Friday, March 6, 2015

WWYD - Opinions Please


  This post is going to be hard for me to write, mostly because I have been spending a lot of time thinking and trying to figure things out.  You can't always trust your own mind though, and I really appreciate the knowledge and opinions of fellow bloggers.  I am trying to decide what is best for my horse at this point.  This is not about me, but about him.

  I am struggling with whether or not I should continue to pursue a riding relationship with William.  Those who have read my blog for some years will know the long road and struggles that have come with breaking and starting him.  He is still a very difficult horse, but also, an extremely talented and sweet horse.  I want to lay everything I know about him out there for a completely unbiased opinion from readers.  Regardless of the decision he will always be my horse.  He isn't going anywhere.

  I got William fall of 2011.  I re-started him as he had a bad start with his previous owners.  This includes flipping over and falling down on her.  It also includes him broncing throughout the barn a few times while being saddled.  When I got him he was not in great condition.  He was wormy and his feet were shit.  He was malnourished and ugly. I spent the next 6 months doing basic ground work and long lining, spending a lot of time using the John Lyons method of sacking out.  He would hardly allow you to touch him at first, and gradually got better.

  When I started him under saddle he did this thing I called the "scoot".  He would scoot forward and attempt to buck, but nothing serious.  Eventually we worked up to walk, trot, canter consistently.  He would still scoot in our rides but it never bothered me.  After the first year, we started doing more challenging work including jumping.  The spring of 2012 I moved to my farm and when I brought William back into work he was extremely sucked back.  When I would mount he would refuse to move for 10-15 minutes.  This would gradually get better when ridden every day.  By the third day he would be completely normal.  If he had one or two days off it was back to square one.  When he was really defiant, he would stop mid stride and buck from a standstill.

  This behavior improved but never went away completely.  He had the chiro multiple times and was always in good shape and would get complimented on his topline and muscling.  The vet saw no reason for his behavior.  Fast forward to last year.  Same issues with sucking back and bucking but much improved - until I went to his first event.  There, he refused to move and I almost missed my dressage test.  It took me half an hour to get him to move forward.  Once he got going he was fabulous and won the event.



  His next events he did the same thing but not as severely.  He was second and first at those events.  He is difficult to get going but once going he is phenomenal.  He was 1st, 1st, and 2nd in his three events last year.  He was jumper champ at his first jumper show and won his dressage classes in the one dressage show I was able to get to with him last year.  After his third event he was sidelined with his leg injury and that was that.  Now I am planing on bringing him back to work for this season, but I have been wondering if it is the right thing for him.

  When I would go to catch him to ride him last year he would always run away from me.  Once caught, he would refuse to leave the field.  It would take me 20 minutes to get him out.  He would just plant his feet and refuse to move.  I have never seen a horse do that.  After a few days of work he would even refuse to leave his stall.  Obviously the horse is not wanting to be ridden. Is it obvious? I can't figure out if he is just lazy or in pain.  He is certainly not a lazy horse in general.  Overall his demeanor is very gentle and sweet.  He aims to please when he is going under saddle.  He is VERY fun to ride, even when he is being difficult.  He is sound under saddle, and has the movement of an upper level dressage horse.  I don't think there is anything in his legs.



  He is tense when girthed and often scoots when he walks out after first being saddled. He is resistant to take the bit into the mouth when bridling.  He has a parrot mouth, low palet, and small lips. He has seen the chiro, vet, and done acupressure.  Nothing has changed.  He is on a regular foot, vet, worming and tooth care cycle.  He is an easy keeper.  He is fat and shiny.  He is healthy and retained all his muscle and fitness from last summer even though he had 8 months off.

  My head tells me he is in pain.  Kissing spine maybe?  Maybe something going on in the mouth?  My heart wishes it were an attitude problem because he truly is a fabulous horse.  I could send him for a body scan but in reality I have three other horses.  Is it worth the cost if he does have kissing spine in the end?  He seems quite content in his day to day life otherwise.  Have you ever experienced anything similar?  Do you have any other suggestions of what it might be, or things to try to find out what might be the cause?

