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UPDATE [post 24] Ideas to correct horse that pins ears/snaps/bites when saddled . . .

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  • #21
    I also did the positive reinforcement with my mare. She learned really quickly she got apples when I was saddling/tightening the girth, and in about a week totally stopped the ugly face behavior.


    • #22
      Does his saddle fit well? Does he have ulcers? Did he have one or both of these issues in the past? These reactions tend to come from a place of pain (either present or past).


      • #23
        Originally posted by Foxglove View Post

        Over the two years I have tried EVERYTHING to correct this ---oh! If I saddle him in the pasture or at the trailer, he doesn't do it ---only in the cross ties in the barn --and he does it with both English and Western tack.

        You have your answer here. Don't saddle him in the cross ties.

        Assuming there are no current issues with health or saddle fit, there is something in his past that he is remembering and it has become a reflex or learned behavior.

        To break the association of cross ties/saddling, saddle him while he is munching hay in the stall. Reward him every time. Teach him to ground tie and saddle him in different places. Reward him. Throw a saddle on him, then take it off and walk away. Give a treat. Saddle him, but don't ride. Give a treat.

        This behavior will not resolve overnight.....the horse needs time to process.
        Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
        Alfred A. Montapert


        • Original Poster

          Update --trainer came yesterday afternoon--nice young woman, just finished two years at a horse college --but I think she reads COTH because EVERY idea she had was posted here! The only thing she said that I didn't read here was that my horse was beautifully trained [oh, wait, I wrote that at the start]. But everything else was an echo of this thread --she aid horse may have had ulcers in the past when he was a competing cutting/sorting horse ---but since he's been with me on 24/7 turn out, and is totally non-reactive when saddled any place except the cross-ties --that is (as you said here) a learned behavior. Her solutions were your solutions --ground tie to saddle, lots of positive reinforcement, go slow, accept that this is probably part of "who he is," --she did ride him a bit and showed me some things he knows that I didn't know he knew --he's got some reining-training --part of the cutting/sorting life he led, she said. He can rock a spin --nothing like what's on TV (wrong shoes, wrong footing in my area --who knew?) I don't shoe horse, but I guess those fancy reining horses wear a different shoe. And he will drop his head and "rock" left and right just using leg pressure - like his previous owner --she said, "He'd probably love it if you could get him a cow." Not happening. Just might try clicker training --taught my cat a few tricks with that concept. Thank you!!!!! Good to know we all agree. Should we try politics next?


          • #25
            How are you putting on the pad and saddle pad? Are you tightening the girth right away?

            I have found a world of a difference in horse's behavior if you put everything on very slow, and very gently.

            Even if he only does it on the cross-ties I wouldn't discount it as a reactive and defensive behavior.. sounds like the saddle, or the way it is being put on, is bothering him. It could also be, he feels he cannot protect himself while he is crosstied. I've had some horses like that, and teaching them to ground tie worked well.

            I have a TB with 80 starts, who was very girthy and aggressive when he first retired from the track. He would start snaking his head and trying to bite you when you pulled out the saddle pad. He was very quick about it too, I suspect he was whacked a few times on the track for this behavior, because he could be sneaky about it. Treated him for ulcers, but in the mean-time, I started tacking up differently. I'd put the saddle pad on, and then go and pick his feet. Brush his mane. Do something else. Then I'd put the saddle on, very slowly -- making sure never to "drop it" on his back. Then would brush his face, or scratch his neck.. Then put the girth on, but so loose you can see daylight through it.. Would only go up one hole every two minutes or so. Never pulled the billets or cranked the girth up, not even when it was time to go to the mounting block. I even rode him in a looser girth than traditional for a bit. It made him far less defensive, and you'd never know he used to be girthy now.

            Good luck! It's been my experience them being girthy is them telling you they are actively uncomfortable - I don't think it's something horses "hold onto" as a behavior, personally.
            AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012


            • Original Poster

              Beowulf --i'm thinking it's not the saddle or pad --he's the same with English and Western tack --but when I ride my "string" ---take all three horses out at the same time to the ring, tie two, ride one, then switch to the next out in the field or in the arena (where he's tied to a post), he's totally non-reactive. Same when I saddle at the trailer --just stands there being a horse. It is something about the cross-ties that is evoking this response. He's pleasant and quiet all through brushing, but bring out the saddle and pad and the ears go back and the stink-eye comes out.

              Today I waited him out (kind of like you said) --after the saddle pad was on, I stood rock still until the ears came back up and I gave him a horse cookie. Pretty much continued that -but I had all the time in the world today . . .we'll see how it goes. He's a smart horse. I'm guessing he'll figure our new "game" out pretty quickly.


              • #27
                Foxglove, breaking it down to just the saddle pad and waiting it out until you get happy ears is a great idea, imho. I would continue doing that, and do the actual saddling elsewhere. Another way to further change the pattern would be to use the cross ties only to unsaddle him.

                The 'why' is a tough one because of his clear history. One thing about many ranch horses is that showing some personality is not especially encouraged. It could be that sometime in his past he got some kind of attention, negative or positive, for threatening behaviors.


