Zena: a lesson horse in the making. Suggestions for being cinchy and desensitizing! - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 5 Old 10-23-2013, 06:10 PM Thread Starter
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Location: Central Texas, easily mistaken for a big bowl of dust!!
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Zena: a lesson horse in the making. Suggestions for being cinchy and desensitizing!

Hey everyone. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with this mare, but I'd love to hear your opinions.

The owner of a boarding facility near my house asked me if I'd be interested in riding her mare, Zena. Of course I said yes, I'm basically getting a free lease. Plus it's for a good cause because she's hoping to use her for lessons. Here's how Zena got here, but if you want to just read about her now skip down to the line.

She's a six year old bay mare, about 14.3 hands tall (which is a bit small for my legs but that's ok) When Zena came there to be boarded she was thin, skittish, and hard to catch. The story the owners gave the BO is that they were driving through a smaller, nearby town, and saw a field of skinny horses. The owner was supposedly just shooting the horses because 'he couldn't afford then anymore' and said they could take them or they'd be put down. They took Zena (even though they knew nothing about horses) and tried to rehabilitate her. Then two months later, BAM the owners disappear , no one picks up the phone. I honestly think the owners said that so the BO wouldn't blame them for her being skinny.

Anyway, the BO took her in, fed her up, and had another boarder put some miles on her. What's sad is she's on grass and hay and fat as a pig. I don't know how she got so skinny unless they fed her absolutely nothing.


Now! She's green broke pretty much. She lunges, walks/trots/lopes/stops by voice cues, she flexes, moves off your legs and backs up. She's only been loped about 12 times in the round pen (under saddle) and had a few walk/trot rides around the barn and in the arena.

She has a nice, willing disposition although she has a few quirks. She hates being cinched up, she gets a pissy look, shakes her head, and will bite her leadrope or the pole she's tied to. I'm considering a pain issue like ulcears maybe. I'm careful to cinch up super slow and I praise her when she doesn't make a pissy face.

Another thing, her stop leaves a bit to be desired. She does that, sloooooow down, step, steeeep, steeeep, THEN stops. That's on the long line and under saddle. She long lines great, responds to the voice super well, except yesterday she was ridiculously hyper. Everytime I asked for a transition, the threw a buck. Everytime I asked for a stop, she would toss her head. She reared once, then jumped straight in the air. Haha, I just ignored the hissy fit because it didn't seem like aggression towards me. I just made her stop and change directions. When she wanted to take off, I made her stop for a moment, then made her do a quick lope for about 6 laps and she was good as gold. She rode around perfect.

So this isn't exactly a question thread, but suggestions in desensitizing for lessons, and helping with her being cinchy would be nice!
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post #2 of 5 Old 10-23-2013, 08:11 PM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: Vancouver BC
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Hi there,

I rode a Dutch Warmblood who did that exact same thing when I'd do up the girth - gelding.

What it came down to was a sore back. Doing up the girth puts pressure on the back so take your hands and run them down the back from wither to loin on both sides of the spine. See if she flinches or ducks out from under your hands - if she does, she may be either sensitive or sore (depending on the reaction).

Also make sure the girth isn't pinching behind the leg. If she's fat, then her belly might be sending the girth forward to far and pinching. This was also an issue with the gelding. He actually had sores there from other riders who did not realize the girth issue. I put him into a sheepskin girth which eliminated the sores.

Good luck!
Sounds like an interesting project.

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post #3 of 5 Old 10-24-2013, 01:53 AM
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I really like how you seem to have given the situation a lot of thought and admire your willingness to take on such a challenging project. That's a real tragedy, what was happening to those horses and I hope that it's less common a story than not. Far as the cinching issue is concerned, I'd go exploring a little bit running my hands and pressing in different areas to see if she had a reaction anywhere. If nothing is irritating her there I'd just make sure I was cinching her up in stages and not so tight as to make her look like Mr. Peanut. I might also consider the mental pressure that being saddled puts on some horses, though it sounds like she has some experience being ridden. Really there are a myriad of factors that go into diagnosing a problem. Making her into a lesson horse that you could trust with the safety of members of the public? How much time do you have? It wouldn't be farfetched to say "a year of quality riding minimum", but it entirely depends on the horse!
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post #4 of 5 Old 10-25-2013, 09:24 PM Thread Starter
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Mikhala, I have poked around on her back but it wasn't very through. I brush/curry her before we ride I haven't noticed her flinch or duck but I'll be sure to REALLY check her next time. She's always great once I'm on though, but maybe she's just tolerating it. I'm very careful to check her girth to make sure there are no pinches.

Ian, thank you the support. I love the opportunity to work with any horse, much less a mare who is as trainable and smart as Zena. I'm very careful to cinch up slow and I just keep it tight enough to mount without ending up with my butt in the dirt! When I rode yesterday I just ran the latigo (Western saddle by the way) through the girth ring and pulled it up touch her belly then released when she relaxed. I think she has a great disposition to be a lesson horse so long as she's trained right.

Yesterday during my ride she was much more compliant on the long line, but she's very bad about facing out of the pen. If you round pen her without a line she turns to the outside.

So I decided to take the line off and made her lope. I'd cut her off and cue her to turn, every time she gave me her butt I cut her back off until she turned into me then I stopped her and we were done. I'll tell you one thing, she could be a cutting horse lol! She was DETERMINED to give me her butt.

Then we did desensitizing, swinging the rope over her butt, neck, back, face and legs. I hung it off her ears even, and the whole time she's falling asleep. She's lowers her head if you push on her poll, she'll practically put her nose in the dirt. I did learn that she's a bit scared of lunge whips so we're going to work on that.

To the riding part now, I did notice when I tightened up the cinch after working her in the round pen she didn't even look my way. If she's focused on something else she doesn't care, maybe she's just being a brat. But I'd rather assume she's in pain and her feel okay rather than vise-versa. We did lots of flexing which she's great at aside from the fact that she wants to back up. We walked around and worked on her stop, did some trotting in round pen. Then we took her to the arena and trotted around the fence-line and did some figure eights. One thing I noticed is that she drops from a trot to a walk on the corners or turns. I'm thinking it could be a matter of balance and being out of shape. Her stop was prefect by the end of our ride which I'm thrilled about!

All and all, I think she's very trainable with a good disposition. My only complaint is she's not very affectionate, she's a use and put up type, not one too want kisses and attention. And I think she's going to have to stay in work. I don't think she's the type to pasture for two months then hop on. I love how even if she's acting goofy on the long line she knows not the put a foot out of place under saddle. She's never bucked or reared or even been pissy as long as I'm on her back.

To anyone who read this whole thing, kudos to you!
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post #5 of 5 Old 10-26-2013, 09:31 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Central Texas, easily mistaken for a big bowl of dust!!
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We did a little Halloween festival at the barn tonight and used Zena for a few of the pony rides and she did great! Even with all the noise and commotion. The only time she spooked was what I put her up in her stall, they had a radio on with creaking door sounds and screaming and she was not impressed.

I plan on going back to ride her Monday, maybe tomorrow. I'm planning on loping her if she's good.
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