Q: I have an unusual problem. I have raised several foals in the past, some from birth, some from weanling/yearling age. I have a 2½-year-old half-Friesian mare that I have had from birth. I purchased her dam already bred and owned and rode her for a year. Her dam had a wonderful temperament and had no vices. Her filly was born on one of the hottest Central California days, at 113°F at 11 p.m. I was present. Other than some panting the first day due to the heat, her birth and health were normal. I weaned her at 3 months, which I typically do because I ride the mares. She was weaned with another foal one month older and simply separated from her dam by a shared fence.

The two dams shared one pen; the two foals shared another. It was uneventful for all and was done gradually. When the filly was 7 months old, I sold both dams and the other filly she shared a pen with, and I moved her in with my remaining older mare, then moved to another state. They bonded well. In fact, the filly suckled on her frequently for several months until she was about 1 year old. As there was no milk from my mare, and they were turned out together, I let it go.

Around one year of age, the filly started to suck on her tongue occasionally. She stays outside (in a 70-by-120 pen), but she comes into the barn to eat for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. She is handled regularly, and I can take her away from my other mare without a problem. Both horses are on alfalfa only with occasional grain. I do not have a pasture. I broke the filly at two years of age (she was 15.2 hands and 850 pounds), and she occasionally will stick her tongue out the side and loll it at times when I do ground training, but I have never seen her do it under saddle. She has been broke about six months now and when I go to saddle her, she will sometimes try to bite at herself (her chest) and stick her tongue out. This can occur while I’m just brushing her. I rarely hear her suck her tongue anymore.

I have slowed the process way down and try to distract her rather than punish her. She is doing well in her training and because of her Friesian nature, I keep things more on the slow side, as increased pressure will bother her and she can become angry/irritated if pushed too much. She is friendly and bold, so going slow keeps her in a friendly and cooperative mood. Is she getting neurotic, stressed, or what? Is there any way I can alleviate the behaviors? Will they go away with time? Gayle, via e-mail

A: A. My experience is that these tongue lolling and chest nipping behaviors, once they get going, tend to come and go through the life of the horse with changes in stress. At this age I suppose there is a better chance that the animal might level out and deal with challenges better. So I like your tact of backing off on what you are asking. I also like to supplement with L-tryptophan, which is the precursor for serotonin. It seems to help some horses of this type. You might also see how she does on good grass hay. I would try each of these for a month or so before deciding whether or not it is helping.

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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