                • Original Poster

                  Brown Derby --as personable as this horse is ---always seeking attention --I think you might be right. His previous owners were all young men who totally did/lived the cowboy life (first was his breeder) a rancher,then given to a general ranch hand, next a farrier --although works at Cornell University in some capacity too --who did cutting/sorting and rodeo pick up of bronc riders with this horse), then two back to back Midwestern cutting/sorting owners. From what I can tell from their facebook pictures, they are young, big men --who well might think it was "funny" to have a horse who was a bit frisky in the cross ties ---or who may have been overly quick and strong to tighten a girth on a horse who maybe wasn't sensitive at first, but disliked the quick jerk method and reacted. Maybe like the little boy who hears his big daddy cuss, and does the same thing. The daddy (horse owner in this case) laughs --the little boy (horse) keeps doing the same thing --he thinks its the right thing to do. I don't think anyone taught this horse to be this way --I just don't think anyone cared that he was until I got him --and my goal in life is to make my horses happy.

                  FYI I tracked down all previous owners and each confirmed horse's ownership dates ---only the farrier keeps in touch (Facebook) --the breeder isn't on social media --I wrote a letter --but is a friend of the farrier in real life, so he keeps them up-dated.


                  • #29
                    It may well be that the past owners put on the saddle and then cinched up tight right off. I’ve noticed this with my trainer (man). Whereas I, and most of the women, tend to snug up on the cross ties and then finish tightening just before mounting. I notice that this seems to lead to the behavior that you describe. Good luck with this. It sounds like you have a really nice horse!
                    Not my monkeys, not my circus.


                    • #30
                      I have a mare like this and she was also started Western. She bit me once before I owned her (when she was on trial for purchase); as a very unhappy horse that had lived outside most of the time and then in a stall 23 hours/day for several months at a boarding barn. I then treated her for ulcers and moved her home earlier than planned after I bought her in the winter.

                      She will still make the grumpy face and occasionally turn around to "nip" at your foot as you mount ("nip" in quotes because she really just makes a grumpy face and sometimes pretends to nip).

                      I think it is learned behavior and like your horse, once you are on it goes away. I'm sure if I worked harder I could eliminate the behavior but since it is mainly just a grumpy face I just ignore her.

                      I do think it had to do with western girth tightening...but I think it was exacerbated when she was on trial and ridden by a lot of different people.


                      • #31
                        Originally posted by beowulf View Post

                        Even if he only does it on the cross-ties I wouldn't discount it as a reactive and defensive behavior.. sounds like the saddle, or the way it is being put on, is bothering him. It could also be, he feels he cannot protect himself while he is crosstied. I've had some horses like that, and teaching them to ground tie worked well.
                        Good point. I think that when a horse feels trapped, or contained, it gets a bit anxious. When it feels that it is free to leave, it tends to stand there and wait a bit more patiently. Like if you go to the doctor and need a shot, you just sit there and take it. But if two big men where called in to hold you down for your shot, you'd be a bit anxious, right? Maybe the cross tied kind of feel like that?
                        "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."


                        • #32
                          Originally posted by Palm Beach View Post

                          Good point. I think that when a horse feels trapped, or contained, it gets a bit anxious. When it feels that it is free to leave, it tends to stand there and wait a bit more patiently. Like if you go to the doctor and need a shot, you just sit there and take it. But if two big men where called in to hold you down for your shot, you'd be a bit anxious, right? Maybe the cross tied kind of feel like that?
                          Similar to a horse that panics when tied and pulls back, but will stand there all day with lead rope loosely draped over something or just hanging there?


                          • #33
                            Beowulf and Palm Beach make an important point about the horse having subtle upticks in anxiety during grooming and tacking up. So, muscle tension comes with that, and a calm horse suddenly becomes edgy and watchful. It's also been my belief that girthiness can come from accumulated body soreness in the shoulder and pectoral areas. Put those two things together and, voila, girthiness.

                            When the horse is distracted by his friends, or other pleasant things, then he doesn't notice the girth pressure or the low-level aches that come with girth pressure. Hence, the indifference to girth tightening.

                            My horse has not-great front feet, and he can go through periods of mild girthiness. We are pretty certain ulcers are not the culprit, so on those days of reactivity, I take time out to massage from the girth area, through the pecs and all the way up the neck/poll to the muscle pads on his forehead. It seems to help him, and he seems thankful.

                            Also, the sternum can be permanently bruised from excessive girth pressure experienced during the early years, when that area is not yet fully formed. I may be wrong on this, but it's my understanding that the damage is permanent.

                            So, if distraction becomes the name of the game, go for it as a solution.

                            I hope this helps.


                            • #34
                              I have a mare that will pin her ears and snap if the girth is tightened too quickly. She also doesn't really like much brushing. She's just sensitive and is fine if I do it a bit at a time and do a quick brushing with a relatively soft brush. She's been checked for back pain but she has been doing this since the day she was born (not liking being brushed) and I know because I bred, delivered, and raised her. So, I just make sure I tighten the girth a little at a time.
                              Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe