Grumpy yearling..

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Quentin Waltz

Jul 9, 2023
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England, UK
I have a yearling filly who has been with me for four months. I used to feel that she liked me, enjoyed my company, rushed over to see me and would follow me around. Now, I feel that she doesn't like me much at all. I'm only ever kind (but firm when necessary) to her. Never hit her or been unkind. I'm always patient and softly spoken with her. She doesn't seem to enjoy being groomed and occasionally has a nip of the air in my direction (I'm always gentle). She's just turned in to a grumpy little 💩. She's entirely food oriented and that seems to be the only interest she has in me at the moment.
Could it just be puberty? Will she outgrow it? Is this normal yearling behaviour?
I've cut her hard feed down a bit to see if that helps, also I've ordered her an ulcer treatment supplement just in case it's that.
(FYI, I have more than 30 years experience with horses and have a 31 year old Arab mare who's been mine for 28 years. I'm good with sensitive types as a result).

Thanks for any advice or suggestions you can offer. It's making me feel a bit sad...
Sounds like a mare thing more than a yearling thing. Maybe ulcers. On the other hand you can try to switch up your grooming routine. Do you use a metal curry or a rubber one? Maybe she wants something firmer or softer. I use a soft rubber curry in the summer and a grooma groomer in winter. My mare leans into it until my arm hurts. My stallion hates anything more than the same pressure I would use on my own face. Every horse I have ever known has a spot they love to be scratched and I make sure I find it on each.
I completely understand what you are going through, I've also had mine (2 yearlings!) for 4 months now and we are only beginning to understand each others' languages. I encourage you to look at her behavior in a different way, if you are her primary caretaker you are such a big important part of her world but she is probably starting to feel unheard. She is uncomfortable with grooming for some reason and escalating to nipping so you will hear her discomfort louder. Trying out different grooming tools is a great way to see if she needs a different type of touch, watch for subtle behavior signs to see which tool she enjoys more and which she gets uncomfortable with.

Like LostandFound mentioned, scratching is a great way to a horse's heart, especially a youngin'! You can change her perception of grooming with clever scratching - babies are so itchy, my yearlings would do many things just to get another scratch. Start small with a couple brush strokes or curries (before she becomes uncomfortable and starts nipping) then give her a good scratch where she really loves it - look for the neck stretching and upper lip wiggling! Stop scratching and do a couple more brush strokes, then back to scratching the good spot! Rinse and repeat, adding more grooming in between scratches as she understands the game. She'll come to realize that grooming time means very pleasant scratches will happen too - what yearling wouldn't love that?!

It is so great you are looking into other options that could be causing her discomfort too, like ulcers. I started my boys on some alfalfa pellets with aloe vera juice once they arrived to try preventing ulcers/soothe their bellies after the stress of moving. Yearlings are growing so much and likely have aches and pains often from growth spurts, teething, etc., and of course hormone changes affect them physically and mentally too, so try to be understanding of behavior changes especially at this age.

Most importantly, try not to be sad because it will hinder your growth and she will feel these emotions from you too. Use these moments as an opportunity to figure out how to improve your bond together. I say all this with sincerity because I feel the exact same way when my boys seem to regress, but I've been trying to approach every day as a new day with them to see where they are at and what they are ready to do with me. It is absolutely amazing to go through this journey with the young ones because the foundation we set now will stay with them for life.
Yes, i would try a different grooming tool. But, maybe eventually she will like it. I got an older gelding last year and he didn't like being brushed or groomed. I tried a softer brush and he did better. Now he enjoys it, but I take it easy with harder tools. Also, there could be static electricity. Try spritzing your brush with a fabric anti-static product.
Sounds like you have plenty of training experience. What a silly baby!
Hi @Quentin Waltz, I have a different thought. I'm curious about your herd dynamics between the two of you. You describe yourself as quiet, soft spoken and firm when you need to be. As a yearling, your youngster is looking for her place in the herd (that's my observation with my own young horses.) Horses understand herd language and behavior. We humans often anthropomorphize their behavior into human terms. I would suggest she's either looking for leadership or communicating that she's not confident in yours. I would start with in-hand training. Have her moving, faster, slower, turning and BACKING UP at your direction. Demonstrate that you can move her body. Then I'd go to solving problems. For instance, gates are fantastic because they cannot open them, but clever humans can!
My own personal space is sacred and any of my horses are not permitted into my space unless they're polite and respectful. Every one of them learns to GET OUT early on.
Think the lead mare, she does not move around anyone when she goes from point A to B. Everyone moves out of her way. It's her character, not that she's mean. I'm not mean either and I assure you, nothing on my property has fear. In fact, EVERYTHING meets us at the gate. I am the leader. I take care of things. If there's a problem, I make it better. I give the horses direction and when I'm the leader, none of them has to be and everyone gets to relax.

My mental rattling on...

I'm also glad you're treating for ulcers. So many of them have it.

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