I want to ride MY horse again, not everyone else's!
Wondering if any of you have any different ideas on how to approach this.
I've had my horse about 8 years now, trained him, rode like crazy, and he was the perfect pleasure mount, but about 2 years ago, he dropped a lot of weight, and my saddle didn't fit him well. I attempted to get on him one time, and before my butt even touched the saddle, he took off, bucking, which was not like him at ALL. Tried again a week later, same thing happened. He wound up having a sore back, so I stopped ridding for the winter, had the chiropractor out a bunch of times, got his weight back up, and worked him a lot on the lunge line and over jumps, but still hadn't gotten on him, built up his top line and got him fit.
I decided to try to get on him bareback, since I still hadn't gotten another saddle. he was clearly nervous, it took me over an hour working with him to get him to calm down enough for me to get on him. Tons of standing on a mounting block, rubbing his back, leaning on him, putting weight on, swinging my leg over but not getting up, then finally got on him and walked and trotted for a few minutes and called it a day. I did that about once a week for a month. Recently I tacked him up with a friends saddle, which fit MUCH better, and even tacking up, he was real nervous. Took him down to the round pen, and took our time with him. I tried to mount up, and he took off, so I stayed on the ground and held him, reassuring him, and my friend tried to get up, and same thing, took off. We even had a guy hold my friend up next to the saddle, so the saddle wouldn't shift while mounting, and my horse stood there, SHAKING because he was so nervous that someone was going to get on him. I gave up for the day after that, I couldn't stand seeing him so scared.
I'm not sure what to do next. I was thinking of trying quietex, and seeing how he was, and if that helps, ridding a few times with that, then trying without again, but I've never used it before, and have never seen a horse that had it, how much does it actually help relax them?
My horse was almost exactly like yours when I first got him. Had a severely sore back and would start trembling head to toe as soon as the saddle came out of the tack room. He was always SUPER tense when I first mounted and one time he took off bucking just like your horse did. So I quit riding him. Instead, I lunged him almost everyday for a few weeks with a saddle on, and it helped A LOT! The first few sessions he was tense and would snort and run around, but by the end of the few weeks he was calm as can be. Btw, I kept my stirrups down while lunging him. Normally you wouldn't do this of course, but with a horse like this that needs to be desensitized, it works great.
Another thing I did was when I decided he was ready to be ridden again, I would always incorporate multiple mountings and dismountings into the rides. I would get on, ride some minutes, get off, get back on, ride some, get off, get back on, etc. And of course make sure you follow up good behavior with LOTS of praise.
My horse is now very good about mounting. Never moves. The other day I had to get on him bareback using a really short stool. Took 3 tries and lots of flailing around before I finally pulled myself up. Horse didn't move a muscle the whole time. He just turned around and looked at me like "Mother..what in the world are you doing hanging on my side?"
In addition to what Madeline said, if the okay is given to start working this horse again, consider starting in a western saddle. My former horse injured his back in turnout one winter (no idea how, no one saw); after working with the vet to treat his injury we returned him to work slowly with a western saddle. The design of a western tree distributes weight differently and over a greater area than an English saddle. Also you can use thick wool felt pads under the western saddle.
If so, one thing that works well is feeding treats before/after mounting. I've had several OTTBs that were difficult to train to stand at the mounting block...they would bolt or spin. A few sessions of mounting and rewarding and they start to get the picture quickly. I reward them for standing at the mounting block and also standing for a moment after I mount. You need to spend some time working through this though; it won't be fixed by just mounting him once or twice and calling it a day. You need to make it into a training session.
There is only so much you can teach a horse about working under saddle from the ground. Many things must be taught from the saddle. That's your problem here.
You had/have a pain problem that created/creates bad behavior when you got/get on and the only way to fix that is eliminate the pain-and, sorry, shame on you for trying to ride in a saddle you knew does not fit. You made it worse by hurting him again with his resulting, defensive bad behavior getting even more ingrained. Now he associates you getting on with pain.
You need to only use a saddle that fits-every time, every ride. And you need help from somebody who can ride him and correct that behavior.
