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The Horse Lover's Blog

Girthy, Saddley, Bridley Robin

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. Read More 
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