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View Full Version : "Girthy" Lesson pony - ideas?



shawneeAcres
Apr. 7, 2011, 07:15 PM
I bought a wonderful lesson pony a couple weeks ago, he is 13 - 14 yrs, 13.1, pinto pony, SUPER fabulous lesson pony, quiet, steady, super cute mover and super cute jumper. He had been used regularly for beginner lessons at the barn I got him from until about two years ago and they haven't used him much (just didn't have a need for him) since. I had inquired if they knew of anything, and they said they'd sell him to me. Told me his only issue was being "girthy" when saddling and if you were not careful he would pull back. Said he had come from the "Amish". He is great to do everything with, shoe, clip, wash, groom, when you put saddle on her gets visibly worried and as you begin to bring girth up he gets VERY nervous. We have been giving him a cookie to eat while girthing, but really don't like hand feeding ponies (they tend to get nippy). Even so he still is quite nervous. WE are trying to desensitize him by slowly bringing up the girth til it touches belly and if he stops moving we take away the pressure, repeating this multiple times until he relaxes some. Once you put girth on loosly, he is fine to lead out and then tighten the girth. Obviously I cannot allow other people to tack him up unless we can get him over this. I would say he is a little bit better with what we are doing, are only riding him about every other day right now, haven't yet started using him for lessons. Any other ideas? No this is NOT a saddle fit issue, it's a longterm "fear" that he has, probably from some ill fitting tack at some time. He also reacted the same way when I reached under him to do surcingles of a rain sheet that I put on him one day.

bettyrocks
Apr. 7, 2011, 07:42 PM
Aw poor pony! Sometimes they can't get over issues and you just adjust for their sake. I have one that is really head shy and skittish around men. Have had him for 3 years and he has good days and bad. We just give him lots of positive reinforcement and love. God only knows what happened to him back in the day but he's awesome otherwise! I'm sure you're already doing this but use a fluffy girth with your pony cause something really bad must have happened to him. Poor guy :(

shawneeAcres
Apr. 7, 2011, 07:52 PM
Yes we use a girth lined with fleece, but really is more the anitcipation than anything else. He is SO cute and we love him!! Just would like to make him safer to tack up.

Rel6
Apr. 7, 2011, 07:56 PM
What about a handful of grain/sweat feed in a bucket while doing the girth?

shawneeAcres
Apr. 7, 2011, 08:15 PM
As I said we gave him cookies but it didn't really stop the anxiety. Maybe helped a LITTLE but not much.

Kryswyn
Apr. 7, 2011, 08:34 PM
His fear didn't establish itself in a day, and it will take along time for him to overcome it. I second the idea of sweet feed in a bucket, but I'd also suggest girthing up and releasing it and repeating it. Also, does he react if you use a surcingle? You might also give him his own saddling up procedure, for example one hole, walk ten feet, one hole another 10 feet etc. Be sure to stretch out his legs (of course, I KNOW you're already doing that).

amberhill
Apr. 7, 2011, 08:41 PM
Maybe try some gastroguard or generic substitute.

Ajierene
Apr. 7, 2011, 08:53 PM
Girth him loosely a few times a day. Not necessarily taking him out and riding him, just practice the girth thing. It just takes time to get horses over things like this.

shawneeAcres
Apr. 7, 2011, 08:59 PM
I realize this will take time, and he does not have ulcers or anything like that. ANYTHING under his belly causes the same reaction. We are practicing it mulitple times etc. Just wanted to see if I was maybe overlooking a technique that might help. He may never get over it, if he doesn't he is still a great pony! But is awful tos ee how upset and anxious he gets!

Chall
Apr. 7, 2011, 09:00 PM
Second the girth him, saddle him and NOT ride him, take him for a hand graze, return, turn him out.
It may be the inevitability of girth=painful pounding on my back/jerking the reins with-a-beginner-on-my-back association.
Or put his saddle on (loosely) before meal time and let him eat with his saddle on. Remove when finished eating.

In_
Apr. 7, 2011, 10:49 PM
Ah! I have his twin. Except he won't be a suitable lesson pony until he is 45.

Have you tried girthing him from the right (off) side? It makes a big difference with my guy. I tack him lose in a stall, as he too will pull back. Untied, from the right, and being riden regularly makes this guy's problem decrease greatly. His too is all fear - no physical. Had it when I got him and 10 years later - still there.

CHT
Apr. 7, 2011, 10:53 PM
Changing the routine can sometimes help, things such as put saddle on, then pick hooves and/or stretch legs then do up the girth. Or bridle first then saddle/girth.

TTouch prescribes a desensitizing procure that uses a tensor bandage; put it around where the girth goes and lift it up and down until they loose the reaction. Then move on to a surcingle, then a saddle.

quicksilverponies
Apr. 8, 2011, 07:42 AM
I agree that practicing with the girth several times a day if possible. I do not agree that giving him a treat when you do it will make him nippy. We have about 30 ponies here of all ages. I use hand treats liberally in training my ponies and they are NOT nippy. If they attempt to bite, they are reprimanded. They are smart enough to figure out what is acceptable behavior and what is not. I am a firm believer in giving a positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior so I would definitely offer a treat or a bit of feed each time you fasten the girth.

Ray
Apr. 8, 2011, 08:02 AM
not the same thing but could help.....

my mare developed a pulling back habit when girth was being tightened. I taught her to ground tie (will work for food). groomed her, tacked her, all on ground tie, and the reaction to the girth disappeared. now for whatever reason, she is back to being fine on cross-ties.

being tacked in a different way could help the pony break the association that causes him to get so tense....

purplnurpl
Apr. 8, 2011, 11:09 AM
what does he do with a surcingle?

is it the addition of the saddle or truly just the girth?

BAC
Apr. 8, 2011, 11:59 AM
You might also want to try one of those Professional Choice or Soft Touch girths. Because they don't slip you don't need to tighten them as much as other girths, which might help to relieve some of his stress.

shawneeAcres
Apr. 8, 2011, 12:03 PM
As stated twice previously it is ANYTHING under his belly, he reacted the same way (see original post) to surgingles on a rain sheet. It isnt so much the tightening as the reaching under and bringing girth up BUT you cannot totally tighten while he is tied, just put VERY loosly but as soon as he walks out to the ring you can tighten with no issues.

plain bay
Apr. 8, 2011, 01:13 PM
What about just getting him ready (hooves picked, brushed off, etc...) in the cross ties, put his bridle on and then take him out to the ring to put his saddle pad & saddle on and girth up? Or as In suggested, in her post, girth him up from the off side?

If it's an anxiety issue, either of these may work because they are kind of "unexpected" for him. He may equate just being in the cross ties with being girthed up...

White Lie
Apr. 8, 2011, 02:09 PM
Just a quick question but do you always girth him in the aisle?
How is he if he is being girthed in a stall or in the arena or outside? I have had them before where they just couldn't be girthed up standing on concrete.

doublesstable
Apr. 8, 2011, 03:32 PM
Proper cross ties are a must.. expecially with situations like this. Do you have a tie area that is a turn around type? It would be U shaped, you lead the horse "in" and turn around and the ties are at the sides. This type of cross tie area is great for horses that pull back because they cannot back up. Of course using caution because you don't want them to feel trapped or flip over... so the tie area cannot be too wide or have a low light or roof and always have safety ties AND a sharp knife handy. (can you tell I have dealt with pullers).

If it were my pony - I would take it out several times a day, put it in the turn around cross ties - groom him, do stuff he likes. If he likes to be groomed or scratched, do that. Take your time. Using a bareback pad or something light and easy put it on and off.. and be easy about it...

I also agree a cookie is a positive thing.. if he stays calm when you put the girth around, give the cookie so he understands that was what you want... and make a "big" deal over when he is calm about the girth touching him by talking "what a goooood boy".... and petting him softly "a lot". Use your lov-ie voice watch his eyes - you can tell a lot of what a horse is thinking by their eyes. They will get soft and you can then see if he is understanding your lov-ie voice and petting....

Then put him away. Do it again several times a day without going for a ride. It may take YEARS to get him to "tolerate" it. But sadly what I have found in the years of damaged horses, they will NEVER totally forget their abuser.....

Good luck

Also, I dont think giving a cookie for good behavior makes them nip... it's playing with their mouths... and allowing them to nip at the food you are feeding them. You have the treat and hand it to them, and pet them on the forhead. If they ever go after the treat without staying calm, I wouldn't give it to them. My horses know after "every" ride they get a cookie. If they are really good I call it a four cookie day... if not so good they still get one. lol They wait quietly for their cookie. If you do something the same way enough times the horses learn what to expect. I also like the Mrs. Pastures cookies the best.

