Horses, Life, A Touch of Geek

Sensitive Fellow

Milton still hates to be brushed. He doesn’t even like to be rubbed with a towel. All horses like towel.

I’ve had sensitive horses before, usually evident in the summer. My first horse was groomed with a towel in summer. Previous Horse was groomed with a hose when it was hot.

This is different. Milton doesn’t flinch away. Instead, when I bring any grooming tool near him, especially to his neck and back on the right side, he tightens the neck and back, throws his head up, gets that ugly bulgy underneck, and pins his ears. ‘I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!’ Then, once I brush him, he relaxes and chews and yawns and sighs.

The fact that he does it on the approach makes me wonder if the problem is mental, if he is anticipating.

Physically, we’ve checked for underlying skin issues. He has a gorgeously smooth sleek coat, particularly for a pasture horse. He’s shiny enough that dirt slides off. Yes, he is itchier that most horses. He adores being scratched. However, there is no evidence of hives or other skin conditions. I know perfectly healthy people who are simply itchy. You’d think this would make Milton a fan of grooming. But no.

Thoughts? Advice?

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Comments on: "Sensitive Fellow" (9)

  1. I do not tolerate pinning ears at people for any reason. I would put him to work and make him move his feet, then try your approach again. Pinning ears is a threat and/or a show of disrespect. If there’s no underlying medical condition then you are dealing with an attitude that needs an adjustment You don’t like that it’s time to groom? Fine … we’ll do some work instead! On goes the halter, on goes the line and work commences. Wash, rinse, repeat. That’s my .02 cents.

  2. Possible bad association to those tools and something that happened before. What does he do if the grooming tools are just laying around? Does he react to them then? For me, I’d want to see how he reacts to those items in other situations and is it distance to him, particular grooming tools etc? Because that’s what his behavior sounds like to me. I hear your friend above, the behavior isn’t acceptable but it sounds like a fear reaction from how you describe it. So if that is the case, I’d change the association – depending on when/how he reacts would depend on the exact way I’d do it but I’d start associating those items with food/treats. I did this with the mare I had, not just dogs oh and a friend’s horse when I was visiting 🙂 Can discuss off line if you are interested.

  3. I have no helpful suggestions, sorry! My high school TB, Blue, hated being brushed also. He was not treated very kindly in his life and I suspect had some negative associations with it. I also wonder now if he had some ulcer issues. Best of luck figuring things out with Mr. Milton! Some of us just have more sensitive skin (I am one of those!)

  4. It’s a thin-skinned, track horse thing. My old

  5. Okay, hate my new computer. It’s hyper-sensitive itself. ANYWAY … my old Prelim horse, Toddy, made grinchy faces his whole life while being groomed, even though I stuck to uber-soft body brushes and towels. New chestnut guy, Sunny, is much the same. As long as it’s just grinchy faces and not actually gnashing teeth, my approach is to let them express themselves and get it out of their systems.

  6. I guess it depends where we each draw our line. I don’t mind ears. I figure all of us are entitled to an opinion. Caesar was immensely expressive with his ears and free with his opinion. As long as he kept those to himself. I draw the line when opinion becomes action. But yes, Milton could use more work.

    He is afraid of something, but it’s more of being touched than the tools themselves. As for training with food … sigh … someone on the property has turned both horses into such treat mooches that rewarding with food is problematic. Fortunately, they have learned the difference between the peoples. They know not to mug me for carrots, cookies, etc.

    For all that he presents as tough, Milton is thin-skinned. In so many ways. For some reason, I have trouble seeing him as a racehorse, so I forget to factor that into his behavior. Sure, Zenyatta liked her beer. I suspect when one runs in the slow lane, one’s delicate sensibilities are not taken into account.

    Tried a month of ulcer meds. Made him worse.

    Thanks for all the advice.

    • I hear that you don’t want to train with food but I will say that just as they learned to differentiate between the 2 of you, they/he can also learn the situation. If you just use it for grooming, or for training only and not ‘free’ treats, they will learn to understand that.
      My dogs aren’t fans of grooming in particular but when I pull the table out, everyone vies to get on it. It’s because it’s got that association with treats over time. And then I do the same to some extent with the actual grooming and get reasonable behavior.

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