Finally getting around to posting this! This is from back in May with Sedona before her first ride!
Not going to lie, as entertaining as this was for everyone I’m excited that those days are behind us! More updates to come I want to get this current so I can share what she is doing now!
Sedona Bucking 2
Many times in the process of training, I find myself talking the owner down. They will come to the barn to watch me work with their horse and something like what you see in this video might happen. The owner panics. Thinking they have made a horrible mistake either with the selection of the horse or their trainer. So what are we seeing here? Is it a crazy horse? Incompetent trainer? Did something go wrong with the saddling process? Should it have been taken slower?
All of these questions come up and more. Yes, of course, in a perfect world I would love for my horses to never buck. But we have to remember, these are prey animals we are working with here. Their flight or fight instinct is wound tightly through their DNA. Sedona is having to learn to accept a saddle on her back, which if you think about it is not very much unlike having a mountain lion jump on her back and put its claws around her belly. That cinch can be extremely claustrophobic to a horse.
The interesting thing about Sedona’s reactivity to the saddle is she has no reaction whatsoever to the bareback pad. She also had a very limited reaction to flanking see previous blogpost: https://echorse.com/sedona-update-4-flanking/ This leaves only the saddle to be worked on. Generally the bucking was triggered when she would first lope, which is actually the most common time for a green horse to buck. So really nothing could be done to change the saddling process or improve on it up to this point. She was just going to have to learn that when she lopes with the saddle and gets scared that she cant out run it or buck it off. In this video you will see her attempting both.
I set myself up for success this day and immediately after saddling turned her loose in the arena. She bucks so fast that there is no hanging on to her so instead of allowing the habit of ripping the rope out of my hand (which happened a few times already!) I just turned her loose to figure this saddle out. I’m in a nice, safe environment where I’m not worried about her hurting herself. Any training technique that get’s me hurt or the horse hurt is not helpful! So I’m setting this up to keep us both as safe as possible.
I was giving a groundwork lesson yesterday, and was explaining the emotional zones of a horse to a new student. When diving into really understanding the behavior of your horse this is an extremely helpful analogy.
The first emotional zone is the green zone. This is the zone that a horse is in when it is grazing with its buddies out in the pasture. For a young horse that may be the only time it is in the green zone.
For Sedona, she was pretty happy to be haltered and led around the barn and to do my basic grooming and groundwork – all up to the saddling. At the point of putting the saddle on, I would see a change in her behavior. Her emotions or flight or fight instinct would begin to show me subtle cues. Her head would come up. Usually she would move her feet around as I cinched her. These were signs that she was moving out of the green zone into the yellow zone.
The very first part of the yellow zone is where a horse shows you concern. They are unsure. Nothing is unmanageable at this point but they aren’t comfortable like they are in the green zone. This is where you, as the horseman need to start paying attention. Will they settle and return to the green zone or will the escalate?
As the horse moves through the yellow zone you may see various degrees of reaction. From unsure, all the way up to pretty fearful. You may see bucking in this zone. You may see running. You may even see some aggression if the horse feels trapped. What you won’t see in this zone, however, is full fledged flight or fight. And by that I mean the reaction that looks literally like a mountain lion is on their back.
That reaction is saved for the red zone. That is where the horse could literally hurt or even kill itself OR YOU trying to escape or fight the situation. This is the zone we want to avoid in training.
Do we always successfully avoid it? No. I have had three horses go to the red zone during training over my career. Two of which were actually during the saddling process and one was an abuse case. I was fortunate that none of the horses or I got hurt. And I can honestly say none of these times was it intentional that the horse went there. Was it avoidable? I would also say no to that as well. Sometimes with horses things happen fast and it is our job to try to try to bring a good outcome.
The first time Sedona bucked with the saddle, there was a short spot where she was in the red zone. If you watch the video again https://echorse.com/sedona-update-5-3rd-saddling/ you can see she is “bucking blind” and goes straight into the wall. After that she is bucking but can see where she is going again. This is an illustration of red zone. She has lost all sense of her safety and has prioritized the saddle on her back as the most dangerous thing in her life at that moment. Where do you think I was on that list? I wasn’t. I was literally not even on her radar and that would be the time it would be so easy to be ran over because she wasn’t looking at anything else besides that saddle. The good news? Her collision with the wall snapped her out of it, the saddle stayed on and she eventually calmed back down.
What would have happened if she had gotten rid of the saddle? What if I didn’t have it cinched up correctly? Honestly, the stakes were high that day. That kind of thing, if it goes wrong, can wreck a horse for its lifetime. I have seen it. Horses that learn to buck off saddles get really good at bucking off riders. They learn that when they go to the red zone it keeps them safe. So from that day forward, they are programed to go there when they start to feel unsure. This makes for an extremely dangerous situation for the horseman and the horse.
The saddling process is such a critical part of training. I don’t think most people realize how badly it can go in a split second. Sedona is a really talented, smart and athletic horse, but she is reactive and that 3rd saddling was a make or break day for her. So now I would encourage you to play those videos back to back. Really get a good comparison of the 3rd saddling to the video below. Learn the difference between bucking blind and BUCKING.
In this video: is she uncomfortable? Yes. Is she emotional. Yes. Could this be dangerous? Yes. But did she go to the red zone? No. How do I know? The biggest clue is she knows where those arena fences are. She would like to get rid of the saddle but she isn’t willing to hurt herself to do it this time. Progress. Might seem small. But it is there.
I happen to be the owner of this horse, but if I wasn’t I’m sure I would say to the owner: “It’s ok, this is just a phase. She is going to make a good horse, but she is one that needs extra hours to get the right start. Progress may be slow, but I assure you, it is there. I can see it.”
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