Easier Movement, Happier Horses

Girthy Horse? You'll Want to Hear This

March 28, 2024 Mary Debono Season 1 Episode 66
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
Girthy Horse? You'll Want to Hear This
Show Notes Transcript

πŸ’₯ Sign up to be among the first to know when we open the doors to our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse! https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse

In this episode, Mary Debono delves into the common challenge of girthy horses who dislike being tacked up and shares her mission to transform it into a positive experience for you and your horse:

  • Transforming Tacking Up: Mary aims to not only help horses tolerate being tacked up but to genuinely enjoy the process. Yes, this is possible!
  • Positive Reinforcement Using Food vs. Positive Reinforcement from Tacking Up: While acknowledging the effectiveness of food-based positive reinforcement, Mary emphasizes the importance of physically preparing the horse's sternum and rib cage area to enhance their comfort and movement possibilities and to make tacking up itself a pleasurable experience. 
  • Tuning into Body Language: Mary stresses the significance of observing the horse's reactions and body language during the tacking up process, allowing them to feel differently and empowering them with a choice.
  • Improving Quality of Life: Mary discusses the profound impact of our interactions with horses on their quality of life, advocating for a clear and loving connection.
  • Move with Your Horse Program: Mary introduces her online program utilizing the Feldenkrais MethodⓇ and Debono Moves to enhance movement, balance, and flexibility for both horse and rider. Listeners are encouraged to join the waitlist for more information and perks. Join the waitlist here. 

🐴 Our Move with Your Horse program offers Feldenkrais lessons and live coaching so that you AND your horse can move and feel better than ever!

πŸ’₯ Sign up to be among the first to know when we open the doors to our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse! 🐴 https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse πŸ’₯

Podcast show notes for THIS episode: https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h66

Tacking Up blog post mentioned in the episode

Free rider masterclass:


All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice.  

Do you know a girthy horse? Maybe your friend's horse is sinchy, or you've seen horses that pin their ears or threaten to kick or bite when they're being tacked up. It is a super common problem. So I hope you listen to the rest of this episode because I'm going to talk about a different way of addressing that problem. And if we haven't met before,

my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier Horses podcast. And thank you for being here. So, gosh, I am on a mission to help horses not only tolerate being girthed up, cinched up, whatever you wanna call it, but to actually enjoy the process. I know that may sound strange, but I've worked with so many horses over the past 30 plus years,

plus years before that with my own horses, and I've helped them to again, feel good about being tacked up. This isn't just about, you know, once they're, once the rider is on that they feel comfortable. I'm talking about the actual process of putting the saddle on and tightening the girth because so many horses dislike that. And I have a whole blog post about this,

by the way, kinda like an in-depth blog post, and I'll make sure to link to that. So wherever you're listening or watching this, there'll be a link in the description for that blog post, because I go into detail about a particular horse I worked with who had really strong opinions about being tacked up and we're able to help him in a very particular way,

in a way that most people don't do. Now, the, I just wanna make this a short episode today, but what I want to point out, and I hope it intrigues you, is the way I approach this whole tacking up thing is that it feel like the process itself has to be reinforcing and rewarding to the horse. So I'll give an example.

I was talking with someone earlier and they were telling me about all their years and years that they've been trying to help their horse overcome their giness, and they're working with trainers, et cetera. And they were talking about different approaches that they used, and one of them was positive reinforcement with food. Now, I have no problem with that when it's done really well.

Okay? As far as using positive reinforcement, and I've done it for many, many years with my own horses. I've used positive reinforcement, not necessarily for tacking up, but in other things. Now, the difference though, and again, I'm not saying that doesn't work or anything like that, this isn't a conversation about that. But the difference is,

if you think about it, the positive reinforcement is like an external thing. Okay? So just say you have your horse and you give your horse a treat every time you, you girth the horse up, that that may help them get over their dislike of it to some degree, but it isn't changing how they actually process it. Like, in other words,

it doesn't change how they experience the process, is what I'm trying to say. So the, the way I do it is, and again, I'm this, this is not like a how to episode, okay? I actually go into detail in my online program about how to, how to do this stuff, but, and that's called Move with Your Horse.

And that's opening soon, by the way, new cohort. It's a 10 week program. But what I do is I help the horse physically be more receptive to the tacking up process. So in other words, I help the horse be comfortable with, you know, in their sternum and rib cage area. I help the horse feel how wonderful it feels when you j very,

very gently introduce a sense of movement possibilities to the sternum, to the ribs, to the thoracic spine, et cetera, right? Because we know, and I talked about this in earlier episodes, we know how when the sternum and the ribs can move freely, helps the horse be more comfortable, be able to round their back more easily, breathe more easily,

like do all the things that we require of them when they're being ridden. So not only do they, are they okay with being girthed up, but it actually helps not only feel good, but improve their ability to be ridden. So in other words, it makes it better for them in so many ways. So you can think of it as like,

it's like you're doing like a warmup, if you will, before you even put the tack on. Or as you're putting the tack on, you're actually helping them have a better experience under saddle while you're tacking them up. Okay? And again, this is not a how-to episode, I'm just like putting a little nugget out there to, to like pique your interest so that you think about it in a different way.

