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Worried about horse's reaction to crupper

From: Brianna

Dear Jessica, I bought a crupper at my trainer's recommendation, but my horse had a complete fit when I put it on him the first time. I took it off and haven't dared put it on him again. My trainer suggested the crupper because now that I ride better (I've had two years of lessons) I am spending a lot more time on the trails and we have some steep trails around where I live. My trainer wants all of us riders using a breast collar and a crupper when we go on the harder trails, so that our saddles will stay in place. My horse is kind of narrow in front and doesn't have a lot of withers so we were hoping that the crupper would help keep his saddle where it belongs on the downhills. But I can't see how that will ever happen if he goes ballistic when I put the crupper on him. I thought he would calm down after a few minutes but he was jumping around and fussing and just wouldn't relax and behave. So I took it off. But my trainer says I really need to use a crupper, so do you have any suggestions for me? I would like to know why my horse hates it so much and if I can do something to make him not hate it. Thank you,

Your fan, Brianna


Hi Brianna! Some horses are very surprised when they first feel a crupper, and react accordingly. I think you might want to give it another try, but this time around, take your time, do some prep work first, and notice and remember everything your horse does. Here is a list of questions for you to answer that may help you figure out what the problem is.

1. Is the crupper absolutely clean? The leather should be smooth and soft, with no rough edges, stitching, or seams coming into contact with the horse.

2. Is the horse - at least where the crupper sits - absolutel clean as well? If there's even a small lump of dirt or a bit of hard skin or the tiniest of twigs anywhere between the crupper and the horse, it won't matter whether the item is attached to the horse or to the crupper - either way, it will rub against tender skin, causing an agitated, upset horse in the short term and, if nothing is done about it, a sore in the long term. Take a few minutes to be sure that the underside of your horse's tail, and all other skin that will be in contact with the crupper, is absolutely clean.

3. Is the crupper itself the correct size? Cruppers come in many different styles and sizes. Is the curve of the crupper big enough for his tail to fit easily into the space, or is the crupper tight? If it's tight, it may be rubbing his tail. Size doesn't depend on your horse's height or age, it's a question of whether your horse's dock is wide/thick or narrow/thin. The crupper size should correspond to the size of the dock.

4. Are ALL of your horse's tail hairs out of the way? Are you sure? Check again. There shouldn't be ANY tail hairs between the crupper and the underside of the horse's tail - even one or two tail hairs can rub, annoy, and even cut your horse.

5. Is the crupper adjusted loosely enough that it isn't actually pulling up against your horse's tail? When a horse is unfamiliar with this piece of tack, it's best to begin with the crupper adjusted a little loosely until the horse becomes accustomed to the feeling of something under his tail. If the crupper is so loose that it flops and bumps against his backside, that's too loose - the sensation will annoy him. But if the crupper is even a little bit too tight, he's not going to relax at all - he's far more likely to clamp his tail and start jumping around.

6. Are you certain that his saddle fits him well? Sometimes a horse that appears to be reacting to a crupper, breastplate, or saddle pad is simply announcing that he can no longer tolerate the saddle itself. Even full-grown, fully-developed horses in training will typically change shape several times during the course of a year, and each change will affect saddle fit. It's a good idea to invest a little time each time you tack up to check that the saddle still fits.

Take your time as you teach him that he can move around freely whilst wearing the crupper. Attach it loosely so that he can remain relaxed, and lead him around so that he can become accustomed to the feel without anyone in the saddle. You can tighten the crupper gradually over several days or a week; there's no need to tighten it into its final position immediately. And one more thing: If your weather, like ours at the moment, is providing you with extra-cold temperatures right now, you might want to keep the crupper in a warm corner of the tack room. No horse, even one that is familiar with cruppers, is going to be happy about having an icy-cold crupper under its tail. That's a sensitive area. Imagine the difference between sitting down on an ice-cold toilet seat and a heated one, and you'll understand why a horse might react violently to a sudden sensation of cold. ;-)

Jessica

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