Bad Saddling Manners--What would you do?
I love my boy, Mojo, but he does turn out to have an issue or two. I think having something to work on makes a horse interesting, but I'm concerned about what is the right thing to do about his behavior when I saddle him.
When I first got him almost three months ago I was told that he did not like having the saddle placed on his back, and sure enough he pinned his ears and snaked his head toward me as I did it. I spoke sharply to him when he did it, but otherwise ignored the behavior. When he began to swish his tail and cock his hind leg, I became concerned and sought the advice of others at the barn who said to just ignore it.
Unfortunately, the problem is getting worse and he now kicks, with one leg, backward and sometimes forward under his belly. Today he even did it a couple of times as he was being groomed. I figured enough was enough--concerned about the behavior escalating--and decided to give him a swift smack with the dressage whip instantaneously every time he did it.
But now I'm wondering...did I do the right thing? What do all you experienced horseman think. I'm just getting back into horses after a long lapse, and I've never encountered this problem in the past. I want to maintain his trust, but back in the old days this method is what would have been used. Now with new techniques and new understanding there may be a better idea of how to handle this. What would you do? (Sorry for the book!)
I would first find out if he's in any pain. Does he do this with the same foot everytime, or different? If he is in pain, then that would be a big culprit for his behavior. A quick way to get SOMEWHAT of an idea of back pain is to take your hoof pick and gently (not pressing very hard) and run it along his back to his hip. IF you see any muscles spasm, his back dipping, or him picking up a foot to kick, I would suspect a soreness. If that's not the case, I would return to ground manners and make sure that it's not an issue with respect. Does he have a lot of training? How old is he? He might of had a bad experience in the saddle and you might have to go back to basics and teach him that its not a scary monster. That's what I would do before a smack (and I personally wouldn't have done it with the whip...not good to relate that to pain if there's a different source for the reaction) ;). Check those things out next time and if that's all clear, I would seriously just go back to retraining with the saddle. Good luck!
I forgot to mention that I gave him plenty of praise and pets during the time he was not kicking.
Also meant to say that I've had an expert in sporthorse massage check him out for back pain and saddle fit and he seems to be OK there. But he is thin skinned and sensitive--I can only use softer brushes on him.
I agree with the above and can't stress check saddle fit enough! that's usually the cause as a horse with a well fitting saddle that likes being ridden will usually be fine to tack up, and certainly not twist to bite or kick.
if all that checks out then I would say go back to ground manners and make sure there is no snag there, once that all seems great, then retrain with the saddle. you're going to have to treat him as if he's a horse that's never been started. it can be a lot of work, but it sounds necessary. sorry, hope that helps.
oh and just another thing too, it's one thing to repremand him if he know's how he should be and is just acting out, but it sounds like he has had a history of this behavior, so he might not know how to be a good boy for saddling since it has always been that way. he's not always going to understand that discipline means don't do that.
Thanks so much for the input! He's a big sweetie pie when I lead him, pick up his feet, put on the bridle, etc. The negativity starts only around the saddle which is why I too thought first about pain. I changed saddles, tried different pad combinations (still have one more to try) and had the massage expert out. Do you think he could have had an ill-fitting saddle in the past which caused such a painful impression that he is now in the habit to hate saddling--even though there is nothing causing pain right now? Just wondering...and if that is the case, how to deal with it now? I'd like to be able to explain to him that I'll do my very best to keep him comfortable now, and that the past is past! (I so wish he could talk to me and explain things!)
If the saddle fits then the next step to rule out pain (and correct it) would be to have him adjusted by a chiropractor.
That being said, he should still be expected to react to pain or discomfort in a respectable manner. Kicking out is not being respectful and he should get disciplined for it. If he moves away to avoid something causing him pain, that would be a more appropriate and respectful response. Keep this in mind when you work on correcting his behavior while saddling.
Now, to correct his kicking out while saddling, I would take him into the arena without having saddled him. Keep hold of the lead rope yourself by laying it over your arm at your elbow. Don't tie him during this process. If he wants to move away from the saddle, he should be allowed to at this point. Your hands are free to pick up the saddle pad and saddle as long as you have the rope over your arm, plus you will quickly be able to reach out to grab the rope if needed. First take the saddle pad and toss it on his back like you would normally do. Does he have problems with this step? If so, take the pad off, maybe rub it on him a little bit, maybe go to the off side and try, then toss it on his back again. Any time he has problems - walks off, kicks out, bites at you - you will need to start over. The kicks and biting should always have a reprimand. Walking off should not be disciplined (at this point). When he is good for the saddle pad, then you can re-introduce the saddle to him. Bring the saddle close to his side, like you are about to put it on his back, but don't put it up there yet. Is he ok with this? Or does he see that saddle coming and then start to be disrespectful? Biting and kicking need to be strictly disciplined. Any sign from him that he is not accepting the saddle means that you have to start over (including the saddle pad). If he walks away, start over. If he kicks out, discipline him and start over. Heck, at this point, even if he does stand to allow you to put the saddle on his back, I would reward him with a little scratch at the withers, then take the saddle off and start over. Notice that we just have the saddle on his back - we did not even think about tightening the cinch yet. When he stand for the pad, and then the saddle, only then should you think about reaching underneath for that cinch. Because you are going to follow the same process - any time he shows you that he is not accepting & respectful of the pad, the saddle, tightening the cinch, etc., you need to take everything off and start over.
It is a desensitization process and it will take time. If this is the only thing that you do with him for an hour or two everyday for the next two weeks, then that's what it takes.
Be 100% sure he doesn't have rain rot. My horse was terrible about grooming when I first got her because of rain rot. Now that it's cleared up she'll tolerate anything. Although she's a little temperamental about even the softest curry combs.
She also used to be a pain when I saddled her. What I did with her is take it slow. And I mean slow. About half of snail speed.:-) Start with the saddle pad. Put it on his back and the second he behaves, take it off. Then repeat, repeat, repeat and gradually he'll react less and less. Do the same thing with the saddle; put it on, take it off, put it on, take it off. Again don't move it until he settles down. Now for the girth. I'm going to assume you're riding english, but this can be applied to western as well. Buckle the girth on the right side of the saddle. Go to the left side and pick up the girth and have it touch his belly with it like you would when you normally girth up. Don't buckle it yet. Once he settles put the girth down. Repeat as many times as needed. Once he's better with that, buckle to the first hole on both billets. Once he's fine unbuckle both. After repetition move on to the second hole. Once he's fine go back to the first hole. Keep moving up as many holes as needed to tighten the girth.
I used this method on my two mares. The first one was only girthy and would dance all over and kick. My second mare hated everything and would kick, bite and dance.
Another tip I can give you is to take advantage of cross ties. They are your friend. Good luck.
Make sure he can be saddled from both the left and right sides. Once he's trained on both sides. Mix up which side you saddle on. The only reason to only saddle from the left is tradition.
Many thanks, everyone. If there is one thing horses teach you it's patience. It makes sense that there is not a quick fix for this--it's going to take some time. I'll take your advice and let you know how it comes out!
Ride him bareback. Then try putting the saddle pad on him. If he's okay bareback and with putting the saddle pad on, just try tacking him up and not riding him. Tack him up, lead him around, then untack him and call it quits for the day. Repeat it until he's okay with the saddle. Maybe you need a thicker saddle pad.
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