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getting a saddle on an angry, agitated horse
38

matildasquared · 27/05/2014 15:44

I've been volunteering at some local stables for about four weeks now. I have learned in principle how to tack up, and have helped, but haven't done a whole tack-up on my own yet.

This morning we were quite busy and short-staffed and the stable manager asked me to get the saddle on Red, a usually sweet-natured mare who HATES being saddled. There is actually a sign saying that only staff are allowed to tack her. I said, "Okay, I'll give it a go..."

Yeah. Red was not having it. She started snapping at me, turning round and round trying to kick me. I tried to stay at her shoulder, turning with her whilst lifting the saddle, but then she'd bite at me and I'd back away out of range, take a breath and try again.

Finally the stable manager came over did it for me. I watched to see what I was missing and it was just a matter of physical courage: staying close to the horse, being forceful, and braving a few bites (they don't have canine teeth after all).

I feel bad for losing my nerve like that. I'm not afraid of horses at all, but this was the first time a horse actually had a go at me and all I wanted to do was back down.

How do you stay on top of a situation like that?

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 15:50

Oh, and like me you are probably wondering why she has such a strong reaction to the saddle. She has no injuries or health problems, just a fear of the saddling process, evidently.

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5OBalesofHay · 27/05/2014 15:53

I bet its a poor fit, or she isn't happy in her work! You do have to be quiet but assertive with horses, but that horse does not sound happy

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NigellasDealer · 27/05/2014 15:58

she might not have apparent injuries but might have stomach ulcers (does she crib or windsuck?) or pain in her back. poor girl. google how to check for stomach ulcers.
you should not have to be 'forceful' to get a saddle on a normal happy horse.

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NigellasDealer · 27/05/2014 16:03

besides did you not have the bridle on first?

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:04

I know what you mean, 50Bales. Red does have a difficult job as a stable horse for children and adults.

The stable is owned by an experienced woman who considers the horses to be part of her family. There are three excellent yard managers too. So I have to trust that the saddle fits well and there are no other problems.

I appreciate your advice, and I am learning to be confident and firm (as well as affectionate!) with the horses. But how to be "assertive" with a creature who weighs 10x more than me? I don't want to shout or hit her, I think that would only make it worse.

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:05

Yes, the bridle was on. She's fine with her bridle.

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NigellasDealer · 27/05/2014 16:05

there must be 'other problems' or the horse would not act like that

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ExitPursuedByABear · 27/05/2014 16:06

Definitely should get her checked. That is not normal behaviour from a happy horse.

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:09

When I'm in again I'll mention in passing to the manager, "I hope she hasn't got a stomache ache."

I appreciate the advice around the possible health problems. However there is also the issue of my not having been around horses before and simply wimping out in this instance.

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NigellasDealer · 27/05/2014 16:10

to be honest matilda the manager had no business sending you to tack up that horse and no business to be pretending that it is not a problem.
I fucking hate riding schools.
(source: worked in several)

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:12

I can't "get her checked!" I volunteer at the stables!

Okay, sorry for the frustration. I hear you saying that a happy healthy horse would never balk at a saddle. Like I say, I'll find a way of mentioning it next time I'm there.

In the meantime, is it really not possible that she just has "issues" and spooks at the idea of being saddled?

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:16

Oh right Nigella, I'm grateful for your honesty. You have really made me think.

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ExitPursuedByABear · 27/05/2014 16:16

Possibly from the memory of pain.

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NigellasDealer · 27/05/2014 16:22

sorry did i sound a bit blunt Grin - the first riding school I worked in was a well thought of BHS exam centre and the way the horses were fed and worked was disgraceful - one weekend there were no fewer than 17 horses off work with sore backs. Sad
have a google of 'diagnose equine stomach ulcers' there are some really good youtube videos. DDPony has stomach ulcers from her time being shut in a box 24/7 (was supposed to be a show pony) - it is really quite common

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 16:29

No, I mean it, I am very grateful.

I am by nature a real softy with animals. The whole tacking up process is a bit difficult for me because I can't bear to thinking of hurting the horses. I am really anxious to get it right.

She was trying to tell me something.

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catsofa · 27/05/2014 16:43

You're not stronger than the horse, but you are much much cleverer and that's where your command of the situations comes from.

If you pay close attention (and it also takes some practice and experience so stick with it) you can see what a horse is thinking about doing before it actually does it. It sounds nuts but I am absolutely serious - once you can read them you can very often anticipate a horse's next action by miles, with plenty of time to warn it not to even think about biting you, etc.

In boxing this is called "telegraphing", i.e. unconsciously letting your opponent know what you intend to do next and so losing the element of surprise. Horses do it a lot, and it means you can make the horse think you are psychic and that there is therefore no point trying to mess around with you. This is also the key to really good riding.

