I have the weirdest issue with my pony. He was very poorly started (ill fitting tack, inappropriate bit, inappropriate rider, rushed through it all) as a just-been-gelded 8 year old, and then he sat for the better part of a year after that. I bought him February 2012 and restarted him, redid everything from sacking out to introducing tack, lunging, ground driving, etc. Had a saddle fitter fit my saddle to him, found a bit he goes well in (french link baucher). Put a few rides on him in the ring and then spent last summer focusing on quiet trail rides with friends, trying to get him to stop stressing and just get used to having a rider without asking him to do anything difficult. He's a stellar trail pony, totally bombproof out in the "real world" (though we still have issues with things around the barn such as hoses and the farrier), and in the ring as long as we're going forward he's happy.
The problems start when I either drop my stirrups, or ask him to halt so I can dismount. These two actions trigger him to rear and then leap forward and bolt. I can get a good square halt on the ground driving lines, but under saddle it's almost as if he's afraid to stop moving? If I try to fling myself off and just bail, then he won't let me near him to catch him again. I've been forced to resort to getting someone to come into the ring to hold him so I can get off, and there isn't always going to be a second person around so I need to fix this issue and not just depend on a holder.
He has a trot to die for and his canter at liberty is getting better and better every day so I can't wait to start actually working on it with him (he had no natural canter when I got him, he'd spent his whole life in a tiny, rock-and-mud filled paddock with 6 other horses, so no room to do more than maybe trot). I'd like to take him out to the local dressage club shows eventually, and I'm sure we could go and do okay (well, except for our halt salutes, haha) in the walk-trot, but I don't want to rush into anything when there's clearly something going on.
My one riding coach (eventing background) has said she's uncomfortable dealing with the rearing and is unsure how to fix it as she's never had to deal with a horse with that sort of issue, and my other coach has gone on maternity leave so isn't available to help.
I've had his teeth done, a chiro out to tweak his back, a massage therapist, and the saddle fitter out. I've had a couple other confident experienced riders out to try him out and he does the same thing so I'm glad it's not just me. But I'm now at a loss for what to try! We're also working right now to get going in cart, so should I perhaps focus on the driving and put riding on the backburner for a bit? I'm quite puzzled!
Do you suppose you could break it down into smaller components of 'stand while I dismount'? Instead of sugar or alf pellets (alf pellets can be choke risk especially if a bit is also present), is there a favorite 'scritchy' spot you can reach while you are on him? Start with a 'halt for a scritch' then walk on. Then halt for a scritch on both sides of neck or withers, walk on. Then upgrade to halt for a scritch plus you take one foot out of stirrup, put foot back in and walk on.
If that does not work, try riding without stirrups, and without bit, just mosey around the arena in a halter and lead rope, and desensitize him to you leaning forward and hugging him around the neck. Considering that this particular maneuver is exactly what you need to do if he rears, that would put you in safe position if he tried that with no saddle and bridle on. It is possible that he has enough bad memories of either being jabbed by a saddle, or possibly grabbed in the mouth, that he just does not know those do not necessarily happen when someone gets off. If that process works, then try either saddle but no bit, or bridle with bit but no saddle, to help figure out which of those two is the trigger for him to freak out.
Good luck, and keep us posted. (Do you have any videos you could share with us? Perhaps we'd get some more ideas to help you, seeing them.)
ETA, even though you believe saddle is fitting well, is there any chance that as you prepare to dismount, it is actually shifting and pinching somewhere?
RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.
Huh – can’t say I have run into this issue – but what about taking it back some steps?
When I start youngsters – I get on a mounting block and lean over the saddle, putting more and more weight on their back, until one day (after lots of desensitizing) I toss a leg over. From there its lots of on and off – and “good pony!” pats.
What does he do when you just lean over the saddle? Does he stay still? I think I would be practicing lots of immobility at the mounting block – “half” getting on and off with lots of reward for standing still. I wouldn’t toss a leg over until he let me lay over the saddle, and slide off again without moving – I would only throw a leg over after he has shown he can stand still.
I have a horse that used to buck and sometimes try to bolt when a rider would dismount. He was fine halting in hand, etc.
