Subject: Ask the Vet
Question: Hi. My daughters pony - 14' 1' welsh D cross age 16 started rearing and napping in the school, he now does it hacking whether on his own or with one or more horses, on familiar and unfamiliar routes. I have had his teeth, back, saddle feet etc done and cannot work out why. A nappy behaviour or a physical reason? It is getting to the point where he will become dangerous for my daughter. Any ideas gratefully received.Thank you,Sue
So if by napping you mean rearing, it appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your daughter’s pony from whatever cause, and it is worsening with time. At age 16, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system as well as the mind. Despite the assurances that there are no physical problems, I still suspect there is discomfort of some sort somewhere. Double check those hocks, please. Make sure a spavin test is performed. The pain that creates the rearing behavior can be from subtle musculoskeletal discomfort that requires extensive investigation utilizing diagnostic imagery.
If it is not pain, it is perhaps the pony’s lack of tolerance for the tack or your daughter’s riding style. As ponies age, they become more sensitive to bit pressure, saddle fit, and are especially sensitive to nosebands that tie their mouth shut. When horses are frustrated with their tack or rider, and do not understand what is being asked of them, they rear. It is possible the horse is being asked to do dressage maneuvers he is no longer able to do because of advancing age and diminishing flexibility. Your daughter must have an extremely soft hand and gentle touch, with no excessive or constant rein or bit pressure so as to avoid having the pony rear all the way over. The release has to be timely when the horse responds to aids and cues. Rein pressure cannot be constantly applied, please. Have the instructor ensure that your daughter’s horsemanship favors the horse, please.
The pony’s stable life has to be fulfilled and content with friends, forage and locomotion. Some horses will express discontent in the arena if they are not getting abundant daily exercise, turnout, and socialization with other horses. The pony should never run out of appropriate forage to chew, as horses with empty stomachs develop ulcers and this can affect their behavior when ridden, so make sure they rule out ulcers. Ulcers are suggestive that the pony’s life is not fulfilled with adequate friends, forage and locomotion. Stalled horses require miles of daily walking and benefit immensely from a few hours of hand grazing each day.
Please have your veterinarian do another thorough physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require yet another thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. Please have a professional evaluate the headstall, bits, saddle, and tack for comfort and fit, and please clean everything. Make sure the horse is groomed and massaged for a half hour before being tacked and ridden. A nice walk ahead of time is also beneficial. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding or rider has started to aggravate. Old ponies can only handle 20% of their body weight atop them, so do the math and make sure your daughter has not gotten too heavy for the pony. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring comprehensive veterinary assessment and therapy. Again, make sure the pony’s non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, MT
Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.