After a week of relatively relaxed rides at the new-old barn. . . we had another not-so-great ride yesterday. As you recall, I suspected a few weeks ago that Tucker may have been having a mid-life crisis. Yesterday I had to get off and lunge the poor beast (on a really hot day, which I really hated doing to him), because he was spooking (at something that shouldn't have been quite that scary) so badly that he was becoming unsafe, for both of us. (Read: I do not trust my big clumsy horse to stand on his hind legs and not kill us both.)
As you know, these situations cause an immediate morph into Rider-Scientist Extraordinaire. I'll walk you through my varied list of hypotheses as to the possible causes of this errant behavior, and show you where the Process of Elimination has gotten me so far.
1. I went with the easiest solution first -- maybe it's just a little extra-special Spring Fever, and maybe he just needs a few pro rides. Limited success there, I know the pro I was using had one very good ride on him. Since he was spooking and occasionally acting like a moron (sorry Tucker, but it's true dear) even with the pro, though, I don't think that was the solution.
2. Next guess was the grain, and this hypothesis definitely had merit. When I switched barns, we also switched feeds. He has been on Omelene 400, which is a grain that I love, for about 3 1/2 years now (he also gets beet pulp, but that didn't change). It's low sugar, low protein (12%), and high fiber, and it's forage-based (beet pulp), not grain-based, which seems to be better for Tucker. It also has the Amplify nugget built right in, which is a weight-gain supplement I had looked into even before I started this feed. When we moved, we switched him to Triple Crown Complete, which was the preferred feed of the barn manager there, who is very knowledgeable about nutrition and feeding. It's also beet pulp-based, and it's the same 12% protein level, so I figured it was comparable. It is, however, higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and anyone who has ever been on a diet will know immediately that means more calories. Since Tucker was high as a kite, I thought maybe the change in feed was making him fresh. Long story short, he's back on the O-400 (has been for several weeks now), but the issue still isn't resolved. So, the grain-switch may not have helped matters, but the buck (haha, pun intended) does not stop here.
3. Though this one wasn't on my original list, it occurred to me after I moved that I might have been stressed out by outside factors (read: barn drama), and Tucker was picking up on the bad vibes and responding. I've been blissfully happy since moving back to the new place, so I don't think that was it. I am usually 100% willing to take the blame when things go awry, but in this case, I don't think it was my nervous energy causing all the problems.
4. My next guess is ulcers. The last time we had stomach trouble, it was after Tucker's first away show. When we came home, he was cranky undersaddle, super-sensitive to my leg, and throwing temper tantrums in his stall at feeding time (pawing, pacing, slamming his sides into the walls). We treated for ulcers, then put him on SmartGut, and the behavior stopped. That was about two years ago. This time, we moved barns, we switched grain, and I gave him a heavy dose of wormer right before the move (in hindsight, that was bad timing). I've been gathering as much info as I can, searching the COTH forum, reading veterinary articles, talking to other horse owners, etc. It seems a lot of horses showed signs of ulcers in the form of massive spooking. Many riders described it as "Jekyll and Hyde" behavior, which fits Tucker right now to a tee. Some days he is lovely (like our cross country day, and our hack in the dark the other night), and other days, it is like trying to ride a fire-breathing dragon.
So, I talked to my vet's office today, and we decided to go through a round of UlcerGard. I'm going to give him one tube per day for about ten days, and will see if he shows any signs of improvement. If he does, we'll keep going for another 18 days (good lord that is going to hurt my wallet), and if not, I'll set up a physical with my vet and see if everything is okay otherwise. (Spooking could be vision-related, or he could be having pain elsewhere, so the tension when he spooks could be increasing the physical discomfort, say if he's already got stiffness in his back or something). Then again, if all this is inconclusive, he could just be going through a naughty phase, but I'd like to think better of him than that, for now.
Incidentally, FarmVet is having a sale on UlcerGard right now, $29.99 per tube if you buy twelve at a time. Offer is good until this Friday... which gives me just enough time to transfer money out of my savings. Sigh. As quick as I save it, Tucker finds a way to spend it . . . .