  This isn't a case of not being fun for me, because he is still my favorite horse to ride.  I just feel sick thinking of pushing him to be ridden this year if there is something in there causing him major discomfort.  I am curious to know what you would do if you were in my shoes.



57 comments:

  1. Ugh. That's so hard. It sounds like you've had him thoroughly checked out by a vet, given him extended time off AND still have these problems. Usually I would just ask "is it fun?" but you already answered that for me. I'm afraid I don't have much advice, but it does sound like he doesn't like being ridden... yet is really good at it.

    Super confusing.

    This comment is not offering much up in the way of help, but you have my thoughts and hope for a good outcome! I'm sure the situation is really upsetting on a lot of different levels.

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    1. Thank you. It is hard because I agree - I don't think he enjoys being ridden, but yes - he is very good when he goes! Maybe he would spectacular if he didn't have these issues, like Olympic quality. Maybe he just wants to be a pasture pet.

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  2. Do the body scan. Yes it will be expensive but there in my opinion there is no price tag on peace of mind. You'll have your answers and can stop wondering and guessing. That's what I would do anyways.

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    1. At almost $4000, I just can't afford it at this time. Maybe in the future.

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    2. What if you set up a Go-Fund-Me account? I'd be willing to donate to the cause. I know how much he means to you and he certainly is a very athletic and smart horse - he deserves answers as much as you do.

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    3. I agree with you there! He does deserve answers. That is an option. I hate the thought of asking for money for vet care, but it is something I could explore. Or I could just not show this year and cover the costs.

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    4. Eek $4000 for a body scan? I've had one in each of my horses (one a mini and the other my riding horse). I believe they only cost me around 1000. Still, not chump change, but I think it's a really incredible diagnostic tool. Maybe we talking about different types of body scans? The ones my horses have had was nuclear scintigraphy.

      Seriously tough situation, sorry I can't offer much wisdom either, but you have my best wishes!

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    5. These are full body radiographs and also thermo? I think? We don't have many options in Ontario, just the one University about 5 hours away, or I can go to Quebec which is about a 7 hour drive. This is what I was quoted from people a few years ago. It may have changed. $1000 is more doable for me.

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  3. As soon as I read this I had two thoughts: Pain and lack of trust.

    So I when got my mare back right after her first trainer, she would run away from me and if I caught her, would refuse to leave the pasture. I spent a lot of time chasing her across an 8 acre pasture and didn't stop until she finally acknowledged me and would either take steps to me or let me come to her. Then getting her out was an issue and so we did the whole "fine, I'll make you circle around me different directions at the end of this lead rope until you go forward" for hours. Ever damn time I went to the barn. Eventually, after several weeks of this, it became a non-issue. Then I moved to a stall-board with-turnout situation and I can still bring her in from turnout with no problem.

    We also had issues with ulcers and saddle fit - she was fat and shiny but still had ulcers. I think her GI-tract is always going to be finnicky as long as she has part-stall boarding or as long as she's ridden. So while the vet says William is healthy, maybe he has hind-gut ulcers, or something in the spine region. The tense girthing and scooting at first after saddling definitely strikes me as being saddle/spine/ulcer related. Since he's so good under saddle, it doesn't seem like he hates his job - if he really hated it, he'd never move or would throw a tantrum and since you don't beat him, he doesn't seem afraid to act out and demonstrate his feelings.

    Those are just my 2 cents and I am not a vet, an accomplished equestrian, or trainer, all I've got is anecdotal.

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    1. Great points. I do think saddle fit can make him worse - my new Butet fits him well and he goes the best in it. I treated him for ulcers last summer and saw a bit of improvement. He doesn't have any other signs for ulcers, but he is more the type to internalize stress.

