Sunday, April 29, 2012

I need advice, please help.

I will start with the history.  The subject matter is Moonlight.  My 8 (9 on Tuesday :( ) year old daughters horse.  He is also used as an everybody horse.  We have owned him for nearly 2 years now.  He has been a saint.  He has packed my daughter through MANY crazy situations and has kept her 100% safe every single time.  I can give example after example of situations on trails that we have been in that he proved himself reliable every time.  They have made a great pair.  We have logged many many miles together, her and I.  Me on Steady (not the most reliable trail horse) and her on Moonlight.  There have been many situations  that Steady simply lost all sense and those two had to be the strong steady ones to get us out of the situation.  He has been pushed to his limits and never shown and angry bone in his body.  He has never been spiteful or mean under saddle or done anything remotely dangerous.  There has been 2 times that very inexperienced riders have been on him and they strayed too far from their trail mate that he did run away with them.  But in his defense each of the people this happened to completely let go of the reins and didn't even attempt to stop him.  Once they did pull back slightly he immediately stopped.  So I am not sure if I even consider that running away with someone.  I mean I think of running away when you are pulling back and the horse braces and runs anyways.  He does NOT do that EVER. 
He has had one down side to him.  He is pushy on the ground.  That was obviously from his previous owner.  I personally saw her let him just push her around.  I have established with him his pecking order now and besides the occasional reminder session he is MUCH MUCH better.  With my daughter on the other hand it is a bit different.  He is better with her than he used to be.  I used to never even let her lead him.  I do let her lead him now but I do not 100% trust her to lead him around alone without me being close by to step in.  He has never done anything mean just push on her to get to food and has stepped on her feet a few times.

Ok that will catch you up until that last two months.  In the last two months something has changed in this horse.  He suddenly became very aggressive in the herd.  He has always been pushy when it came to food.  He reminds me of a fat kid in a candy store and would chase others away but it is different now.  There is strong aggression behind his behaviors.  Now he has been put on a diet about the same time so I figured he just thinks he MUST be starving to death and thus has become over protective of food.  He actually looks good weight wise right now.  First time since I have owned him that he hasn't had a big ole belly.  Then I started noticing he was generally grumpy.  Alot more pinning of ears even at me.  At the moment I didn't think much of it past the, 'oh poor guy thinks he is starving to death, but it is doing him some good'.  I didn't think much of it until, about 3 weeks ago my 5 year old daughters says to me, "Mom, Moonlight bit Macy(my 7 year old daughter)".  Me, "WHAT!, When?, Hard?! Where?!"  Macy proceeded to tell me the story.  They were both picking grass then going to the fence and feeding Moonlight the grass.  She was standing on the fence and Moonlight bit her on the back.  I am immediately pissed.  This is a kids horse and there is NO excuse for that behavior.  Then she showed me her back!  OMG she had a dark bruise the size of a SOFTBALL!!!  And a welt and this was 2 days after it had happened.  I have NO idea why she never told me when it happened but she didn't.  I felt stuck because there was no way at that point I could discipline the horse over it, too much time had passed.  I was furious but was stuck.  I told her to stay away from him for now.  I could think of a few reason how and why it could have happened.  My thought was that she had been feeding him and was probably standing there with her back turned and he just had a moment of, "hey why did you stop feeding me".  Macy also does not yet have a great horse sense about her being as young as she is so she could have easily not been paying attention to the horse the way she should have.  It was uncalled for and inexcusable but we are all entitle to laps in judgement ONCE in our lives plus there was just not much I could do at that point.  OK that brings us to yesterday.  I had to wait a day to write this because it has taken that long for my anger on the situation to calm a bit so I could think straight to even write it.  My daughter had a sleep over for her birthday.  Her and her two friends were in the pasture petting the horses.  The two friends were petting Lily and Snappy and Elaina was petting Moonlight.  Now this child has AMAZING horse sense.  She turned her head for a second to check on her friends to make sure they were ok and THIS is what happened

He bit her on the EFFING NECK!!  You cannot see in this picture the yellow bruise around the entire abrasion but it was the size of a baseball.  For NO unprovoked reason he bit her on the NECK!  I am at a loss.  I don't even know what to do or where to go from here.  He has never once even given me one inkling that the thought of biting has ever even crossed his mind when I am around.  I did get home about 30 minutes after this happened I will not tell you what happened after that but I was pissed.  When an animal goes for another 'animals' neck that is for the kill.  It is not annoyance or misbehaving, it is out for blood.  This could have been so much uglier.  Just imagine if that pressure had been inflicted just a few inches over to the esophogus?  It makes me sick even thinking about it.  He is a kids horse!  And he is biting kids, WTF!  I need some logical advice at this point because the Mama bear in me has emerged and this horse is on my shit list.  If you have kids I am sure you can imagine my anger toward this animal.  If you don't have kids I am sure you could imagine a little bit of it.  So that is why I need you guys.  I need level headed, logical, responsible horse peoples advice in this situation.  I have never dealt with a horse that was out right aggressive.  Let alone aggressive toward children, then add on to that that it is a sudden onset after owning him for 2 years.  Please help.