I worked very hard desensitizing him, thinking he was overly reactive to sensations of dismounting. I mounted and dismounted both sides equally. I had his eyesight checked too. In my desensitizing I discovered he preferred I do the (very unsafe, not recommended) "pony" style of dismounting of sliding off his bum rather than dismounting from the sides.
I finally resorted to having him hold his head around to the side for a treat while I would slip my feet out of the stirrups and then push myself off quickly. It seemed the less I disturbed the saddle side to side the more tolerable he was.
I finally was able to get him to stand gentlemanly for dismounting, but he always threw his head in the air when I dismounted, or often just in anticipation of my dismounting. Just sliding my feet from the stirrups was enough to have him toss his head.
I later found out he has broken withers. Despite numerous vettings and visits from chiropractors on a mission to "find something". Only an xray revealed the damage.
For some reason he finds the action of dismounting more disturbing than mounting or riding. He actually rode quite nicely sometimes.
We now drive.
In addition to making sure its not pain related, I would echo the advice above... do approach and retreat. Get ready to mount, then "dismount" by undoing the actions you just did in getting ready. Rinse and repeat until there is no reaction. Then mount 10% of the way, and then dismount that much. Keep going, getting further in the mounting process, and dismounting just a quickly, until you can swing a leg over and then back just as swiftly, doing a complete mount and dismount in one motion without reaction.
“I am sorry negativity, I have no time for you. I have far too many positive things to do.”
I had a project like this once. No rearing but bolting and crow-hopping for dismounting. Great for everything else! LOL What worked for mine was we spent a couple of weeks ONLY mounting and dismounting with a handler. I didn't even ride. We used treats to help retrain his brain to feel good about dismounting. First, we used fake legs filler with sand. Swung them up, pulled them off and treated for standing. Then I did as stated above...foot in stirrup but still on the ground. We rewarded for standing until he did so calmly. Then I stood in the stirrup. Reward for calm when I came down. We slowly increased the amount I was "on" and dismounting from rewarding every step and never moving forward to the next level until we were 100% calm where we were working. After a week I was able to get all the way on and then off for the first time with no reaction. We confirmed over several days and then I had my handler start holding from farther and farther away until I was at the end if a lunge mounting and dismounting. Finally we added in riding on a lunge at greater intervals before dismounting and rewarding. And then...off the lunge. Never had a problem again! He just needed to learn that dismounting felt good. I used it as a reward and he learned to stay calm. We just never progressed forward until he was 100% calm where we were at. Good luck!!!!!
"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
Could you try spiraling into an ever smaller circle until his feet stop moving instead of a straight halt? Can you lose or drop one stirrup without the reaction? These might be places to start reducing the stress around dismounting.
I'm baffled. It sounds like something happened to him during dismounting that has made the action something to be feared, but I can't imagine what. The broken withers idea might be something to investigate.
I did see someone mount a young horse for the first time while someone blocked the horse's vision of the rider. When the rider went to dismount the horse saw the movement and freaked. Even when the helper went and blocked the horse's sight again the horse had learned what that movement meant and still freaked out. The rider did get off without anyone getting hurt but I learned to make sure the horse saw everything I was doing the first time I got on. I can't see that being the case here as you restarted from scratch.
i think you will need a second person for the first part of this because clearly you cant do it alone.
you need to be able to get on and off and dangle stirrups til the cows come home with someone holding him. then have them hold him from a distance. then have them just being there and not holding him. then and only then should you try to do it without someone there.
it is basic learning and building blocks.
you do NOT want to get him rearing... you need to do this in a manner that he is set up to succeed, not fail.
The broken withers suggestion is something I NEVER would have thought of. I'll definitely look more into that, my vet actually just got set up with some fantastic portable radiology equipment and I know she's dying to play with it! And really, looking at the paddock he lived in for most of his life, I can see how an injury like that could happen.
Mounting has never caused an issue. I can mount from a block, the ground, a stump, I can even flail in my mounting and he's totally fine. But there's something about the act of dropping stirrups and getting ready to get off that freaks him out, no matter how happy and smoothly the ride itself went. I know that he was very much mistreated previously, so it wouldn't surprise me if someone did something to him while the person who broke him (in multiple senses of the word) causing a negative association with the word.
