Effects of a saddle


I bought Ben this time last year because I wanted a horse to ride. I wanted a horse I could safely ride from home, keep at home, manage myself. I saw myself having fun with this horse, doing le trec, schooling, taking lessons, going on long peaceful hacks on summer evenings. I saw perhaps my daughter riding him if she stayed interested. That is what I wanted.

I saw Ben’s photograph in an internet advertisement. It was a blurred photograph of a cob jumping with a teenager on top. Although I am not an enthusiastic jumper, something about that little horse made me put him to the top of my list.

I went to see him. I saw a, smaller than expected, cob wearing a headcollar in a field, running away when its owner came, who rattled a bucket of stones which fetched him, close enough to allow a lead rope to be clipped on. I saw a cob being ridden on a slippery field, unbalanced. I rode a quiet small cob down a strange road, turned to go back to the people waiting, knowing I needed to make a decision. I said yes, still unsure. I got off this cob, stood beside him, still with no real sense of him. I looked at him, I saw a gentle, deep eye, he breathed over my head and I felt that, yes, subject to vetting, you are for me.

He had hunted, a lot. He had hunted with a hunt known for the size of the ditches that had to be jumped. He had been exercised in the dark, from a lead rope at the back of the jeep. He had been loaned to children for pony camp.

He always lived out and that cold June day last summer when I saw him he was taken into a bare stable and stood there, shivering. He has free access to a stable here and often uses it. When he was brought to different places he travelled in a cattle trailer, lower, barer, louder than a trailer such as I have. When I went to bring him home to me, he followed me up the ramp of my trailer without a second’s hesitation. Little did I know that I would have great difficulty getting him into a trailer afterwards. He would pull back, hard. I can only speculate that if he did so in that cattle trailer and hit his head, that is possibly how he came to have such pain around his poll. As I have learned more about his saddle difficulties recently, I have realised how short backed he is. The pain the chiropractor found that made him squeal was just behind where a saddle should sit.

Ben came home to me, I got him checked over by a chiropractor, seen by a dentist, got all his vaccinations done, a passport organised, worming, all the things I would expect to do with a new horse. I rode him, regularly, from the back gate, as I had wanted. I took part in a couple of le trec orienteering events. I felt after a while that I was just using him, and I started to put time into our relationship. In part he demanded this, by suddenly becoming very hard to catch. We had a long, cold winter and that gave me plenty of time to spend with him, guided loosely by Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals, but mostly by intuition and by Ben himself.

He is a safe horse to ride and in many ways an easy horse in that he is pretty solid on the road. But he was quite sour when he came and seemed to feel that people were a threat. He could be aggressive when children were around. Imagine my joy recently when my oldest daughter and her friend were standing on either side of Ben, my daughter holding the lead rope of his head collar, and his expression was soft, friendly, open.

Carolyn Resnick told me that she wouldn’t be surprised if he turned into the sort of pony who would follow me around everywhere. That is happening more and more. I can catch him with a bridle in my hand now, so the other day, when he ran from me after a hack in another saddle I was trying out, he confirmed what he had told me the day before about that saddle. I had taken him down to a saddlery, where the very knowledgeable owner fitted many different saddles on Ben. One looked ok. I rode around, but as ‘around’ meant through a yard of stallions, and in a field next to mares and foals, Ben was on his toes and not really able to give me a good feel of the saddle. I took it away on trial: a well-made, wide fitting, second-hand treed saddle. I was told that Ben would tell me how it felt. We went on a hack with a friend, from the start he hung back, very unlike Ben who likes to take the lead, and when I asked him to trot he stumbled, ears pinned back. Sweat patches under the saddle afterwards told me that it was sitting too far back.

I think Ben’s sourness and being hard to catch was all about pain. People are a threat if they cause pain. Incidentally, that saddle was not good for me, I had very sore knees. My search continues.



Filed under riding, tack

6 responses to “Effects of a saddle

  1. Ben is very lucky that you are so conscious of his needs. It amazes me that so many times, issues with pain are dealt with by riders/trainers as training problems.

    When our pony was having what appeared to be a very sour year awhile back, the trainer kept referring to it as him being “a typical pony” – and at some point we distanced ourselves from her b/c she didn’t seem to have the ability to see there was something wrong. A vet we use primarily for diagnostic work and acupuncture came out and told us to never, ever assume bad behavior was anything but pain, and we would almost always be correct. We found the problem and she had us (in addition to the acupuncture) put warm wet wraps on the pony’s hocks and hips before and after his rides, mainly, she said, so HE would know WE knew where the pain was for him. His entire demeanor changed, as he realized we were trying our best to understand and help.

    I’m sure Ben is responding to the excellent care, wonderful living arrangement, and the fact that you are looking hard for every way you can to make his life pain-free. I love reading about the things you’re doing and his responses as you try, listen, and respond to what he tells you.

  2. Thank you Billie! I love what you say there about your pony. What a great approach, and such a wonderful, practical way to communicate with him. You are lucky in your vet.

    I think I am very lucky to have Ben. He is such an honest pony and so very rewarding when I do get it right. I was at a demonstration recently on Equine Touch. Jock and Ivana Ruddock were over from the States. Jock made the point that a horse has a right to feel pain, which was a very interesting way of putting it I thought. We do not acknowledge their pain so often as they are silent. (I liked the quiet, connected way that Jock worked with the demonstration horse also.)

  3. I think sometimes it’s the honest ones who get the bad raps – but they have the most to teach us if we listen. We humans don’t always like to “hear” the truth about our practices, which in many cases are all about what is best/easiest for US, not for the horses.

  4. Yes that is so true. It is so easy to justify what we do, without looking further, or just listening to what the horse is telling us, often very plainly.

  5. June

    Even though our pony Chloe used to be very argumentative, the only times she ever bucked were due to pain.

    • Yes, argumentative ponies are entitled to be argumentative in my opinion! But we can’t ignore their pain, and they are so stoic about it, it is frightening to think how much pain they might have before they show it.