And again, I'm not dissing any of the positive reinforcement with food. Okay? That can be useful, but I found it's even more effective if you could include or only use the sense of the process itself becomes its own reward. Okay? It's like, and, and, and one of my, my colleagues, I originally taught her how to do this many years ago,

and she had a horse who always objected to being girth up. Once you were on him, he was fine, but he did not like being GED up. And once she learned this whole, you know, strategy where, you know, you working with the sternum and the ribs in these very nuanced ways and it just feels so good to the horse and again,

improves their movement, he got to the place where it's like he was very, very happy to see the girth coming, like he was, and this, this was actually a number of my students have to have related this to me, that their horses then are like moving more freely with the saddle on than they did without the saddle on because they, that process,

right? The girth thing up has evolved into something that improves them and feels good. So that's what we want. We want the horse to have the sense that, or I should say we want to give the horse the experience of feeling differently as they're being tacked up and not just being distracted with something nice like food. And again, no, no disrespect to to that at all,

but the actual process becomes enjoyable. I think that's really key. I think that's really, really key. The other thing it does is it is it encourages you to really pay attention to your horse. So, because when I take you through this process, we talk about like, do you feel a little increase in tension? Does the breath change? Is the horse wrinkling the nose or,

or around the eyes, or what is the tail doing the feet? You know, you have to really tune into the horse. And I, I remember one time I was teaching this in person years ago and there was a, it was, he was in appaloosa, not the same appaloosa that I talk about in the blog post that you'll see the photos of this was a different appaloosa,

his name was Raz Raz Mataz. And he was so cute and he was just this wonderful horse and they were using him as a school horse. And Raz really, really, really did not like to be tacked up. Really, really didn't like to be tacked up and what the people would do. And they were very kind people in, in, in other ways like really kind good horse people.

However, they just felt that the only way they could deal with Raz was to tie him short so he couldn't bite people and to tell people to really be careful that he is not gonna kick you because he was determined to let you know that he did not like being tacked up once, once the growth was done. Once the person was in the saddle,

he was seemed fine. But that process was very uncomfortable for him and kind of nerve wracking for some, for the people tacking him up. So I was, oh, I was like, we have to use him in our workshop like we have to. And he was great because, you know, I started with, you know, touching him in different spots and then,

you know, gradually getting to his girth area again without a girth, no girth or saddle in sight at this point, but having him feel like he could be super comfortable in his body and his sternum and his ribs could move more freely. And so like he just, overall it was like a very calming and comforting and helpful things we were doing with him.

My students as well, were working with him. And then we slowly introduced the girth without the saddle. And then we do this whole thing where you're actually improving the movement of the rib cage as you're girth the horse up. Again, I can't give you too many details because it's not the place to teach it over a podcast, but needless to say,

Raz just thought that was the best thing. And he went from a horse that they would tie short and have to worry about him and be careful to, 'cause when I worked with him, I didn't have him tied like that. I had someone holding him 'cause I wanted to make sure I knew when he was unhappy, if he was gonna turn around and bite me.

I needed to know, but I would not let it get to that point of course. So you have to do what is safe for you, of course, and safe for the horse. But the idea is you wanna give the horse a choice and you want to give the horse the experience of feeling differently so they could experience the process differently. And again,

the process of tacking up can actually be something helpful for the horse, can be something pleasurable for the horse, and that actually improves their movement and wellbeing after you've finished it. And you know, then you start riding. Now, I'll tell you one, one last quick story. Many, many years ago, this is another appaloosa I guess this story,

we have a lot of appaloosa today. I had an incredible leopard appaloosa named Spotsy. His full name was Spots of Fun, but we called him Spotsy. And he was just an amazing horse. And I remember once, 'cause I, I've always just groomed and tacked up and stuff without tying my horses. I always liked my horses to, to let you know,

to let have some options, like to not feel like they have, they're tied short or anything. So he knew how to tie, he was fine tied, but I just hardly ever tied him. And this is true for most of my horses. So he knew just to stand. So one day, many, many years ago before I was on this mission,

I started tacking him up, you know, girth him up, right? Doing the girth up, and he turned around and he, he put his teeth on the soft flesh of my, you know, waist in the back. He just turned around and put his teeth there. Now, I wanna say that Spotsy was a horse that, and he wasn't out of character to nip people,

okay? I'll tell you that, right? It was not out of character for him to bite. And at least when I first got him, so he put his teeth there, okay? And the impression I got, I don't know, I just got this like flash of insight, if you will, was that he was saying to me, this is how it feels.

