Jessie Haas

award-winning children's horse books

BOOKS

The Horse Lover's Encyclopedia
Bramble and Maggie books
Four early readers about a horse and her girl
Early Readers
Help beginners onto that tall horse called Reading. Easy chapter books including Bramble and Maggie
Picture Book
A picture book about the sweet science of maple sugar. Illustrations by Jos. A. Smith
History for children and adults
history for children and adults
Nonfiction horse books
Nonfiction horse books for children and adults
Poetry
Horses from prehistory to today, our ecstatic and tangled relationship with them, and their powerful effect on history, explored in many kinds of poems. YA and As of all ages who love horses and histlry.
Middle-grade and YA novels
Saige, American Girl of the Year Chico's Challenge, Chase
My Stable
e-books and out-of-print editions

The Horse Lover's Blog

Girthy, Saddley, Bridley Robin

May 28, 2017

Tags: girthy horses, genetics, Robin, clicker training

Little Queen
"Robin's so sweet," her vet says. She often grazes just steps from his front porch, so he does know her in that context.
"I love this horse!" her farrier always says, as she greets him with fluttering nostrils--an inaudible nicker--and the first front hoof already raised. Not that Chad Bacon doesn't have her number. He knows she gets impatient if he doesn't get right to work. Girl has places to go, things to eat! Don't take all day!
Both Chad and Stephen would be astonished at the Robin I see when I approach with her saddle and bridle. Pinned ears, narrowed eyes, a back hoof raised in menace. This horse HATES being tacked up.
It runs in her family. A grand-dam and an older sister have both wrecked carts on being girthed up untactfully. Knowing this, I spent many hours training Robin to accept the girth, clicker training in very small increments, with many treats. Ditto the bitless bridle. I bought a sheepskin for her noseband, and a fleecy, elastic girth. I have worked on this for years and years.
Still I get those looks.
On the plus side, I do tack up in a large box stall, and rarely have to tie Robin to do so. Often she will come to me, even when I'm holding the saddle, if I put out my fist as a target. Click, put saddle on her back, treat.
Then it takes more clicks and treats to get the bridle on, to allow me to straighten out the pad and girth, to tighten the girth in small increments. By the end she is usually looking pleasant (and well-fed!), and all is well until I ask her to step out of her stall. Then more treats may be required.
Once I have her lined up at the mounting block, which she does voluntarily and flawlessly, she's perfectly cheerful and ready to go. That tells me the problem isn't ill-fitting tack. If the saddle was uncomfortable this horse would definitely tell me!
Is this an example of a poisoned cue? Has riding tack become associated with aversive training in her mind? Is it possible that, if I radically switched equipment (and then never made a mistake with it) I could cleanse tacking up of its poison?
I'm betting not. Knowing that this problem is multi-generational, I've come to accept that 'good' tacking up for Robin is when she allows it without actually nipping, raising a back foot, or looking ugly. She will never be like her stablemate, who shoulders her way into a halter. Like all Morgans, the two are closely related, but Martha missed the girthy gene.
With Robin, I imagine it's linked to loss of control. With every strap I put on her, she loses some autonomy. So should I never ride her? Some people would say so.
Me? I figure she can spare me half an hour out of her day, especially since she seems so cheerful once we get going. She's the kind of horse who's inclined to speak her mind, and clicker training has only accentuated that.
That's what I love about clicker training. Horses get a voice. There's no guarantee we're always going to like what they're saying.
Hoofprints; Horse Poems; the jacket art is by Alison D. Rieder.

Keeping Barney, my first novel

Woodgate Martha V.

At the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque

Saige and I presenting at the Mater Christi School


Saige and Picasso, the Spanish Barb horse, beautifully created by Sarah Davis.

Atherton

Atherton and Zeke