Noble and Joe were both initially unhappy about the change - nervous, fretful and convinced that the people who put them in the wrong stalls had made a mistake. It's taken a number of days for them to finally settle in to their new locations. Now that they're more settled, we'll leave them where they are rather than switching back. I also believe that the change was part of what caused the mare wars between Lily and Dawn that I posted about several days ago - the upheaval agitated Lily, who then upset Dawn . . . Let that be a lesson to me to remember that, just because I have the power to do something with or to my horses, doesn't mean that I should if it isn't in the horse's best interests.
On a different topic, I mentioned a while ago that I thought Maisie might have ulcers. Over time, I've learned to examine problem behaviors my horses exhibit in a somewhat different way than I used to. Before I learned better, I used to think if one of my horses did something "bad" - bucking, rearing, pawing in the stall, head tossing, refusal to work in the way I wanted - it was just a matter of "making" the horse do the right thing by using whatever training methods I could, including punishment and gadgets. Now, whenever I'm confronted with an undesirable behavior, whether in the stall, on the ground or under saddle, I first try to eliminate all physical issues first before approaching the problem as a training issue. Sometimes horses are trying to say something (very loudly since we don't hear very well) with these behaviors. These physical issues can include skeletal/muscular issues that can be fixed or at least improved with treatments such as chiropractic, ulcers (more on this below), diet issues (horses that are getting the wrong foods - either in terms of quality, composition or amount), saddle fit issues (remember how it felt the last time you wore a pair of shoes that didn't fit?), dental issues, fitness or conformation issues, etc. Only after all of these have been seriously considered and fixed or improved where necessary do I move on to training. Then it's a matter of finding a way to work through the training issue that remains (sometimes it goes away altogether when the physical issue is fixed).
I was amazed to discover how many horses have ulcers. Read your horse magazines - there have been articles about it. Untreated ulcers are painful, and can produce behavioral issues. This was brought home recently to me by a horse my 19 year old daughter owns (not at our barn). She got this horse for free, other than the cost of a vet check and transportation, because the horse, a 10 year old Oldenburg mare with excellent bloodlines, had become dangerous to handle. The mare was no longer rideable. The mare could not be touched, even by a person she knew - she would scream, strike, bite and kick. Farrier visits were out of the question - her hind legs could not be handled at all - so her feet were a mess. She could not be groomed or blanketed, and had developed a bad case of rain rot. Vet visits were a nightmare. She needed serious dental work. She also needed chiropractic, but would not tolerate the chiropractor touching her. And even worse, at feeding time she became dangerously aggressive and would viciously attack the person bringing feed - to feed her you had to carry weapons - a stick or whip - and even then you were at risk of injury. Her owners were planning to euthanize her.
Once my daughter got her, she first worked on making sure she could feed the mare without being injured, and was able to enforce limits so the mare would stay back from the feeding area until permitted to approach. My daughter still had to be very careful - the mare still wanted to attack. She had the mare sedated, had initial work done on her teeth and had her scoped for ulcers. Lo and behold, the mare had extremely severe ulcers, which must have been causing her severe pain, particularly at feeding time! Her aggression at feeding time was due to the severe pain that the approach of food caused her - I expect the pain was basically driving her crazy. And then to top it off, she was punished for the behaviors that occurred when she was in pain, probably causing her to associate people with her pain. No wonder she wanted to kill everybody!
The mare has been on the prescription generic version of Gastrogard for about 5 months now. Her behavior has improved enormously - she's gradually learned that everything doesn't hurt and that people don't cause her pain. One by one, my daughter has been able to reintroduce her to normal horse care routines, and she can now tolerate the vet, farrier and chiropractor, as well as grooming and blanketing. My daughter first started working her in the round pen, first working her from outside the pen for safety. The mare has progressed well and my daughter is now starting to ride her. Much credit to my daughter and her careful and slow work! I look forward to what they may do next - the mare knows how to jump from her prior life and my daughter hopes to start showing her soon.
Now that's certainly a dramatic example of the problems ulcers can cause. Now in Maisie's case, the behavior she was exhibiting at feeding time was "body-slamming" - she would pin her ears and slam her whole body against the stall walls - and kicking the stall walls. It was bad enough that we had to reinforce her stall walls with heavy plywood. But - and here's the clue - this behavior only happened at morning feeding, not in the PM. In the morning, as soon as I walked in the barn, she would start, and would continue until I gave her some hay. In the old days, I probably would have yelled at her or saved her hay to last ("to teach her a lesson"). Thankfully, now I think about the behavior instead. It was interesting that the behavior occurred when Maisie's stomach was empty, in the morning, and not in the evening when she had a full stomach from grazing. In light of my daughter's experience with her mare, I thought - ulcers? I could have had her scoped, but decided to try an over-the-counter ulcer remedy - U-Gard - for a period of time to see if it made a difference. If she had mild ulcers, that might do the trick. If she had severe ulcers, I would probably still have to have her scoped and then have my vet prescribe Gastrogard or the generic equivalent.
Well it's now about 30 days since we started the U-Gard. Maisie no longer body-slams or kicks at morning feeding time; she just stands calmly and comfortably until I feed her. When I exhaust the current container, I'm going to stop the treatment for a bit to see if the behaviors recur or not, and go from there.
I've certainly learned a lot from my daughter's experience and my experience with Maisie. Ulcers are now on my list of possible physical issues that may need to be looked at before a behavior is deemed a training issue.