I’ve been putting Slewy back to work with plans to actually ride him soon. Given that its Slewy, we’ve run into some hiccups. I’m trying to be creative and patient in finding our way past these little issues.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I’m not a professional trainer. I’m just a lady who has owned horses since she was a teenager, has had a fair number of lessons, has done a little bit of horseback riding teaching to beginners, has a tiny bit of showing experience and has a Bachelor’s degree in Equine Science (and one in English).
So if you’re a horsey person who has some relevant advice or thoughts, I’d love to hear it. But just please be kind.
Our first hiccup was that the trainer my daughter rides with (and whom I’ve ridden with a couple of times) has been convinced that Slewy’s poor behavior is caused by “kissing spine”. “Kissing spines refers to a condition in horses in which two or more of the spinous processes (the flanges of bone sticking up from each vertebra in the spine) are positioned so that they touch or rub against each other.” (ker.com) Here’s an x-ray showing kissing spine (not Slewy):
So we had Slewy x-rayed. Slewy does not have kissing spine. Yay!
(Don’t worry, we’ll get to the saddling experiment.)
With that diagnosis out of the way, I put Slewy to work on the lunge line. “Lunging” a horse consists of having him work in a large circle around you. Its sort of boring, honestly, but there are a lot of things you can do on the lunge line. For example, your horse can practice listening to you, you can practice transitions between gaits (walk to trot, trot to canter, walk to whoa), you can work over ground poles (literally poles on the ground that your horse goes over). Lunging is a good way to get horses back in shape or just to “get the bucks out” before you get on them.
Lunge line work has been going well so I decided to put a saddle back on Slewy. Please note that Slewy has a custom fit saddle and a very expensive ($200), very fluffy, saddle pad. So Slewy really has no excuse to be a dork about having his saddle put on.
But, of course, Slewy is a dork. We put his saddle on and Slewy acted like he was going to die. Seriously, he pretended that he couldn’t walk.
Day 2 of saddle, we went through the same thing. But I watched Slewy very carefully this time around. Slewy bloats, i.e., holds his breath when you put his saddle and girth on. (The girth is the part that goes around the horse’s tummy to hold your saddle in place.) Horses that bloat / hold their breath, make their tummy bigger so that when you’re done, and they let their breath out, their girth is looser. (Not that the girth hurts them in any way; its no different than wearing a belt.)
After a few minutes of talking to him and scratching his neck (Slewy’s favorite thing in the world, besides food), Slewy relaxes and remembers that he can, in fact, walk.
I began to wonder if he wasn’t just holding his breath and freaking himself out. Slewy is like that.
I remembered that, before his current job of “family horse”, Slewy was a racehorse. Many racehorses are saddled as they’re walking, pausing for only the briefest of moments so the saddle can be tossed on and the girth done up.
So we decided, on Day 3, to play “racehorse”. (This is the saddling experiment.) I put Slewy’s bridle on, which he doesn’t mind at all. Then, I had my daughter walk Slewy in a circle around the little barn yard. They walked a couple of circles and, on the third time around, paused for me to throw a saddle pad (fluffy that goes under the saddle) on. More walking circles. And then a brief pause for me to put his saddle on as quickly as possible. Then, immediately to more walking.
It sort of worked. Slewy did settle down much more quickly. Normally, I’d put his saddle pads on, then go get his saddle, saunter back over, fuss with his saddle pads, and put his saddle on. That gave Slewy a lot of time to worry. And Slewy worries a lot. So I think our new “racehorse method” distracted him and gave less worry time.
We’ll try it again today. Here’s a picture of said dork, Slewy:
He is cute, isn’t he? Which is why we’re being patient, going slow, trying experiments, and working hard to figure out what’s best for dear Slewy.