I have a horse that had to have a lot of shots when younger... and I gave him a cookie after the shot if he stood still... and now when he gets a shot or vet works on him he quitely waits for his cookie. It's actually cute... the vet was out the other day for something and after his shot he turned his head and stared at her.... I told her he was waiting for his cookie!

shawneeAcres
Apr. 8, 2011, 07:44 PM
He is FINE in crossties, he is FINE to groom etc, it doesnt matter if offside or not, anything going under the belly scares him. At this point it is probably something we will have to live with and be careful of. Once the girth has touched him and he gets to move he is OK. Its not the saddle, weight of the saddle etc. He does get a little antsy when saddle goes on as he know what is coming next, but it isnt the saddle itself. I could pull a rope under his belly and get the same reaction. He reacts the same way in a stall, on the tie racks outside the barn etc. I can girth him myself in crossties, but little kids cant. The suggestions about doing it in the ring don't help much with that situation, what I am hoping is to get him over it so I don't have to be always doing it (I like the kids to be able to tack up etc). I don't think it's anticipation of work, as heis very happy to do his job, just somewhere along the line, someone did something to hurt him or scare him.

maxiford812
Apr. 8, 2011, 09:03 PM
I used to ride a school horse that would pull back if he was tied when you did up the girth. After you groomed and bridled him, you had to place the saddle on his back and let him walk in a circle around you while you did up the girth. Definitely not ideal, and little kids would have trouble doing it, but it was a way to deal with the issue.

Cita
Apr. 9, 2011, 01:29 PM
I used to ride a school horse that would pull back if he was tied when you did up the girth. After you groomed and bridled him, you had to place the saddle on his back and let him walk in a circle around you while you did up the girth. Definitely not ideal, and little kids would have trouble doing it, but it was a way to deal with the issue.I have ridden schoolhorses with similar issues. We were told to do up the girth to the lowest hole (so it was just touching), walk out to the mounting block, tighten 1-2 holes, walk in a circle, tighten 1-2 holes, etc. If we'd just done the girth up the whole way... if the horse didn't kick us, I think our trainer would have. This horse had warning signs on his stall, too, just in case we forgot.

x
Apr. 10, 2011, 09:18 AM
If he pulls back for girthing, teach him to ground-tie, or at least make sure he is not cross-tied for girthing, and put the girth on loosely...by not having him tied if he does pull back he won't hit the end of the tie and panic...we had a horse like this; we'd make sure that whoever was girthing him untied him to girth him, girthed him loosely, and once he was at the ring, we tightened the girth. Worked out o.k. in our school program. Once we had the girth on, we could tie him back up to finish with the rest of saddling, etc. Good luck getting him over it...I don't think the one we had ever did, we jut learned to work around it.

SMF11
Apr. 10, 2011, 09:49 AM
My trainer was given an amazing school horse because of this issue -- he was an Irish TB, who had a terrible experience being injured/girthed too tight. To the end of his days he had this issue; she worked with him and got so he could have a girth on the lowest hole put on by anybody. Then, she (my trainer) would come and do up the girth the rest of the way. If he trusted you, he'd let you do it, but that was only a handful of people.

He was retired to my barn, and the trust and bond he and I had (I was one of the few that could do up the girth) were like no other.

Dune
Apr. 10, 2011, 12:03 PM
What do the Amish do to their horses?? I swear I have run into more quirky horses/ponies that have been "broke" by Amish than anything else. Anyway, what I would do with him is a little desensitizing exercise that CA recommends where you take the rope around their girth area over and over again, pull it tight and release when they are relaxed. Simple, yes, time consuming, yes, effective, most likely. :winkgrin: good luck!

Jaideux
Apr. 10, 2011, 12:32 PM
Yes, you want to get him to a point where he is able to do this on the crossties, but I think you might be dismissing some good ideas that are intermediate ideas to get him better ultimately on crossties.

See if the other environments help. If he is improved by tacking up in a novel setting (the ring, the stall, etc), keep doing it in there for now. After he's solid there, move back to a aisle situation.

Mostly, though, I think you're right that it will take lots of time and repetition. And, if the kids can safely do everything else with him, it shouldn't be that hard to help them with the saddle between lessons. Have them groom and bridle, and then either they bring the saddle and pony to the ring and you help them in the ring while everyone else is transitioning, or you go to the aisle to help with the last piece.

Is he at least okay for brushing/grooming his underside, specifically? Does he have *any* interesting conformation issues on his belly that might contribute to discomfort (a lump you'd only notice with palpation, or a patch of dry skin)? I'm sure you already ruled that out, but it doesn't hurt to double check- if he's bad all the time about all things belly, maybe a good enough look/feel hasn't been had? Some things are more uncomfortable with light pressure than firm pressure.