      Lack of trust is possible. He had a rough start. He was very afraid of people. He is sooooooooooo much better now, but he could still be weary. This will be year 4 under saddle, so I would hope he would be growing out of that soon, but he is easily offended and maybe he is still traumatized.

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    2. Ulcers were my first thought too...A scoping and a round of Gastro Gard + maintenance Ulcer Gard after for a while to see if it helps? Makes sense with all the girth/buck symptoms (and cheaper than a body scan!). That's where I'd start I think, good luck!

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  4. That's a tough one! He's your favorite, so maybe just keep him in light work until such time as you can get him thoroughly checked, sounds like he is cold backed for some reason?. My other thought- is there something he just really loves doing? My little mare can suck back and be all sorts of difficult, except she loves trail rides with her buddies and is a star there. I notice a big difference in her demeanor after a trail outing - she's much more willing and happy to come into the barn and get tacked up. Probably not applicable to you though. Hope things improve regardless :)

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    1. He seems the same regardless - I vary my work a lot...hacking, jumping, flat, trailering out. I just wish I could read his mind :( I was thinking I could keep him going by hacking and lunge work so I'm not on his back if that is the issue.

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  5. You have had him checked out by vets and chiros, I honestly don't think a full body scan will tell you anything new. This really sounds like a training issue, but not in a bad way. Some horses learn that there is really nothing a human can do to control them, and then decide to take advantage of that. If you're still having fun with him and still want to ride him, try a different approach to training him and getting him to do what you want. I can't tell you what that approach is, because I don't know him, but give it some time and try to think outside the box. Remember to make it fun for him, too.

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    1. This is great advice - but I have been there done that. Tried many many things, clinics with a bunch of upper and lower level coaches. I don't believe it is training related, but I could of course be wrong.

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  6. I'm just brainstorming here, maybe you have already tried some of these, but I will throw it out there. You mention maybe his mouth is an issue, have you tried a side pull/hackamore ect? I agree that a body scan would be awesome, but money doesn't grow on trees, plus he seems to be perfectly happy once he decides to move. Back on track sheet or other thermo/therapeutic blanket for a while before each ride? What does he do if you just don't ask him to move and wait for him to do it, I took over the ride on a mare once with the opposite issue, she would stop and then when asked to go forward would bolt through fences. I spent three months getting on and only walking when she would walk, if she stopped I just sat there until she moved again, she has never bolted since. I would really struggle to retire a horse that is sound and seems to enjoy his job once he moves. Is he food motivated? I know many people don't like treats, I rarely feed them myself, but maybe some sort of treat/clicker training would help him out? I dunno, keeping my fingers crossed for you!

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    1. I tried a hackamore but not a bitless or sidepull, that is worth the try. He was good in the hackamore at first then was annoyed because it was just too much for him. I used to use a BOT sheet when he was still pretty green and it did help. Im actually looking for a sheet right now to purchase.

      If you don't ask him to move he will just stand there, eventually he will go forward but he ducks his head - shuffles forward and swishes his tail. He will scoot a few steps and then back to standing. He goes forward best if I push push and pester him with a dressage whip and keep him going forward.

      I actually used treats when I was starting him under saddle again. Maybe I should go back to trying that. Thanks for your help :)

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    2. The ducking head, shuffling and swishing his tail definitely sounds like pain to me. :(

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  7. "I just wish I could read his mind :(" from your comment above. My suggestion is to consult a pet psychic. I'm not kidding. There are people out there with special talent and don't cost an arm and a leg. Some must see the animal in person but I've known some who can do it remotely. Maybe they can help, maybe not, but for $50 or so it might be worth it to you to explore it.

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    1. I know a lot of people use animal psychics, but I just don't buy into it lol

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    2. I was going to suggest this too. I'm not sure I buy in to it, but at his stage what could it hurt if it doesn't cost a fortune...

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  8. Hugs! I have nothing to add but that he us a lucky boy to have a mom who cares so much!!

