Sarge is reaching the point in his training where he trusts me enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I can present new things for him to learn, and because I haven't hurt him, his immediate reaction is calm curiosity instead of fear.
Today, I decided to try girthing him for the first time. With the scarring in his back, he might not be able to wear a girth comfortably. If so, he would be permanently retired at the ripe old age of three. I seriously doubt he'll ever be able to handle a saddle with the weight of a rider, but driving in harness might still be a possibility.
I used a training surcingle, first letting him look it over and then just laying it over his back. He thought that was okay, so I let down the off side, reached under him, and brought up the buckle end on his near side. Just holding against him was okay, too, so I buckled it on the longest hole.
No objection, so I took it up one notch, then another. The surcingle was girthed as snugly as if it was part of a driving harness. And Sarge's reaction to this? Yawn.
There was none of the excitement that used to happen back in the bad old days, when terrified horses were snubbed to posts as saddles were strapped in place. No bucking, no resistance, no pain, no fear. There was no halter, no rope, no physical restraint at all. And it took less than five minutes from start to finish.
After Sarge wandered around for a while looking bored by the whole thing, I figured why not introduce him to the round pen and longeing? After all, so far so good, and a chance to move out more would test how comfortable the surcingle really was for him.
So I put his halter on and led him out to the round pen. Once inside, I took his halter off to avoid any possibility he could catch it on the fence. Using a longe whip only to wiggle along his side as a suggestion to stay out on the circle instead of right next to me, he walked and trotted calmly in both directions for about ten minutes or so. Plenty of time for a first attempt.
Then we went back to the barn. I groomed him, told him he was wonderful, and turned him back out. Thus endeth the lesson.
Good horse training appears very boring, because nothing seems to be happening. A horse should walk off the very first time he wears a saddle the same as if it's the thousandth time. If anything more spectacular happens, it's my fault and not the horse's.
Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Sound familiar?