scared of saddle pad - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 04:13 AM Thread Starter
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Question scared of saddle pad

My horse is 'scared' of the saddle pad.
Not like, freak out but kinda jumpy when it's put on and would like to scoot away, always acts nervous. It's weird.
I've worked with him with it sooooo much.
Every time ill let him see it, smell it. Ill put it on and off till he relaxes, rub it all over him. in the end he doesn't care, lowered head and lip licking. But every day its like.starting over.
He's really respectful on the ground. I do ground work with him all the time. He's not scared of the saddle. Just the pad. I'm always gentle putting it on, so I don't get what his problem is. No problem cinching up, never acts like he's in pain or anything.

Today I had him in the round pen and sent him away. stopped him, he turns to me. All his attention on me, I walk away and he follows. I grab the pad, go to put it on him. He moves away, so I send him away. After a minute stop him, he comes to me and I put the pad on, he didn't even think about moving away from it.

Still watchful of it but he stood on his own for it.

Should I keep doing that? Any other ideas, or thoughts on it.
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post #2 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 06:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Janna View Post
I've worked with him with it sooooo much.
Every time ill let him see it, smell it. Ill put it on and off till he relaxes, rub it all over him. in the end he doesn't care, lowered head and lip licking. But every day its like.starting over.
I suggest then that he's not actually relaxed at all about it at the end of the session, but just submitting to it, because somewhere along the way he's been conditioned to 'shut down' to stressful events he can't get out of. The lowered head & lip licking is usually a stress sign that shows they're close to giving up.

I would pay very close attention to his bodylanguage, his breathing and even whether or not he's grinding his teeth - some do! Some horses internalise their feelings, rather than being 'out there' about fears, so you have to take notice of the smallest bodylanguage. Then work with the saddle blanket in a less confrontational manner that doesn't push him 'over the brink'.

I grab the pad, go to put it on him. He moves away, so I send him away. After a minute stop him, he comes to me and I put the pad on, he didn't even think about moving away from it. ....
Should I keep doing that?
I don't think sending him away from you when he's afraid is going to help him find more confidence in being close to you & your toys. But I do think having him loose while you work on it is a great idea, so he's allowed to move away, so when you miss the subtle bodylanguage that says you're moving too fast for him, he can leave & then you'll definitely know you need to back up & slow down your approach.

Using clicker training principles can help, but if you're not practiced with using +R effectively, it may be difficult, because you don't want to reward him when he's reactive either.
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post #3 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 06:37 AM
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I know this sounds odd but if you can, try a different saddle pad on him. He may react the same the first time but saddle him up and walk him around in it. Brock hated his first saddle pad - would shake it off when I'd turn to grab the saddle. I switched to one that had a better cut (the other had a hard seam along the spine) and he hasn't had an issue since.
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post #4 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 12:21 PM
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it may sound strange, have you tried letting him smell the pad let him investigate it and then rub it down the side of him up to his back,for the fist few times.

Horses can't talk, but they can speak to you if you listen.
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post #5 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 01:12 PM
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I use the round pen but I do not send the horse off. It all comes down to the horse accepting the saddle pad does not always equal work - the pad is just an inanimate object but at some point he has associated it with something unpleasant. Sending him off when he moves away is not showing him how to relax.

Try laying your saddle horn-down (or pommel-down, if you ride english) and place the pad on top. Try a little bit of trust building so he understands he is not bound, nor is he obligated to stay with you. What you're going to do is make wearing the saddle pad a curious thing - let him investigate the pad in all kinds of different ways.

When you decide it's time to put the pad on, leave your horse loose and make sure he's paying attention to you, to avoid getting hurt by catching him off guard. First see if you can get him to walk to the saddle and pad first - make it his idea. Usually you do this by getting him relaxed and following you, at which point you'd walk to the equipment.

Now a typical response when you pick up the pad will be the horse lifting his head, pricking his ears, and concentrating very hard on what you're about to do. That's why your approach with the pad is so important. Don't approach him with full pressure - in other words, do not approach him facing him fully. If he is in the middle of the pen, move around him at a respectful distance and then approach his shoulder. He'll most likely move his haunches away from you and not allow you past his eye, but just be persistent and patient without being intrusive or aggressive.

Once you are able to touch him with the pad - and this could be anywhere, like his shoulder or neck - he should (from your description) stop. The process of getting the pad TO him is what makes him nervous and anxious, not the pad itself. Again, this is just what I'm inferring from your description of the horse. After he stops, take the pad away. Turn your shoulder and walk off. Most likely he'll follow. Walk a few paces, then approach in the same manner. Calmly, patiently, quietly.

He's going to be wondering, "Why didn't she put that pad on me? Why is she taking it away? Is there something different about that pad?" You have made him curious. Nothing is easier to teach than a curious horse ;) Their minds are very malleable at that stage. Repeat the process a few times until you can place the entire pad on his back without him shying away when you approach. Then leave it there and walk a few paces away. Keep an eye on him though so the pad doesn't fall off and spook him. Let him investigate it. Then remove it.

I'd say after that, leave him be before moving on to something different. If you are wanting to ride him, do this first, and then give him a break before going ahead and saddling him up completely.

Good luck, I hope this rather wordy response helps.

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Last edited by EquiPro Horsemanship; 07-13-2012 at 01:15 PM.
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post #6 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 07:29 PM
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Oh, something else I also forgot to mention was don't make such a big deal about it. It may also be due to you putting so much 'work' into it, focussing on it & turning it into a major stressful event. Eg. just do a minute here & there playing with the rug, in between other fun - or at least low-stress things.
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post #7 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 07:51 PM
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Is it just that particular saddle pad or all of them? If it's all of them, toss an old one in the round pen with him for awhile and let him wallow around on it.

My husband was training a youngster that was like that until she got to pee all over the one we left in the round pen with her. I guess she figured that she showed it that she was the boss because she didn't care after that.
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post #8 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 08:04 PM
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Originally Posted by loosie View Post
Oh, something else I also forgot to mention was don't make such a big deal about it. It may also be due to you putting so much 'work' into it, focusing on it & turning it into a major stressful event.
I'd have to agree with this. You're treating that saddle pad like it's something that he has to get used to every time he sees that's how he's acting.

IMHO, he knows what it is, he should know by now that it's not going to hurt him, the only reason he's acting like it might is because you focus so much of your energy on "Whooaaa, boy, it's just the saddle pad, it's not gonna hurt you. Eaassssyyy boy, here, take a sniff of it and let me rub it all over you and then gently set it on your back".

You're acting scared of the saddle pad, why shouldn't he? You're acting like it's this huge deal so he's making it a huge deal.

I take it easy on a young horse the first (very) few times I saddle them, but after that, they get saddled just like any of my old broke horses...and they learn to stand quietly because I don't make a big deal out of it. If I go to throw the saddle pad up there and the skitter away, then I pick the pad up and try it again...and again, and again, and again until they stand while I toss it up there like a sack of potatoes. It very rarely takes more than 2-3 sessions/saddlings before they just stand there relaxed like they should.

Always remember that feeling of looking at a big, open country over the ears of a good horse, seeing a new trail unwind ahead of you, and that ever-spectacular view from the top of the ridge!!! Follow my training blog:
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post #9 of 9 Old 07-13-2012, 10:27 PM
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Is it that one saddle pad that your horse is scared of if not than maybe just keep putting the saddle pad on and off again and again and maybe he'll settle down.
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