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  9. My first thought is ulcers, or some sort of GI issue. My previous horse, Beans, had a lot of stomach/throat/gut issues and also had some of the behaviors your guy has (anxiety before being ridden, anxiety over saddling, etc.). I have no other suggestions. It doesn't really sound like he's sour or lazy.

    Good luck with him! He has a good horse mom, that much is obvious! :)

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    1. Thank you, he had a treatment of Ugard last year. I could try it again.

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  10. good luck!! i don't really have anything to add that hasn't already been said - but echo the sense that it'd be such a shame to retire him without ever really knowing for sure. good luck finding your answers!

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    1. agreed..although he would still be here so maybe in time...

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  11. Wow, what a tough situation. Many hugs to you - it's SO hard when they can't tell you what's wrong.

    I'll echo what others have said - ulcers, maybe? A body scan might give you good info but wow, what a price tag! And I know you said you don't buy into an animal communicator, but I've had two on completely different occasions "read" a horse (without me telling them a thing) and had some very interesting things to say. Take it with a grain of salt for sure, but you might get some insight. And it's a lot cheaper than a body scan!

    Finally, FWIW, I think you're right that he doesn't want to be ridden - for whatever reason that is. He's doing it the best way he can without words. "No, I don't want to come in from the pasture," "No, I don't want to leave my stall," "No, I don't want to move forward." He sounds like he's protesting as politely and gently as he can. Follow what he's telling you - you know him best and know what's best for him, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Hugs.

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  12. Does Toronto Equine still do scintigraphy? Because that would be a better option than OVC in my opinion, if you're considering a body scan. And while I don't buy into psychics either, I've had some really good success with some alternative therapies - namely cranio and Bowen. If you can find a really good practitioner, it can often at the very least point your gut in the right direction (and for less $$ than a vet visit).

    And I really, really have to say, don't eliminate saddle fit. I've been blown away by the change in Gracie since working with a new saddle fitter. Completely buying into this saddle fitter's philosophy! A horse that you've worked so hard to bring along, and really had quite remarkable success with (once you get him in the ring!! :-P )....I'd have a really hard time giving up on. I just completely understand not wanting to throw more money at coming to the bottom of it when you have other horses too. Kind of know about that!

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    1. Apparently they do so I will definitely look into that. I'm glad someone understands my reasoning when I have so many horses :p

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    2. Yeah I definitely do. :-P Hence why I have one horse who is turned out and does nothing but play companion pony - you have to pick your spots, where the $$ goes.

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  13. As someone who owns a kissing spines horse, I can tell you that the horse can look completely fine and be in a lot of pain with it. I would do bute trials, robaxin trials, banamine trials, all with no improvement. The only reason I knew something was wrong was that Stampede was never cranky under saddle for many years, and then he was. It came on so gradually but one day I was on a horse who just didn't want to go forward anymore. He looked sound, vets would watch him go and think I was crazy. Finally I was told that I just needed to ride the horse until something happened.
    So a few years ago Stampede got to the point where he could no longer hold his lead in back while cantering and would basically hop up and down. Vet came back out and said it was back or neck and sent us for a bone scan (around $1,800 I think). Only thing that lit up was his back. They took x-rays, which you can find on my blog, which showed moderate kissing spines. They injected the tendon in his back with steroids which gave me my horse back for a while. I won't go into the rest of what I've been doing because it's a lot of information. We can discuss more if you would like, let me know.
    If the horse is back sore upon palpation you could just do back x-rays. Would save you money and get you an answer.
    As I said, I struggled for many years trying to figure out what was wrong with Stampede, it is not fun so I feel for you!

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    1. I think back x rays might at least give me some peace of mind. Did the bute trials not change anything? I was considering that but if there is no change for a horse with KS it might be pointless. Thanks for sharing your story, I will read into your posts!

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    2. Nope, we didn't see any results from any pain med trials at all. I'm not sure if that was because the pain was just that bad or if since he's big the dosage was too low. For example, for the Previcox trial back then I gave him 1 57mg pill per day. When he had hoof issues a couple months ago, he was up to 2 57mg pills per day for a while. I think because he is not a normal size there is a tendency for him to get undermedicated. I certainly wouldn't throw out the idea of doing a pain med trial, but if you don't get results I wouldn't assume it's not a physical issue either.

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  14. It's funny, I'm just going through a thought process of how do we know our horses are happy and what would I do if I thought either of mine no longer enjoyed what I was asking him to do (by comparison with you, I do very little. Trail riding, a little dressage & natural horsemanship style groundwork. Decided to stop jumping years ago but I have one horse who loves to jump so I have been known to pop a pole once or twice recently) Anyway coming back to my thought process... i finally concluded that I would stop asking him to do what I wanted if he was clearly unhappy. So that's what I would do if, in your situation, I had explored all other options. He is definitely letting you know that he is not enjoying his work, even though you really vary it a lot.
    You suggest in one of your replies that maybe you wouldn't compete for a year and put the money saved towards a body scan. I think that's a good idea.
    Psychic? Dunno...
    But I know a really amazing equine osteopath in Quebec if you are interested.

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    1. I think a body scan could be useful, but with 4 other horses I just wonder if I should even bother. I would be interested in the osteopaths info, thanks!

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  15. Ulcers are always my go-to for funky weird redheaded behaviors, like others said.
    FWIW, the reason I got O got $500 was because she quit going forward at all. They couldn't make her go faster than a walk, and if you put your leg on her she would halt. If you pressed the issue, she would turn around and bite your feet. When I got her home, she'd either gallop like a maniac with no stop or steering, or would stop dead and no amount of thumping her in the ribs would get her to move. My solution to this sounds horrible but worked really well - I rode out with a friend often, who rode with split reins. Whenever O would stop dead and act like a cow, my friend would come up behind her and wallop her one across the butt with a split rein. That way it wasn't a fight between O and I, it was an external source of pressure telling her that if she stopped dead, the heat would turn on. Obviously this only works with a horse who doesn't kick or get nasty to things behind them. It worked like a charm for O and she quit doing it and never tried it again.
    I'm the first to jump to physical problems, but if you do rule all those out... might be something to consider!

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    1. It is worth a try, he is polite so I'm not worried about him kicking another horse, but he may buck me off lol

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  16. Three things that are easy (and relatively inexpensive) to test for:

    1. Lyme - that can cause a horse to be uncomfortable to the point of being unrideable. Use the Cornell Lyme multiplex test.

    2. EPM - a horse that is uncertain about where his feet are will be very resistant to being ridden. Use the Pathogenes peptide ELISA test - the other tests that are available are useless.

    3. Ulcers. Get some UlcerGard paste, and try a few doses to see if it makes a difference - ulcers are common and can be extremely painful.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes - I admire your dedication to your horse.

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    1. I can do the two tests when he gets his spring shots, thanks for the advice. I don't think EPM based on symptoms but you never know. He has already had an ulcer treatment.

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  17. No advice because this is a very personal decision and you know the horse best, but my heart is breaking for you. I am sure that whatever decision you make will be the right one, and William is lucky to have you <3

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  18. I don't have time to read the comments right now, but it does sound like he's trying to tell you something... have you looked into saddle fit and ulcers yet? I don't think you mentioned either of those. As far as the kissing spines... there is a blog I follow and she got her horse through it and is successfully competing in Hunters. Let me find the link for you http://www.piasparade.blogspot.com/ You may be able to contact her and get some help that way. I have my fingers crossed you can figure it out because it sounds like he is super talented!!

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    1. Thank you, we have done ulcers and he has a new saddle, but its always worth a second look!

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  19. Wow, that is tough. :( I agree that ulcers might be something to look at. Have you tried riding him bitless? Sending good thoughts your way!

