Pain or Behaviourial – What’s Wrong with Coco?

-So once again myself and Coco have been a bit AWOL. We’ve recently encountered a new problem that literally came out of nowhere!

After our recent trip to the beach, I ended up giving Coco the following week off because I wasn’t well. The first day I rode her after she had her time off she went fantastic. It was the most positive ride I had on her in months. Given this, I thought it was time to start getting out and doing a bit more after our very quiet winter so I decided to bring her to Darielle’s yard that weekend for a light jumping session.


Where it started…

The minute she walked into the arena, she immediately began taking the piss bucking, diving, cat-leaping and just being a general nuisance. I cantered her for a solid 20 minutes in an attempt to settle her but every time I brought her back to walk and then asked her to work again it was like starting the session all over again. She was WIRED! I’m used to Coco’s freshness but usually it goes away after she’s been worked for a while..but not today. I put her over trot poles before trotting her into a small cross pole. After every jump she would buck and buck, she just wouldn’t give up. I had pulled a muscle in my back earlier in the week so about half an hour into the session my back went into a full on spasm which I ignored until I couldn’t anymore so eventually I called it a day.

The next time I rode her was two days later. I gave her a little lunge before hopping up but I quickly found that a habit seemed to have lingered from Saturday’s session. Every time I asked for canter, Coco would buck and then buck again and again sporadically throughout the canter. I pushed her on through it as I normally would when she acted up but she just seemed to get more and more pissed off. Her walk and trot work was perfect, but she really didn’t want to be cantering. I figured she was having an off day so I finished up. Unfortunately the next day was the same story so I found myself asking, once again, what the f*** is wrong with Coco?

Pain or Behavioural?

I think this is one question that nearly every horse owner will ask themselves at least once. Is my horse in pain or is she acting up? When asking this question of myself, I usually go for the pain side and start to rule the usual things out:

  • Check her Saddle her saddle had been fitted to her only 5 months ago so unlikely this was a cause
  • Check her Back she had her back done only 2 months ago so again, unlikely there was something here
  • Check her Teeth this was the only one that was due to be done but wouldn’t usually be considered a cause of bucking, regardless I arranged for a dentist to come out


Considering all of the above, I thought it was very possible that she was just acting up so I asked someone who is used to dealing with young horses/horses with behaviour problems to sit up on her and tell me what she thought. On her first ride, she couldn’t pin point what she thought the problem was so she decided to take Coco for another few days to see if she could figure it out. Unfortunately they didn’t get very far and she advised it might be best to just start ruling out the above. She also suggested putting Coco on Comfort Gut on the off chance she might have stomach ulcers, something I hadn’t thought of. I had two 5-day trial tubs so I decided it would do her no harm to put her on it and see how she responded. 

bucking gif

I gave her a few days off to give the comfort gut time to take effect, after this I started doing some light lunging with her and saw no obvious difference in her attitude. In the meantime Darielle had mentioned my problem to Jer who had helped her out when Dante was going through his problematic youngster phase. He reckoned it sounded like she was just being a wagon so offered to sit up on her if I wanted. After seeing how much he had helped Darielle with Dante, I decided it would be worth giving it a go, for the sake of one more day (and my bank account), before going and getting a full evaluation done on her. 

So we shipped out to Darielle’s yard once more…

take off

I have to say I was a bit nervous the morning we brought Coco over. I knew Jer was going to take her on and not take any shit from her so a part of me was worried that by the end of it I was going to be told that the only reason for her behaviour was that something was hurting her. Thankfully however, this was not the case.  As soon as Jer hopped up Coco instantly began taking the piss but it seemed all it took was a bit of a firm hand and she quickly started behaving herself. Within 15 minutes she settled and didn’t try bucking once, she even jumped everything she was put in front of. Jer quickly confirmed, that there was nothing wrong with her, she was just being a bully trying to get her own way. 

I honestly didn’t know how to feel after this a part of me was delighted that I didn’t need to go through the rigmarole (and cost) of getting her physically evaluated but another part of me was dreading the fight I suddenly had ahead of me. But that’s young horses for you it’s time for me to balls up and show my horse that she is not the boss.


I’ll be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about telling this story. The route I went down to discover what was wrong with Coco isn’t the most popular option. Everyone always says to rule out any pain triggers first before heading down the behavioural route. I discussed Coco’s issue with A LOT of people before making the decisions I did. I was completely stumped and honestly, after a very tight January it would have been another few weeks before I could get a full medical work-up done on her. Hopefully after a few weeks of focussed work we’ll be back on track and ready to get out and get some experience.

Thanks for reading


One Step Forward, 10 Steps Back ~ Coco at Coilóg

(Apologies for the lack of pictures. We had no videographer this day, only a GoPro at one end of the arena which got some small bits and pieces)

As I’m sure you have read in Darielle’s recent post, we decided to take a trip to Coilóg which is a showjumping venue here in Ireland.  After our last outing to the National Sport Campus I was really looking forward to seeing how Coco would react in another new environment, but also expecting her to be in her element once again. We had just had a great lesson with Sue the week before where we jumped our highest jump yet and she was feeling good. Unfortunately things couldn’t have gone worse.


