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Discussion on Why are horses more spooky in fall?

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Christine Sizemore
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Username: Gingin

Post Number: 57
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Monday, Nov 28, 2005 - 10:14 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi there!
I may be loosing my mind but it appears that every fall, my horse and her friends seem to be loosing their minds...she is usually very solid on the trail but every year, when the leaves are off the trees and the weather gets colder, suddenly there are horse-eating-EVERYTHINGS out there. Why is that? Are your horses doing this as well?

Thanks much for the insight!
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joj
Member
Username: Jojo15

Post Number: 607
Registered: 12-2003
Posted on Monday, Nov 28, 2005 - 11:09 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

LOL... my guys get more spunky when the weather changes. which also means they can get more spooky, too. I don't think its any more than weather changes, humidity changes, and they are feeling more alert. aren't you? i know i am. After 90 degree weather for 5 months, any change in the weather and i am more awake, more into working, have a quicker step and so on...

another thought is the sun is in a different place in the winter vs. summer. So i might say that shadows are longer, and things they are used to with the sun directly overhead, now seem more colorful, or shadows are at times they don't expect. Could be just hooey though, and i am pulling at straws... LOL...
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Sara Wolff
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Username: Mrose

Post Number: 975
Registered: 1-2000
Posted on Monday, Nov 28, 2005 - 11:27 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I think it's that nice nippy air, it just invigerates one, horse or person. My horses stay pretty "invigerated" all winter long. in part, they don't get as regular work in the winter, but that cool air just gets them going! They tear around the field and kick and buck, even the "oldsters" seem to love it. And, they love the snow and really play in it. I think summers are harder on horses than winters in a lot of ways.
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Robert N. Oglesby DVM
Moderator
Username: Dro

Post Number: 14211
Registered: 1-1997
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 7:00 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

No Christine you are exactly right: cool breezy weather really brings out the horse in them. Besides just the sights and the sounds, I think there may be a genetic/mental component. Horse bands that have been monitored in the wild are known to migrate to warmer areas when during these times of the year. Rather than seeking an area where there are more bodily comforts perhaps they are seeking an area in which they feel less on edge? The wide spread nature of this finding in horses, including those that were raised where such migrations are not made, suggest to me this is hardwired in the brain of horses.
DrO
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Sara Wolff
Member
Username: Mrose

Post Number: 977
Registered: 1-2000
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 9:34 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Dr.O., that's very interesting. I've never thought of their response to cold and weather changes as being "hard wired." Yet, it makes perfect sense. I wonder if it is in people, too, as I get more restless feeling also. And I can remember when I was young just feeling "wild" when a storm was coming in.
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Erika LIPTON
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Username: Erika

Post Number: 67
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 11:12 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

I guess I am no relation to my horses...I am hardwired to store nuts and prepare for hibernation!
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Linda Lashley
Member
Username: Lhenning

Post Number: 88
Registered: 6-2003
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 12:35 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I especially notice this spooky behavior just before, or during, the first snowfalls of the year. Makes sense they are hearing an internal alarm tell them to move, but can't because they are kept enclosed. Interesting.
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Shelley
Member
Username: Sswiley

Post Number: 100
Registered: 1-2005
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 12:56 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Dr O.
Sounds like a good theory about the migration. Do you think dogs are the same ? We have a lab. We are going on our second winter with her and her behavior is very consistant. She goes nuts in the cold weather. All the bad habits come roaring back. Here in CA, the winter should be the last place they want to migrate from. We finaly have grass and forage.
I do think there is some fear in them in the winter. My horses worry about the storms. I think their biggest fear is falling branches and trees. In the worst weather they are out in the middle of the arena.
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Angie
Member
Username: Ajudson1

Post Number: 307
Registered: 6-2003
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 4:00 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Nuts and chocolate for me for winter preparation!!!

I think the horses just feel good that it's cooler, and no bugs to bug 'em. I agree they do seem to love the snow. And around here they do get spookier in the fall, but with the woods full of hunters, and all the shooting, I don't blame them.

I notice my horses will sometimes run like crazy before a storm too.....

I would think animals would be even more sensitive to barometer changes than we are; having said that, I know I really feel different depending on the rise and fall of the barometric pressure. And a full moon, wowzie, I am full of energy, need hardly any sleep.

(Ever been on a moonlight ride thru the woods and have a big owl come over you??? Talk about having a spooked horse, and rider)

And I've heard that horses sense something in the ground even, they "feel" it through their feet perhaps??? Some instinct or whatever that we've lost.....
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Debbie Green
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Username: Green007

Post Number: 168
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 4:21 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I can attest to the fall/winter spook factor with most horses I have ever owned. If you can find one a horse that doesn't act that way, you can sell it to a foxhunter for $30,000!

