Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sheet On, Sheet Off

If there is one lesson I have learned in horsey life, it is thus: What goes up must come down... and what goes on the horse, must also come off again.

And by that, I mean Bay Girl's blanket.

As I stood in her paddock yesterday watching her mill around by her haypile, I thought to myself, "I thought I was so clever for getting this blanket on her. But... how am I going to get it off?"

Maybe I should have thought of that BEFORE the fact.

The sun had come up, the misty rain had disappeared, and temperatures had reached the low 50's for the day. All of the other horses on the property had been stripped of their clothes, and were all gleefully grinding mud into their coats with gusto. From my early morning view out the window in the pool barn, I watched Bay Girl wiggle around under her blanket, fuss at her leg straps, mill around some more, throw in a few gigantic bucks, and roll in the mud. It wasn't the blanket that she minded, it was the leg straps that were annoying her. She let me put them on without fuss (so long as I did them both from her left side), but we'd have to see how she felt about them when they came off. I had already tried once to pull her too-large blanket forward when it was already on her... she had none of that nonsense and I left the blanket where it was, drooping excessively over her butt like a gaudy green wedding train. She looked a bit like some large and formless green boogie monster had fallen asleep on top of her back, and was unwilling to get up for any reason whatsoever. Form fitting it was not.

"Alright, sweetie," I told her as she ambled over to me, "let's see if we can get that off." She eyeballed me with interest. I think she had no idea what was coming.

The first problem I faced was that the blanket had slipped so far back that the strap encircling her belly was now tightly pressed against her. It was a very old school buckle strap, so I had to pull it a bit in order to release it. Bay Girl felt the squeeze, and reacted by jumping and skittering around. I managed to get it off without further fuss, but it was clear at that moment that getting the blanket off was going to be much more difficult than getting it on.

I moved back to her leg straps, talking quietly to her the whole time. "That's a good girl," I told her. "They're just leg straps, they're not going to hurt you.

One leg strap released. All quiet. Second leg strap released. All quiet.

Then she moved for a moment, and both straps swung and bumped her lower hind legs. And she lost it. Her eyes registered for a moment with KILLER ANKLE BITING MONSTERS! before she took off, and then she was gone. I suddenly found myself with a terrorized mare at the end of my lead rope, racing in circles around me. The only thing I could do was casually shuffle my feet and talk to her, acting like there clearly was nothing here to be worried about, all while she ripped around and around me like I was some sort of perverted may pole. The more she ran, the more the leg straps swung around her legs. My saving grace was that she understands the idea of pressure and release well, and never once pulled on my leadrope. She also never went sideways or backwards - she only went forward. I was never drug anywhere, pulled off my feet, or moved from the spot where I was standing. And because I just hung around and chatted casually to her while she was in her moment of panic, within a minute or two she stopped dead next to me, with a look in her eye of do something lady!

This is why you ALWAYS unbuckle your blankets BACK TO FRONT, leg straps to belly straps and lastly to chest straps. If I had unbuckled her chest strap first and she had taken off, she very well could have had a terrible wreck within the confines of her backsliding blanket and might have been unable to free herself. I was taught to unbuckle blankets in this manner many years ago, but this was the first time I've ever actually been glad that I did. It's the same idea as wearing a helmet.... sure, you might be able to go for years without falling off, but the one time that you DO fall off, you are going to be SO glad that you bothered to put it on.

"You are so silly," I told her after she had stopped moving, giving her a moment to calm down while I scratched on her neck. She snorted loudly a few times, stood like a rock, and let me finish unbuckling the blanket. Not wanting to risk another takeoff when I had the blanket fully unbuckled, I slowly folded it back upon itself, eventually able to slip it off her butt with only a minor butt tuck on her end. Once I unhooked her leadrope, she stayed with me until I left, the same happy and curious look in her eye the entire time.

Obviously, just because I got the blanket on her by fluke chance does not mean we've conquered blanketing yet. We have a long, long way to go before she is ever sacked out enough to this kind of thing that I can just toss a blanket on her without thinking twice about it. There is a lot of potential in there, and a thinking brain for sure. She stopped of her own accord when running scared from something... that is saying something.


  1. It's so neat to see how she's counting on you as her "herd". She's obviously showing some signs of having a good brain. She totally deserves the time and attention you're offering her and I can't wait to see how she continues!

  2. What a good girl! YES for taking blankets off correctly. Totally agree!

  3. What a silly girl :)! I remember Ritchie had similar problems with his rug when I first got him.

  4. I have always been taught the opposite regarding strap order, and having seen it in action a half dozen times I am a firm believer that it is safer to undo the surcingles, then the front, and finally the back.

    If a horse bolts off with only the back straps done up the cover slides harmlessly off the back. There is no risk to the horse (their hind legs step out of the straps as they travel), and if it's the cover they are frightened of then their panic is over almost immediately. Not one of the horses that I have watched have been trapped or tripped by the cover sliding off their back end. (Nor have they learnt to 'escape' their cover by bolting off, FWIW.)

    In contrast, with only the front straps done up the cover stays on the horse much longer. This worked out well in this situation because it stayed positioned fine, but what if it had slipped sideways? Suddenly there's a giant 'bib' in front of, around and potentially underneath the horse's front legs. You can imagine how frightening a horse might find a cover dragging beside them that they can't get away from.

    The cover won't come off unless the horse stops, drops his head and backs up, or falls over, or the strap finally breaks. There's no easy, quick 'out'.

    To be fair, I wonder if this difference is to do with paddock/field size. It IS safer to undo covers back to front in a stable, since the horse can't run off/get away, and a rug sliding back around the legs is more dangerous/frightening (and there's little risk of a rug fastened only at the front slipping sideways around the neck in such a small area). We typically have big fields (i.e. plenty of space to run/out of reach) here, but in a small paddock I think it would be a bit of a toss up?

    Either way I'm glad neither of you were hurt. She really is a smart horse, even during a panic. Impressive.

  5. Maybe it's a Kiwi/English thing Kelly, as i have always taken covers off the same way as you. I have seen a number of covers wrecked by the back straps breaking and the cover ending up as a bib around the front.
    As you said, at least it comes off if it's only on by the back straps. We were also taught to clip the back straps up aftr taking them off so that there is nothing dangling down around the legs.
    But as you said, I grew up with the standard NZ set up - ponies/horses in 10-50 acre paddocks, which is why we always caught and often tied up to cover, especially if there were more horses than people. The last thing you want is loose horses poking around in case you end up like that woman in Taranaki that was killed the other day.

  6. Fascinating! Keep it coming. (I can't wait to see if she lets you put it back on!)

  7. This is again really good.. she's bound to have some problems, and this was one one, but you confirmed with her again that you are trustworthy and a positive thing in her life, and that's definitely the best thing to cement in her head right now! And it's good too I guess to experience the problems and learn more about how she conducts herself, and to come out the other end okay, and sounds like you've both done brilliantly in this instance! I dunno that I'd like a bolting mare on the end of anything I'm on the other end of, but your calmness and experience is obviously paying off big time with this lass.

  8. Hmmm it must be an American thing I guess! But I can understand it, as a horse in a 12x12 stall flailing with a blanket around their ankles and a human trying to get out of the way is a bad idea.
    What happened to the woman in Taranaki?

  9. That's so awesome how she's already bonded with you and depending on you to help her. :) I'm glad it all went well and she learned something from it.