In other words, that vulnerability, because I was really vulnerable at that point, right? He could have just bitten me and not wanna hurt like heck, he could have just, you know, grabbed me there. And I didn't, I didn't correct him and I didn't ask him to put his head back in the middle because I found it was a really interesting experience,

the experience of being so vulnerable. And this is what horses experience often, often with us, we're doing things to them, we're putting bits in their mouth, we're pulling on them, we're people are kicking them. You know, people are doing all kinds of things to them. People are girth them up, you know, very abruptly and, you know,

just doing things. Maybe the tack doesn't fit, you know, they're sitting on balance on their horses. I mean it's, it's, it can be really tough to be a horse in, in a domestic life. And so I felt that that was a really important communication that Spotsy was giving me, that this is what it feels like. So you better believe I did up his girth in a way that he found acceptable.

Okay? And that was one of the things that led me on this mission to help make growthing up much, much better for horses. And then I'll tell you one more quick story. This was not an appaloosa. I was never someone who like grew up swearing and we did not do that in my house. It's like we just did not swear. We weren't that we just didn't,

or, you know, give people the middle finger, anything like that. And I remember, so I was probably, I'm gonna say I was around 20 years old at the time. I had never given anybody the middle finger in my life. I remember I was passing, I was on Long Island, I used to live on long I on long on Long Island.

I was saying that like a Long Islander, which I am a long Islander by the way. I was passing by this little pony ride thing that used to be out on the weekends off of, I wanna say it was the 1 0 7 or the 1 0 6, if you know Long Island. It was one of those. And I was going towards the North Shore.

And anyway, I, there was this gentleman, I'll be generous, I'll call him a gentleman with these ponies. And I was driving my car and as I passed, he happened to, he, he was doing up the girth on one of these little ponies. They were like little Shetland ponies. And he took his foot and he kicked that pony really,

really hard. Now I was in traffic so I could see all this I wasn't zipping by. And a lot of people have done similar things when I was a kid. I remember hearing people saying, you should knee the horse so you can girth them up easier. Well this guy hauled off and kicked this little pony. And I remember I leaned on my horn and he looked at me and I gave him the finger.

And that was the first time in my life. I've only maybe done it a couple of times since that I've done that given someone the finger because, but it was so like the, the, the feeling I got from that, that poor pony who has to not only tolerate being out in all kinds of weather and you know, carton little kids around all the time,

but to have that kind of abuse, and I know we've all seen abuse, that's probably much worse than that. But again, I think that was one of the things that brought home to me, this idea that just simple things like how you handle your horse. Like how you lead your horse, how you groom your horse, how you tack up your horse,

how you sit on your horse and, and you know, your ability to move with your horse. You know, they determine your horse's quality of life in so many ways. Yes, there's other very, very important things. I'm not dismissing those, you know, the whole lifestyle, the whole environment, all the things. But these are also critical things.

You know, I've heard people say, oh, my horse only has to put up with me for one or two hours a few days a week. You know, they can deal with that. It doesn't matter what I do. And I'm like, what, are you kidding me? You know? So if you are the type of person that wants to have,

you know, a real bond with your horse, if you want to have a, a clear and lovely connection with your horse, and I imagine you are, if you're listening to this podcast that you want to do right by your horse, then I would say let's really look at how you saddle your horse. How you, you know, place the saddle on how you do up the girth.

And I have strategies that can help make that much, much better for your horse. So you might wanna look into my program, move with your Horse and we're going to be starting a cohort in April of 2024, a new cohort and it's a 10 week online group coaching program where you get lots and lots of support from me. There's prerecorded videos that you can watch,

but there's also live classes. We use the Feldenkrais method to improve your movement, your balance, your flexibility. We also use Debono Moves, which is strongly informed by Feldenkrais, but it's for horses. And you learn all kinds of wonderful hands-on work to do with your horse. And you just both improve in body and mind and again, deep in that connection.

So if, If you're not on my wait list yet, you might wanna get on it. 'cause I'm going to be giving you some perks and there's no obligation to join the program. Just need to be on the wait list. You know, you can not join if you want, but if you go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse, that's one word you can get on the wait list and get some,

some perks. And again, there's no obligation, but I do hope you join us and that link will also be in the description. So no worries if you're driving or washing the dishes or doing something else as you're listening or watching this. So I hope again, that gives you some ideas. Maybe think about, you know, just how does your horse experience what you're doing with your horse,

you know? So let's start looking at things and feeling things from your horse's point of view. So thank you so, so much for being here. Let me know if you have particular questions you could reach me at Mary at mary Debono dot com. And again, I really appreciate you listening and watching this video and I look forward to talking to you soon.

Bye for now.