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5 Year Old Friesian Issue (swiping the hind leg and more)

Hi Franklin:

Happy New Year to you!

Your site is fantastic and has been a godsend. It should be required reading for all new horse owners/riders.

I am an American Expat living in Europe with a love of horses since I was 6 years old. My strongpoint has always been horse grooming and general upkeep. At one point, I was taking care of racehorse layups when I was 12 years old and walking the barn teaser (with no fear) on the broodmare side of the farm. It was a great way to learn and love these animals gaining a great respect for them in the process.

Fast forward to my early 30's and my love of horses remains the same. However, my confidence has been greatly tested by the recent addition to our family, of a Friesian from Friesland in Holland, recently gelded in September (born in 2003). He is absolutely gorgeous, my total dream horse. After leasing about 5 horse in the States, I have now joined the ranks of an owner and I am a bit nervous!

The 1st one and a half months were especially rough and we did not ride that much, did alot of light longing instead as he was sick with something akin to Shipping Fever. His lymph node swelled and I had to take care of him everyday, which definitely helped the bonding process. He has taken to following me around everywhere with no lead and we definitely have come to some type of understanding. I was really enjoying our bonding time together and he is so happy to see me; he loves to open his stall door and hold out his head for the halter. Always ready to go!

Friesians are known for their calm demeanor and he was such a gentleman during the whole process especially when I had to take his temperature everyday. The lymph node did eventually drain and he is now 100% percent back to normal. He is especially affectionate, extremely curious (his ears are constantly moving, it is fascinating to watch) and we have a good relationship, or so I thought.

My Friesian is now feeling "too" good and I can totally see the change. He has already broken 2 sides of a paddock (it was going to be reconstructed by my Barn Manager with heavier wood but still no excuse), showed some aggressiveness to me while lungeing (he kicked out towards me, started to go into a strong, uncontrolled gallop then stopped and walked to me in the center basically showing he did not want to work anymore - was firm and got him working again but I was like - huh? What is going on). I did not think anything of this only that he was feeling much better than he had in the past. We continued with more work and light riding.

My trainer has suggested we work him in the exercise mill/pen (it is automated with a roof, the horses are between 2 gate looking fixtures and he does about 40 minutes per day). I have not been able to lunge him since the ground has been frozen and the indoor is used for lessons so I cannot lunge in there. I can tell you that he hates this machine (who wouldn't) and knows when he is being lead toward it to plant all fours on the ground and not move at all. I have tried everything and he will not budge!

Finally, the kicker came on Christmas Eve (no pun intended).

After my trainer totally worked him into a sweat, I was just finishing grooming him and was checking for any wetness on him before the blanket was put on. Unfortunately, it seems I may have gotten too close to where the former "twins" were, near where the blanket buckles go (FYI, I touched the whole area and did not even think about it while doing it, just a reflex to make sure he wouldn't start shivering under his blanket if I missed a spot) and he totally caught me by surprise with a side kick to my knee.

Needless to say, I am rainbow colored right now luckily with no real damage. However, my confidence is a bit shot. I mean I had a thermometer up his butt everyday with no problems why would he strike out at me like that? It definitely was a warning kick but not full on. I think my knee would have been broken.

What caused him to do this? Was it the hard work-out? Is he still sensitive in the castrated area? Could he have been sore? Or was he just pissed that we now have him working more? I can tell you that Friesians are known for their above average intelligence and my husband thinks that he got too used to not doing any type of hard work for the 1st 7 weeks and is now all pissy with me.

I am waiting for some new training DVD's and a book to be delivered here from the States (Clinton Anderson). In the meantime, my trainer has given me the broom and a crop just in case he acts up again. But, I would never feel comfortable hitting him since he is usually so gentle mannered. I think he may also have a proud cut problem.

I am now cutting out all treats, being assertive if he enters my space and generally more cautious all around.

Please note, actually riding him is not a problem at all. He is very calm and eager to learn in the ring. You would never know that I am riding a recently gelded horse. He is great and I hope that I did not just jinx myself!

Your thought`s? Was this a one time occurance? Did I mess up?