The Warm Up

I brought Coco into the arena and started warming her up while Sue reset the jumps. Straight away she was trotting around feeling fresh and bouncy, just like the sport Coilog_4campus. I got to the end of the arena and Coco started spooking at different objects all around the outside of the arena. I’ve dealt with a spooky Coco before so I knew I just needed to spend some time in these areas and get her working and listening to me instead of looking around her. Usually it takes around 10 minutes to settle her but today she was taking much longer. She started kicking out and bucking which was something she had started doing in recent weeks so I just figured she was feeling fresh. Eventually she stopped spooking and I got a few circles of a steady canter so I decided to move her away to another side of the arena. Down the other end she was quiet enough and worked nicely so it was time to start jumping.


We started over a simple cross pole. I brought Coco around to the jump and she had a bit of a look around her on her approach and had a good look at the jump before jumping but went over it ok. I brought her around a few more times on both reins. It took us a few attempts to get our takeoff right but we got there in the end. Sue gradually put the jump up and we did it a few times, getting a few great jumps in. I was delighted..she was starting to switch on and get into what we were doing.Coilog_1

Next we moved on to a double and this is where the trouble started. I brought Coco around to jump and she refused, stopping dead. I brought her around again and she stopped again. When I brought her around to try again she started spooking at something before the turn to the fence so I battled to get her past there. Eventually I did and I got her over the first fence but she did a massive catleap over it which threw me straight into the air, landing me on her neck. I just about managed to stay on as she ran out of the second jump.

Next time I decided to try her off the other rein, on this side she found something else to spook at before the turn for the fence so I had another battle to get her straight to the fence again. Once I got her there, again she catleaped the first part and ran out of the second part. It was like she was spooking at the second fence before she even got over the first one. I somehow managed to stay on again. I came into the jump once more. This time I got her over the first part and she had a really good look at the second jump before finally catleaping over it. By this point I was absolutely nackered, frustrated and to be honest in shock. This was not like Coco. She never refuses fences like this. She doesn’t spook at fillers. But today it was as if she’d never jumped anything like these fences before. I didn’t know what was wrong with her.Coilog_2

Continuing on with the session, we decided to tackle a jump without any fillers to give both me and Coco back our confidence. I picked up canter and started bringing her into the jump. Again she started spooking at something on the outside of the arena but I pushed her on into the fence. Again she took a look at the base of the fence and jumped very awkwardly over it. Usually once she takes a look and jumps, she’s generally more comfortable coming into it the second time so I approached the jump again with more confidence knowing she had already done it once. We came into the fence and she had essentially started her take off but at the last second she stopped dead. I went straight over her head and landed right on the jump, dropping every pole like bowling pins. 

This was my first fall off Coco. To be honest, considering I bought her as a 4 year old and I’ve had her for over a year, I think I did very well to last this long without falling. But it was still a pretty big shock. 

At this point I was ready to give up. All I wanted was to get back on, jump her once or twice over the first fence we jumped and call it a day. Sue had a different plan. I got back on, she reassembled the jump but kept it very small and I took a lead off Darielle and Dante to get Coco back over it. We did this a number of times in a row, with Sue gradually upping the height, until eventually Darielle and Dante drifted off while me and Coco kept going and jumped it ourselves a few times. 

The next fence we tried was a very tiny jump with a dark filler under it. I started bringing her into it and straight away she refused. I walked her around the fence for a while, until Sue asked me, What would you do if you were at home right now?”. To which I said, I’d get her the f**k over that jump”. Sue’s response: Do it. Do everything you have to, to get her over that fence.” And so I did. I pushed and drove Coco into the fence until she got over it. Once she did, I brought her over it a few times until she was jumping it comfortably. Sue then gave me a challenge. I was to do all three jumps we had done so far in a row which we did without a single refusal.

Coco Cantering at Coilog

With this done, we decided to try Coco over another jump she hadn’t done before. It was a rainbow coloured fence. I picked her up into canter, she started spooking at something and threw a massive jumping buck thing which completely threw my balance. I kept going into the fence regardless and needless to say she stopped. I came into it again and after a bit of a battle I got her over it with another catleap. With that we called it a day…

What I didn’t mention was that between the jumps (or more accurately the attempts to jump), Coco would refuse to move. I was literally pony club kicking her and she refused to move. Smacks with the whip also did nothing but piss her off and make her buck. She was highly contrary. 

So this ended up definitely not being the outing I was expecting. I had an uncooperative and unwilling Coco who didn’t want to do anything. I finished the session absolutely exhausted and frankly feeling very disappointed, confused and wondering if I now have a battle on my hands to get my happy showjumper back. 

There have been some developments in this current situation with Coco which I’ll be doing a separate blogpost on as I believe the above is caused by some underlying problems. So keep an eye on the blog for an update!

Have you ever had a horse who completed backtracked like this? If so tell me about it so I know I’m not alone!

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading!