On Tuesday, I went to help the owner of a 16.1hh hunting horse called Benson. He's a lovely, well mannered horse in all respects...except for when he's being groomed, being tacked up or having his rug put on or taken off. In these situations, his relatively new owner was finding his reactions very aggressive - he was swinging around with his head and kicking out. Very sensibly, his owner had him checked over by a chiropractor to make sure his responses are not due to any pain or discomfort - and he received the all clear.
On meeting Benson, it was possible to look at understanding and improving his reaction to these 3 situations. We were able to make good progress using the advance and retreat method, which allows us to create a positive association with each activity. Benson has white hairs on either side of his saddle area, and it seems quite clear that at some point in his life he has suffered from saddle damage - which is probably when his negative association with the tacking up process first began. Benson's owner picked up the advance and retreat method very quickly, and for the first time ever, she was able to put a saddle blanket on him with no aggressive reaction at all - he stood calmly and quietly as it was put on, adjusted and taken off.
Benson hates being touched on his chest area and we were able to get him more used to this so that he doesn't react in a negative way. We also started to work on his dislike (or hatred!) of rugging. I could throw my waterproof jacket over Benson, move it around and put the sleeves around his neck and he had no problem with this at all...but when he sees a rug, it's enough for him to start scowling - so that's where we started. Benson has been reacting in these ways for quite a while so his owner will need to be consistent with the advance and retreat technique - there is a lot of history to undo but they have already made some great progress in a short time. Benson is a very sensitive, communicative horse and a real sweetie!
The latest update from the owner, is that she is definitely continuing with the advance and retreat method - after coming back from riding out after our session, her husband commented on how Benson was the calmest they had seen ever him, which is great.