Ask Horse Journal: 05/99

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Stallion-Like Behavior In Mares
I purchased a seven-year-old warmblood mare that hasn’t had a lot of training and has been able to get away with a lot of things. My concern is I think that she’s hormonally inbalanced. She isn’t by any means fit, but she has a thick cresty neck like a stallion.

She also exhibits a confrontational attitude when handled and worked with on the ground. She has come at me aggressively with ears pinned, rearing and trying to strike me with her front end. She only does this when she’s asked to do something, especially when she’s not in control. If she’s able to hang out and do whatever she likes, she’s sweet. I feel that she could get over this behavior through training, and/or if it’s physical, through medications, etc.

Can the veterinarian perform tests to determine what her hormone levels are' If she’s hormonally imbalanced, what are the treatments, risks and costs associated with this'

-P. Shields
Portland, ME

You are likely on the right track in thinking that training/handling is the key to correcting this mare. She seems to be a type A mare — dominant. She would likely be the leader in a band of horses. She may also actually come from a group of horses where she was the underdog. Many such horses will take out their frustration from that experience on their handlers, who are easier to bully around. On the plus side is that aggressive mares will often perform brilliantly if you can harness that energy.

Such mares are trickier to handle than stallions. While stallions will often test the resolve of every human around them — and enjoy it — mares as a rule will be largely indifferent until a situation arises they don’t like. While a stallion will often posture or threaten, mares are usually dead serious and will hurt you if pushed. Safety is paramount. Never force a situation unless you are in control and willing to use whatever it takes to establish that control.

You may consider handling her with a Chifney bit, which attaches directly to the halter and gives you additional control, especially with a horse who wants to rear and strike. A chain shank run through the mouth, as is commonly done with stallions, is also a valuable tool — in the right hands. Lightly held, it has no adverse effects. A firm hold lets the horse know it is there. In the event she should explode, control is swiftly re-established with no nonsense.

Of course, like any other severe method of restraint and handling, in inexperienced hands a chain in the mouth has the potential for abuse. Please be honest with yourself and seek professional help if you are not experienced in the use of a chain shank. A loose horse with a chain in her mouth is a disaster waiting to happen.

In addition, make full use of routine interaction times to gain her respect. Refuse to enter the stall with feed or hay unless she stands facing you and quiet. When it is time for turnout, stand at the door and make the mare come to you. Never approach her rear end or get directly in front of her in an area where you could be struck. Rushing through gates and stall doorways can be effectively dealt with by establishing control with a chain shank and making the mare stand with you at her shoulder until she is prepared to walk like a lady. No need for yelling or theatrics, simply stand your ground until you get cooperation (odds are she already knows perfectly well what is expected!). If she becomes pushy at the last minute, repeat the exercise. Firmness with consistency will pay off.

While the mare’s hormonal pattern may be partially responsible for her behavior, that is not the same as saying they are abnormal. Cresty necks are common in warmbloods. If she shows marked swings of behavior with her estrus cycle or responds aggressively to other mares that are in season, you may want to consider using an herbal product for mares, hormone therapy designed to keep hormone levels constant and prevent estrus or have the mare spayed (see also May 1997 “Mares Require Finesse”).

A rectal examination to determine if her ovaries are normal may also be indicated. However, if she is cycling normally and shows this same behavior at all times of her cycles, your answer is not likely to lie in hormone levels. Costs for individual hormonal assays vary, depending on what hormone is tested and samples are submitted. Middle-of-the-road price for a single hormone test is $40 to $60.

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Moving From Ground To Saddle
My three-year-old gelding, who I am starting out myself, has developed a new habit of refusing to move forward from my leg when he does not want to go in the particular direction I have chosen. Often this happens when walking away from the barn, but sometimes he will just shut down in the ring.

I only ride him once a week, for about 15 or 20 minutes. Otherwise, I work him on the longe and long lines, where he moves forward beautifully with verbal cues and/or lifting of the whip.

I have tried riding him with a dressage whip and using it to back up my leg when he balks, but he does not react to it, either. This problem is new, and I do not want it to escalate into a major training ordeal, but I know that he must respect and move off of my leg aids.

This horse is a brave, tough fellow who has good ground manners, but he is not the kind of horse who can be bullied into doing something. How best can I school him out of this stubborn behavior'

-Laurel Hickey
Yorktown Heights, NY

This three-year-old is one smart horse. He’s already learned to bully you when you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do, such as leave the barn area or continue work in the ring. The longeing and long lines are good, but you need to make the connection from the ground to the saddle. Instead of just lifting the whip when you longe/long line him, tap him with it, as you will when you use your dressage whip in the saddle.

Since this horse has good ground manners, I know you’ve trained him well. What you’re missing is the leap from ground to saddle. He needs to be able to take those longeing aids and make the connection from that to the saddle. When you’re longeing the horse, your whip is your “leg aid.” He might not fully understand what your leg aids mean when you’re riding, and you might be premature in expecting him to.

Just because at one point he seemed to move forward from your leg doesn’t mean he truly understood what he was doing. It easily could have been a lucky guess. He needs consistency.

