Get that saddle checked!
I came across this article a while ago. It gave me a not so pleasant flashback to my very first horse, Coalbrook.
The story of Coalbrook, my first horse
I started riding horses in 2013, as you can read in the "About me" series in these Stories. I decided I was ready to buy a horse about a year later. My then trainer was helping me find one. My budget wasn't realistic but I didn't know that at the time. After a while, my trainer told me she found a horse, in Canada, it looked like a good one. And because I trusted her, I bought the horse sight unseen.
I also bought everything new, including saddle and bridle. I was into dressage back then and I bought a fairly priced new saddle online. Because, you know, only the best for my horse.
When he arrived, he looked skinnier than he did in the photos. His skin was a mess with rain rot, his feet looked awful. But I was starry eyed because, you know, my very own horse! And I did get him looking good after a while, with hours of grooming and a lot of patience. He and I spent a lot of time in the aisle, trying different products, different brushes. My goodness, I spent a fortune on skin care products.
This is a (very bad quality phone) snapshot of Coal, all tacked up for a ride. You can see how shiny he is after an hour of grooming 😊
And here he is with a friend 😍. The other horse's owner sent me this one.
The first signs of pain
I started riding him, and the first few rides were great. We were riding on a cloud those first few weeks. Well, at least I was.
After a few weeks of bliss, Coal started working against me. He started pulling on the rains and holding his head tilted to one side. And then it progressed to doing a little buck whenever I asked him to trot. I was a beginner rider so that was pretty scary. But, as it turned out, I have a sticky butt so I stayed on.
My trainer told me to not give in, and, as many trainers in Michigan do, told me to just "kick hard and show him who's boss". She kept repeating that he was a jerk, not respecting me, that I had to be tougher, kick harder. Many a lesson, I had tears in my eyes. Not because I was afraid or anything, but because deep down, it just didn't feel right to do this.
I asked her many times whether she was sure he wasn't in pain. "No", she said, "he's messing with you because he knows he can get away with it". She decided that she and her intern, would ride him to get him "in the right mindset". But nothing helped, the only thing he was ok with was walking around the arena, I even rode him bareback doing that. We also did a lot of lunging, trying to set boundaries but he just kept getting worse.
Desperate to find the cause of the "bad behavior"
After a few months, I was at the end of my wits. And then I heard about a new trainer in town. One that was into natural horsemanship. I figured that it could hardly get worse and decided to try her out.
Coal and I did a lot of ground work in the round pen during the first weeks. Just to feel each other out. We had a chiropractor checking him out, and after a while we figured out that he was not a jerk, and I was not being too soft. Apparently, the saddle was causing him incredible pain. We went from ground work to riding again. But this time we tried a different saddle and we got one good ride out of him. Then he went back to bucking. I guess he was at the point that just feeling a saddle, any saddle, on his back just made him angry. At this time, even riding him bareback and asking for a trot, elicited the little bucks.
Making a hard decision
Given that I was a beginner rider, my new trainer advised me to sell Coal. So I contacted his previous owner and we decided it would be best that she took him back. Because Coal was by that time, beyond my skills. I unfortunately did not have the knowledge to retrain him.
She texted me a video a few weeks later, showing him being ridden in a western saddle, doing great.
Believe me, I will never forget that lesson.
So, if your horse starts acting out, first and foremost, figure out if they are in pain.
This is Coal, at the farm where the new trainer worked from.