There are no photos to go with this blog. I had my hands WAY too full to worry about where the camera was. Had I had it, I'd probably have some award winning action shots, or possibly a broken camera . . .
On a list serv I am on, we are talking about training methods and what happens when you tie something to the saddle of a horse, and they cannot get away from it. The approach and retreat is gone, no way for a horse to get release. Can set the stage for some horrible, dreadful events. Still, there is a place in time when a thing must be tied to a horse, it's his saddle. One would think, with that proper preparation that prevents piss poor performance, and getting the horse ready to saddle before he ever wears one, that would be a non event, and normally it is . . . but not always.
I have seen people create horrible fears and pull back problems in their horses, releasing at the wrong moments, when the horse is scared and having a problem. In a perfect world, we'd never blow through a threshold, never get our horses to this place. I don't know a horse person or trainer alive, and I know some pretty darned good ones, that have not found themselves with more on their hands than what they bargained for when they step across those lines, usually by accident but sometimes you have to take a horse to the hard places in order to ever get to the good ones. Once there, it's pretty darned important to work through the problem. A horse left in doubt today is a horse convinced tomorrow and probably not of a darned thing we want him to be . . .
This brings us to yesterday, the events that unfolded and the reason for this post:
Jack stood tied to the tree just fine, that's a non issue for him now, it would seem. He digests information in very small doses, but when it does get through, it seems to stick. I have done saddle prep with him several times, including holding a rope around his girth to let him feel that. Took him into the round pen yesterday, worked circles with him. His forward motion is pretty broken, he'd learned when he ran, he got tripped and when he gets worried he really doesn't want to move. This is foreshadowing, folks, and is telling you what happened, later on. Sticky go means sticky whoa. That might be the most important thing you learn today. It was the most important thing I learned AGAIN, yesterday.
He did pretty good. Not perfect. My agenda was to see him saddled. Yes, I said agenda. These are important things to pay attention to. I knew that if I ran into trouble in the process, I'd need to readdress my goals but that's where I wanted to be, watching Jack with a saddle on. In my prep to saddle work, I accustom a horse to things going over his back, banging on his sides, noise and clatter. I use that string of milk jugs to start with and with some approach, retreat and release, he carried them around, slung over his bareback with a fair amount of calm. Set the heavy bouy's up there, no problem. Got the saddle blanket, he's used to that.
Now it's time to introduce the saddle. All this time, it's been in the middle of the round pen. He has thoroughly checked it out, acknowledged it, smelled it up and down. Approaching him with it in my arms got a big eye, but he sniffed again and stood calm when I set it up on him. For a horse like this, I pick up my off stirrup and cinches as to not freak him out with a sudden bang on that off side. I have no wish to wear 1000 lbs of scared horse like an unwieldy hooved hat.
He looked at it on the near side and I let it sit there, took it off, walked away with it, came back, set it up again. Had him acknowledge on the far side. Let the stirrup and cinches down. This got a little flinch, but he'd been thoroughly rubbed, down his sides and legs and a little touch there and some noise was no big deal. He was soft eyed, at this point, and the process looked good.
Now we come to the point. The point of no return where the cinch is drawn up and fastened. TONS of approach and retreat, letting him feel the cinch, a soft fat neoprene, touch his belly, little pressure, release it when he breaths, relaxes, and then up again a little. When that touch was no big deal, a little more . . .
Here's what I did NOT do, at this point. I didn't move him around, just holding the latigo on the cinch to make sure he could handle it with movement. I did that before with the rope, but not just then with the saddle. Saddles feel a LOT different than a rope does. A normal horse rarely needs this particular breakdown, but this is not a normal horse and I know that there is no such thing as too many steps for Jack. This might have saved us the wreck that followed, might have got my head kicked off my shoulders.
Fastened the latigo, just snug enough to keep the saddle on. Fastened the back cinch though a little voice in my head told me not to. Didn't do the breast collar as that same voice, louder now, says you might want to have as little to undo as possible if you need to get this off this horse in a hurry. Let him stand, feel the saddle, breathe. Sent him off at a walk. He walks a couple of steps, pulls a bow in his back and hunches. I gently ask him to move on. He BLOWS! That 14' lead is NOT even close to long enough. I drop it and get the hell out of the way.
He bucks around me for awhile, kicking and crashing into the panels. My heart sinks, he's totally out of control, and anything can happen now. He shuts down, stands, comes out of it, freaks and blows several more times. Breaks a panel, which now has dangerous points coming off of it. I have got to get my hands on him before he kills himself.
I run to the barn, get my 22' foot lead. Aren't you thinking I should have started with that? I sure was . . .
