My problem? Or hers?

Charm is an interesting horse. She often gets that crabby mare attitude if things aren’t perfect in her world. In the past I worried about this and thought I had been doing something wrong that offended her. While riding, she sometimes gives me feedback with a tail swish or with her ears if I am squeezing too hard or for some other reason. I allow her to do this and adjust and she is fine. She isn’t going around the arena with her ears flat back.. but at times she lets me know if I am being sloppy and I’m ok with that.

On the other hand this attitude can also be a dominant one and then we have a conversation and I basically tell her “Deal with it honey!” It’s a fine line and I think I’m pretty good at telling if it’s an adjustment I need to make or if she is being dominant and crabby.

One situation where this has come up is saddling her. In the past, I would just throw on the saddle… knee the horse in the gut and cinch them up tight. Walk them around a little and cinch them again. This was in the Pre-Charm/Pre-Parelli/Pre-Riding Lesson days. I know that was the total wrong way to saddle a horse and there was no “putting your heart in your hand” at all.

I know better now. Here is the current process:

1) After brushing and playing online a little.. I introduce the saddle pad by letting her sniff it. She usually doesn’t care and I gently swing it on her back. (about 50% of the time, I get a slight crabby mare glare from her when I do this)

2) I do the same with the saddle.. sniff, swing, and gently put the saddle in the proper position. (sometimes I get a glare here too…)

3) Then, I tighten the girth gently and put it on the loosest possible setting that also secures the saddle. (This is where I have gotten the ears back, swinging head and potential biting!)

Ok, I think this is where the problem started. I use to have a shorter leather strap on the saddle that I had to cinch up quite a ways to keep secure. This was fine when Charm was 2.5 years old and quite skinny.. but after about 3 years, she gained some weight and muscle and the leather strap still fit, but it was hard to secure it without tightening it quite a ways to keep the saddle on. I am almost positive that it started to feel like a maiden getting her corset pulled tight and she didn’t like that one bit. Eventually, I realized that the strap was getting “shorter” and I went to Fleet Farm and purchased a new longer strap with holes. Yay!

So I fixed the problem, but Charm kept the attitude. I tried Linda’s idea of giving her a treat when she was being saddled… that didn’t work. I tried to go really slow and easy.. I think she just got annoyed with me because it would take too long. I tried to saddle her by putting the blanket on her head and walking her around and then putting the saddle on without the blanket and then taking it off and then saddling… I think this distracted her a little, but she was still crabby about it.

What has worked is interrupting the pattern. Her pattern is glaring, ears back and swinging her head to bite me! So if she starts to put her ears back or give me that look… watch out! Someone is getting backed up and fast! I now see this as dominance and I was just being timid when I needed to meet her dominance and say “Honey, wipe that look off of your face and deal with it!!”

Now the saddling process has gone much better. I still get an attitude here and there.. but I just back her up a few steps and she is fine. I hope that someday Charm will enjoy saddling because I try to make it an enjoyable and comfortable process which leads me to my next story…

I decided to saddle up Java last Saturday and go for a little ride. I put the pad on, then the saddle and cinched him up.. I looked down.. and, well.. let’s just say he was REALLY relaxed and it looked like he thought the saddling process was wonderful. I laughed.. and we had a nice little ride.

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