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Restarting a Horse After Several Years
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Connie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 19th, 2007 08:38 pm
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Hello Dr. Deb, We have a mare that was started lightly under saddle 3 years ago away from our farm.  She, along with 2 other mares,  were then sent to a facility for breeding where she was, I can only guess, treated harshly.  We did know the people at the facility before she was sent and thought that she would be treated well.  Following her first month of pregnancy, a woman at the facility began riding her again and said she was going well.  Long story short, the mares returned after a few months a few hundred pounds under-weight, listless, one with scars and all with untrimmed feet.  The mare in question has since produced two foals and has not been asked to do much more in the way of training. 

 

We've now decided to slowly return her to training on our farm.  She is seven years of age but has started to drop in her back and is carrying some extra groceries.  It has been suggested that she be lunged with side reins to "strengthen her back" but I am thinking that it would be better to find ways to strengthen her abs.  What would you recommend.

 

The second part of the problem is her reaction to any riding type equipment.  A saddle pad (only) was brought out of the tack room and this huge 17+h horse started shaking and backing away.  We have no intention of trying to get on her back any time soon but were shaken ourselves at her reaction to the pad.  Can you please point me in the right direction to get started helping her to resolve these fears.  Perhaps these questions have already been asked and answered, and if so, I apologize for the redundancy.

 

Thank you in advance for any insight

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Nov 20th, 2007 01:04 am
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Connie:

1) Seven years old and 17 hands equals a horse that is still one year away from full physical maturity.

2) The most likely cause of her low back is multiple pregnancies before full physical maturity.

3) You are correct in thinking that strengthening the muscles of her back is a bad idea. They are already plenty strong. You are right to think that you need to do, instead, things that will strengthen the muscles of her underline, specifically, the three "key" muscles of the "ring" (see "True Collection" in Knowledge Base). The most effective way to do this will be through the use of cavalletti. Be sure you get the half-halt each time before she enters the grid of four poles, i.e., be sure you never let her rush and "flatten". The idea is to teach her to bounce the strides over the grid. Use no more than four poles in the grid, keep them flat on the ground at first. Begin with no more than six passes over the poles in each direction. Very gradually, over a six-week period, work up to twice that amount.

4) Another effective technique -- and one necessary for other reasons as well -- will be for you to teach this mare to back fluidly in hand. Use the technique described in the first part of the "horse confidence issue" thread, where you keep your hand on the halter. The goal is to get the horse to back ITSELF up, one step at a time. Begin with one step, then three, then very gradually, over a six week period, work up to a dozen backwards steps. You can repeat this four times per each one-hour session, mixing it with other activities.

5) The mare is not afraid of the saddle pad the way you are thinking. Read Sam's post about "giving up Muffy." We don't really know or care what the mare's history is. What we DO know and care about is her current reactions -- her reactions IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. In the present moment, she isn't "broke" to saddle pads. Your task, therefore, is to get her to not only accept the saddle pad, but to positively love it.

You do this primarily by showing her the saddle pad and then taking it away. It is somewhat like the technique we use on a two year old child who won't eat his peas. What we say to the child is, "OK, well, only BIG boys get to eat peas anyway." Pretty quick there is a movement inside of the child, an emotional movement, whereby he says to himself, "well there must be something really great about peas, so what is it?"

This is to engage the child's, or the animal's, curiosity. Curiosity is the single greatest asset in training besides love. Horses are filled with both -- love, and curiosity.

So what you do is, you bring the mare out on a halter to a place where the saddle pad is hanging over a fence. Do this on a day when there isn't much wind -- we don't want the pad moving when you haven't planned on it. You bring her up to the pad and you let her smell it, lick it, nose it, etc. Then, right when she seems most interested in it, you lead her off somewhere else.

A few minutes later, you bring her back. This time she won't be nearly so interested. So, you lead her by the pad with her right eye toward the pad, and then you lead her by it with her left eye toward the pad. Then you take her right up to it again, and you say to her, "go ahead and touch the pad with your nose -- bump it." And if you ask her to do this, she will, but it will be like, "well OK, I already did this and it's kind of boring."

When you get that, then you hold the lead line with your right hand and you pick the saddle pad up off the fence with your left hand and tuck it under your left armipit. Then you take the pad and the horse out to the center of the arena or corral, and you place the pad on the ground. Then you and the mare walk away from it.

From a distance of about ten or fifteen feet, you walk by the pad with the right eye and you walk by the pad with the left eye. You go all around the pad, and then, if you can catch a moment when you know the mare is looking at the pad, you take that opportunity and you walk right away from it.

When you come back, you want the mare to reach down and nose the pad herself. She will do this the first time. After that, again, it will be boring.