It does sound, though, like the anticipation is the hardest part for him. So, I would spend lots of time working on this outside of the context of lessons. Do the girth, undo the girth, do the girth, undo the girth. Hopefully he relaxes over time instead of getting more frazzled.

If he was a baby getting broke for the first time, and he was worried about the girthing, what would you do? Probably lots of low-key repetition, multiple times a day or even multiple times in a session. I would think that would work here.

It sounds like this pony is worth the extra help, and I imagine that over time this will improve.

mrsbradbury
Apr. 10, 2011, 01:22 PM
I think with Amish, sometimes they skip what we feel are important steps for a riding horse. I live near a huge amish community, and their horses/ ponies are taught to drive first. Now, I don't drive, but I don't recall a harness going around the girth area. When I do see kids riding, they are usually riding bareback down the side of the road.

I suspect this guy was never really taught to saddle properly, hence the anxiety.

I would restart this part as if he were a baby. Use an ace bandage or something soft, I know that you are familiar with desensitizing a young horse from reading all your posts over the last couple of years.

He might benefit from a little flag work under his belly too. That is a really scary area for horses. I am not a big NH fan, but after I adopted an unhandled 2 year old pony ( I mean NEVER touched, and starving), I got some help from someone in that department and have found the flag touch work to be super useful.

I put them on a rope halter/ or medium lead on a standard halter with no chain. I go in the arena ( I have no round pen, and don't like them, all of our animals lunge with a line) I touch them in a "safe" area first, the flag stays in place until they stop moving, I let them move, stay with them, they can go forward/ back/ sideways/ I don't care. If they pull back, I regress to the you give to pressure game, then go back to the flag work. When they stop moving I take the flag off, with some I even give a cookie. Then we go to a new area on their body, repeat, until I can get to the "scary" spot. Meanwhile as they are being relaxed, or moving I move the flag around, rubbing it on them with varying depths of pressure.

I don't have a mass market flag. I just have a soft towel fatsened to the end of dressage whip. I have also used this process to desintive horses/ ponies who are overly sensitive or scared of the whip. A bit off topic, but we had a mare come in you had been flagged in a round pen to go forward, and you couldn't pick up any skinny object without her shooting forward, after two sessions of this, I can rub her whole body with a lunge whip and she stands quietly. She also was wiggly, pully to be saddled, and that is gone now too.

It allows me touch them without creating the I'm stuck panic. I don't beat the process to death either. I take it to the point where I am satisfied that they are more comfortable with pressure in the area, and then start with hugs, other equipment etc.

Good luck.

gloriginger
Apr. 10, 2011, 02:35 PM
I knew a lot of horses on guest ranches out west that were like this... I think it comes from tightening the girth/cinch really tight right off the bat. It sounds to me like you are doing the right thing...put it on loosely until you get to the arena and then tighten the girth before you get on...

I like the idea of trying it on the right side. I also wonder if clicker training might help him?

Seems like a vice worth living with...and he just might get to the point that he knows you are not going to cut off his breathing by cinching him so tight and relax and trust you.

Definitely spend a lot of time rubbing his belly, sratching him & giving with soft praises so he associates that with a good experience (that was so hard to write without sounding x rated!! LOL)

On a side note: I won't tell you what I saw too cowboys do to a poor palamino mare that was girth bound-( the memory is branded in my brain!) but it still makes me cry when I think about it- 15 years later...:(

doublesstable
Apr. 10, 2011, 05:41 PM
His only issue was being "girthy" when saddling and if you were not careful he would pull back.

I suggested the U shape turn around type cross ties because of your comment above..... that he "WOULD" pull back. I realize it is due to the fact when something goes around his girth area.....

And your repsonse....


He is FINE in crossties, he is FINE to groom etc, it doesnt matter if offside or not, anything going under the belly scares him.

He's not fine in the cross ties when he is being girthed. My suggestion of grooming and spending time with him putting a pad off and on is to get him really comfortable and happy....


Its not the saddle, weight of the saddle etc. He does get a little antsy when saddle goes on as he know what is coming next, but it isnt the saddle itself. I could pull a rope under his belly and get the same reaction.