We always say get a complete vet exam, like blocks and x rays, for this kind of thing and this older horse may well have some hock, stifle or back issues that CAN be treated. Drugging him is not a good idea when something hurts and he has learned to react by hating anybody getting on him. Chiro is no substitute for actually finding out what is wrong.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
up the hill from the little river (that floods alarmingly often)
You need to make absolutely sure this horse is not sore, and it does not sound like you've done so from your post.
Having the chiro out is good, but that is just one part of diagnosing and treating an issue. You don't know that the saddle was the main issue here; maybe his hocks are sore too, or his toes are too long and it's changed the way he moves, and he's getting more sore.
Make sure he's getting the vitamins and minerals he needs from his diet. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can contribute to muscle soreness/lack of muscling. EPSM can also cause muscle soreness.
Why did he drop a lot of weight two years ago? Was that a management issue (not enough forage) or a health problem? Could there be any underlying problems from this weight-loss episode that haven't resolved?
Start with the vet and get a thorough lameness evaluation. If the vet says this is a mental issue, not a physical one, get a good saddle fitter out and have that person flock your saddle so that it fits him well or buy something that does fit him. You cannot ask him to be a riding horse until you've addressed these things.
Anticipating pain can be difficult to work through, but at some point, once you are certain he isn't in pain, you just have to keep going. He has to realize that it doesn't hurt anymore.
You may need a firm but intuitive trainer to help you work through this.
But first you must eliminate the chance that his current behavior is due to soreness that you're not aware of.
The only thing I would add to the vet and training suggestions is to really treat him like he still has a sore/cold back when you get on. Don't sit in the saddle when you get on. Stand in the stirrups and walk away directly after mounting -- don't make him stand there like a statue, give him something to think about other than you standing in the irons. Have a friend lead him at first, since he's been trying to run off and then slowly lower yourself into the saddle while walking figure eights or something else to get his mind off of your weight in the saddle. Maybe also try lunging him not just with the saddle but with some weights? We have a weight system we use when we are breaking young horses.
i agree with everyone else with tacking him up for some time and just doing ground work and lunging him. could build his condfidence with the saddle and give his mind a job with the saddle one while calming his nerves. eventully hell loose the comparison of the saddle with someone sitting on his back and it hurting
Sounds like saddle issues.
Check his saddle fit
He' s tryng to tell you something.
His back is being hurt somehow.
Vet check and saddle fitter check.
I sincerely hope you find the root of the problem.
This happened overnight? Your perfect horse dropped a ton of weight, did a 180 in behavior and rideability? I know this sounds insane, but you are CERTAIN that it is the same horse? Thats a lot of stuff going on suddenly for something not to be REALLY wrong.
Since I don't think it can be said too many times, I agree...
I would have the vet do a complete lameness exam on this horse prior to riding.
Have a saddle that fits.
I would bring in a trainer.
This. Horses's personalities don't change without something happening. Maybe its just fear of another sore back, but you won't know without a good vet giving him a once over. Could be ulcers, vision loss, kissing spine... Once the vet clears him, I'd get a good saddle and a trainer.
Also, it sounds like you don't have much consistently in his life. If its a training issue, its going to take more than once a week with some weeks off to fix it.
Kissing spine perhaps? Nervous, lost weight, runs at the sight of the saddle.
It seems like one day he was ok - and then not, and years later still not ok. I don't think a bad saddle fit is the whole issue here. Much Luck to you. Please do a whole work up. It has been way too long now for no change.
I have had the vet check him out, couldn't find anything. I don't think he did a real good job though, he is a large animal vet, not specifically horse, I'm on the lookout for a better vet though, hoping I won't have to take him up to New Bolton just to get checked out. He had always been very petite, and had just started filling out before he lost the weight, which was most likely because of stress/depression, after losing his companion to lymes. When I had been ridding him, he did start to seem a bit reluctant to jump, when he used to love it, so I got a correction pad, and he seemed much better, but I still held off on the jumping, and I had only been riding him 3-4 times a month, 30-45 minute workouts at the most. Thanks for all the input though everyone. I have never even heard of kissing spines before. Anyone have any vet recommendations in the South Jersey area?