That's the point where you pick the pad up again and shake it out. You let her be back at the end of the lead line if she needs to be, but you stand there shaking the dust out of the pad.

Then when you're done doing that, you wad the pad up somewhat, and you bring it up to her nose. This time, for the FIRST time, you're bringing the pad up to her, rather than having her bring herself to the pad. But after the first preparation, it should be no big deal. She'll probably just smell it -- that's what you want, that's all you're asking. If she's visibly afraid, well then, put it back on the ground and go for some more left eye-right eye walks.

As she gets less afraid, then you will also want to "take the pad away" in another way. Offer it to her to smell, and as soon as she's touched it with her nose, with a smooth and somewhat slow movement, swing the pad to a position that's in front of you. Make it so the mare "sees" this, and continues to "see" the pad. You then walk off, carrying the pad that she's "seeing", as if the pad were a lure. Lure her around with you. If she gets afraid, don't make her come up to it, but do insist that she continue to walk along. She can be any distance behind the pad, up to the limit of the lead rope, but she needs to learn to follow that pad. This is VERY powerful stuff -- the curiosity is greatly increased through luring. Keep an eye in the back of your head; they can get so "curious" sometimes that they jump forward.

When it gets to where she can smell it, "see" it, and follow it without needing to lean back or tremble, then you go to grooming her with it. It's just an old rag, you're telling her. You rub and groom her with it until there is literally not a single square inch on her hide where she cannot accept and even enjoy it. Every time when you're done grooming her with it, you turn away from grooming her with it and lure her forward with it.

The key to this is this particular point of the timing, that you walk away from it and/or begin luring her just when it was getting to where it was "the best". You never go past where the experience was "the best". This is how you make it so the saddle pad comes to occupy a place in your mare's mind that is "the thing she looks forward to the most." This will be because every single experience she has with the saddle pad will be "the best"!

When she can enjoy being groomed with the pad, and not one minute before, is when you rub her back with it and then, as if by chance, you just happen to leave it up there where the saddle goes for five continuous seconds.

Later, you just happen to leave it up there for ten continuous seconds, especially while you do something else, i.e. mess with her feet. Again, be sure to do this on a still day or in the barn, where the pad will not unexpectedly move when you weren't planning for it to.

But the day will come, and if you have understood this it won't be very long, when you will be able to almost toss the pad up there, and then, a few seconds later, pull it off rather quickly, and she won't give a hoot. You should get it to where you can toss the pad up there and actually have it fall off on the opposite side, or slide down off over her butt, and she won't give a hoot. The wind can blow it off her, or she can be turned loose at liberty in the arena with it sitting on her back, and it will come off, and she will just giggle and kick it.

My dear, this is absolutely basic stuff. What I am telling you is that the "abuse" your mare suffered was that someone was trying to ride her BEFORE she was broke to ride....before even the very first steps had been done. Because if she had been broke to start with, she would still be broke even after going to the breeding farm.

But it's never too late to begin -- so please begin now, and do let's hear a report from you as to how everything goes. This should be a very satisfying experience for all concerned. -- Dr. Deb

Connie
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 Posted: Tue Nov 20th, 2007 11:45 am
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Dr. Deb:  Thank you for your very thoughtful reply.  We will do the things you suggest and report back.  I am not a life-long horse person and have relied too heavily in the past on "conventional wisdom", sometimes doing things that have felt somehow wrong for the horse without knowing why they were wrong.  If I had it to do over, the mare would not have been sent off to be started under saddle at such a young age.  What are your views on pregnancy before physical maturity. 

 

Again, thank you for your insightful response; I was blown away when I realized the time you had taken to write it.

Sam
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 Posted: Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 07:25 am
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Yes, Connie aren't we lucky Dr Deb gives her time and knowledge so freely.  This was a timely thread for me as I have been working on my ponies lack of closure with the girth/saddle, I had been doing a bit of 'lure-ing' but not nearly ENOUGH so my pony got scared again, lucky they are forgiving and I can go back to the start again.  Hope all goes well with the mare.

Regards Sam

Connie
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 Posted: Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 04:43 pm
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Hi Sam, thanks for the good wishes and good luck to you as well.  The work has been delayed for a little while.  A load of hay containing some that was much different than we've been using came into the barn while I was away.  It was, unfortunately, fed out to 10 of our horses in some quantity before I became aware of the situation.  Now we are dealing with one colic and several others who are irritated.  Sylvie (the mare from my original post) is one of those who is borderline so we'll have to right her ship before we proceed.  Keep your fingers crossed for us as four of the mares, including the colic, are in foal.  Nice talking with you...back to the barn. 

Sam
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 Posted: Fri Nov 23rd, 2007 06:18 am
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Fingers crossed for you and your horses, Connie, hope they all recover from their colic, how frightening.     Sam


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