Half Dozen Farms brought up an extremely good point that comes up often around this blog.
It's the issue of sensitivity.
She has an OTTB who is very sensitive. This mare also likes to buck and refuse to give on one side.
This is a very common problem.
Sonita would strike and fret if she got sand in her sport boots.
She would shudder, sweat, roll and generally freak if her blanket was itchy anywhere.
My yellow mare hates sweat.
When she is worked hard enough to have sweat trickling down her face or flanks she flips out, shaking her head, trying to rub her face on her legs, kicking at the sweat on her sides.
She also doesn't like to get her feet dirty or wet.
I was practicing my cutting one day before I quit training. Our cattle were having digestive issues. Cattle always have digestive issues, but this day was particularly gross.
As we were cutting my mare kept blowing up and jumping out of position. This is a horse who normally does a really good job keeping her eye on the cow.
So I pulled up, checked her feet, her legs, under the saddle. Nothing.
I asked my boss to watch her.
I rode back into the herd, kicked out a cow and we went to.
She jumped again and my boss burst out laughing.
Turns out my mare didn't want to step in the digestive issues that were pouring out of our cattle.
I don't call this sensitive. I call it a pain in the ass.
ALL HORSES ARE SENSITIVE.
I admit, some are goosier than others. But every horse I've ever known, dull or sharp, will shake a fly off its flanks. That's pretty sensitive.
We want our horses to respond to the lightest touch. Some are quicker to pick up on this than others.
There are countless ways to try to explain over-sensitivity or dullness. It's easy to label a horse as bad, or abused, or crazy when all it comes down to is a sensitive horse that's been mishandled.
The Big K used to tell me to handle the dull ones with the softest touch and to bang and hang and thump and jump all over the sensitive ones.
A sensitive horse needs to survive out in the world. She needs to deal with an unexpected poke with a spur, a saddle thumped on her back or too much pull on the bit.
In defense of the OTTB, they often are very thin skinned. A metal curry is torture, a saddle pad caked with sweat can drive them to distraction. There are plenty of QH's out there with the same issue. So I get it.
BUT. They still have to cope. These sensitive souls don't get to kick at our feet, run through our leg, trample over the top of us, etc. Because that makes them end up in a dog food can.
The way I handle these horses is not particularly different than other horses, except I decide how I'm going to handle them and become extremely precise.
I use my eternal 1, 2, 3 method of teaching. One is the feather light question the sensitive little souls crave. Two is a sharp demand, not hard enough to start a fight, but very clear. Three gets them in trouble. The trouble keeps coming until the horse does what I want.
If I go to step three I will continue with the cue until the horse listens. I'm ready to deal with whatever the horse throws at me. Remember, she was offered step one and two already. She chose to go to three.
If a horse kicks at my spur I will keep spurring until I get what I want. I know if I back off I will be teaching my sensitive horse to fight.
My horse has too clearly understand my spur means move away and until she does I will continue to spur.
If the horse bucks I'll keep at her until we're loping the way I want.
Angry or frightened horses fall back on old behaviors that used to work. I know I have to fix it again but it won't take as long this time.
Now here's where I'm on the side of the sensitive horse. Once I get my point across I try to help them out.
If you don't want to use spurs then get to where you don't have to. Put them on when your trainer tells you to. Give your first cue with the barest whisper from your calves. Then go to stronger leg. Then use the spurs as step three until you win. Then take them off. Only use your spurs when your mare makes it clear she won't listen. Eventually she'll get it.
When you practice on your own do simple work that you know you can succeed at. Practice your cues with a tiny bit of leg, then more, then spur. She will start to respond to the second cue, then the first.
Help your mare learn she doesn't want step three, ever.
Then when it gets down to a fight she'll remember step three.
A horse is only truly light if she understands the consequence of not listening.
Sonita had to work doubly hard in her sandy boots until she listened.
Then I took them off, washed them out, and began to rotate two pairs of boots so she always wore a freshly washed pair. I put a clean pair on right before she showed, I rubbed and brushed her legs before I put her boots on and made sure the boots were wrapped tight enough to keep the sand out.
I would clean Sonita's clock if she rubbed on me or rolled while I led her, but I would try on countless blankets until she was comfortable.
My yellow mare, the princess, the valley girl, the epitome of high maintenance, got ridden through mud, cattle pens, wet sand, anything I could find to gross her out.
When she fusses over sweat she gets worked until sweat is the last thing on her mind.
Then she gets a bath. I will wash her legs off for her every ride, she likes to be clean. I have switched out her pads to find one that didn't create quite as much of a river trickling down her flanks.
I braid her forelock to at least keep the wet hair out of her eyes.
See what I mean? I try to help my horses with their sensitivities, but not until they understand they have to listen, even when they have to cut through cow goo and have it splash in their face.
If I had enough of a problem that I knew I'd back down, I might get professional help. But I would be afraid my horse would get pushed too much. That the fight would be created and the punishment too severe.
Instead I might try to back track to exercises I knew would work, then start to build back up in smaller increments.
Teach her she has to listen in a non-confrontational setting. Then build up to the problem areas and don't be afraid to fix her.
If it is too much then I would get help.