Last week, Monty replied to a question in his Question and Answer column, and he believes he fell short of the mark. He would like to make it right today, with additional thoughts.
The original Question and Answer:
Writing to pick your brain as I’m sure through your experience and travels you have come across a horse like mine. His name is Royal. He is a 6-year-old Canadian gelding. I acquired him through the OSPCA so I don’t have much background info on him. All I know is that he was seized from his previous owner because they neglected him and he was extremely emaciated. He is now healthy and happy. Great guy, great ground manners, leads well, lifts feet, good to groom, stands in cross ties. Lunges off line well and really pays attention to his handler.
The problem I’m facing with him is that when any type of tack (saddle pad or saddle) is introduced to him, he steps 10 feet back. He’s extremely fearful, nervous to the point he starts to shake. With some persuasion, I can put the saddle pad on and off on and off, then the saddle. We haven’t worked up to doing the girth up on the saddle yet but I had a anti cast roller laying around so I figured well, this I won’t get to do up tight to secure it, there are no flaps to scare the poor boy. So again with some convincing, I was able to put it on and off, on and off. Then I was able to do up the girth. Once anything is on him, he is reluctant to move. I let him take his time to take this new piece of tack into stride. He stood still for the longest time, then all of a sudden he exploded. Running around that round pen as fast as he could, bucking for a bit but not big bucks, just as if he was trying to kicking at his belly to get the darn thing off. He then stops and starts to shake and just stands there, will not move. I enter the round pen, and encourage him to move with the anti cast roller still on him, he runs around and at one point does a nice little trot. So we end things on a good note, I remove the tack, give him a treat and back to his pasture he goes.
A couple days later, I repeat the above but get the same initial reaction as if he’s never seen it before. This goes one now for five sessions. I have tried Googling a solution to this problem but have come up empty handed. My question to you is how do I allow him to accept this tack without being so nervous that he wants to crawl out of his skin?
Thank you for your time,
Monty’s First Answer:
Quite possibly to your surprise I have met Royal, at every city I have ever traveled to throughout my career. I say this to you because everything you told me about Royal verifies that he is normal. Whatever made you think that horses want something on their back and a belt around their girth? They have 50 million years in their DNA telling them that this is probably a lion or a tiger. This is an normal response.
Please let me inform you that everything I have ever written videoed or created as a lesson for my Online University
addresses these issues directly or indirectly. Please do not fall into the trap of expecting knowledge about horse behavior to fall out of the sky and land in your lap, clearly understood. These issues need to be studied, learned and correctly acted upon. My entire life has been devoted to better understanding the behavioral patterns of Equus.
It worries me that you have undertaken these early training efforts with what seems to be no idea as to how the horses brain works. Please heed my words that horses can be dangerous with no intention of creating harm. In the end when horse cause injuries, they get the blame even when they are acting completely normal. Please hear my warnings.
No one can blame you for using whatever methods you thought might be acceptable but it is my message to the horse world that one can be blamed for acting without seeking the knowledge necessary to execute training procedures with no attempt to gather the information necessary to execute in a safe manner. It is not fair to your horse or anyone else to fall short allowing the horse to take the blame.
Monty’s additional words to the reader who asked about her cinchy/girthy horse:
It is true that I find myself often saying that my critics are my best friends. They keep me getting up in the morning, and learning to be a better horseperson as well as a better role model for horse people. Recently I personally answered a question of yours. For good or for bad, I personally answer every question on the Ask Monty newsletter. It has been brought to my attention that there have been five negative responses to my answer regarding your horse and his sensitivity to the girth area. If we were in a court of law, I might hear the judge say that the charges are that you failed to answer the question, talked down to the person asking for your help and spoke to her in a demeaning fashion. My plea would have to be GUILTY.