The person who had him for a few months between his original owner and when I bought him rode him in a mechanical hackamore and had no issues. In fact, she had none of the training issues I've been having, other than the fact that it would take her literally hours to catch him. Now I can walk up to him in the paddock and catch him with no issues, but other training issues are popping up. It's very clear that there are huge gaps in his training, and I'm finding that with all of his baggage and random (often inexplicable/undetermined) triggers it's a lot more difficult to close those gaps, if that makes sense?
Tonight I had a good friend hop on him while I "lunged", she had all the control, I just held the line as a safety measure. I ground drove him in his harness first, while she was dealing with her own horse while he was getting a massage, and worked on stop/stand with distractions, lots of despooking things like throwing ropes and such over his back, and doing everything that often makes him uneasy, and nothing bothered him. In fact, it was our best driving session to date! I untacked, let him roll in the ring, and then took him back to the aisleway and crossties to brush him and tack him up. He's very clearly anxious when I bring the saddle out, vs when I bring out the harness. But I tacked up, took him into the ring to lunge and warm up in the saddle while my friend got her helmet/chaps/XC vest on (just in case, haha!). She did a lot of putting weight in the stirrup but not getting on, then laying across him, and then mounted, all with no issues. so we started walking with me leading, and then she gradually spiraled him out onto a nice big circle. I offered lots of verbal praise (my friend is deaf and mute), while she offered lots of scratches. He was definitely uneasy for the first little while, but he settled in a lot quicker than usual. She got a lot of soft, quiet walk and trot both directions, and then signaled that she was ready to try preparing to dismount. I moved into position at his head, not holding him so tight that he'd feel resricted, but enough so that if he were to explode I'd be able to stop him getting to far. As soon as she dropped her stirrups, he leaped forward, wide eyes, tight lips, pinned ears, clamped tail. We got him back, walked a few circles to get him to relax again, and tried again. Took about 10 repetitions before dropping stirrups was no big deal. She leaned forward, he popped his front end (not exactly a rear, but he popped onto his front toes, instead of being on flat feet, so still...not good), I had her stay like that while we walked forward a few steps. He let out a HUGE sigh, and she slipped off before he knew what was happening. We both gave HUGE praise, I pulled off his tack, and let him roll (His first reward after any good workout is the chance to roll in the indoor, he loves the soft sand/shavings mix footing). We're going to plan to do the same thing in a couple days, and are aiming to do it at least twice a week for the forseeable future. She's also significantly lighter weight than me (she's about 130lbs and I'm usually in the 215-225lbs range) which could be playing a big part in it taking less time for her to successfully dismount than me.
I'm thinking that, until his dismounting issue is solved, or that the vet finds an invisible injury, that I'd be better off not riding him, and focusing on the driving. The taller-but-thinner factor my friend has going definitely seemed to make a difference.
I'll try to get some video in the next while. I'm getting a new camera this weekend after payday, mine bit the dust last week when I dropped it in a giant puddle while trying to take pictures of some of the horses in the back pasture.
I have had a couple of horses like this i believe it is because some one got off and punished the horse for doing something scary. ( hard to believe but i know that is how it happened with one of them). So, you do a volte ( tiny circle) and take yours stirrups off, and volte, and put your stirrups one, and volte and take your stirrups off and lean forward. repeating these actions and rewarding and releasing the horses straight for every time he relaxes ( or she) and does not stress. You rinse repeat. You can even bring their neck around for a stretch toward your knee and give them a treat when you so it. anyway, tiny stages. then as you bring the head around, when the horse is relaxed, slip off quietly and treat. or release . You have to do this a number of times, until they no longer associte dismounting with something scary. ( starting with a second handler helps, but i rarely have one, so have to work on it by myself most of the time)
Had another session with him and my friend yesterday and we discovered that it's the sliding of the legs that sends him into a panic. So we spent almost an hour (until he calmed down enough that we could actually end on a high note) with her just sliding her legs around, hooking them over the front of the saddle (he didn't care), laying forward and pulling her legs all the way up onto his bum (didn't care), sliding her lower legs back so her feet were more at his flanks (UP he went, and AWAY he went, bolted around the ring for a good couple minutes before we could get him back, luckily my friend is an ex-exercise rider at a TB racecourse, so she's used to riding at breakneck speeds!) Got him back, and ended with her putting her legs over the front of the saddle, then hooking one leg right across to the other side of his neck and dismounting "vaulter style". I'm starting to think the person that broke him snagged his flanks with her spurs or something...
