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Dudley's Story, continued...

Dudley, like Sandia, was clearly not vicious. What was his problem? The immediate issue was that as soon as I would halter him, Dudley would bash me with his head. I'd holler and yell and hit back. Dudley would sober up and behave. Then the next day he'd bash me again.

Debbie came to the rescue. The first time Dudley tried to whack her with his head, she fluttered her hand at his eye. He backed off and acted real polite. This worked for me, too. After a few hand flutters, Dudley gave up head bashing for good.

I brought out Dr. Hanosh to see if any of his behavior problems had a physiological cause. The vet pronounced him sound and healthy.

Next came hoof care. It clearly had been a while since Dudley had seen a farrier. His hooves splayed out. Chunks had cracked off. However, Philip Johnson agreed with Hanosh that Dudley was sound. With just one trimming, he got Dudley's feet into good shape for riding.

Philip pointed out the fact that Dudley's withers had a patch of white hair on each side. Dudley's problem was that he had "mutton withers," meaning that they were wide and round. Most horses have narrow withers. That's what the average saddle is desigend to fit. On a horse with mutton withers, an average saddle is painful. In his case, a saddle had inflicted injuries so bad that they left permanent scars. That's why Dudley had often bucked people off. It was self-defense.

Philip helped us come up with a saddle and padding arrangement that made Dudley comfortable.

 Marcie gave me Dudley's old bridle. She said the guy who sold it to her had claimed its bit was gentle.

Debbie took one look at the bit and declared that it was a wreck waiting to happen. True, it looked kind of like a full cheek snaffle, the bit that worked so well with Coquetta. However, the reins attached to long shanks, and a chain ran under the chin. "This bit works on a horse's jaw like a nutcracker," Debbie said. "It can be excruciatingly painful." Probably painful enough to drive a horse berserk if someone pulled the reins too hard. She recommended a simple snaffle.

 Dudley's old bit.

I was the first to try to ride him. Within seconds, Dudley tried to toss the reins over his head. Western riders hold the reins slack most of the time. That makes it easy for a horse to toss them. If both reins wind up on the same side of a horse's neck, the rider can't do anything but turn him in circles. After a few dozen head tosses, I got off him. Time to think it over.

The western solution is a tiedown. This is a rope or length of leather that ties a nosepiece on a bridle to a breast piece. It holds the horse's head down so he can't toss the reins. The English solution is a martingale. It runs the reins through two loops on lines attached to the breast piece. A martingale is less restrictive than a tiedown and safer. If a horse trips, it is less likely to lose its balance and fall.

I distrusted tiedowns and didn't have a martingale. I solved the problem by riding him while holding the reins English style, with a mild snaffle bit and slight tension on the reins, while holding them low . That way he couldn't toss the reins. Within a few days Dudley quit trying to toss them. Now we could rein him Western style again.

The most important thing was that Dudley never once tried to buck any of us off. Now that he had comfortable tack, he had no motivation to hurt anyone.

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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.