At this point in time I have had the question and answer read to me three different times. I failed to fully explain my recommendations for dealing with sensitivity to the nerve endings in the girth area. I used language that would indicate that you knew less than you should have known when in actual fact that is exactly why you were inquiring of me. I would like to make several excuses for why I believe that my answer was curt and short of the mark. The fact is that there can be no excuses for this inappropriate communication. I should know that better than anyone in the horse business as it is my mantra that communication is the center of all understanding where dealing with the needs of your horse is concerned.
Recognizing that there could easily be many people who may have wanted to criticize my answer, I am now communicating through this open letter back to the Ask Monty forum so that those who may have questioned my answer can see that I am trying to be the best source of information that I can, and doing it with understanding and compassion for those who seek information from me. I answer was not good enough by any measure, and I will attempt, herein, to put it right once and for all. If you are a regular reader of Ask Monty do not hesitate to speak your mind whenever you feel the need to. Remember that I appreciate compliments as much as I appreciate the criticisms that cause me to be a better person.
While I sincerely believe that I spoke the truth without deliberately meaning to demean, criticize or evade my reader, I failed to completely edify the questioning party as to my recommendations for successful problem solving the problem that she sought to put right. Girth-bound (cinch-bound or girth sensitivity) is a global phenomenon that exists in virtually every horse to one extent or another. Most horses can deal with this problem with two or three saddlings. It is true in this case that we have a condition which appears to have become chronic. Often times we hear these horses referred to as girth-bound or cinch-bound horses. This long lasting phenomenon must be carefully dealt with as it can be extremely dangerous.
There is no question that while I did mention my Online University as being a source of information about the malady of the girth bound syndrome, I failed to point out that there was a whole chapter on it in, From My Hands To Yours the only textbook I have ever written. While these answers are meant to be shorter than the chapter of a book, I will now take the time to give the salient points of that chapter. I recommend the use of a stable rug or stable blanket to reduce sensitivity and then to use what we call an overgirth or thin elastic strap that can go over the stable rug and around the horse in the area of the girth. This should be tightened gradually, over about a 20-minute period of time.
With the overgirth in place, the horse should be allowed to remain in a box stall (loose box) for about another half hour or so with the elastic band fairly tight. After that, I recommend that the handler should place a normal surcingle over the rug being sure that there is elastic in the girth. This surcingle should be equipped with a breastcollar (breastgirth) so that it will not slide back from the girth area. Once again the handler should tighten the girth gradually over 10 or 15 minutes until it approximates the tension of a normal saddle girth. After that, the horse should spend another 20 minutes or so with the surcingle in place. With these procedures complete the horse is ready for the saddle.
One should remember that these procedures are time approximate and the handler should be aware of the horse’s overall behavior and only move forward with these efforts as the horse has settled into a mindset of acceptance. The extreme case could require as much as 50% more time than I have outlined in this scenario. Removing the surcingle and placing the saddle should be done smoothly but in the shortest amount of time possible. The saddle girth should be tightened incrementally over 10 minutes or so. As the days go by, these times can easily be shortened until eventually the horse can be fully saddled in about 20 minutes or so. Once more I stress; read your horse.
Do not at any time attempt to mount your horse until you determine that there is a calm, cool acceptance level. I recommend releasing the horse in a small area (50 foot round pen or so) or a small corral 30–50 feet square. It is advisable to see the horse canter with a cool demeanor before mounting. I recommend schooling your horse to come to the mounting block as is shown in my Online University. In doing so, the handler can read the acceptance of the horse, particularly when making the side pass movements when approaching the mounting block. I believe this to be the safest set of procedures to follow when dealing with the behavioral pattern that I came to envision while reading your initial question.
Please accept my profound apology for an answer that was short of the one given here. With the encouragement of the criticisms that I received I intend to redouble my efforts to be as fair as I possibly can with anyone seeking my advice. I note with interest that the criticisms came from others and not from yourself. While I appreciate your patience with me, I also appreciate those that would stand up for your right to have a more complete answer than the one I gave you. I will continue to do my work in the knowledge that it is important and profound both for horses and those who love them. Please remember that it is my life’s goal to leave the world a better place than I found it for horses and for people, too.
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