the honeymoon is over…

Yes, unfortunately, it is true, Blu and I have hit a roadblock.  More like we drew the “go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200” card.

After about a week of horsey time off, I had decided yesterday was going to be my day to spend grooming, bonding, and riding.  I rounded up the horses from the pasture and haltered Blu.  I brought her to the horse trailer and tied her as usual.  I opened the tack room door and retrieved a grooming brush.  Blu spooked at the brush and pulled back… only for about 2 seconds, but still, she had never done this before.  This should have been my first clue that things would not go as planned for my day.

I decided it was probably best to take her into the fenced riding arena to tack her up, that way I didn’t have to have her tied, I would just make her think she was by looping the rope around the fence post once.  As I hauled all the tack out Blu became more spooked.  So badly that it was extremely difficult to simply place the pad on her back!  Over and over I rubbed the pad on her and placed it over her back.  And every time I thought she was over it, I would approach her and it was like starting from scratch.  I paused to remember all the horse training shows I have watched.  Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.  I would longe her for several minutes and only allow her to rest when she was standing near the saddle and pad.

Longe, rest, longe, rest, approach, retreat, approach, retreat, over and over and over…

Blu also decided to pull another trick out of her hat… she decided to put on the brakes… I had put her in her stall at one point to saddle her. of course! what a brilliant idea!  There, that went well, lets go… or not… she planted her feet and would not leave her stall.  O.k. maybe Blu new more than I did.  It was probably a bad idea to have her maneuver through door ways while saddled, she may catch a stirrup on something and have another catastrophic saddle incident.  So, I unsaddled her.  Let’s go now…. or not… feet still firmly planted.  I could back her and circle her, but not get her to leave her stall.  Oh my gosh! This was really happening to me.  I went inside to eat lunch 😦

Back out to the stalls 30 minutes later.  I lead Blu to the trailer and saddled her.  She was still spooky but at least I accomplished this seemingly easy task.  I went into the arena to bridle her, then I mounted, and she acted as if nothing had ever happened.  This took me almost 4 hours to get to this point.

My original plans were to have our first riding adventure into the pasture area.  My modified plans were now to simply have a safe ride in the arena without spooks.  20 minutes of walk, trot, walk, trot, back, side pass to the right, walk, back, I’m happy with this, get off.

Now, let’s saddle again… this should be easy enough, right?  Wrong!  By this time my son had shown up and was inside visiting, I called him out to give a hand.  We saddled her several times with, let’s say “mild” difficulty.

I am very aware that my initial attempts to saddle would have been significantly minimized if I would have had another hand to help, but no such luck.  I probably made a mountain out of a mole hill by insisting I saddle her.  I should have realized this and moved to something else, but once I was so far in I simply couldn’t give up, or in.

Tonight I had my daughter go out with me to help saddle her, no riding tonight, just saddle.  It was another “event”.  I put her in her stall for the night to think things over a bit.  I have been racking my brain to try and think how this has happened.  What changes have I made recently?  This is what I have come up with:

  • Blu has significantly more turnout time with the other 3 mares, only stalled in severe weather.
  • Blu is grazing approximately 8-12 hours a day on fair pasture.
  • I have started giving Blu 1/2 to 1 scoop of grain 1-2 times per day, as I usually do when we begin working the horses.
  • I spent considerably less time with Blu the past week.

My new blu plan:

  • Stall every night.
  • Less time with the herd.
  • No significant amount of grain. It will be my treat to her that she will enjoy in my presence.
  • More hand walking and having “us” time.  I don’t want her to dread seeing me come, thinking it will only result in work.
  • Saddle Blu every day, no exceptions!

This might seem a bit harsh, but I want to get back to a routine, and I want her to see me as the one that brings her water and food and look forward to our walks and grazing time.  I will continue with saddling every day until it is accomplished without incident and with ease.  I think the increase in grain may have been a bit much for her, I believe her previous owner told me she never gave her grain in the past, an occasional treat, but no grain.  She has certainly developed an “on edge” type of behavior, I believe it can be contributed to several factors, including the saddle incident of a few weeks ago.  

Wish me luck 🙂

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Horse crazy and lovin' it!

10 thoughts on “the honeymoon is over…

  1. I reckon take her off hard feed altogether, but I guess I am lucky with Saf, she is such a good doer, she is that fat from just grass and hay!!
    Do you not think she just needs a good telling off? Sounds like she is taking the micky to me!
    Good luck! Im sure you will love eachother again soon!

    1. I certainly did want to tell her off but good and proper! But, I checked my attitude and tried to remain calm, blah, blah, blah 😉 If I felt I had the knowledge and ability to follow through appropriately with some real good discipline to put her in her place I probably would have, unfortunately I am severely lacking as a disciplinarian, ugh! So I will have to go about things in a different manner while trying not to get taken advantage of.

