Petey has been making such progress on his journey of becoming an equine practitioner. Every step of the journey so far has been fun and rewarding. He is such a giving and gentle soul ~ doused in thoroughbred spirit.
Today, one of our focuses was saddling. The goal is to have Petey completely comfortable with the experience, and, in time, have him extend invitations for people to climb in the saddle. I am guessing that riding hasn’t always been comfortable for him. One big reason is because of his diagnosis of kissing spine, and what his old owners noticed about his pain. In addition to having those big clues. his eye and stature help convey that he has some apprehension about what is to come next.
Years ago, I didn’t pay such close attention to my horses’ opinions. Not only about saddling, about so many things. I also used cross ties the majority of the time, which made it a lot easier for the horse to be still while being saddled. Even if they would rather not.
Letting the horses choose to “pick me up” as I have started to call it adds another level of depth to our partnership. The first time I ever experienced a horse decide to line up to the round pen panel I was standing on so that I could get on it made me cry a little. I didn’t know this horse very well, and I bumbling my way through learning this new skill at a clinic. As I was trying to figure out which one of my legs to put over the top rail of the round pen, Toby lined right up to where I was without my even asking him. We had worked on it the day before, and he offered this gift to me completely on his own. I accepted his gift with so much appreciation and gratitude.
After having such a harmonious invitation, it’s not the same to drag a horse up to the mounting block (or the wagon we use) and “make” it stand still to get on. Another one of those foundational interactions that is well worth the time and effort to build.
Petey has gotten pretty good at coming up to the wagon as if to pick up a rider with out anything on his back. He still has a physical reaction of getting a little tight in his body, and his eye loses some of its softness when the pad and saddle come out. It’s getting much better, and was hardly distinguishable today.
We progressed through getting Petey saddled by having him first stand at the wagon. He’s invited to move, and he gets to choose where. If he chooses somewhere other than close enough to saddle and get on, he’s asked gently to move again. He finds the place on his own without being micro managed. Then, I put the pad on him. Actually, it took two attempts. The first time I held the pad up to put on him, he had to walk off. That gave us another chance to practice. The second time, he stood solid as I laid it on his back. The saddle also took two tries. There was no reaction to the girthing at all. Petey again stood solid with a pleasant expression and calm demeanor. In the future, hopefully there will be a bit deeper breathing, still a work in progress!
Last time he was saddled, Petey walked off from the wagon in what I call an upside down fashion. His head was up, and his back a bit on the hollow side. This time that did not happen. He stepped underneath, and walked off with his head no higher than it had been for saddling when I led him away from the wagon. Good boy, Petey!
We walked around the arena together a bit, and then I brought him back to the wagon for unsaddling, needing to get ready for my next client. I had led him up while I was still standing on the ground. I walked up the stairs and stood next to him on the wagon. He didn’t move away, but it was obvious that my moving as if I was going to get on caused his state to shift a bit. He didn’t move away, but he was on alert. I petted him, and he stood more solidly and relaxed. Petey stood quietly as I took the saddle and pad off. I found it to be a very pleasant session with the big brown horse, and I’ve been told that if it feels good to us, it feels just as good to them. I hope he enjoyed creating new associations as much as I did. It’s an honor to work with such a giving soul. He had me from hello, and I love him more every day. Onward, Petey, onward.