In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.


Consolation is behaving strangely.  After three months of energetic, willing, conditioning rides, she has spent the last two weeks like this:

  • Slow, sucked back, sometimes balky or short-strided
  • Emotionally high, especially under saddle, energy moves “up” instead of “out”
  • Very spooky without obvious cause
  • Hypersensitive to touch, cold-backed, girthy
  • Spent several days with hind legs moderately stocked-up
  • Attitude reasonably sociable and interested, but not forward or energetic
  • Seemed to fatigue too easily on our longest conditioning ride (28 miles, 2.5 weeks ago)

All of these are things I’ve observed in her before, but rarely are the sypmtoms this dramatic.  Additional observations:

  • Her behavior was similar last year around this time.
  • She doesn’t seem to have any back pain, though it’s hard to be positive.
  • She does show some preference for softer ground, which could mean her feet hurt.
  • She isn’t lame and moves out well, both under saddle and at liberty, when she’s in the mood — she just isn’t usually in the mood.
  • I don’t think we’ve put in an excess of conditioning miles (we’ve averaged 25-30 miles/week), but our rides have tended to be longer and less frequent due to my work schedule.
  • She eats and drinks well both on rides and at liberty.
  • Two weeks ago, her weight was a little lower than ideal.
  • All the basics (regular deworming, good barefoot trims, not working on an empty stomach, etc.) have been in place the whole time.

So, possible causes:

  • She’s experiencing some kind of pain (back?  hooves?  joints?  ulcers?), possibly related to some saddle fit issues.  Jackie with Stonewall is working with me to help sort that out.  (You’ll recall that my Stonewall was custom-built for Aaruba and although it has fit Consolation well in the past, she has matured over the past year.)
  • She’s in season (hard to be sure, because she has always been very subtle about this, physically speaking — she’s not the winking, squealing type at all).  Possibly, she’s one of those mares whose spring heats are harder for her than those later in the year.
  • She’s magnesium deficient.  As a working horse on a diet comprised mostly of local hay, this is possible, particularly as I gather that southwestern Idaho soil tends to be low in magnesium.
  • She needs a different training schedule, for physical and/or mental reasons. 
  • She needs additional nutrition.

Finally, here’s my plan of action:

  • I’ve moved her to a separate paddock where she can be free-fed a grass/alfalfa mix, more grass than alfalfa.  I’ve also added in a little beet pulp and Show & Go (a high-quality, flax-based supplement available through Performance Equine).  She gets just a handful of oats mixed in with this because she won’t eat plain beet pulp or any kind of molassas-sweetened pellets.  After last year’s tie-up episode, I am being extremely careful with those oats!  Two weeks in, she’s blossoming — her muscle tone, weight, and coat look fantastic. 
  • I’ve changed her schedule to include 30-60 minutes of activity daily.  This has ranged from leisurely, in-hand walks to free-lunging to dressage work.  Meanwhile, I’ve kept our conditioning rides short (6-10 miles) and easy. 
  • I’m monitoring tack and hoof boot fit carefully, and checking her frequently for soreness.
  • I’ve ordered a magnesium supplement (di-magnesium malate) to try.  It’s inexpensive, non-toxic, and reportedly helps with “marish” issues in addition to possible magnesium deficiency.  Can’t hurt to try!

As usual, it’s difficult to diagnose exactly what is going on and why.  Confounding factors (roaring spring winds) affect symptoms like spookiness.  Attitude (“sticky” feet, periodic bitchiness) is pretty standard for Consolation, though it’s worth asking whether that’s pure personality or has a basis in pain.  Improvement occurs in jolts and starts rather than smoothly.  I’m experimenting with several factors at once, which makes it hard to draw conclusions regarding cause and effect.

Stay tuned…


13 responses

  1. Tom

    My first guess would be that she’s tired/annoyed with the training schedule, but that’s just “off the cuff”. I also thought of her possibly being in heat as well.

    Good luck figuring it out, though.

    May 11, 2011 at 7:36 am

    • Could be. She’s had LOTS of rest days between rides (maybe too much complete rest, not enough active rest), but boredom is on my list of theories.

      The seasonal thing is particularly interesting in light of the fact that she was like this in May of last year, too.

      May 11, 2011 at 7:38 am

  2. Kathy Kates

    Sounds like a blood panel work up might be helpful. Mares’ always seem to have some issue going…ye got to love them! 🙂

    May 11, 2011 at 8:24 am

    • Could be, Kathy. If lifestyle and nutritional approaches don’t get us anywhere, we may just see what a blood panel has to say, and/or vetting for some kind of pain (back, teeth, hooves, gut, etc).

      May 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm

  3. ~E.G.

    Keep careful eye on that muscle tone. A subtle underlying muscle issue can cause all the stuff / symptoms you mentioned.

    Those days of rest / heat cycle just nailed our butts to the wall.


    Hope she is better soon.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    • I totally agree, Jacke. I’ve been following your blog and 😦 😦 😦 about Phebes. I’m taking great care with Consolation (almost no grain, daily exercise, etc.), but I know you’ve done the same and are still struggling. Such a frustrating thing. Argh.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  4. indi

    You may think this is silly…but could she be depressed? Has something changed in her surroundings? Just a thought.


    May 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    • I don’t think it’s silly. 🙂 It doesn’t ring true, though. She looks quite bright and interested in life, and has a reasonable amount of (misdirected) energy — sometimes too much, other times not enough. She’s just…unsettled.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm

  5. Oh dear.. I hated seeing this post.. but it sounds like your are trying to rule all the right things out. Ofcourse, I can only offer what I have expereinced with JB and that was a few years back now… his issues were teeth and his feet. Once we resolved that, he seemed to do better. he also does better on an actual trail as opposed to road riding.. he was bored and hated it.. would even go away from me when I went to go catch him in those days of road riding… I would also second the blood panel idea. Keeping my fingers crossed its not another tye up issue brewing…keep us posted..fingers crossed the nutrition thing pans out.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    • Ugh, I know! The ER possiblility is what worries me most. I do think boredom may be a factor, which is one of the reasons we’re mixing up the daily activities to keep her moving and hopefully prevent ER, but it doesn’t seem to be the main thing. Hard to say, though, as you well know!

      I’ve wondered about teeth but can feel no hooks, chewing/digestion appear good, we ride bitless… ?? Feet have been an issue with her before, too. I wonder…

      May 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm

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