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    1. I rode him in an english hackamore once and he was good but strong. He was still sticky when I first mounted. I would love to try a bitless though.

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  20. This might be totally off the wall, but a friend of mine had an unpredictable horse - from the moment he was broke to saddle. He's a sweet and loving personality, but under saddle would just lose it. He was like a bronco. Not every time. but a lot of times. No one could break him of it, and they couldn't figure it out for years. YEARS. Turns out, he had EPM. It was manifesting with pain in his back. The back pain would spasm when he was undersaddle and he would lose his marbles. He's been on treatment, and is doing fantastic. He's a totally different horse.

    I wouldn't rule out pain. If he's that important to you, I would save up and get the scans (and blood tests!). I'd use take those things to other vets for second opinions if yours can't figure it out.

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  21. My sister and I went through this with a TB mare we shared back several years ago. She was stunning when she was on her game and cleaned up at shows but when she was having a bad day, which was 70% of the time, she was a handfull! Whether it was running through the bit, baulking and refusing to move until she felt the need, bucking or crow hopping, gazelling over fences. I could go on...
    We were riding her 5-6 days a week, she was poked and prodded by the vets and nothing came up.
    Eventually, the both of us were having more bad rides than good so we bought other horses. She became a pasture ornament.

    A few years later we sold her and heard she became a great eventer after being sent to a cowboy for a tune up.

    I am not one to sell a problem horse but I couldn't afford to keep one either. If it were me... I might be inclined to see about giving the horse to an experienced horse who wants to work through these things with the requirement that if the partnership doesn't work, he comes back to me.

    Best of luck, this isn't easy.

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    1. This isn't really an option for me - he isn't dangerous, and is still rideable, just a bit difficult. That being said, William has major stranger danger, and sending him to someone else to ride would probably send him back a few years in taining. He is a particular and sensitive boy. I would rather him be a pet then be stressed by moving barns. Thanks

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  22. Hard things for sure. There are some great ideas here. I have nothing to add other than to say that there is no shame in stepping back. We overachievers tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and forget that the horse has it's own schedule. Best wishes to you both.

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    1. exactly...I doubt William cares if he ever shows again or is ridden for that matter. Thanks :)

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  23. Ugh, I'm so sorry you're going through this. I didn't read through all of the comments, so I apologize if some of this is redundant. I don't really have any great insight, but two things popped into my head:

    1. Sidepull -- Have you tried this, since you mention his mouth issues?
    2. A different rider -- Have you tried having someone else ride him?

    My trainer had a horse a few summers ago who was a really cool guy -- could go in all 3 rings and was just a solid citizen type. As an OTTB he was a little hot and sensitive (as you might expect) and too much her his very beginner rider, but worked great for one of my trainer's clients. When the client went away to school, my trainer's working student rode the horse. And they just... didn't get along. So my trainer sold him to an IEA team, and he's been happy as a clam ever since.

    I say that just to highlight my thought #2. I don't mean any disrespect whatsoever to your riding or training, because I think you are a wonderful, talented rider. But maybe for some weird reason, you just don't get along with William? I don't know, I'm grasping at straws :-/

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    1. I take absolutely no offence so no worries LOL - I actually got my hands on him because of this reason - it is entirely possible, and I have asked one of my friends to come out and take him for a spin. The problem is riders who are capable are few and far between in this area. So I have to be careful not to make it worse. I let one woman I did a clinic with ride him and after that I couldn't get him to walk for nearly 2 weeks...and his canter was completely ruined. So I am very cautious - but I am looking for people I trust to see how he is for them. Thanks for your input!

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  24. Such a personal and difficult dilemma to find yourself in. I'm late to the discussion and you've had awesome suggestions to add to the shopping list of things you've tried. Afraid I have no advice to offer that hasn't already been suggested.
    I just wanted to echo what others have said; William is one lucky lucky beggar to have you to fight his corner *hugs*

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  25. No insights here- just hugs! He is a lucky duck!

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