  1. Hi
    Been following your blog for awhile didn't see this one comimg. I am no expert but when my horse for 10 years packed me around very safely even with inconsistent work, he was just steady , them he bucked me off three time in one session, it turned out he had a pain issue and it was just to hard for him to canter tight circles , to this day he is worried and me too, that I will ask for a tight corner at the canter, he's 17.3 and those bucks to ground where scary. So my point is, if you have a horse that is steady and changes overnight, they are hurting somehow. The difference is the ground manner change, there was no mention of riding problems. I am at a loss, it could be a variety of things, when was he gelded are there mares in heat, new changes to the herd etc, start with environment changes and then go to physical problems, throw him on the lunge and take a look, i would guess he has an environment prob that was PTSD related, i will be anxious to see other comments and thoughts.


  2. I think your first port of call is your vet. There might be some underlying pain or hormone issues that he might be able to attribute to the behavior.

    Also, possibly he has NEVER bitten a child before and does not know it is wrong. The kid hasn't disciplined the pony immediately (which is the only time he would recognize the punishment was for the biting crime) but has just gone away.
    I'm sorry this pony is being a shit now! I hope you can get to the bottom of it.

  3. I agree with Lisa. When a horse suddenly is aggressive it is often a pain issue. Hopefully the vet can pinpoint it and you can do something about it.
    Then he will probably need some ground manners after school sessions, but find out what is wrong first.
    Good luck.

  4. agreeing with everyone about the pain. There was a recent article in Equus magazine about a study on pain, I think they specified back pain, with the temperment of horses and even when there was no saddle on or the threat of a being ridden the horses had all around nasty attitudes towards people and other horses. Biting means stay away from me so this is really what I would pinpoint it to. Being a mom, I understand when your kids get hurt.

  5. It could be a pain issue. It could be an "I'm desperate and want food issue".

    As much as the equestrian in us wants to explore the issue and make things better, you are 1) a mother trying to raise children and 2) not overly financially endowed at the moment. Obviously, it's a judgement call.

    That said, your daughter seems to like him (at least, as far as I can tell). Can you maybe give him a small hole haynet or improvised slow feeder to rule out the food issue and then ONLY allow the girls around him with supervision and a stud chain for a while?

    I mean, the thing that seems fishy about a pain problem is that the behavior sounds unprovoked. It's not like the girls were riding him hard and he started bucking. They were feeding/petting him and he acted out. As long as your kids are decent to animals (I have no reason to believe otherwise), there's no reason for that.

    If I were you (and I'm not, so ignore at will), I'd maybe spend some quality time with your more-horse savvy daughter and make sure that you, the pony, and the girl are very, VERY clear on what is not allowed and go from there.

  6. Is he in pain? Does his saddle still fit him properly? Has he had a vet check recently? Do his legs hurt him? Do his feet hurt him? I'm instantly thinking it's an issue of pain. Pain makes horses do crazy things.

  7. Sorry this isn't going to be helpful, but I second what everyone else said - does he have ulcers? Anything else hurting? Once you rule out that, I'd start doing some retraining with the food and treats. Maybe google some articles about food aggression to get a better idea of what to do, since it's hard for me to explain. But overall, he should not be allowed to get food unless he acts respectful, must stay out of your space even when you have treats, etc. and any inclination to bite must be dealt with. With him on a lead, have your daughter help too so that way he knows that the same behavior goes for both of you. Good luck!

  8. I talked this over with the daughter, so you get both our opinions :) We both thought more ground work lessons are in order - making it very clear that he can not get away with any aggressive type behavior around humans.

    Until you feel more comfortable about his manners, I would keep the girls out of his pasture. Maybe he got aggressive when the girls were in his pasture because of the feed cut - associates humans with feed.

    But ouch - that bite looks painful!

  9. My two cents - vet call first. Then if nothing is discovered I would sell the horse. I will NOT have an agressive horse period - kids or no kids.

    Sorry if that is harsh - but personal and others safty is first - no matter what.

  10. I have been around three horses now whose moods have changed dramatically due to being on a "diet." All three became aggressive, and dangerous to some degree. Food changes threatens herd placement for a horse, as the low horse gets the least feed in a herd situation. You may want to trick him into thinking he is eating more, by not letting him get overly hungry. Small meals, rather than two big ones, separate hay times with him separated. It should improve with time, and some clear guidelines and deprimands. I would also consider whether his diet has caused some dips in blood sugar, and some other chemical changes. Did you change feed, or just feed less?
    There is some truth to the statement "fat and happy," and one friend actaully chose to give her mare her feed back and just increase her cardio. A fat and happy mare was better than a frightening angry mare to her.

  11. I've been following for a while and I agree with everyone else about an underlying pain and/or health issue.

    I do rescue for dobermans. When one gets turned in b/c he/she became "aggressive" overnight a vet trip is in order. About 80% of the time its thyroid. I'm not sure of the science behind it but a low or high thyroid not only causes the dog to gain weight more easily but it will also cause a sudden mood shift and personality shift in the dog that wasn't there before. Once the dog's health is managed everything else is fine and normal.

    I also agree with the person who said he may feel his pecking order in the herd threatened b/c of his diet. It may be worth it to go back to his normal feed amount and just exercise more.

    I hope you get to the bottom of his new issues.


  12. My first thought was if the feed was cut back drastically it could be ulcers from stomach acid. I'm sure you've figured it out by now (I'm always so behind on blogs ahh!) so I'm going to read on and find out what happened lol.


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