Sunday, September 6, 2009

. . . and One Step Back

Dawn and I had to take a day to review some things. It was clear that there were still some things that bothered her about the saddle, and we worked on that by going back over some things we had done before. As I've said in prior posts, I'm trying to make sure that I notice areas where she has discomfort or worry, and be sure that we fully address those before we move onto other things.

Today she was more on alert and also more crabby about grooming and saddling - at one point I slapped her neck to make the point that "crabby mouth" wasn't an acceptable part of the program. She wasn't concerned, but stopped the snarkies. Once I got to putting on the saddle and fastening the girth, she wasn't snarky, but there was some concern as I tightened the girth. As soon as I got the girth mostly tight - it wouldn't have been tight enough for riding but was tight enough to keep the saddle in place for lunging - she started shifting her weight from foot to foot, more energetically than she did before. She also wanted to back up on the crossties. I took this as some worry about the saddle, which meant we were going to do more lunging rather than moving on to other things. My goal is for each step in the process to feel safe and comfortable to her before we move on to additional activities.

When we went out to the arena, she was more alert and watchful that she has been - part of this is that it was an owner bring-in day and she was looking for the horses who were still out to come in. But perhaps it was also the weather - it's cooler and cloudy with some sprinkles - real fall weather. My original plan had been to move on from where we ended yesterday - we had progressed to my putting my foot in the stirrup and bouncing - but her worry indicated that we should do more work to make sure she was comfortable carrying the saddle.

So we lunged. I worked with her on transitions again, adding some voice commands since she seemed to find those helpful. She could nail the halt from trot on a "whoa". Since her energy level was up, we added some canter. I'm glad we did, because the combination of the saddle and the irons and leathers flapping around led to some butt-hitches and kick-outs - nothing too big and she didn't do any big bucks or scoots. We worked on the canter, and the transitions to trot, walk and halt, until she was more comfortable and there were no more protests - it didn't take that long. I decided to leave the lunging at that - we hadn't moved on to lunging to the right but she wasn't all that balanced to the left and she was fairly "up" so I wanted to end on some calmer activities.

We went back to our mounting block training from yesterday. She remembered well the routine to approach the block and stand there. We did more shaking and pulling on the saddle - all was well - and I went back to putting my toe in the stirrup, rubbing her side - no biting this time - and then putting my weight in the stirrup and bouncing a bit. That went well, so we were done for the day.

I expect many days like this as we progress, where we need to retrace our steps a bit to be sure all is well. I want Dawn to feel completely comfortable with each thing we do, and once she does we can move on. We have no deadlines, and it doesn't matter how long we take as we move forward together.


  1. Sometimes my Toby reacts to girthing up by bucking...and he's 19 and very well trained! I think there is some nerve there that the girth hits every now and then. Also, sometimes my chiropractic bet used to adjust my PJ's breastbone by doing a two person "lift" under the girth area.

    Either of those might be making Dawn react a bit to being saddled.

    Otherwise, all the rest of what you did sounds really good. You are approaching this task with a good plan and following through!

  2. Even though you took a step back this sounds like great progress :)

  3. Sounds like progress to me! Keep up the good and consistent work! It's so funny with horses. YOU may think you have made no progress or even gone backwards, and then you work with them next and they have it nailed. Of course, those moments are rare it often feels like, eh? :P

  4. This sounds like where I was with my mare last fall (7yo unbroke broodmare) I too have blogged about our progress and wanted to take it slow with her. It's really interesting when you go slow enough to watch and listen to the horses body language. TTouches may help with the girthiness and apprehension about the saddle and girth.

  5. I don't think it's a step backwards, just re-inforcing and confirming earlier work. I think it's positive and thoughtful training.

  6. I admire your slow and thoughtful approach, and how well you break things into small steps. Thanks for posting about it.

    Have you considered ulcers? Nervous horses can quickly develop them, and girthing can irritate them.

  7. stilllearning - thanks for your comment and question. We believe that Dawn has had ulcers - she has been on daily U-Gard for a while with much improvement in some ulcer signs - she used to show pain signs at feeding time - violent scraping of teeth on the stall wall, with ear-pinning, and she also used to be hypersensitive to touch on her sides and was quite snappish at girthing and when doing things like blanketing. You're right - ulcers are a big problem for many horses and are often mistreated - with the behaviors being attributed to the horse being "bad" or "disrespectful" when the horse was simply in pain. If you're interested, my sidebar has a number of posts under "ulcers" concerning our experiences with my horse Maisie and my daughter's horse Miranda.

  8. One step back is far, far more productive than pushing that one more step forward and ending up six steps back!

    You're like me with the training: I'm in no hurry. Slow and steady, comfortable with each step before we go to the next. Too many people want to hurry up and get to the next phase before the horse is ready...and that's a lot like building a house on a foundation that hasn't had enough time to set properly. Something will fail!

    I agree with Jean about that nerve...some horses are far, far more sensitive about it than others. I used to work with a school horse who, if you didn't get the girth on JUST RIGHT, he'd collapse to his knees as soon as you tightened the girth slightly. But if you made sure you avoided the "nervy" area, he was fine.


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