I am currently working with a horse that had this problem.
First we clicker trained him to touch a towel with his nose. This teaches him first of all to 'look for the click.'
We also held the towel lower and lower down until eventually he was touching it on the ground.
So then for dismounting, whenever he lowered his head an inch, the rider (me) would click and treat. He learned to "look for the click" by lowering his head. They cannot run off when their nose is by their knees.
Then I would swing my right leg around and immediately click and treat.
Then I would swing my leg half off and immediately click and treat.
Hang off the left stirrup and click and treat (takes coordination, but is possible).
Dismounting became an exercise in "stand around waiting for the click and treat."
What a beautiful horse . It seems like you have very supportive friends and a lot of patience for getting him through this correctly.
I'm not a horse trainer as defined by anyone's standards (although my trainer always tells me that I AM the trainer whenever I'm working with my horse), but I have worked with dogs and people who haven't always had it great and develop phobias that are hard to break. Video is pretty clear-as soon as she dropped her stirrups, he immediately flipped a switch. I agree-poor boy is anticipating that something horribly bad is going to happen to him. I love that you are taking his fears seriously and going so slowly with him so that he trusts and feels better. What great suggestions you've received above; I can't wait to read about your progress (and your carrot bill!). Best of luck to you with your sweet boy.
LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...
We go way back, to when he was not a year old. Early weaned and went through auction. My old coach bought him, and when she got him home she threw him in a stall and left him. A few months later and he was allowed brief "paddock" privileges. I use "paddock" loosely, it was more of a fenced in mud pit half the size of his stall. To get him in/out he was hit and chased with a wooden board..
I was young and green and even then I took pity on him and started to sit on his "paddock" fence, waiting for him to come say hi. One day he stuck his nose in my halter, and that was the end of it, we were bonded and he trusted me, no matter what the other people did to him.
I eventually had a falling out with the coach and left the barn, always wondering what happened to the little bay horse that I'd play with when the barn owner was away (since she'd labeled him "dangerous" and threw him in a small muddy/rocky paddock with several other ungelded draft crosses). Some years passed and I still thought about him, and one day the owner of the barn I was riding at then (fall of 2011) informed me that a new horse was coming for "training" and that if she didn't fix him in a week he'd be going to auction (and likely slaughter as he was an almost 9 year old "wild" horse). Turned out it was my little buddy, and within a few hours I'd made the owner an offer, handed her cash, signed the bill of sale, and the rest is history.
It's been a looonnngggg slow process with him, the smallest/most random things set him off, and if I push him even the tiniest bit too far I have to start right from ground one. But, I have my best friend back, we finally found a fantastic boarding facility with facilities we can actually use (the last place wouldn't allow us to do ground work, even in the round pens), a paddock where he has a friend across the fence that he'll play with but where he can still walk away if he feels overwhelmed, and a whole group of super supportive fellow boarders/barn family. We couldn't be luckier!
The vet is coming to take xrays on the 7th, he has a massage and reiki session on the 6th, and hopefully after the vet appointment K will hop back on him.
I'm in no rush to do anything with him. Riding is, for the time being, a once-or-twice-per-week thing, ground driving/preparing to hitch is going at his pace, my only goal is to build his confidence and enjoy our time together. When he came into my life the first time, I needed a friend more than anything. The second time? Well, the timing again was too perfect, I needed him again, and I couldn't risk losing him a second time, so I paid $500 cash (just enough to cover what his last owner paid to get his first ever dental/shots/worming), and the rest is history. Working with him and his fears/anxiety/low confidence has helped me with my own similar issues, and has been nothing but rewarding. I tend to think of these weird "problems" as speedbumps rather than roadblocks, and laugh it off whenever possible