Q: I bought a 5-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse several years ago. This being my first horse, I chose a very calm, easy-to-handle "gelding" with a great gait. I bought him from a broker and have no history about the horse.

I rode him on the trail a few times with no problems. Then, on one ride, my bridle broke and I had to bail. As I was dismounting, I lost the reins and he ran off. No injuries, but when the trainer caught him and was tacking him back up, she discovered that he was not a gelding.

The sellers immediately had him gelded for me. He became very infected after the castration, was treated with intramuscular antibiotics and was hand-walked, and he seemed to recover without complications. However, after being gelded, he became a different horse and extremely difficult to handle. He began to pull away and escape when being led by hand. He also would not let the veterinarian near him, especially around his male parts.

He remained wonderful under saddle, but around groups, the split-second his head wasn't restrained by a bridle or halter, he would take off. He didn't try to do this when we were alone.

I've kept him despite his horrid behavior on the ground (pulling away and not standing still for tacking). I've boarded at large stables with a lot of horses, and this behavior got so frequent that I became afraid to take him out of his pasture or pen for fear of other horses spooking. When he gets loose, he doesn't run to his stall or to feed, he usually runs to humans. The only thing that has stopped his running off is using a bridle to lead him. Even with stud chains on his halter, he pulls away. He has been with a few trainers to address this problem, but it always returns.

Just a note, when he moved to his current location, a mare next to him broke into his stall, and he was very possessive of her. I've never heard of behavior like this, but it brings up the question of hormonal involvement and the possibility of being proud cut.

I realize I'm looking for reasons to not give up on this horse. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please let me know.

Barbara, Yucaipa, Calif.

A: In summary, your horse currently 1) has acquired a distrust of veterinarians; 2) is intolerant of manipulation of the genital area, most likely acquired or at least worsened during his ouchy infection experience; 3) is now not standing for tacking; and 4) now breaks away when being led around other horses. In addition, he seems to feel safe with humans (except veterinarians), and he has retained male-type guarding of an estrous mare.

While this horse might not have been the best choice for your first horse, each of these problems is largely experience-related, and likely can be overcome quite quickly with expert schooling. Certainly, the dislike of veterinarians, the aversion to genital manipulation, and the reluctance to stand for tacking are quite easy to overcome with positive reinforcement-based systematic desensitization that would be easy for you to learn.

For the breaking away while leading near other horses, I would recommend evaluation by a behavior specialist. It will likely require hands-on training with the specialist, both for the horse and for you and for any others who are having that problem with the horse.

So before giving up on this horse, I would recommend finding an expert behaviorist/trainer who can evaluate and work with the horse, then work with you to develop the skills to be able to maintain the desirable behavior, as well as show you how to avoid your horse's developing other behavior problems.

From your description, my guess is this horse would be a good project horse to learn how to develop basic horse handling style. I say that because almost any horse can develop similar problems, and the behavior of the handler is often a factor.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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