My dogs also get excited in the winter. I am sure we have all seen a dog do that crazy gallop with front legs flying, ears flapping, and butt very low to the ground in a fresh field of snow!
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Sue G
Member
Username: Warwick

Post Number: 234
Registered: 4-2002
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 4:34 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Mine are all a little whacked out too right now. In fact last night we had a snowfall (not that common here) and even though it wasn't snowing when I brought them in the barn for the night, they were very hyped.

My German coach told me years ago, "with novice horses we hope for hot weather and with advanced ones we hope for cold." Always made complete sense to me. It's always a bonus to have that bit of extra oomph when working the advanced horses but I'm too darned old and creaky to enjoy it anymore in the young ones!
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Robert N. Oglesby DVM
Moderator
Username: Dro

Post Number: 14218
Registered: 1-1997
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 5:11 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I don't see such a correlation with dogs but certainly there are individuals who prefer the cool, he wouldn't be a bit overweight would he? I love the German coach's quote.
DrO
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Kim von Asten
Member
Username: Twhgait

Post Number: 11
Registered: 11-2005
Posted on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005 - 6:54 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

What an interesting thread! I too always thought it was just the cooler air coming in and making them more comfortable and happy. Mine-all 3-get crazy in Fall AND Spring. Spring seems worse some years! Even my foal, who's having his first fall, is higher then a kite right now.
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cp
Member
Username: Cpacer

Post Number: 72
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 9:43 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

The changing of leaves here in the Carolinas makes the same old trail look completely different week to week. Now there are very few leaves and much more to see and hear. We're both on higher alert to distant sounds and it's actually kind of eerie looking out there sometimes.

Funny too about the behavior in cooler weather--where I board they have up to 10 geldings in a single pastures of about the same or more acreage. They are now constantly playing tag and running around in cirlces for "no apparent reason". It's fabulous to watch!
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Robert N. Oglesby DVM
Moderator
Username: Dro

Post Number: 14226
Registered: 1-1997
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 10:29 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

The cooler air definitely improves their energy level, horses are really at their most comfortable when its cool, but that is not really what I am talking about. I am talking about the increased nervousness-restlessness that so many notice in their horses in the fall.
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Stina
Member
Username: Stina

Post Number: 21
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 11:04 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Is it possible that it is a survival mechanism? Prey animals have fewer available food sources when the weather is colder, and they need to eat more to maintain body temp. So perhaps, there is a ancient survival mode that kicks in when the weather changes, increasing horses' sensitivity to sites and sounds as a means by which to protect themselves against predators. An increased flight drive so to speak.
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cp
Member
Username: Cpacer

Post Number: 73
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 11:29 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

gotcha drO, it's a cosmic kind of thing. Have definitely noticed restlessness as of late (of course I just thought my horse didn't like me anymore).

Speaking of bands of horses in the wild, has anyone ever watched 'Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies'? It's a documentary from the 80's following a particular horse--a fun watch for horse lovers!

DrO, would you happen to have any documentary recommendations for people wanting to see more wild horse behavior?
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Corinne Meadows
Member
Username: Corinne

Post Number: 144
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 12:27 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Sue...I love your instructors comments...it's been a long standing wish of mine to have warmer weather (living in Minot ND that doesn't happen often) during my training.
I have a heck of a time getting him to listen to me and to come on the bit during cold...and as you have guessed he is a novice horse.
I just pray that we get something out of the dressage clinic in two weeks....it's cold right now (without windchill) and we only get this Grand Prix rider to come to town twice a year! Too bad there are NO heated arenas in a radius of five hours.
Does anyone have any suggestions for abating excitement when having to work in this weather? I probably won't get much warm up time prior to the clinic but I am working diligently with him now.

Have a great day guys!

v/r
Corinne
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Holly Wood
Member
Username: Hwood

Post Number: 871
Registered: 3-2001
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 1:15 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Corinne, your question got my mind rolling for a bit, so I am philosophising in the following post, but I did attempt to answer your question toward the end.

