It takes someone with real determination to turn around a horse like ‘Layla’!

When Helen contacted me in July 2018 the issues she outlined smacked of chronic mineral imbalances. Helen had tried to get advice from her vets but they could only recommend starting a list of expensive tests which needed to be carried out far from home.  Layla’s reaction to being touched at her wither had prevented her being backed, now Helen needed to do something with this beautiful young horse but in spite of having excellent training skills she was not able to make any progress.

This is what Helen wrote to me after adopting our diet and management principles:     “Very grateful to Calm Healthy Horses for their interest and help with my mare. She was unbacked, with no prospect of being backed, due to extreme behaviour when touched on the withers or shoulders.

When touched there she twitched, shook, ran off, bucked, reared and rubbed her face on her legs frantically. She looked anxious, spooked, shied, bunny hopped in canter and threw her head if asked to do any ground work. Getting any tack on her was a challenge. She had no future as a riding horse and my vet had no answer.

After two months on GrazeEzy, AlleviateC and MVA, a change in feed, change of hay and taking her off new grass, she has become ‘normal’. I can tack her up without issue and can at last begin to work with her and think about getting on her.

Here are the Video Links to
‘Layla’ Before: https://youtu.be/SpATSsj_pII

‘Layla’ After: https://youtu.be/7FO4KZXonzs

 

Helen made amendments to her turnout area by utilising a patch where sedges predominated to remove as much grass as possible from the diet.  She cheeck her hay source and realised it was a Rye Grass hay.  This was changed and feeding better, soaked ad lib hay was started.  Alongside this the simple bucket we recommend, with Salt and Premium MVA plus added GrazEzy and Alleviate C was fed daily.

Things didnt really change for the first three weeks  so we kept Layla on a high level of Alleviate C for longer than normal.  Two months later things had improved, at that point Helen was able to start some preparatory training.

For those who are interested in more detail I have attached Helens full 2018 update at the bottom of this post.

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Helens Update six months later  February 2019

Over the winter months Helen needed to put Layla back onto her usual pasture due to the wet ground conditions but  she continued with the other changes to Layla’s management.    This is Helens update on progress from February 2019

“When the drought broke last summer I had to put her back onto the ‘normal’ pasture and she regressed a bit.  She’s been on winter grass over the winter and because it’s been mild the grass has been greener than usual for the time of year.  I have not ridden her as I don’t consider her to be sufficiently ok at the moment.

I have kept her on the MVA vitamins and Grazeezy, simple bucket and soaked hay overnight when stabled.  I took the attached video of her a couple of weeks ago.”

 

“You will see she is twitchy, however she is not reacting to me leaning on her shoulders (which was her initial very troubling symptom).  I have her dry lot mapped out and am waiting for the digger/stone so I can get it built.  I have a shelter ordered for delivery next month so she can stay in the dry lot full time.   I am hopeful that when off the grass totally she will be ok and I can start riding her.   Will let you know.”

Layla’s is a very grass sensitive horse. Fortunately Helen is a skilled and experienced owner and has not added to her stress by continuing with attempts to train and ride her until her sensitivity has been fully addressed.

At one level some might say that the videos are not that dramatic.  Less experienced people might have pushed on, and been encouraged to employ training aids and more work to ‘desensitise‘ her.  Depending on how strongly the trainer demands and the character of the horse pushing on tends to lead to a shut down horse in a very sore body.  Such horses cannot learn to trust and offer good work and so  they are not a pleasure to ride. Over time behaviours and injuries develop that sadley bring an early end thier riding career and often their lives. Thankfully this will not be the case for Layla.

Helens history and 3 month update on Layla in 2018.

I bought Layla as a 6 month old foal with plans to show, breed and ride her. Things went well, she was easy to handle and was shown as a foal, yearling and two year old. She had no behavioural or temperament issues.

When she was three I began ground work with her in preparation for backing. It was only at this time I noticed she did not like the loose end of the lead rope lying over her shoulders. She would start to shake in an effort to dislodge it and if I didn’t remove it she would run off or throw herself into me to try and rub it off. I thought this was odd and was unhappy she could think it was ok to throw her shoulders into me, I would send her away from me vigorously when she did this.

Her ground work was not great, she didn’t go as I expected her to, she was distracted, impulsive, leaned on the rope, pulled away, cross cantered, threw her head etc. She was also jittery when being tacked up and wouldn’t stand still. I never felt she was ready for me to actually get on her and she was not backed. I now realise I subconsciously avoided touching her shoulders as I knew this provoked a reaction but apart from that and a habit of rubbing her nose a lot she was normal.

She had a foal as a four year old and had a year off raising the foal and spending the winter out whilst the foal was being weaned. I planned to back her in the Spring of her five year old year.

A significant factor, which I did not realise at the time, was I changed hay supplier at the beginning of 2018. The hay I changed to was a rye and clover mix.

In the Spring of 2018 I started the backing process again and noticed her twitchy shoulders were much worse, so bad I could not get any tack on her and was unable to rest my hand on her shoulders without her charging off. I was now sure there was something very wrong with her but could not work out what it was. I knew this mare well and knew she was not being badly behaved, neither did she have a bad temperament, she just seemed to be unable to control herself when the twitching in her shoulders was triggered. I decided to video her behaviour.

When I watched the video back I could see head shaking and face rubbing behaviour and made a connection between the trigger, which was in her shoulders, to nerves apparently firing in her face. When I thought about it more I realised that she did occasionally head flick when she was eating and would fling her head if excited or running around. Her excessive nose rubbing could also be head shaking related. I decided to concentrate on head shaking as the primary problem.

I sent the video to the vet, who had few suggestions. Euthanasia was mentioned as a solution due to the dangerous behaviour she was displaying. I could not even consider getting on her back, her future as a riding horse was bleak to say the least. I decided to pursue my own thoughts and do some research before spending any money on tests or investigations.

The turning point came when I posted the video on a dressage forum and was pointed towards the Calm Health Horses website. The more I read, the more I was convinced the mineral imbalance it spoke of was her problem. I contacted Susan at CHH and received a great deal of advice and help for my mare, most of all I was given hope.

With the drought of 2018 having dried up a previously boggy and unusable corner of my field, I moved her onto its rough grass. I took her off all her feed and changed to copra, micronised linseed and chaff. I obtained CHH Alleviate and GrazeEzy supplements and started her on them straight away. Fortunately she accepted the supplements and new feed well and ate everything presented to her. Time passed and I waited for a change, I had a ‘litmus test’ as all I had to do was rest my hand on her withers and see if she reacted.

For the first three weeks there was no change but I stuck with it and noticed, gradually, that she twitched less frequently when I touched her, but still found the twitching uncomfortable. After a few more weeks she would twitch less, but also the twitching didn’t seem to bother her so much.

Then, after about six weeks she was hardly twitching at all. Twelve weeks in and the twitching stopped.

I started to work with her again, first with the tack that previously I had struggled to get on. She stood motionless whilst I put the breastplate round her neck, an action that previously had her bouncing off the walls. The saddle pad and saddle followed without issue. I had my horse back!