Editorial Note: "Kick" can be replaced with "bolt", "buck", or any number of unwanted behaviors.
"My normally sweet, docile 14 year old gelding has started kicking when I try to saddle him. I know his
tack fits and his back isn't sore."
Any time an otherwise sweet docile horse begins to exhibit unusual behavior
like this I would absolutely assume pain and/or mental anguish. Actually
ANY time any horse exhibits that kind of behavior I'd assume some kind of
discomfort be it mental or physical. On the one hand horses are incredibly
sensitive. Yet many have a tolerance level that is astounding. So you
definitely need to take this serious.
"I showed him in October and he was in all but 15 classes (out of 52). He was a little sore, but not very bad. He never offered to kick before that."
I say this with great love and sensitivity here so please bear with
me! Read what you just said here! He has a long exhausting day and when
he's sore you discount it. How do you know his soreness wasn't 'very bad'?
Further he then starts to kick and you aren't seeing the connection? How
can we change that picture? :-)
Many MANY of us have had to realize that we were the problem (we usually
are!) EVEN when everyone around us wasn't seeing it. An old wise horseman
said, 'go to people for opinions, go to horses for answers.' The vet and
the trainers, they only can have opinions. Your horse is telling you what
you need to hear. Listen!!
"He has more than adequate muscling for his activities, and I always make sure he has lots of fun in our sessions."
What sort of 'activities' are you involved in? How do you *know* he is
having fun? Fun according to who's definition? Your horse sounds like a VERY good egg! He will probably go and go for you. I
hope you appreciate how fortunate you are. It isn't too late, tho, to
start looking at the world through his eyes. He kind of needs you to be
there for HIM for a while.
Here's what I would suggest that you do. Firstly, start and end with
clicker training. Actually clicker training shouldn't ever stop. The only
difference is what you are training. Sometimes it is retrieve (or whatever
game you are playing) and sometimes it is riding. No difference to the
horse. It is all the same game. Or it SHOULD be. At least one day a week
only play on the ground (no saddle, no riding). Another day, go for a hack
or goof around bareback. Are you doing jumping? If so you might then
do only flat work one day, and some low jumps the other two days.
Now that might be an example of a normal schedule. But you may want to back
off entirely to just ground work and hacking for a while (couple weeks? or
whatever it takes) until the kicking thing is resolved. You need to change
HIS mind about what playing with you is about. For that to happen you need
to change YOUR mind about what kind of relationship you are going to have.
It is hard making that mindset change especially when you already thought
you WERE trying hard to do the 'right' thing. But to get past this it is
what you need to do.
Good luck! And keep us posted on your progress. :-)
"He's having fun when I work with him because after I mount, his attitude is that of my little brother about going to the zoo 'Oh, boy, mom, I can't wait!!! What are we gonna do today?'"
He sounds like a horse to be proud of. :-) He's always going to give
you 100%. All the more reason to take the kicking very seriously. But you
don't need to 'do' anything 'about' the kicking per se. When there
is no reason for him to kick (he's no longer sore and cranky) then he won't. Stay focused on relaxation, mental and physical. Have you taught him
head down? This is something you will DEFINITELY want to work on while he
rests and recuperates. This will pay back in spades over the long haul.
For what it is worth, a horse doesn't need to be three legged lame to have a
sore back. And, they don't need to fall to the ground when you touch their
back to be sore ENOUGH to make it important for you to address the issue
seriously. You might consider having a chiropractor work with him.
Naturally I'd recommend mine!
In October you added other classes? What were
the others? What about the other classes do you think were more challenging
for him? Just the numbers? Or were there tasks he is not accustomed to
doing? What is your 'normal' training routine? Lets think about how to get
through his recuperation, then devise a training strategy that will keep him
sound and happy going forward.
"I send him to a trainer (his 'shrink')."
Personally I think he needs YOU to be his 'shrink' because a lot of what
is going on is about YOU two. Not him and some other trainer. You are his
trainer, his human, and this is between you guys. You need to work it out.
What ever it takes.
Re the matter of possible past 'abuse'. You know what? It is really
irrelevant. These are hard things to hear. Blaming the past or even
yourself does no good. Horses are UNBELIEVABLY forgiving. Here and now is
all that matters to Cherry. So, what you need to do is focus on what is
happening right now. What we need to figure out is how to proceed from this
"He has a pretty short attention span."
What makes you say that? Horses, like us, have an attention span just as
long as our interest in the game lasts. So, while I TOTALLY buy working in
short sets it is mainly to ensure that I don't ask too much physically so
the horse can stay soft and light. You may be asking too much physically so
he may start to check out mentally. This can have the appearance of
'boredom'. Maybe that is what you mean? I would encourage you to work in
even SHORTER sets. A few minutes, maybe 3-4 then take a one minute head
down break at walk. Then do another 3-4 minutes. Are you using C/t under
"I have taught him head down."
Awesome! Can you do head down at walk, trot, and canter?
"The instructor said he was perfectly fine, so I think he's
I have to say that I'm STILL not totally ready to buy the 'perfectly fine'
diagnosis. :-) Vets are so used to seeing horses with pain that they don't
know what NO pain even looks like. However, having said that, if we treat
the matter as a tension/worry issue the back pain may well resolve itself.
I'm afraid I'm also not ready to buy that he's very happy once you hit the
saddle. Sorry!! Most people have no idea (and I certainly count my 'old'
self in this group) what a really truly soft, light horse is like. You
can't know what you don't know. Even very advanced riders deem as 'normal'
a level of tension and disfunction that is simply unacceptable to me NOW.
But it has been a long road getting here. As such I also know that while I
can TELL you this these are things that you will have to conclude on your
own. The only question is, are you willing to do what it takes?