Notice when they shift their weight to a different leg while standing still for example, if they're taking the weight off one leg they're probably about to move that leg. Which direction are their ears pointing in? Looking at you but ears going back means their teeth may be heading your way! Learn to speak horse Wink!

BTW times when you're busy and short staffed are not good times to ask less experienced people to do things they've never tried before, I'm sorry this happened to you. One solution might be to offer instead to take over doing something else that another member of staff is doing, so that they are freed up to do the tricky thing rather than you having to do it for the first time in a rush/without good supervision. "Sorry, could X do that instead if I hold the horse she is holding?" should work ok if it's a good place.

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Cirsium · 27/05/2014 16:44

I agree with other posters that it is highly likely this horse is in pain of some kind, and while I understand your difficulty as a volunteer in progressing any kind of investigation it would be good to at least suggest it.

Personally I believe we should be aiming to work in partnership with horses and that behaviour such as this is them saying something is wrong. I volunteer with a RDA group and one of our recently acquired ponies is very sensitive of her girth area, we assume she has had issues in the past so are working with massage to help desensitise her and are always extremely gentle when saddling and tightening girth. We talk to her calmly and give her lots of praise when she is good.

Don't let anyone tell you it's just a case of being brave either. Horses may not have canine teeth but I got a nasty bite from this otherwise lovely mare a couple of weeks ago when someone accidentally jerked her girth straps up when I was holding her. Had to go to dr about it yesterday as a hard numb lump has formed under the skin and it may take months for it to go away, if it does! Luckily my tetanus was up to date and it hasn't got infected.

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catsofa · 27/05/2014 16:48

Also yes, that bad a reaction, overcoming it with brute force, having to endure a few bites to get it done etc does not sound good, I just sort of felt that'd been covered already in this thread IYSWIM, so answering more generally about how some people seem to have a knack of handling the big beasties and how to get better at it.

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Booboostoo · 27/05/2014 17:01

I am afraid I agree with the others that there is likely to be a physical cause although I appreciate there is nothing you can do about it. However nice the yard owners are it could cost thousands to investigate and treat the more complex back problems so it may be easier to ignore them until they become unbearable.

I would also be concerned that they are cutting corners and asking volunteers to tack up a horse that has been risk assessed for staff handling only. You may think this is wussy Health and Safety worries but horses are massive, flight animals that can cause serious injuries in seconds. You need to consider what would happen if you were seriously injured while helping out at this yard and needed time off work or were left with long term problems as a result.

The answer to your question is experience. Animals are difficult to read and communicate with unless you become accustomed to them. There is no one answer to how you should handle such a horse. Some would respond well to a quick growl as soon as they stepped out of line, others would see this as an invitation for a full blown argument. Some would trust you more after a bit of bonding (scratching, grooming, talking softly), while others would see this as an opportunity to bite a chunk off you. You just need more experience handling different types of horses and making judgements about how to respond to them as individuals.

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 17:07

You need to consider what would happen if you were seriously injured while helping out at this yard and needed time off work or were left with long term problems as a result.

Lol, this did cross my mind!

And I appreciate your point that each horse needs to be approached as an individual. I am getting a feel for that, a little.

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tattychicken · 27/05/2014 17:21

You say she was turning round and round, was she tied up or loose in a box? If loose, try tying her up, headcollar over bridle, quick release knot etc etc. My horse had back problems ages ago, and will spin away from me in the box sometimes, anticipating a pain that no longer exists but is in his residual memory. Tying him up stops the spinning and he will then stand happily. Not saying that is the case with this mare but worth a try.

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 17:28

Yes, she was tied up. I should have been more clear: she was turning this way and that, trying to get her backside to me so that she could kick me. I had to duck under her head to get out of the way, at which point she bit at me.

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Poledra · 27/05/2014 17:34

I am no expert, but I am concerned at a riding school asking a novice to tack up a difficult horse. At the school we ride at, there is one particular pony my 10-yo DD rides, who is a super pony under saddle but hates being tacked up (yard owner thinks it was a poor-fitting saddle in the past has given the pony the aversion). So, DD1 is never asked to tack him up. I can do it, if I'm free, as I'm taller than the pony so it's not as difficult for me, but they would never expect a child (who can tack-up every other pony in the school!) who's face is on a level with the horse's teeth, to tack up this guy.

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Minnieisthedevilmouse · 27/05/2014 17:41

Assuming she's not hurt, I'd guess its years of bad tacking up by all and sundry. Having it thrown at her, banging her back/whithers, girth hitting her legs, too tight, pinching, etc etc.

Tbh I'd tie her head up in a collar short lead. Or refuse. A bite hurts. Canines or not. You really shouldn't feel you have to do it to be a good rider. The two are not connected . And you are a customer. I assume you're paying for this pleasure?!

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matildasquared · 27/05/2014 17:45

I am. I'm paying to volunteer at the stables.

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