Start Blog - Sorraia Mustangs 30.11.14: Grelo learning to chill
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30.11.14: Grelo learning to chill


Going back to the beginning to fix a minor problem before it becomes a major one


A long time since I blogged. It was a busy summer, if not a very summery one - but now Autumn is here and the evenings drawing in, there's a bit  more time to pull my thoughts together and put something together.


As I mentioned last time, Grelo, our Sorraia stallion, has generally been a model of good behaviour, but did show a degree of tension the first few times he was ridden, or rather backed. Over the summer, he's mostly been doing his job as a stallion, and we're expecting some foals in the spring, so his training has been on the "back burner", with just a little bit of handling now and then.

Grelo enjoying the summer pasture


I've done a couple of sessions with him trying to help him to relax  with the saddle. In the beginning, he had not made any particular objections, but he was wary of it and rather tense when it was on his back. Saddle cloths, jackets and all the usual preparatory things were fine, it was just the saddle.


Over the summer I did some short sessions with him. I started by just putting the saddle up on the panel of the round pen, and even then, he didn't want to go close to it, so I put it on the ground in the middle of the pen until he was comfortable approaching it. I didn't make a bit deal of it, I just did our usual groundwork with the saddle there in his view.


Then I did some work from above - so with me standing on the mounting block and lining him up in front of me. He showed a little tension at first, but it improved as I encouraged him to lower his head while I was up there. Then we did the same with the saddle pad on - parking in front of me and lowering his head on the left and right.





Last week, I went for the next step, using the saddle. I started with him loose in the round pen - just moving his feet around and hooking him on. However, I was very careful that he only approached me relaxed and with his head down. If he tried to approach with his head up and challenging me, I kept him moving until he relaxed. I must add at this point, this was not about "chasing". Unfortunately, many people have the impression that work in the round pen is about chasing the horse into submission, and that is absolutely NOT the way I use it. There are many ways of using the round pen, and it is a great place to start on paralleling and liberty work, but yesterday I was using it to encourage Grelo to move his feet until he felt relaxed.




For horses, there is a very strong link between the freedom to move their feet and a feeling of security, and there is also the element of control of the personal space. If Grelo is allowed to approach me with his head up and a challenging expression, HE is taking control of the personal space and effectively making my personal space smaller. If I maintain the distance between us until he relaxes, I am controlling the space and shrinking my space when he adopts a relaxed posture.


Having established this with him loose, getting the relaxation with the saddle was pretty easy.




As I had already taught him to lower his head when I press lightly on his neck, I just did the same with him wearing the saddle. After all the extra preparation, the saddle was no longer such a big deal.




He was a little unsure when I put my foot in the stirrup. He reacted the same way on both sides.....


... but with asking him to lower his head a few times, he relaxed




Soon, I could do whatever I liked around his sides, and he stayed completely relaxed and had several long yawns!


I have no idea why he was tense to begin with. All the preparation had been done properly and carefully, but there was clearly some little part he wasn't quite happy about.


Sometimes it pays to just go right back to the beginning and rebuild all over again. Maybe he just needed more time with the saddle in his view before putting it on, maybe he needed more work on relaxing, maybe he just needed to go through the whole process again.


I'm too big to sit on him myself - but I'm now looking forward to seeing how he reacts to a rider!


Many thanks to Elfriede and Claudia for the photos!


As always, please feel free to post any comments or questions on the Thinking Horse Facebook page!




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