Casper Couldn't Canter (Can Safely Canter Now)


I purchased Casper as an unstarted three year old. I had no intention of buying a young horse ever again after a nightmare experience that ended in tears and me nearly giving up horses as a mug's game. I saw Casper and just loved him. He was friendly and a pleasure to handle to begin with.


About one month after I got him he started biting at his shoulder and chest when I picked up his front feet. I thought this was a foal behaviour that had lingered. It was intermittent and I would tell him 'no' firmly and he would stop.


So at age four he was started under saddle by a very good friend and this was done with natural methods so he certainly had never had any traumatic handling. All went well for the first three months then one day out of the blue he started biting at himself whilst being ridden. The first time he did it I thought he had been bitten by something as it was so violent. I got off to inspect gear and see if there were any insect bites. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary so I got back on and asked him forward, he did it again and this time it was so bad I thought he would rear if I asked him forward.


He did it the next ride so I called in the vet, chiropractor, dentist, etc. From then on it was an exhaustive and expensive investigation process. New saddle, different types of saddles, new bits, bridles, different riders, saddle cloths, riding bareback, girths, new farrier, the list was endless... I did extensive searching on the internet but couldn't find out why he did this.


The biting would become intermittent. It might be five minutes into the ride, he might do it one hour into a ride, he might not do it at all. There was no pattern to it. Life intervened with a very sick father and I had to put my horses on hold for approximately one year whilst we nursed and eventually farewelled my father from this earth. I couldn't summon the interest or the passion to ride so by this time Casper was going on seven.


I finally got back into it only to find he had started doing other 'bad' things such as spooking violently at things like the gate, the cavalettis that had been in the same position for months, at his paddock mate... There is Jimmy... shy. I had difficulty bridling him, he would throw his head up in the air, I tried all the techniques I knew to curtail this but nothing worked. I could lower his head to the ground with the tip of my finger but the minute the bridle came near him he would fling his head up. Putting a saddle on was a dance around the paddock, rugging him was just not worth the effort. He would freak out when the rug touched him.


When I did get to ride him and all was good in his world he was brilliant. Smooth, light, rhythmical but if he was not okay he was heavy, wouldn't listen, just awful to ride and he would kick out at a walk if tapped with a crop. If I put my leg on he would kick out or turn around and try to bite at himself.


Casper and Leanne BeforeForget canter, that was just not an option, on the lunge I would get a full on rodeo display and there was no way I was going to ride that, I am not a glutton for punishment. Naturally all this crazy behaviour made riding less and less appealing. Some days I would have preferred to do the vacuuming than ride!!!


So the final straw came in November, 2008. Casper was now eight years old, having cantered probably four times under saddle. My instructor had got him to canter when I sent him there for training, her words were, "Yes, I got him to canter but he kicked up a beauty." I had gone on a two month holiday to America and happily cantered and even galloped some horses over there out in the wilds of the mid west and was playing cowgirl. Not a care in the world. It gave me the confidence boost that I could canter a horse.


During this time away we had loads of rain and humidity (perfect for myco-toxins). I came home all fired up and ready to get Casper cantering. Well the first ride back was a complete disaster. Mind you I had done all the usual preparation of a horse that hadn't been ridden for a while but he was just ballistic, he had also started head flicking now. I ended the ride in tears and now convinced this was the end of the road for Casper and me as a team. It briefly crossed my mind to have him put down like a lot of people had suggested, but this wasn't fair to him even though he had become dangerous to ride. He was still a sweetheart and I truly believed that there was something happening that I just couldn't work out what he was trying to tell me.


Casper and Nikki AfterI sent a desperate email to Casper's breeder, Michelle,  I simply stated what I had done to date and that this was the final chance. Was there something in his history or genetic line that I needed to know about. Michelle's answer came back about myco-toxins .

After Michelle's email regarding toxins, and further research I found Gotcha Equine,  since commencing Casper on The Gotcha Feed Plan he and I have gone ahead in leaps and bounds (the right ones). We have had a few set backs but these were when I felt sorry for Casper and extended his area for a bit more grazing or have fiddled with his diet.


The happiest part of this story is that he no longer bites at himself when being ridden... and WE CAN CANTER. We have cantered more in the past four months than we have in the four years since he was started. He just gets better with each ride. Rugging him now is not an issue, even in a storm he doesn't bat an eyelid. All his crazy behaviours have completely gone. I can't thank Lucy enough for the support and hand holding through this and Casper says thank you.


Thanks to Kerrie, my dear friend for her support, to Caryn and Jade for the 'finishing touches' to Casper's canter. Thanks to Ro, my instructor for her belief in me and Casper, my daughter Sharyn, for keeping me real and the tissues handy for my tears and last but not least, my long suffering husband David, for his ear to bash even though he didn't have a clue what I was talking about, for his unfailing support and love.


Lucy is right... Even the husbands notice the change.


Casper is the sweet, calm and responsive boy I knew was in there somewhere.

It wasn't his fault, he just couldn't think straight.

I am so glad I didn't give up on him.



Leanne Aarts - Sydney, Australia.


Read Leanne's Stable Diary - A Year in the Life of Casper.


Update On Casper's Story.


I am so thrilled, Casper just goes from strength to strength. We went out and did our first dressage test in nearly two years on 21 Feb 10. Before putting Casper on the Gotcha Feed Plan I had entered competitions only to have to scratch and therefore lose my entry fees as Casper would be too badly behaved and biting to compete.


We entered two Preparatory tests as I wanted to keep it low pressure for both of us as it has been a long time. I gave Casper additional magnesium everyday for three days prior to our competition. We arrived early at 7:00am for a 9:00am test. I had visions of having to do a long work down and having Casper snorting around the warm up area so I allowed plenty of time. I unloaded him, he backed off calmly, looked around and took a deep sigh. So we walked around the competition areas, he was more interested in trying to munch the grass. So I sat back and had a coffee to steady my nerves. Then we went to the lunge area and he was perfect, only sign of any anxiousness was a head shake into the canter, that was it.


So time to warm up under saddle, this was forty five minutes out from our test and I thought I would need all that time to get him calm (not that he was displaying any nerves at all, in fact the complete opposite). Within five minutes I knew he didn't need to be drilled into the ground, he did what was asked, was mildly curious of what was going on around him but stayed focused with me.



We finally competed in our first test, the Prep 2, where we scored 50%. I laughed at the judge's comment, "He was looking out of the arena." What he was doing was checking out the white rail, he is not happy about white rails because of the white electric fencing. He was just keeping an eye on it in case it came alive and bit him but he carried on.



Then came Prep 3. This was in the indoor arena, a place he has only been once maybe twice before, probably about three years ago. He took it in his stride and we scored 57% in this test. I was so proud of his calmness, he was relaxed and happy to do as asked. We still need work on a lot of things but I was aiming for calm and relaxed. We got both those. Casper is back in action. Without the Gotcha Feed Plan I doubt we would have even been riding now let alone competing. He is my dream horse again.


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