3. Ron Nelson on March 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I do agree with your post it is hard to have a blog,Facebook,a family and be only one person and a person leave a small bit of information out that can change your reply and then come back and hit you at the knees! You are one Classy lady and know your latest little adventure. I respect you guys a lot and enjoy all you material. A big pat on the back Stacy

  4. Ron Nelson on March 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    It was quite easy to tell she was an experienced rider frustrated with all her knowledge tools were not working.
    I went thru this with a broke mustang that was a dream to ride in the arena, but was really a handful ouside of the arena they had told me Stacey that he was on the lazy side, not at all. Fortunately for him and tough for me I broke and ankle badly and he got a long period off and when you called the horses in for their feed every night he was first in by a country mile as we say. When I got back on him 7 months later he was no slow horse or lazy horse, he had just had needed good hay and the proper feed mix for this area and I think the big thing was a chance to adjust to new surroundings. So like your lady Stacy my problem was 2 part adjust to a more mountinus surroundings, adjusting to air and getting on good feed. Now he goes for miles up and down big hill at a trot and does not even break a sweat, I do love those American mustangs but you can only ride one horse at a time!

  5. Stacey Pidgeon on March 2, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Fantastic. Thanks for sharing. When I am not getting the response that I require I look at myself first. What am I doing wrong? What am I not communicating? Your response was very appropriate considering the rider described the horse as sound and in good health. It was fantastic of the rider to follow up her gut instinct and get the horse checked out too. Too many people I feel from my experience don’t trust their own gut instinct and get caught up with what other people say. Just like a mother know’s its baby a true horse person knows its horse. I’ve had an experience with a giving Arab (that I broke in myself) too that seemed to skip in the nearside hind leg when riding to the left in a trot. and had trouble with tracking up. After having him looked at by a vet I was told that he had athritus in his fetlock joint, which I thought seemed fair and went along with. I supplemented his diet to support his supposed condition and only rode him for lite pleasure riding. I obtained myself another horse and wasn’t riding my Arab “Foxy” as much and noticed the muscle wastage on rear. I got a reputable chiropractor out who suggested that he had a Sacroiliac displacement and referred me to another reputable vet that could administer a cortisone injection into the joint with an ultrasound. Taking him to the next vet he conducted a few tests with stretches and suggested that he may have a fractured pelvis. With the cost of the x rays being too great and Foxy’s behind being too small for an internal inspection I choose to leave things be and allow Foxy to live out his life as comfortably as he could. That was 5 years ago. Foxy had to be pts only 2 weeks ago. More poor baby just stopped. He stood in the same spot for 2 straight days so he was pts. RIP Foxy.

  6. LEE GALEN on March 2, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Good post Stacy! Those of us who are devoted to and pay attention to our horse’s normal daily behavior become very attuned to any changes in that behavior. Then we must become detectives to figure out exactly what is going on. This horses health issues were more subtle and I’m glad the owner went ahead and had him properly diagnosed.
    I sure understand what you are saying about fixing a horse’s problem via Internet opinions. In my opinion the best thing the Internet can do is give an owner ideas and clues to look for a solution. Sometimes we can benefit from a suggestion that makes us start thinking in a whole new direction!

  7. Kathy Black on March 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Hi from SC! I know to well the gut feeling, back in 2011, my mare, Taffy became lame in an unusable way, she could not back without her back feet flipping over on her coronets. After taking Taffy to a VET, she was diagnosed string halt( then I did not know or ever heard of string halt). It was recommended to remove Taffy from pasture, spray pastures & she should improve & be well in about three months, 6 weeks later, no improvement? I had been reading, trying to understand this string halt? What I was reading was not matching what I thought my horse had. I read deeper and started searching(wasn’t easy, but my gut kept telling me it wasn’t string halt). I dug until I decide to treat for EPM, decided not to test( to many false positive), by reading I new when I started treatment Taffy could get worse. First dose of medicine and boy did I know! For 3 days, Taffy could not pick any if her feet up, I never gave up! 5 & half months of meds everyday, we killed those protzola an Taffy has recovered. Yes, Taffy has a little side effect, but not in her legs or back end, her sight is effected, I can she sees things different, Taffy has learned and still learning to trust me again. When an issue comes up, we work through it, it was frustrating to have to go back to the beginning in training, but God has allowed a Taffy & me to be that team once again! I can’t recommend enough, spend time getting to know your horse in every way & trust your gut!
    Kathy & Taffy

