In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Narcolepsy: Horses that Faint

Our horse faints:
We have a horse in training that seems to have a neurological disorder. When we go to saddle we have to do it slower than usual (slower than more horses get saddled), otherwise he will faint. We did some research and asked our local vet and discovered that might be the Vegas nerve that is triggered when saddling normally or too fast. Furthermore, while riding him he will seem fine in most cases, but once in a while he has his \"moments\". This is where he freezes up and has a glazed look, basically checking out. When we first got him we tried encouraging him to go forward and eventually he would come back, but a bit hyper. Now, anytime he locks up and we squeeze him to go forward it is almost as if he comes back scared and takes off bucking and bolting. The little girl that rides him tends to get in his face a lot and seemed to aggravate him a lot. I hopped on him and he seemed like he was just hyper at first, but after a while he just didn\'t want to work anymore, so I kept him working, but he would freeze up and take off on me when I would encourage him to go. It was scary, but I thought he was just being a bully and kept working him. Now, I believe he has a neurological disorder that he can\'t help. Anyways, I had the little girl ride one of our other horses in lessons while I had her horse in training, since he gets so frustrated from her. After, working alone with him just conditioning he seems very relaxed, but once in a while seems to get a glazed look. He does get excited going on trail rides and stubborn in some cases, but we work through it. That part seems like a typical new barrel horse in training, a hyper horse. I believe this little girl needs to get another horse, due him being dangerous for her. We tried tracing his past to figure this out, but it is hard without his papers, although we did find out he did have a very abusive past. He was starved and beaten when he would have his \"moments\", checking out. He is a good boy 90% of the time, but it\'s just when he is at a show, working consistent tiny circles around a barrel or frustrated in general that he does this. If we could please have your help in finding out this poor animal\'s problem, the symptoms, if there is a cure and how to cure it, that would be most appreciated,


The diagnosis is most likely narcolepsy. 
Having children or strangers ride this horse is out, please, as the child you describe is giving many mixed messages to the horse, which are too overwhelming for him to handle. The saddling has become a prelude to trouble for him, signaling pain and conflict to come. The saddle fit may be part of the problem, and a professional custom fit is in order, along with a comprehensive veterinary examination. What has followed saddling in the past has not been a good deal whatsoever for the horse as you have described, but rather a very frightening and stressful experience, and the horse has learned how to predict the future quite well. He chooses unconsciousness to what has happened in the past.
This horse’s other life needs spruced up immensely, as well. He needs abundant friends, socialization, 24/7 forage, hand-grazing and frequent turnout, and certainly cannot be expected to be healthy stalled most of the day if that is what is going on. 
There may be an organic neurological cause as you suggest from your internet research, but if so, it is aggravated by the current unhealthy schooling and stabling scenario the horse has been made victim to. 
The management and prevention for this narcolepsy is a vast improvement in the husbandry, stabling, riding, and training. All aspects of each always have to be a very good and pleasurable deal for this stress-vulnerable horse. The horse so wants to please people, but when given mixed signals, he checks out altogether, it seems, a protective mechanism related to freezing up. If he is stabled in a stall he needs miles and miles of daily hand-walking and hand grazing, please. After an hour or two of hand walking and grazing he needs a full body massage before saddling if riding is expected to be non-incidental. The rider has to be an experienced equestrian who seldom gives mixed signals to the horse and whose cues are impeccably timed, consistent and refined.  No harsh equipment or bridles, please. The rider must be pair-bonded with the horse, thus the daily extensive hand-walking, grooming, and massage by the rider. These are very simple straightforward measures that you can easily do that will greatly improve the horse’s welfare and fragile outlook on life at the hands of humans. I hope you are not tying the horse’s mouth shut with a noseband when he is being ridden, and using a bit with shanks. It is essential that riding must be a pleasurable and rewarding experience for this horse.
I do not want anyone getting in this horse’s face, please, and I would rather the adults not allow the girl to get in any horse’s face, por favor. The horse always has the word, you know, and this oversight would be for the girls safety along with the horses she rides welfare. These problems are not the horse’s or girl’s fault, but the adults overseeing this scenario.
Make sure you have your favorite veterinarian do a complete physical, lameness, neurological, and dental exam, with an extensive blood work up, as well.
People who know how to make stress-prone horses happy and healthy, have horses that become confident and reliable for them, you know. 
When posed with troubling things horses either flee, fight or freeze, depending on what is available to them. In this case your horse faints, which is an extension of the freeze. 

Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Veterinarian
(406) 995-2266

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.

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