      1. i find it easier telling horses off on the ground than on top of them, but its a language they understand from their herd instincts.. i dont think they really know what to make of all this pirrelli nonsense.. but they know what a dominant mare acts like! *becomes dominant mare* 🙂

  2. I am riding Cole Train 5 days a week, and he is holding his weight on 4# of grain + 4 flakes of hay a day with no grass. That’s less than most any horse our stables that is being worked. I would definitely watch the grain. I know Tamara doesn’t give them any. Cole never had grain in his life before I got him.

    I suggest giving clicker training a try for the saddle phobia. Once she is indoctrinated in it–which doesn’t take long, you could get her right on track with a clicker and treats in just a few days. I use it all the time in training, but if you certainly don’t have to do that. It is great to fix little problems that you encounter along the way. My sister’s horse suddenly developed a strange phobia to bridling. He gave her a problem for a few weeks. I fixed it in one session, and he’s been fine ever since.

    I’d be glad to help in any way.

    1. I was thinking that is what Tamara said, no grain at all. I think it would be interesting to try the clicker. Where do I get one and can you give me an example as to how I would use the technique to get over the saddle issue? Thanks 🙂

      1. You can buy a clicker at most big pet stores. They are used a lot for dogs. I got mine at Pet Supplies Plus. Sometimes I wonder if clicker training hasn’t become the rage with horses because it doesn’t have any fancy and expensive equipment. They don’t cost much at all.

        I just re-posted on my blog a few posts that I wrote on clicker training. One is showing how easy it is to teach a horse what it is. Then there is me desensitizing my sister’s horse to the bridle and her desensitizing him to spray bottles. http://trailhorseadventures-judi.blogspot.com/

        You can teach a horse anything with a clicker. Cole does a little dance, picks things up, stops on a dime to the word “whoa” as well as normal things like the best trot transistion ever. It has made training much more fun. But truly, when you want to see how amazing clicker training is, it’s when you have a tough problem to solve. My horse, Mingo, was sick and had a sore and swollen leg. We needed to get his hoof trimmed. He wouldn’t even let me touch his leg at first. In a couple sessions, I had him gently lifting his hoof for me. We were able to trim it with no problems a few weeks later. That’s when I became sold on clicker training. When he died, I got Cole and used it with him from the start.

        I use it with my dog and cat, too.

      2. Bingo!!! yes indeed I will try this method with saddling. How would you suggest I begin this? This is what I am thinking:
        1. present saddle and when Blu stands still click and treat. (should I hold the saddle or just place it on the ground near her?)
        2. remove saddle from her area.
        3. present saddle again, and again when she stands still click and treat.
        4. repeat until she consistently stands still when saddle is presented after 6 times or so depending severity of reactions.

        And then maybe the next step could be having her touch her nose to the saddle, click and treat??? repeat many times.
        Next place saddle on back, when she stands still click and treat??? repeat many times.
        Any other suggestions?
        This might be my lightbulb moment! Thank you 🙂

      3. Hurray! You get it perfectly. Not everyone does, and they think it is just about bribery.

        Yes, that is the way I would do it. Actually, that is what I did with Cole the first time I saddled him, but he had had a saddle on before and didn’t have any issues. Now, I just click him a few times a week for tightening the girth. I have never had a horse stand so still for saddling as Cole–and we saddle with them loose in their stalls.

        I would start with the saddle on the ground and do a bunch of click/treats with it there. That will be a good introduction and will help “charge the clicker.” After that–I think your plan is perfect. Just watch her expressions and that will tell you when you can advance. Remember–whatever she is doing when you click–that is what you reinforce. If she throws her head, pins her ears or whatever and you click, you can unwittingly capture that behavior. So though she doesn’t have to be perfect–try to get her to do it a little better each time. It’s not just desensitization but behavior modification.

        A clicker is a powerful tool. I’m sure you have spent some time reading up on it in the internet and aren’t going solely on my advice, so you probably know that they use it for zoo animals and marine animals and are very successful. It’s the only way to train a cat–but anything that works on a cat can work on any animal!

        Once she truly knows what clicker training is, you can switch her over to a toungue click–you just need to make a sound that is very consistent. I use a toungue click for Cole and my dog. My cat still uses the clicker.

        Do you ride western? If so, you are going to build up some good muscles!

        Let me know how it goes.

  3. If this is a new behaviour for your horse, I would be checking for pain. It could be from your saddle or bridle not fitting properly, a dental problem or even sore feet. In my experience, any sudden change in behaviour that becomes consistent is caused either by pain or a bad experience. Resolve the pain and then the behaviour issue is much easier to resolve. Looking forward to your updates.

    1. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog! I believe her behavior is a direct result of our “catastrophe” I blogged about a few weeks ago. Her saddle slipped and it was quite a horrific incident. Also the change in her diet and week off didn’t help matters. But I will definitely be on the alert for any sign of pain as well.

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