Thank you.

Hi Catherine,

   Thank you for your kind words. There are probably several things that prompted the 'cow kick' or side-swipe you describe.

First off, your husband may be partially correct that the horse is in the habit of not working. Habits are difficult to change for humans and horses alike. For us to change a habit, we take small, consistent steps gradually and then bigger and bigger ones. It is the same for a horse. So, if the change to a regular work schedule and your trainer getting the animal very worked up all sort of happened quickly, this could be a factor. In this case, I would take the training/exercise under saddle schedule back a notch and allow the horse to gradually adjust to the schedule with lots of reward for attempts at compliance. I do not know how good your trainer is at rewarding the horse for all efforts at compliance. If appropriate reward is left out of your horse's training/schooling, and often times it is, I would not blame the horse for being frustrated and upset at its life. Often times trainers are obsessed with working a horse. A well-rounded, varied progam of work and fun is always a better deal for a horse. Being in Europe, I am guessing you have an old-school sort of traditional trainer. Even young people training horses have had such a traditional orientation to training horses, that their approach is so work orientated as to be very lop-sided. You horse may be getting abused a little as well. European trainers are not known for their gentle way with horses. I work in Europe regularly and I see so many horses that are abused by well meaning but very traditional trainers. Some traditions are great and others, not so good.

   I strongly suggest you create a round pen for yourself and your horse to play in. Stop working the horse occasionally and focus on active and directed play. At 'liberty' play is wonderful for this. You can even do this in a large arena w/o a round pen. Playing at liberty will strengthen your bond of trust with this horse. I would suggest you get your trainer involved, but they would probably scoff at the idea. Even something as different as a bit of trick-training would be directed fun that develops trust, respect, compliance and engages the animal's mind. Much of under saddle training is boring, only physical work and creates frustration in a particularly intelligent animal. Does your trainer really engage the animal's mind as well as its body? I do believe your trainer has a hefty role in the overall attitude and behavior of your horse. Examine this closely.

   As far as the exercise mill is concerned, it was probably sprung on him too fast w/o any good training around it or orientation to the machine. So, now he is very resistant to going into it. I would have gone with a very gradual approach to the machine, walking around in it slowly with him, perhaps putting a good friend of his behind and in front of him, even a mare he would like to follow.

As it is now, he is habituated to resisting it. You have to go back to the beginning and attempt to do as I have suggested to get him willing to participate with the machine. It will take time. One small 'try'-'step' at a time and reward each and every step is always the best way with horses. I doubt if your horse is being rewarded properly and often enough. A good reward is a brief and complete removal of any and all pressure of a request and complete quiet or rest, accompanied by a Good Boy. That's it and all that is required. It is so simple, important and so neglected, especially by a traditional trainer who goes for obediance and over-working a horse to attain training goals. This as opposed to real understanding of and caring about the psychological well-being of equines. A gelded horse should be over the operation in 6 to 8 weeks.

   Clinton is a good trainer. His dvds may or may not be really what you need. But you are receiving them and will definately get some good techniques from them. What is not in the dvds is much information about the mind of the horse aside from a few basic pointers (prey animal, moving away from/in-to pressure, getting it to yield it's hind quarters, etc.). Do not take your trainers advice and be ready to punish the horse (by hitting it). It is always better to be able to provide a consequence for unwanted behavior such as movement (work) rather than punishment. Let me know if you want more on this topic. Do not feed treats from you hand. A cookie at the end of the session in his manger is plenty. A small reward for great effort. Every session should end on a positive note. I do not think this is happening with your trainer and, again, may be part of the problem. It is so easy to sour a nice horse. Setting and always keeping a good boundry is extremely important. Understanding how to do this and being consistent with it is paramount to the development of trust and respect with your horse. Pay attention to your horse at all times and NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING. Constant vigilence, compassion, great leadership and consciousness are always in order.

   I travel to Europe in May (Ireland, UK and Belgium at this point). If you would like some time with me while I am there, let me know. Where are you anyway? Keep me posted and HAPPY NEW YEAR..........

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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