After owning Boomer for over 2 years, I have really seen his personality develop. I have a real understanding of his quirks and can compensate and know how to soothe him as needed. I know what to expect in most situations. In some ways, this is a good thing. In other ways, I wonder if it keeps him from 'growing up' by babying him. Currently, I would say that there are two things about Boomer that I don't like or that I need help with. First, he pulls back/has a backwards startle response. He has always pulled back when tied and while this has gotten better over time, the startle response has never been fully erased. Second, he is extremely sensitive to tightening the girth. By extreme, I mean that you must be able to fit your entire arm under the girth at first or he will flip over backwards. He needs the girth very loose, then to walk around and have it tightened one notch at a time. If you rush this at any point, he will either buckle at the knees and go down in a panic, or will try to go over backwards. This coupled with his propensity for pulling back has made for a number of 'exciting' situations in our life together.
Our new barn has cross ties in the aisle, which are fine for most horses, but for a horse like Boomer, it just gives him an 'open space' to go backwards. The cross ties are secured with zip ties, but I don't want to get into a situation even with safety precautions in place.
He and I are both nervous while grooming and tacking up in the cross ties. After we work, he seems fine and doesn't act nervous. I'm sure some of the nervous tension comes from me. But, I know the worst case scenario. He pulls back, feels restricted, falls down or flips on concrete (potential for injury-high), breaks free, goes running around the property with cross ties flailing (potential for panic AND injury- high), etc. So, you can see where my nervous tension comes from. Once I have him tacked up and leave the barn, everything is fine. He never steps a hoof out of place while I lunge, switch the surcingle for saddle, and ride him. Back at the barn after we ride, he is fine in the cross ties. I attribute that to him being tired or more relaxed after we work.
I have been trying to think of ways to fix the situation or make it easier to cope with. My first thought was to start having all of my tack and grooming supplies ready and within arms reach before I bring him to the barn. I can groom and tack him with him untied- just ground tied. He is usually pretty good about being ground tied, but I wouldn't trust leaving him while i walk off to the tack room. Then after we work, he can be put in the cross ties like a normal horse. My goal here is that his experience in the cross ties will only be relaxed and not nervous. Eventually, he will be relaxed enough to be in the cross ties anytime. Any thoughts here?
Any other suggestions?
I have not ever been a fan of 'trick training' or focusing on groundwork in exclusion to riding. However, with my pregnancy, I know I will eventually end up 'grounded' and not riding. So, another thought I have had was doing clicker training. A few things I would want to work on would be 'head down' and 'stand'. Does anyone have experience with clicker training? Could teaching a 'stand' command dampen his flight response in the cross ties or while being tied? Or does his reactive nature trump any 'tricks' I may teach him?
Any suggestions for books on clicker training or similar training? Keep in mind, I am not interested in teaching my horse 'dog tricks' like fetch or basketball.
Thanks in advance, and please pass this question on to anyone you may know who does this kind of training or who may have helpful advice! The more people I have behind me, the more chance we have for success!