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strange new behavior a mystery

Hi Franklin,

I'm writing with great sadness. I just came back from Europe, where I was looking for a young horse to come along behind my beloved 4th level/PSG dutch warmblood, gelding, whom I have had for almost six years. The woman who took care of my farm asked me if she could ride him, and I said no, he should have a little holiday while I was away. When I went to put his double bridle on the day after I returned, he ran backwards and it took me ten minutes to get it on. The next day, he ran backwards and broke the shelves that were attached to the wall. Subsequently, I have had to bridle him in his stall, with him fighting me every step of the way. After four days of this, I switched to his snaffle bridle, with similar results. He has no problem with his halter or fly mask. He lets me rub his ears and poll and neck. He nuzzles me and acts just like the friend and partner he has been to me all along, but the bridle is a terrible issue. Today, he didn't want me to pull the bridle off after I had ridden him. I am completely at a loss, as it seems to be a behavioral issue as opposed to a medical problem. My dentist from the university will be arriving to do all of my horses' teeth next weekend, but in the interim, I am sick at heart. The woman who cared for the farm says nothing out of the ordinary occurred while I was gone. Can you please offer an opinion as to what I can do? The horse has been the best teacher and friend and partner I have ever had, and I just want to lean my head against his neck and sob.

Thanks, Patty

Hi Patty,

Well, something happened. Extreme changes in behavior for horses never just 'happens.' The barn manager may not have had anything to do with it or did not actually see anything. But something did happen. I would keep your eyes on the prize of TRUST exclusively for a little while and not worry about riding.

Do a lot on the ground and keep it fun. Handle his head and mouth a lot. Rub his upper gum just in front of his upper teeth. If you get it right it will release endorphins and sort of put him in a very relaxed state. The more you can successfully handle his mouth and head the better. At some point when you feel all is good, very skillfully introduce some sort of simple bridle (no drop nose bands, no double bridle, just a very simple headstall and light snaffle). Just put it on and take it off and if all goes well put the horse immediately away. Everytime you get it on him successfully, immediately put him away. This is the big reward and you should do it for a few days. Have the bridle be a little long on him so as to make certain he does not catch his chin on any curb chain or strap. Make certain it doesn't hit his teeth. Again don't ride for a week or two and only play and re-introduce the bridle. Be skillful, precise and go slow. In fact, slo-mo is a great way to get a horse used to something it is afraid of. If you can get so you can bridle him slowly and precisely, you'll be in good shape.

Sincerely, Franklin

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