Monday, July 7, 2014

Theories Of Why All Hell Broke Loose

So, in my last post, I told all about what happened when I tried to get on Orion at the new place.  I've talked at length with a few people that I trust in all matters horse and otherwise about it, and these are the things we have come up with.

1. Boss horse who thinks he's a badass mentality
2. Seclusion from other horses during work
3. Pain
4. New place
5. New blanket
6. Bee sting/fly bite (But really, no.)

1. Boss horse who thinks he's a badass mentality.
It quickly became clear, pretty much from the moment he was put in with his new herd, that Orion is going to have a much higher spot in herd dynamics from what he used to be.  In every other place he's ever been in, no matter how many or what kind of horses he was with, Orion has been at the bottom of the totem pole.  No respect from other horses.  Bullied constantly.  Wouldn't stand up for himself.  Most of the time not allowed a primary spot in the barn with the other horses, or really even to hang out with them in the field.  For a time, he had a buddy who was pretty much herd royalty and didn't take crap from anyone, and that helped him out a little.  After that horse (who was very old) died, Orion still had lingering privileges that he had gained when buddied up with him.  Also after he died, he started standing up for himself more.  Not enough to rise to the top, but enough to keep from constantly getting his ass kicked and to allow him to socialize more and make new friends.

So, imagine my surprise when he immediately seemed to take the lead with Merrill and Vanna.  Huh.  Oookay then.  I had joked around beforehand that it would be hilarious if he became boss horse....welllll.... I didn't really think it would happen, and I definitely didn't think about the consequences it might have on our dynamic.

It had been discussed in the past that his overly pushy, stubborn demeanor (which came out a LOT in the early days, whether from the ground or under saddle) might be coming from the fact that he couldn't be assertive in the field, but with little old me (or any other person if you want to compare their size to his), it was obvious he could get his way just by throwing his weight around, threatening to bite or kick (or in some situations, actually biting), and just overall acting like an asshole.  I worked with him from the ground A TON to form a bond and still gain his respect.  I learned the hard way that I couldn't just be his friend.  I had to be his leader, because while I wanted a partnership first and foremost, there had to be a leader in the dynamic, and it couldn't be him.  I learned just how aggressive I sometimes had to be from the ground.  When we started riding more, it was a whole new learning curve of learning just how aggressive I sometimes needed to be when he was under saddle, and over the course of a summer when I was actually able to work with him a lot, he started behaving really well for me no matter what we were doing.  As free time dwindled and I was forced to go out less and less, those manners started to dissipate.  I learned pretty quickly that if I hadn't been out there for a while, I needed to do some serious back-to-the-basics work for the first part of our visit; otherwise, he had the idea that he was still in control of everything he did, just like he had been for months in the field with no work.

I write all of this because this is the basic process I have been through with this horse for the past three years.  He's grown better through leaps and bounds and has definitely had some two-steps-back situations, but altogether, he's a very different horse than when I first met him.  But all of that work was done while he was in the same herd, with fairly consistent dynamics, at least as far as he was concerned.

This is why I feel like this is one of the biggest reasons he acted out when I got on him.  Our bond and respect for each other has ALWAYS been stronger from the ground because that's where we've done the most work together.  His respect for me from the saddle has always been shakier because we've done less work there.  So it makes sense that he was being good, calm, collected, and giving no signs of what was to come when I was dealing with him from the ground that day. We haven't had a problem with that in a long time.  It wasn't until I got on him - literally THAT SECOND - that he blew up.  A close friend recently said that it seems like he was in the mindset of, "It's MY body, and I'll do what I WANT," which obviously did not include riding in a new place.

2. Seclusion from other horses during work.
This was something I honestly hadn't given a whole lot of thought until after the fact.  At the old barn, the paddock that we groomed, tacked up, and did any kind of groundwork in, was just on the other side of the fence from the field where the other horses were.  So even when we brought them "in", they were still able to interact with their friends from the other side of the fence.

Cut to the new barn: It's a good long walk up the road from the field the horses are currently in.  He couldn't interact with his new friends.  He only had me and a big, unfamiliar barn.  Yes, we did a bunch of stuff there that morning before this happened.  Yes, I loved on him and spent time just trying to get him to chill and relax further so he would associate this new place with those kind of things, in addition to the work we'll hopefully be doing there.  But in retrospect, even though he was calm, the whole time we were there, he was staring up the driveway, back the way we'd come from - back toward the field and his friends.

