I can tell by the number of emails I had yesterday and today, that this subject resonates with many, many people.
Enjoy this Part 2 of the spooking / shying horse series, which talks about the physical causes of shying and spooking that I have personally come across in my life. I would love it if you added any details from your own experience in the comments section.
Click here for an alternate audio of Blog Spooking horses Part 2
NOTE: about magnesium supplementation in horses as discussed in the audio.
Dolomite has both calcium and magnesium in it – the Coopers brand of dolomite in Australia has a ratio that suits horses and is excellent where you need to supplement both minerals. Dolomite does not fix a calcium to magnesium imbalance, because it is supplying both minerals in an already good ratio.
I have used magnesium orotate extensively and very successfully with horses for magnesium deficiency. Golden Glow, a mail order company in Queensland has the cheapest magnesium orotate I could find in Australia. Their phone number is 1300 363656.
I have also tried a high grade magnesium oxide, which is used extensively in New Zealand and is much cheaper. It seemed to work fine, but I only used it for a short time because our pasture management makes magnesium supplementation unnecessary – so I do not have enough direct, long term experience with it to recommend it. Feel free to leave a note in the comment section if you have experiences to share with different types of magnesium.
WRITTEN VERSION OF THE AUDIO
Welcome to Part 2 of our series on spooking or shying horses.
So let’s look at some of the causes that we talked about yesterday, in more detail.
Too much too rich food – too much grain, too much sugar.
If horses are fed more than their exercise requirements, you will have them jumping out of their skin and spooking at the drop of a hat. That’s a pretty simple cause and easy fixed. Reduce the grain and the protein and increase the good quality plain grass hay instead. Sugar can be another problem. I am VERY much NOT a fan of molasses in horse feed – it is an abnormal source of sugar for our horses and we know how sugar hypes up our kids, hey? That is only one reason amongst many to not have molasses in our horses feed.
Too little exercise or movement
– Stabled or yarded horses who are young and fit or just have a high play drive – where is all that energy going to go when they cannot kick their heels up around a paddock and play to let off steam? They too can be jumping out of their skin and spooking at the drop of a hat.
Here is another simple answer – get them out in a paddock instead with plenty of room to run around in and a friend to play with.
An imbalance or a deficiency of minerals is another very common physical cause of horses spooking.
We can cause a deficiency of magnesium ( a big spooking cause!) by feeding lucerne chaff or lucerne hay or other feeds which are high in calcium which creates a magnesium imbalance, which in turn can create abnormal nervousness or abnormal aggression.
Most calcium supplements on the market do not have enough magnesium in them for balanced horse requirements, thus can be the cause of nervous behaviour from magnesium imbalance.
Many places in Australia and other places in the world, are magnesium deficient, especially in Spring and Autumn which can have horses acting abnormally nervous or abnormally aggressive as a prelude to the more severe stringhalt symptoms. This problem is made bigger by keeping horses on short grass where there are some weeds that increase magnesium deficiency.
Some vitamin deficiencies can be reflected in nervous behaviour.
Vitamin B supplementation can help some horses. If Vitamin B works, then we should be looking at why a horse is Vitamin B deficient – stress, sugar, not enough good plain grass that contains a wide variety of species naturally occurring to the area. (You can see my bias coming out here.)
Saddle pain can cause a nasty spook.
I once had Bobby leap out from underneath me in what I thought was a spook. He curve his body to look at something rustling in the bushes on the side of the trail just ahead of us and then levitated sideways so hard and fast that I was launched out of the saddle and hit the ground very hard.
It was one of the nastiest falls in my life. I seriously understand how that suddenness, that unpredictability can really cause a serious loss of confidence.
In this case it turned out to be the saddle that pinched him as he curved his body to look at the source of the rustling. My saddle had fitted pretty well with a very good saddle blanket, but as I had put on weight I had not realised how much the additional weight was taking the saddle way, way too close to his withers, ready to pinch at the first wrong pressure.
I felt pretty bad about it once I realised…
Teeth problems can cause a spook.
I once rode out with a lady whose horse was unpredictably running sideways or backwards every now and again. Once I got over my own fright at riding with someone who was behaving like that and dropped backwards, I noticed that it was happening every time she took up contact with the reins.
This problem turned out to be incredibly sharp teeth causing whopping pain to her horse as she used the bit.
Major hormonal problems or even a brain tumour can cause spooky behaviour.
I once had a horse with a brain tumour and I almost got killed with unpredictable spooky behaviour before something happened that had me put her down. The autopsy showed a giant brain tumour, it was a wonder the poor little mare had ever had any OK moments…
Some alternative therapies can get to the bottom of hormonal upsets, identify the cause (food, drugs, environmental toxins) and produce relief from this problem. I have even had some pretty spectacular successes with tumours with alternative therapies. (Not all the time though.)
In part 3 of this series, we are going to talk about all the emotional causes of horses spooking and what you can do about that.