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I love draft horses......"gentle giants," truly. However, if they come from an abusive situation as does my Percheron, Annie, the "giant" aspect is somewhat overwhelming and discouraging. I have a Belgium and a Percheron. Annie, the "Perch" is a massive (though I've seen bigger) 1,600 pound "momma's girl."
I am so proud of her in seeing how she trusts me now as opposed to a year ago when I could hardly get a glimpse of her beautiful head because her "beautiful butt" was always in the way! or she would simply run away. I knew she was shy when I got her a little over a year ago but did not know how fearful she was ESPECIALLY to a saddle.
I am not sure of her history only that I had to remove several B.B. Gun pellets from her body, told she was not a successful "carriage horse" and saw she was "somewhat rideable." Her eyes spoke volumes more and I have loved her from day one. On Day Three or Four, however, when I approached her in her stall with a saddle her big beautiful gentle eyes turned white, the snorting almost blew me out of her stall and her butt turned to me so fast I thought the moon dropped into my barn! That has been kind of the scenario ever since. However, she bridles well and when I manage to get on her back she respectfully stays quite still and she rides like the "Queen of Budweiser" (Percherons).
I take her trail riding and she is not terribly spooky and seems to have herself under control. Most importantly, I feel so in sync with her and trust her almost to a fault. I love this animal so much and I believe she enjoys her rides. I only want her to think of me as a positive in every aspect of her life as she has shown me in so many ways EXCEPT the saddle or maybe the movement of my arm over her withers with saddle or saddle pad. (her withers will shake nervously). She has NEVER kicked bit or shown aggression to me (she only tries to move away from me and saddle pad, etc. and will at times move so close on me that she knows I can hardly reach that high with her gear).
I doubt she realizes she is just about an elephant pinning me up to a wall. I love her dearly. I do not want to reaffirm any negativity she has had to endure in the other life but I do want to live to see tomorrow. And maybe take another ride with her in the park. I've only had draft horses so I don't know if her size and height is more of a problem for me during these discouraging confrontations or my inability to know how to deal with her properly. I do not tie her as she would pull down the whole barn tied and seeing a saddle or pad in my hand. I will shank her and hold the lead as I very gently talk to her, knowing I will have to somehow control her during this precarious situation.
Well, its time to go to bed. I think I shall write a book called GONE WITH THE WIND tomorrow. Maybe I will send that manuscript for your further advice tomorrow AFTER my ride to the park with ANNIE ! (my Unsaddlebred)
It sounds like you've really made amazing progress with Annie, considering the extreme abuse she seems to have endured. Being afraid of a saddle is not unusual -- it's unlike anything in a horse's natural experience. Take it slow and easy. Turn her loose in an arena with an old (disposable?) saddle and pad on the ground. Don't force her to approach it... in fact, you should back off completely. Let her explore it, sniff it, nibble on it, and otherwise learn that it is no threat to her.
It seems strange to apply this term to a three-quarter ton draft horse, but the next step is to "pony" her. Tack up a steady riding horse, and ride slowly around the arena. Don't approach Annie any closer than she seems to be comfortable with. After a while, she'll probably come up to you and start to explore the strange contraption on the other horse's back. If she gets the message that both you and the other horse are having fun with the saddle, she'll be more receptive to you rubbing her back and neck with the pad... and eventually introducing her to the saddle.
Another item of concern: Annie's back is not like most riding horses', so it will probably be difficult to find a saddle that fits her comfortably. That may, in fact, be at the root of her fear of saddles. You may even have to go so far as to have a custom saddle built for her -- which can be an expensive proposition.
Happy Horse Care!
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