I went to work with Lucky tonight and could tell as soon as I approached with the hackamore that he was disengaged. He walked away from me, and refused to put on the hackamore, although he was very willing to visit with me if I kept the hackamore on my shoulder. He was clearly feeling hounded or pressured by my training agenda. My gut said to do something totally different tonight to give us both a break. Lucky was a touch pushy, so I started with taking space (sending him gently away). Then I invited him back to me. Two significant changes – he is calmer about being sent away, and he comes back to me willingly every time. We played with stand, come, and going where I pointed. We did some shoulder yields, hindquarter yields and backing from his nose or chest. For the first time, he let me lead him with a hand under his chin. We did companion walking, circles, figure-8s and halts. All without any halter or tack. Between each exercise, we stood quietly and I did abalone ttouches on his body, ear work, raccoon ttouches on his face, or just stood with him, breathing together and enjoying the evening. By the end, he was interested and relaxed, and looking for the next game. He was connected and engaged, curious and relaxed.
I’m thinking that our next session with the saddle calls for something totally different. I’m going to skip the hackamore, and just use a rope halter. I’m thinking there may still be a mental association that is contributing to his anxiety about saddles.
If saddling continues to be an issue, we may just stick to bareback for a while and see what happens.