I had suggested to use a bareback pad for YOUR, not the pony's sake. So you can put it on and off many times a day... but if you want to lug a saddle on his back 10 to 15 times a day... I guess it would be good exersize.... :lol:

spacytracy
Apr. 10, 2011, 07:20 PM
I know this doesn't help but I knew of a horse with the same issue, and they ended up having to girth her up while she walked in the ring. It was a PITA, but it might help you get over the "hump" until he is comfortable accepting it.

Lord Helpus
Apr. 10, 2011, 09:32 PM
How about desensitizing him in smaller steps?

Take a polo wrap and lay it over his back. If he starts to tense up, just start grooming him and ignore the polo. Whenever he calms down (if he doesn't calm down at first, just groom him and put him away again), reach under, grab the polo and attach the velco to the other half of the tab.

On a pony, the polo should be very loose, not touching him at all.

Continue grooming (and cookies -- lots of cookies!) and then call it a day.

Day 2, same as day 1, but, when he relaxes, tighten the polo slighty, so it touches his stomach enough so he can feel it.

Succeeding days, tighten polo even more, walk him around in polo, leave him in his stall with polo on, always groom him with polo on, until it becomes second nature.

When you are ready to go back to the girth, add it next to the polo, do not put it on instead of the polo. It is the polo that has done its job of desensitizing him -- that will become his "blankie". If you take it away too soon, the bad memories will come flooding back.

shawneeAcres
Apr. 10, 2011, 10:12 PM
How about desensitizing him in smaller steps?

Take a polo wrap and lay it over his back. If he starts to tense up, just start grooming him and ignore the polo. Whenever he calms down (if he doesn't calm down at first, just groom him and put him away again), reach under, grab the polo and attach the velco to the other half of the tab.

On a pony, the polo should be very loose, not touching him at all.

Continue grooming (and cookies -- lots of cookies!) and then call it a day.

Day 2, same as day 1, but, when he relaxes, tighten the polo slighty, so it touches his stomach enough so he can feel it.

Succeeding days, tighten polo even more, walk him around in polo, leave him in his stall with polo on, always groom him with polo on, until it becomes second nature.

When you are ready to go back to the girth, add it next to the polo, do not put it on instead of the polo. It is the polo that has done its job of desensitizing him -- that will become his "blankie". If you take it away too soon, the bad memories will come flooding back.

Thanks! THis was the kind of suggestion I was looking for. Will try this approach and see if it helps. Afraid this may be SO ingrained that I cannot get him over it. But would like to try. Regardless, he is a fabulous pony!

lovesponies
May. 16, 2011, 12:21 AM
I just saw this thread and had to reactivate my account! I used to post as Eglinton yearsssss ago...anyway this situation sounds very familiar to me. My horse is exactly the same, and this is a total shot in the dark, but the issue is hands or arms or whatever brushing or even touching his underside as you go to do whatever you need to do under there. Anything from reaching for the girth, reaching for surcingles, cleaning his sheath, anything. It isn't the actual acts that piss him off, it's touching his tummy as I go to do them. It took me a long time to figure this out. Now I can do anything as long as I clear his tummy as I reach for stuff. He is good about almost everything, including crossties, but all bets are off if I brush his tummy accidently. He's 18 years old, and this is not something I would consider training out of him. I choose my battles, and this is not one of them! He lives at home, and has since he was a 3 year old. Unlikely his situation will change anytime soon, so I'm just complying. It's not a big deal. Anyway, just a thought? Possibly worth a try?

red mares
May. 16, 2011, 10:51 AM
My old mare is like this. Harness, saddle, not so much blankets, she will sit down when the girth is tighted. Unless you let her head go. Snap the cross ties in front of her, off her halter, tighten up, re-snap the cross ties, and you're good to go. Usually, we don't use cross ties, just one chain, so you just unsnap, tighten up, resnap. It doesn't take long enough to worry about her leaving.

trabern
May. 16, 2011, 11:30 AM
DD has a tall sport Haflinger that came to us so cinch-y she was unsafe around young riders. (Also, interestingly, raised Amish.) We did exactly what you are doing and what several posters have suggested--cookies, making girthing a long, relaxed process, and girthing or putting on a lunge surcingle several times a day without any work involved. (Hand grazing is great for ponies.) You seem to be doing it right. It took a good 9 months to get her safe, and two years later she still makes faces and shakes when girthed up.

I use cookies liberally with ponies. I don't find it makes them nippy at all--ponies are generally clever enough to learn to do a trick or pose for a cookie. It's the nippy TBs who are much less interested in a cookie and very interested in making trouble that get nippy. :)