Q&A Questions and Answers:
I'm a novice horse owner and have a problem. Let me start from the beginning.
I started taking lessons this past October from a very good trainer. I had ridden before this, but never owned a horse or took lessons before. Well, I was pretty good and by December my husband decided to surprise me with my life-long dream... A HORSE! We are boarding her at the same stable where I take lessons and I continue to work with the same trainer. She's a 7-year-old Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred with an excellent disposition. Our training has been uneventful and very fun. I ride for fun and relaxation and I'm not sure I'll ever show. However, a recent event in the crossties has made things not as fun and a little stressful.
I had her groomed and had just snugged up the cinch (not all the way), when she took a step and just freaked out! She fell back, broke the crossties, and scared the life out of me! I put her up and decided to wait until I saw my trainer again the next day. Well, the following morning, he watched me saddle her and the same thing happened; another set of crossties broken! He realized that I had cinched her too tight. I did ride her immediately following the second incident and she was fine. Like nothing ever happened.
I keep wondering if the cinch is really the reason. I feel I've done this the same way all along. We are trying to bulk her up a little, so maybe her belly is bigger... I just don't know. The downside is with me being such a novice, I'm paranoid to saddle her again and feel my confidence waning when everything had been going so well. Is this normal... what can I do to be sure it won't happen again?
I Hope you can give me some pointers.
PS. I love my horse and I know this will pass. But I want to learn as much as I can.
Like you, I have my doubts about the cinch being the problem, but let's look at a few potential trouble spots in that area before going on to what I suspect as the real problem.
You didn't tell me if you are riding Western or English style - my guess is English. In my experience with English girths, they seem to be much tighter and less adjustable than Western ones. Also, just like the elastic waistbands on some pants, they sometimes have a tendency to "roll," causing them to be very uncomfortable. There are extensions for the saddle leathers you can buy that give you a little more adjusting length.
On Western girths, the most common problem that I've seen is with the little D-rings in the middle where you attach the drop strap from a breast strap. It's amazing how many times riders will start to tighten the cinch without checking to see if one or both of the D-rings has flipped up between the girth and the horse.
With either style of saddle, here are some basic rules:
Now that we have that out of the way, let's move on to what I suspect as the real problem: head pulling.
Some horses have a real problem with cross-ties. They'll be good as gold with a single tie, but panic when their movement is restricted by ties on both sides. Others will even fight a single tie. In cowboy lingo, they won't "stand hitched."
When a horse panics while tied, the natural tendency is to fight the pressure he feels on that spot behind the ears where the halter runs (the poll). We need to replace that with a pattern of instinctively moving forward toward the tie and away from the pressure on the poll -- even in a panic situation.
We can achieve this with a long series of "mini-panics;" -- short combinations of pressure on the lead and the poll. In the pen or arena, attach a long lead rope to the halter (most longe lines aren't sturdy enough for this). Stand directly in front of your horse at the end of the lead, facing your horse. Put pressure on the lead (and poll) for a second or so with a small but hard pull (not a jerk) and quickly release the pressure. Before your horse has a chance to pull back, the pressure will be gone. You'll need to continue this maybe 100 times or more. After a while, the horse will quit pulling back and will learn that it works better to move forward toward the source of the pull. After several sessions like this, the move-forward reaction should become second nature.
After your horse has mastered this lesson, you can combine it with sacking out. Have a helper flip a saddle blanket in the air near the horse - but not close enough to hit it. Start out with very small flips far enough away that the horse will just be a little startled by it. At the same time, give the horse your "move forward" cue with the line. As your horse learns to step toward the line when startled, increase the intensity of the sacking-out process.
It may take a while to teach this lesson to your horse, but the increased safety for you and the animal will be well worth your investment of time and patience.
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