  8. Laurie Clinton on February 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Stacy:
    It is very helpful that you shared this correspondence. Besides the specific good advice for the horse; the larger point of providing enough (and accurate information) data along with asking the right questions is important whether asking for training advice, veterinary advice, or just friendly advice.
    I had an experience years ago when I managed a Cooperative Extension Livestock Adviser group; we would answer questions from people with livestock as part of the program. I received a call from a woman who just couldn’t figure out why her rabbit was so fat. I went through my checklist of what questions to ask and how to ask them (I was fortunate enough to have been taught my an old master of public outreach). Based on my questions, I learned about where the rabbit was kept, how she fed it, etc. I kept asking questions and finally, (at wit’s end) asked if there were other animals with it since she kept the rabbit in a very large enclosure rather than in a cage. Why yes, she replied, the rabbit was in the chicken pen. I asked how the chickens were fed, they were fed from a hanging feeder above the rabbits head. Upon further questioning & having her go out and watch the pen for awhile – she found the rabbit was standing on hind legs and stretching up for an all day feast of chicken feed. Sorry, long story, but one that has done me well in many aspects: make sure I have the entire picture; even if the person telling the story thinks they’ve told me everything. And when I’m telling the story, I make sure the person listens and pictures my story (especially good when dealing with medical doctors). Thanks again for the good advice from your experience.

  9. johanna on February 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    excellent post and response-

  10. Janette on February 28, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    If you didn’t share your wisdom in fear of not being able to diagnose everything, then the seed would never get planted. The seed you plant my not be in the right place every time, but there is a guarantee if you don’t plant the seed at all, it has no chance to grow.
    I have had horses for over 40 years and still learning. Your blog is brilliant at keeping me thinking (questions and answers). As with horse training, you can only make the the suggestion. Then it’s all up to the horse, to choose how to deal with the suggestion.
    Stacy, your passion is precious and rare. Just keep on planting beautiful seeds.

  11. Becky on February 28, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    When I read the first email from the horse owner I knew it was pain related. Arabs are sensitive and VERY willing to please. I also want to point out that not all vets are created equal as Stacy mentioned. We took a horse to FIVE vets before ending up at a university with a REAL answer and proper treatment.
    Stacy, I am starting a youngin’ for the first time in over 20 years. While my discipline is different from Jac’s I am still enjoying the journey you are taking us on with him. Thanks so much for making this available!!

  12. Cathy on February 28, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I really like your response about ‘trusting your gut’. I did that last summer. My horse was behaving in a stressed manner. The vet had just seen him for the first time doing some chiropratic stuff. I kept calling the vet (who I had not worked with in the past). I was speaking with the office staff. Never spoke with the vet. Anyway, I was getting blown off. But, my gut was telling me something different. My regular vet was on vacation. A few days past and my horse was declining rapidly. Finally, I took a very, very strong stance. It was a Friday afternoon and I was waiting for a vet call back and it never came. So, pesty Cathy calls again. There was miscommunication. I demanded meds for my horse. You see, I could tell my horse was dying and I felt he needed an antibiotic. I got what I wanted. My horse improved. My regular Vet came out and said I did the right thing because my horse would have died over the weekend. He had an infection in his system. We believe it was from ticks in his ears (always a problem for him). What really got me is that the chiro vet never called to see how my horse was. Never. And if I hadn’t listened to my gut and fought for my horse over those few days he wouldn’t be thriving today. Yeah, listen to your gut. I am obvioiusly still passionate about this. I was scared and feared a great loss.

  13. Ruth Kaplan on February 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I brought a Palomino reining trained 4 year old stud to you for an evaluation 8 years ago. You helped me decide to geld him and keep him. He has been a wonderful all around horse (he hated reining), but over the years he has gotten “pissy”, sulky, and even started spooking at random things. The more I worked him to the worse he was getting. Last year I took him to Ohio State University and they removed a 5 lb tumor from his sheath! They said it had started growing since he was gelded. He is a very willing and happy horse again!

  14. Sara McNeil on February 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    We also have a similar story. A young horse we were training became very resistant when first saddled, although his behavior for everything else was exemplary. We tried different saddles, pads, and girths, but nothing worked. We never mounted him, but it was clear to our trainer that the saddle was painful, and he was not just acting out. When we had his back x-rayed, we discovered he had kissing spine. Although the vet operated on his vertebrae and corrected the major issues, the memory of the pain made him scared of anything put on his back. We are now training him to pull a cart, and working with him on conquering the fear. You can imagine what would have happened if we had ignored his messages or thought he was just being bad.

  15. Nikki Schleppe on February 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    I have recently had a similar issue with a horse I rescued. After bringing him back to “health” and several vet checks later he still could be described as willing but not., He will trot fairly easily but needs to be pushed hard to canter. You could tell he wanted to please me after all I’ve done to make him feel better but didn’t have it in him. I thought he was stubborn at first or lazy but after some extra ground work and getting him softer in the mouth and other cues he had no refusal in him but still couldn’t seem to do it or not for long and was physically worn out long before he should have been. I knew something wasn’t right but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then he had a couple nose bleeds and I decided to query further into his health. Turns out after some blood work and extensive tests he has a rare auto immune disorder where his body isn’t making platelets. No wonder he’s tired and if it wasn’t for the nose bleeds I may never have known, poor guy. Don’t rule out blood tests and trust your gut, if you’re experienced and you think something is off, it probably is.

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