My other top theory is that he knows I can't stay on him for more than a few seconds when he bucks.  He knows that.  He's done it to me four times now (including this last one).  Once was on our way through an empty field to get to some trails, and he didn't want to leave the barn and got pissed at me when I wouldn't let him go back.  Once was when he got bit by a ginormous horse fly (I barely stayed on for that one) in the paddock.  The other time was last fall when we had the Gator/four-wheeler incident (that was one buck that technically didn't unseat me, but it came damn close.  What actually did it was when he whirled and fell into the ditch).  Then there was this, which was by far the hardest he's ever bucked with a rider.  I think he knew he could throw me so he could go back to his buddies, which is exactly what happened.  He didn't wait around as he has when I've been thrown or fallen (I've fallen more than been thrown) in the past.  He was there for maybe 30 seconds before he trotted up the drive and back to his herd.

Not okay.

Pain.
This is a new one that I don't really think I've discussed on here before.  I don't necessarily think this was the reason for what happened that day, but it is something I want to get checked out in the near future.

It was suggested to me last summer that Orion may have a condition known as degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, or DSLD.  I've never had him checked for it because it hasn't appeared to cause him pain.  I have, however, been watching for it to see if the symptoms worsen....and they have.

The most obvious symptom is dropping of the fetlocks.  The condition usually develops after a tendon or suspensory ligament injury (deep digital flexor tendon strains, anyone?), and the weakening of the ligament causes the fetlocks to sink lower to the ground.  Going back through pictures, it's slightly noticeable in the first couple of years that I had him.  I didn't know anything about it until a year ago, but when I did find out, I decided to do some research and ultimately made the decision to wait and see.  The thing is, there's not a whole lot that can be done for it if he does have it.  There are some experimental treatments, but most of them are insanely expensive.  The only way to really diagnose it is through ultrasound, which is what I'm planning to see if I can have done.

The reason for doing this now is not that he appears to be in pain, though now that I have him closer, I plan on watching him very carefully to see if any develops.  The reason is because ever since I found out about this, I've been paranoid and anal about watching his legs every time I'm out there.  They do appear to have gotten worse since I bought him.  I was willing to admit that.  They weren't perfect then either (his conformation has always been wonky; it's just how he is), but they looked better than when all of this was brought up.  Before the end of May, I hadn't been able to do anything with him since the end of January.  I had taken out grain and gone out to pay my board and had always run out to check on him and say hi, but those visits didn't last long.  It didn't occur to me at those times to look at his legs.  When I went out by myself in May, I noticed how much different his legs appeared to be.  And in the next couple visits leading up to the move, I noticed it again - it was like it jumped out at me, which is what really made me take a step back and go, "Holy crap, that's bad."

That is what made me start kicking around the idea to have him looked at.  I was thinking about it before any of this went down.  Now that he's where I can go out at a moment's notice, I want to have it done.  Whether he has it or not, it will give me peace of mind in knowing.  If he doesn't, we'll know it's just bad conformation.  If he does.....I will give him the life he deserves until it's no longer good for him.  I won't let him suffer if that's what happens.  But I will give him the best life possible in the time he has.

I hate even talking about that possibility.  I was discussing it with my mom a few days ago and completely lost it and started crying, and so did she.  No one wants that to happen.  But it's a real possibility.  Maybe not in the near future - it may be years and years down the road.  But if he has DSLD, there's nothing that can be done for it, and there's a possibility that eventually, the only humane thing left to do would be to put him down.

I just hope with all my heart that it doesn't come to that.

4. New place.
I've heard this one suggested over and over again. I won't deny that it may have played a factor in some way, but really, I don't think this is what caused it.  From his behavior during every other part of the visit, I expected a little nervousness, maybe some jigging, or "WTF is that?" reactions - things he's done in the past when dealing with something new and a little scary - if he even did any of that.  I know a lot of horses have bad reactions to new places, but my horse has always been ultra chill about almost anything new put in front of him.  If he were to do anything in reaction to being in a new place, I really don't think it would have been anything as extreme as what he did.

5. New blanket.
The only difference in our tack that day was his new Western saddle blanket.  This has been suggested, but I don't think this was a factor either.  It was a different material than what we've been using, but not something different than he's experienced before.  It has wool padding, which we've used in the past.  I spent a good long while looking over it when I took the tags out to make sure there weren't any little plastic pieces left behind that could poke him, and by the time I was done, they were all accounted for and not in the blanket anymore.

6. Bee sting/fly bite (But really, no.)
This just occurred to me in the last few days, mostly because it's been a reason for him bucking once before.  But honestly, I don't think that would have warranted bucking of that violence.  Plus, the flies and other insects had been leaving him alone for a while at this point, as I had doused him with fly spray not once, but twice that morning.


So, those are my ideas.  If anyone has anything to share or add, please feel free to do so.  My shoulder isn't at the point where I can go start working with him yet, so I'm still in the planning phase of what to do when I can get back out there to do stuff.  Any help or advice is much appreciated!