He does let me approach him, unfasten the 14', and fasten the 22'. Would you have tried to unsaddle him, just then? The thought occurred, but a) I didn't want to pull it off of him with him hating it the way he was, no way was he done with wanting that thing off of him, and b) I did not want one of those flying cowkicks to rearrange my smile and possibly my thought process. I want to keep my horses safe, but keeping me safe is number one.
I let him stand and blow. He looks better so I ask him to move forward again. He backs into the pressure. I ask him to move forward again, and now he's backing and kicking at me, with some pretty good intent and energy. Well, okay. Let's go backwards then. Didn't do that enough. Don't know why my brain was so stuck on forward, but it was. He'd move forward, blow, buck, run like crazy. He let me keep him away from the broken panel so I knew he wasn't totally insane and he even let me shut him down a few times when I grabbed the rope that burned through my ungloved hands more than twice.
Biggest error of a day full of them, towards the end, I had him trotting around, big progress and instead of hanging there, and letting him trot the bunchiness out of his back (there are some of you out there still reading that have heard me say trot the buck out, a few times, no a LOT of times). I really wanted those feet to loosen up, stuck feet are a stuck mind, and I wanted him free. Well, he got free all right.
In that last explosion, he did blow through the broken panel (the top rail ended up in the pasture on the other side). Now I think he will go through a very near by fence that still has some barbed wire on it, hate that stuff and we replace it as we can . . . He doesn't, turns sharply and dashes madly toward the back fence of the property. This is not much to speak of, strand of barbed, and a hot wire . . . I figure he is in it, or over it, through the plowed field and be headed for the highway. Nope, he turns at that, too, and blows down toward the neighbors. That fence is really good, cable and hot wire, I figure we are okay there, and we are. Now he's coming up through the trees, still bucking mind you, he's got some determination, that horse, and some "athletic ability." Horse sellers terms meaning that horse can REALLY buck . . . if anyone tells you a horse can't run at close to top speed and still buck PRCA proud, I invite them to come watch this one . . .
He flies past the barn and through the open gates into the safety of his pen. I shut that gate, but this is not a huge improvement. My place is so not set up for rank broncs. That pen is wire panels, hot wire . . . and t-posts. Most of them have plastic protector tops, but a couple are missing. I am pretty sure I am going to see my horse impaled, after all we've been though, as he continues to buck and bolt, up and down the pen. Donovan, on the other side, cuts him like a cow. Even in my adrenaline drenched mental state, I notice him flatten his ears and threaten Jack, every time it looked like he might come through the fence. I think Donovan was scared that maniac might attack him but he kept him off the fence, nonetheless. Eventually the stirrup caught on a post, the billet broke and he jumped through the back cinch like a lion through a burning hoop.
Far from done, he's still trailing the 22' foot lead and kicking the snot out of it any time it touches him, he continues to run. Finally, the rope snags under the empty plastic tub I keep their loose salt in. It's on it's side and doesn't weigh more than a few pounds, but he yields to the pressure and circles the tub. He's kicking air now, sometimes the fence behind him and sometimes the nearby innocent water tank (don't you put a hole in that, damn it!) and as disturbed as I have ever seen him. This goes on for a long time. I wonder how badly he's hurt himself, he has some minor scrapes on his legs from the panels, and I can see blood on one front leg too. He's standing sound, and doesn't seem to be in too bad a shape as long as he's not injured internally from the saddle pulling on him before the billet broke.
Long enough story short, he's okay. I eventually went in (had other horses to work and it didn't hurt either one of us to take some cool down time from each other) picked up his rope and asked him to talk to me. All during his melt down, he would look for me and want to come to me. No way do bucking, freaking horses get to sit in my lap and I would not let him. Now, he was unsure. I got to pet him but he was bunchy and tense. Frightened horses are dangerous horses. I pulled the back cinch off the saddle, better late than never, right, and folded it in half. I used that to rub the sweat off his bowed up neck, and got him to relax some. Worked him in some circles, there in his pen, hey his forward motion is much better, sigh. Been nice to have started with that. Fortunately we both get to live and learn.
I thought a lot about this situation, as of course, I would. To do over? I'd have much, much better forward motion established. I'd have him better able to handle his emotional stability under pressure. How to do that, you have to put more pressure on them. I thought I'd put enough, but obviously not, when push came to shove. I'd have him fluidly working over the obstacles, like I do just about every other single horse that comes to me in training. I took longer putting saddles on my colts last year than I did Jack, yesterday.
Will Jack ever be a saddle horse? Who knows. It's back to the steps above . . . Am I putting both of us in danger, continuing his training? That is the question I am asking myself, right this very minute.
1 month ago