Even the act of haltering and grooming horses requires us overcoming the fear instincts and "fight or flight" instincts of our horses. Whatever pre-wired self-preservation patterns our horses have, we have to teach them the cues to obey so that we can be safe and in control when working around them at all times.
If our horses are more "goofy" in the cold weather, we have to work more diligently to keep their attention on us and give them work to do so that they don't argue with us. (I compare it to the pre-Christmas excitement felt by students in classrooms as they approach Christmas vacation.) Every horse is the same, but every horse is different . . . and it takes a keen ability to "read" our horses in order to anticipate the times when they may decide to follow their own desires. Ideally, we want our horses to DESIRE to obey us whenever we are working with them . . . and then both we and our horses are happy and content.
The best way to know our horses is to spend lots of time observing horses, in general, and lots of time with our own horses.
I guess what I'm trying to say, Corinne, is that there's no substitute for tons of consistent, basic training which we do everytime we halter, lead, groom, feed, tack up, mount, ride . . . etc., and our plan for the day's interactions will be dependent upon what our horses are willing to give us for the day.
One of the reasons showing and clinics and planned rides can be very frustrating for us at particular times is because each event is a scheduled, planned event with particular expectaions by the planners and by the riders. Unfortunately for us, the horses don't have any expectations . . . They don't know that we have preconceived notions of accomplishing this movement or that distance . . . They just want to be comfortable and well-fed and have their base desires satisfied . . . So, in order for us to be successful in our horsemanship, we have to be open to working with wherever our horses' minds are that day . . . and our best choice, no matter where we are, is to train from that point . . . otherwise both we and our horses may end up terribly frustrated . . .
So . . . to answer your question about tips for abating excitement . . .
Read your horse accurately and teach him the cues, every day, to focus on you and obey your cues for "move," . . . and be consistent in your goal to get control over every part of your horse's body and teach him the cues for moving each part . . . and remain diligent, specific and consistent in your asking, and always reward every try . . . And your horse will see working with you as a successful time . . . and will not be as apt to resist . . . So that when you DO have particular events to attend, you may allow yourself the privilege of some expectaions of accomplishment . . . but always leave the door open for the possibility that your horse may not be ready for what YOU are hoping . . . and that never has to be a discouraging experience (although other people may try to tell us we have been unsuccessful) because EVERY minute we spend with our horses is an opportunity for learning and growing and bonding and becoming a TEAM, even if we may not be doing the piaffes we picture in our minds.
Recently, one of our members (sorry, I don't remember which one) attended a "spook proofing" clinic with some police horsemen . . . and she and her horse had a super successful time. I believe the reason they were so successful is that they went into the event not knowing what to expect but hoping to come away from the event more knowledgeable than they went into it . . . and I believe we should look at every event we attend as she looked at that one . . . it was an event that left room for the horses and the riders to make mistakes, work through fears, and have small successes . . . and any progress the horses made to conquer fears of balloons or baby carriages or loud booms gave both the horses and their handlers a feeling of satisfaction and success.
Have fun at the clinic. Don't feel pressured by the expectations of other people or of yourself. Be flexible and positive, and you and your horse will come away from the clinic more in tune with one another.
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Fran C
Member
Username: Canter

Post Number: 347
Registered: 1-2000
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 1:17 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Corrine,
Before you go to your clinic (or if there's space there), longe your horse for a few minutes in side reins. That usually works to get some excess silliness out, gets the horse in a working frame of mind, plus, if you can longe just prior to climbing into the saddle, the side reins should help him think about sinking into the bit.

Good luck & let us know how it goes.
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Sara Wolff
Member
Username: Mrose

Post Number: 981
Registered: 1-2000
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 5:45 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Holly-excellent!

I was recently given a book titled "Inside Your Horses Mind" by Lesley Skipper. I think all of you would find it interesting. I haven't finished it yet, but it delves into the way the horses' mind works, and also how our minds work regarding the horse (ie. presuppositions, prejudices, pre-concieved ideas about the horse, etc.) and how our thoughts affect the horse and how it reacts to us.
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Corinne Meadows
Member
Username: Corinne

Post Number: 145
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005 - 10:35 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Thanks Holly, Fran and Sara!
I got my first set of side reigns two weeks ago and have been lunging him at least three days a week in addition to my lessons (unfortunately, there are little ones riding right before my lessons so I chose not to lunge him then on the off chance it will spook their horses)
Anyway, today when I put them on, after just two weeks, using my dressage saddle instead of the surcingle because I was able to ride after, he came onto the bit very nicely and after warming up at the walk very calmly listened to all my commands. The first few times I used them he wanted to come behind the bit and just needed some gentle reminders to pick his head up. Now, he is really balanced and able to work in an outline all the time at the trot and for the first time today he was able to work a few 20 meter circles on the bit at the canter...although I do not keep him at the canter for long on the lunge because I know it can be quite a workout and hard on their legs.
When I got on him I only rode for about 15 minutes because of the cold but he was soft and really listened to me without being pony on a mission like he usually is in when the temp drops.

Holly...Thank you for your lengthy response.
I agree with you that every minute you spend with them is a learning lesson and that consistency pays off. I have been trying to do the same warm up with him as an article in my last issue of Dressage Today said that may help with the spook factor because it is something he can trust to occur and rely on.
I love your point that their expectations of events are not the same as ours. He has no idea this clinic means so much to me nor should I expect him to. The one good thing about this clinician is if he is a bit spooky she spends a good amount of time teaching you how to bring him down and how not to let your frustration play into his anxiety. Her speciality is Haute E'cole (did I spell that right?) so she is amazing at communicating with horses and teaching others how to read them in their training because even when you are not in a lesson it is training for the horse.
Anyway, I am going to get that book Sara.
I have a bit of headache so I am going to have to cut this short. But Thanks for all the good advice. I will let you all know how it goes.
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