Ranger Tests Us
It’s not often I mention that Ranger is having a problem, and that’s because he is a fairly consistent horse. Every now and then, he throws in something to keep my sister, Ellen, on her toes. Well, he did it, again.
One day, back in November, he acted very strange during tacking up. We typically saddle our horses in their stalls, and that has always worked out well. We keep them in a busy boarding stable, so this way they aren’t in anyone’s way. We don’t have to worry about them being unattended if something comes up, and it is necessary to leave the barn for a few minutes, either. Besides, I have never felt that crossties are a good form of restraint. I have seen too many horses, including a few of my own, get startled, take a step back and panic when they got to the end of the crosstie.
On this particular day, Ellen saddled Ranger, and he got very agitated. He then was difficult to bridle. When she tried to lead him out of his stall, he bolted out the door. It was definitely a bad day in the barn. The ride went fine.
After the ride, she inspected her girth and noticed it had some worn spots in it, and it may not have been laying flat on his belly. She switched girths, and the saddling problem and the bolting went away in a few days. The bridling problem got worse.
At the same time, my boyfriend, Kevin, was having trouble haltering him to take him out of his stall so he could clean it. Ellen had no trouble haltering, but asked Kevin not to halter until Ranger got over this.
It went on for a few weeks. She tried clicker training, but it didn’t help much. She tried apple therapy, but he still didn’t show any improvement. There was one thing I noticed with both her and Kevin. They had poor technique. They haltered and bridled without putting their right hand over the top of the horse’s head as a mild form of restraint. Ellen confessed that she never had anyone teach her to bridle. She had always bridled cooperative horses. Sloppy technique was never an issue.
Now, I know I taught Kevin the right way, years ago, but he just got lazy and out of the habit. He was worse than Ellen because Starry is so good with him. He faces the horse to bridle and halter. That makes it easy for the horse to step back.
I showed Ellen the way to do it, but by now, Ranger didn’t want anything to do with the bridle, so it was too late. She was stressing, big time. She switched to riding with her bitless bridle, but he was being troublesome with that, too. She got more stressed and started to teach him commands without reins, since it looked like she wouldn’t have any, pretty soon. She was a wreck.
I was perplexed that it went this far. One night, when she wasn’t around, I decided to try it for myself. In Cruise’s early days, he was horrible to bridle, so I developed a good technique. Combined with clicker and treats when he listened, I just thought I would try to see how far I could get. I had no other goals.
When I got to the barn, I went into his stall with a halter and clicked him for him allowing me to put the noseband on him a few times. I added the ears and clicked a few times for that. This was easy stuff, but it set the stage for success—I hoped.
I went and saddled Cole. I came back this time with his bitless bridle. I clicked a bunch of times for him letting me put it on his nose. I added his ears and clicked a bunch of times for that, too.
I finished tightening up Coles girth, got his bridle—and then thought—I wonder how Ranger would act if I showed him Coles bit? I went to Ranger, asked him to open his mouth for the bit and about 10 seconds later, he relented. I didn’t put the bridle on because it was too small for him. I did give him a handful of carrots.
I then rode Cole and Cruiser. The whole time, I was wondering if I should go one step further.
When I finished my ride, the barn was quiet, and Kevin was throwing hay down off the loft. This was as good a time as any.
I went back in Ranger’s stall with his snaffle bridle. By now, he liked me a lot. I had turned into a treat machine. I showed him the bit, brought it to his mouth and moments later, he opened up. I clicked and treated. By now, I was very confident. It was time to bridle him all the way. It only took a couple seconds. I clicked when I got it over his ears and gave him his treat. That is when I decided I would bridle him ten times in a row.
Ten times later, each with a click, I knew the problem was a thing of the past. I called Ellen at work. She couldn’t believe it and was so happy I fixed her problem.
Her problem wasn’t Ranger fighting the bridling. Her problem was the stress it caused her. When she walked into the stall, Ranger knew she was stressed with the fear she was going to fail. Being a sensitive soul, this made him nervous and uncooperative. I was confident with my abilities and since I didn’t plan to ride him, if I didn’t succeed, it didn’t matter. Sometimes we just need a neutral and confident person to step in and help.
The next morning, we planned to ride together. I bridled him for her so she could see that he was a new horse. She was thrilled and all of her confidence came back. After the ride, she gave it a try, herself. Ranger was more than happy to allow her to bridle him.
We are all victims of the “confidence crisis” at some time or another. It wasn’t that long ago that I was afraid to ride Cole to the scary end of the arena. I know now, just as I suspected then, that my nerves made him spook when we got over there. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. He actually got better with his spooking before I did. He must have thought I was a real dolt.
A few days later, Kevin was able to halter Ranger, too. He was going to demonstrate to me how Ranger didn’t want anything to do with him and would back away as soon as he saw the halter. Ranger made him look like a liar and let him slip it right on. Of course, I told him he had to use the correct technique.