Start thinking “riding” during your longeing sessions and begin to ride the horse more times a week. Use your verbal cues from longeing when you’re in the saddle for a while, too, to help with the connection.

It’s not quite clear why you’re riding him so little. At three, your horse is perfectly strong enough for light, regular flatwork. You may need to take a hard, honest look at yourself and your goals as well.

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Thinning Tails
My horse’s tail just gets shorter and shorter. Nothing seems to help. I’ve tried leaving it alone, braiding the tail with material wrapped around the braid and applying Show Sheen and keeping the tail brushed out. I live in a moderately dry area, but my horse came from a similar climate (with a longer tail when I got him). He is on pasture, so I know he is switching at flies and probably getting a few hairs caught on the fence. He is on a good diet and his coat looks good. It’s not just this horse, either. It happens to all horses I own.

This horse is a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. In addition to pasture, he receives one to two flakes of alfalfa per day. In the winter, additional grass hay is fed to supplement for the pasture. On occasion alfalfa pellets are substituted for the alfalfa hay, but he does not eat those well. He gets a mix of corn, oats and barley, additional barley and cracked corn in a ratio of 2:1:1 twice daily, approximately 1.5 lbs. of grain in total per feeding.

To supplement his diet he also gets 3/4 of a cup of corn oil per feeding and 3 oz. of Stride per day. Stride claims to contain a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, digestive enzymes and the maximum level of selenium at 5 ppm.

I don’t know if this is important to the question, but he is also slightly anemic, and vitamins seem to keep him on track. I have friends that feed biotin supplements. They tell me that it works well to increase the growth of hair and hooves but that it can be expensive.

-Crystal Fenton
Walla Walla, WA

Hair loss from tails can be caused by several factors but two stand out in your story. You mention a “dry environment” and that the horse originated in a similar climate. Many areas of the western United States — and feedstuffs/hays grown in these soils — have a high selenium content.

Within the high risk areas are locations where soils are even higher than average in selenium because of contamination by water runoff originating in areas of active or previous mining. Hair loss (mane and tail) is a hallmark of long-term intake of too much selenium. Hoof problems may also be seen.

Because many other areas of the United States are selenium-poor to outright deficient, manufacturers of feeds and vitamin/mineral supplements commonly add selenium. While the level of selenium contained in these products is safe, when added to a diet already rich in selenium problems can result.

You also mentioned that all of your horses develop this problem. Again, this could be related to selenium or could be a mechanical problem. Frequent use of braids, especially tight braids, will cause hair loss. Excessive brushing/combing, particularly to remove knots/tangles, will have the same effect. Use a detangler (see April 1997) before grooming the tail.

Your local agricultural extension agent can tell you if local soils/feeds/hays are high in selenium and may know if hays and grains commonly sold in the region but produced elsewhere have high selenium levels. Check the labels on your grain for added selenium. Selenium is often listed in the guaranteed or average analysis figures and, if it is added to the feed, will also appear on the list of ingredients.

If your diet is high in selenium already, we would suggest you stop feeding Stride because of its selenium content and consult your veterinarian or a nutritionist about changing the diet or your hay and grain.

You can determine the horse’s selenium status with blood tests by your veterinarian. Hair loss from the tail can also be caused by parasites (such as lice or some types of mange mites) or other mineral and vitamin deficiencies. If there are any abnormalities of the skin associated with the areas of hair loss, a veterinary examination to rule these out would be indicated.

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Laundering Tips For Boots, Wraps
Neoprene, assorted cotton weaves and synthetic blends are all technically washable but will age and wear quicker with each washing. Unfortunately, a simple brushing off won’t do for stains and organic matter picked up in a stall, and failure to wash often enough leads to skin problems/infections.

For longest preservation of shape, life of stitching and appearance, without sacrificing cleanliness, machine wash these items separately in mesh laundry bags (group items by color) on gentle/delicate cycle using cold or lukewarm water and a liquid detergent. Wash with Velcro attached to deter it from picking up lint, etc. Use short spin or no spin. Turn the boots/wraps inside out and line dry.

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Barn Tip: Spray Nozzle
If you don’t already have one, equip the hose you use for bathing your horse with an adjustable spray nozzle. The forceful spray is much more effective at removing deep-seated dirt and shampoo residue. It is also extremely useful as a therapeutic device in relieving muscle pain and mobilizing fluid.

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Gentamicin And Vitamin B6
The popular broad-spectrum antibiotic gentamicin can lower plasma vitamin B6 levels by almost 50%. Since levels of all B vitamins may be borderline to low in stressed/ill horses anyway, supplementation with B6 when using gentamicin is advisable. Gentamicin is sold under the trade names Garamycin and Gentocin and is commonly used to treat eye ulcers.

Vitamin B6 is essential for the proper utilization of proteins and their incorporation into structures such as the hoof wall and tendons. B6 is also essential for the normal activity of the enzyme glycogen phosphorylase, which enables the muscles to break down and use their most important source of stored energy. This drop can persist after therapy stops.