Until I read Joyce Harman’s, The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle Fit Book, I didn’t realise the significance of the little white mark on Peanut’s back just at the point of his withers.
Peanut doesn’t have a white hair on his body except for this tell-tale smudge. It’s where, at some time, an ill-fitting saddle created a pressure point on his spine and the hair roots died and left white hairs.
So, now that we are thinking about getting Peanut saddled up, saddle fit is an issue. And the relevance of this white mark has become significant. That’s because if there was sufficient pressure at that point to kill his hair follicles, there may other unseen damage.
Fit as a fiddle
All the work we’ve done with Peanut so far suggests that he’s as fit as a fiddle. But, if he’s put up with pain caused by a saddle, he might still have a few saddling issues.
Given the excitable state Peanut was in when I first got him, it was enough to get him quiet on the end of a 22-foot line. Offering up a western saddle (or, indeed, any saddle) just to see how it looked on him wasn’t an option.
All I did back then was use a draftsman’s flexi-ruler. That gave the profile at his withers and compared against George’s saddles. Peanut’s withers aren’t quite as much as George shark’s fin. So it looked as though George’s saddles would be okay.
Not ready for a proper saddle yet
And saddling has rested there until now. We’re not yet in a position where I can start riding him because there’s other stuff to do first. Critically, because he’s lost condition while he’s been lazing around, he needs more work in hand.
But, equally, if George’s saddles won’t fit, it’s something we need to know about. Last time I bought a saddle for George, it was made to measure and took about 3 months from the time we started to its arrival in the UK from America.
A timely visit from Lyla Cansfield
Thus, it was a timely visit from Lyla Cansfield. She advised that we give him a try in a bareback pad. Not a saddle as such but with most of the bits that might revive in Peanut memories of any previous issues.
It was a good work out to start with. He’s getting to the stage now where he just likes to show off a bit before doing what he’s asked. He tests me to see if I really mean it. And that’s good for both of us. I’m getting to know the right buttons to push and he’s getting to know that I mean it.
So, after a bit of peanuttiness, we settled down to some nicely joined up stuff before Lyla stepped in with one of Viv’s bareback pads. Bless him, he didn’t kick up a fuss at all but, of course, couldn’t resist giving Lyla’s unprotected back a bit of a whiffle. We all know by now that the whiffle might just be that but can equally be an exploratory tease with prehensile lips. A sharp nip can quickly follow…
And so poor Lyla was subjected to the sort of harassment that would have serious legal consequences for a human being doing it. But this was Peanut. All we could do was watch on with amusement as Lyla handled the pad with one hand and fended off Peanut’s overtures with the other.
A Pat Parelli-ism
One of Pat Parelli’s soundbites refers to the application of “polite and passive persistence in the proper position”. It’s one of those “Parelli-isms” that you know sounds neat but don’t really believe until you see it in practice. And watching Lyla introduce this bareback pad to Peanut, a light switch suddenly came on. Peanut wasn’t leaping about – or moving much at all. He was just doing his best to be a pest as Lyla tried to offer up the pad and it needed all 5 Ps to get it done.
It took a little while but there he was, proudly showing off his bareback pad. “I was going to be a dressage champion, you know”. “Yes, Peanut, change the record, will you? We’ve got something else in mind…”
And it worked…
Lyla then followed this up gently putting the boy through his paces to see whether there might be any issues. Happily, he was fine. Better still, when I reached that stage of our work-out the next day, he just stood there for me while I put the pad on again and cinched him up. Tick another box.
The interesting little snippet that occurred to me while we were getting ready for this session with Lyla and Peanut was that it was a year to the day when Peanut first arrived at OMEC. It’s gone so fast. I must admit that, back then, I was a bit crestfallen at the realisation that we were not going to just stick a western saddle on him and teach him neck reining before moving on with the rest of the western aids.
And a year on, I can only say that I know in my heart that we’re doing it the right way. Just as Vivien promised, progress has been slow at first but we’re starting to accelerate now, and I can see it all coming together. Quite when he’ll be ready for me to mount up, I don’t know. The extraordinary thing is that I don’t really care. I’m enjoying what we’re doing for itself because I can see the changes happening in Peanut and they’re good.
“So, I’m not going to be an eventer after all then?”