A few posts ago I talked about how Rocky was getting cranky working in the arena. What I didn't mention is that he was also becoming increasingly irritable when I was saddling him up.
About a week ago Rocky was flatting his ears and angrily swishing his tail when I went to throw his new saddle on him. Now, this saddle should fit him perfectly; I went to great lengths to make sure of it. I started to panic a bit, thinking that maybe it didn't fit him, I would have to get him ANOTHER new saddle and that I didn't have the money to do that.
I felt Rocky's back for pain, and he was fine except for his shoulders- he did seem to have some pain at the tops of his withers. I had Silver double check what I had done, including my saddle fit. She agreed that his shoulders were a bit sore, but couldn't find anything wrong with his saddle fit. A few days later, I checked his back and shoulders for pain right outside of the pasture. Nothing. I checked again at the tie post, and again, no pain response.
I had Silver come over (she is so helpful!) and double check that indeed, Rocky had no pain anywhere throughout his ribs, back, and withers. He started cranking his ears back and swishing his tail as she did it, which he had done a bit with me but was doing more of now. She concluded that he had no ouchy spots- he didn't flinch or do anything to indicate he was hurting- but instead, he has an attitude problem. He was giving her the evil eyed, flattened ear look while she was just petting his back.
I was surprised. Rocky normally has a good reason for being irritable, he has never been so crabby for no reason other than his attitude. Last night, I think I figured out why.
Like most things Horse, there was more than one reason for his behavior. I'm going to back up through time here, to explain a bit more about Rocky's past. Specifically, his past with other horses.
As a young colt, Rocky grew up with his dam and maybe one or two other horses. He spent most of his time on his own, or vaguely socializing with some other horses. When he was two and a half years old, his breeder/trainer Rite moved him to a barn with an indoor arena so that she could start riding him during the winter, and so he could be completely weaned from being with his dam. Her property was not large enough to provide a real separation between them.
At the new barn, Rocky was picked on by the other horses to the point that they ended up putting him in an outdoor arena they weren't using. By himself. He didn't mind that, he got every scrap of hay they threw in there for him and he could still see other horses. Then I bought him.
I took Rocky to college with me, where he was suddenly in the most social situation of his life. There were 8 other horses there and no unused pastures to put him in by himself. By this time he was three, and spent his first month at college standing off to the side in the pasture, unsure of how to interact with all of these strange horses. He finally started to warm up to some of them, including a very tall Thoroughbred. Sunny was sweet, but he stood at about 16.3hh to Rocky's almost 14.3hh.
When Sunny started trying to play with Rocky, Rocky was game until Sunny would rear. Then the height difference became all that much more apparent, and Rocky would give up. Over time, Rocky started to learn how to really play. His front feet left the ground a little bit more each time Sunny would rear. By the time I graduated college, Rocky had figured out how to be a member of a herd. He was affable with everyone, not understanding when another horse didn't like him, but he was to the middle or low end of the hierarchy.
Fast forward to about a month ago. Due to Rocky's cheerful nature with other horses, he was allowed to move into a mares-only pasture. The mares in this pasture are low-end of the totem pole animals, and in this venue, Rocky seems to have found his stride. He's the dominant horse in his pasture for the first time in his life.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Pretty soon after his move into this new pasture where suddenly, the happy-go-lucky fellow is King has made Rocky reevaluate his place in society. He knows how to boss other horses around now, pinning his ears or swishing his tail to put them into place. Sound familiar?
Yeah. He's testing me. Am I really boss, or should he take over? Because if he takes over, he doesn't want to work- so don't you dare put that saddle on him!
When I had Silver do the final pain test, she told me that he has an attitude problem, and that I should be asking more from him. She's right. However, I'm getting to the end of my knowledge zone again. We now have plans to do a lesson once there is snow on the ground so that the footing isn't so hard, and we can see where Rocky and I are at in our horsemanship journey.
After I had the confirmation of "no pain all attitude," and especially now that I am realizing the hierarchy test Rocky is putting me through, I am going to start paying more attention to making sure he isn't being insubordinate. He is a quiet horse, which lends itself to laziness and not wanting to work.
I finished saddling Rocky up and started lunging him, confident that his ear pinning was something I could correct him for doing, and not something I needed to worry about causing him pain. I asked him to trot, and he flipped his tail at me, tossing his head as if to say, "Screw you lady, I don't wanna." I snapped the lunge whip out so it smacked his rump, and he leaped forward in shock. He flicked his tail at me again, his ears going back in protest. I repeated my cue to go left at a trot, and raised the whip in warning. His eyes lost their fuck-you glare, he flew out around the circle and watched me to make sure he caught my next cue.
The rest of the session was very much him saying, "Yes, ma'am!" It doesn't take a lot to put him in place, Rocky is still at heart a middle of the pack horse. Mister Attitude just got a little big for his britches, that's all.