tldr: We almost found a saddle for Milton, but fell down the NQR rabbit hole instead.
The local tack shop had a used 18″ Steuben. Ideally, I ride in a 17 1/2″ saddle, but 18″ is not a dealbreaker. It was old, but those saddles last forever. Eventhough Milton was taking time away from riding [Getting A Break], we brought it home to try. Fit well. He went well, at least at the walk and trot. Since Milton & I are not cantering outside of the ring yet, I wanted to ride him at Stepping Stone Farm before we closed the deal. Between shipping Rodney (yay!) and ridiculous levels of heat, we kept not getting over there.
Meanwhile, the tack shop found another 18″ Steuben. Brought it home. Fit a little better in the cantle, less well in the pommel, but on average about the same as the other one. Milton did. not. like. it. No hysterics, but he never relaxed at the walk. Even my ground crew thought I should end the test before Milton began expressing himself more firmly.
It almost as if he doesn’t like having any saddle on his back. Did he go well in the Devoucoux because it fit or because he was used to wearing a saddle at that point [Does This Saddle Make Me Look Sporty]? Did he dislike this particular saddle or had it been a while since he wore any saddle?
We returned both saddles and resolved to take another stab as sorting him out.
No one – vet, massage therapist, instructor – has found anything amiss. Well, the saddle fitter thought Milton had a sensitive back. Dig those fingernails into my back, and I’d flinch too. Everyone has given him a clean bill of health. The instructors have both told me to give him a good thump in the sides to get him moving. Given the horse we presented to these folks, their judgments make sense.
The problem is a host of little things that you only realize if you see the horse day after day. He’s a shade too grumpy. He’s a little cold-backed. He doesn’t like being groomed. His dressage is mediocre. He has not embraced jumping, even at the lowest level. And so on. Every individual attribute is explainable. Together they don’t add up to the horse Milton ought to be.
We’ve tried so many things. Naps. Feed changes. Spray and unguents. Baths. Meds. There appears to be some progress at first. Then we settle into a new status quo pissy. It definitely involves his skin, but it’s not fungus or itches or anything on the surface.
Current theory is a histamine reaction that we are treating with Benadryl.
Scenario. He is a fine and happy horse in Canada. He comes down to Alabama. Over the first week, part of his new environment infiltrates and sets up a low-grade irritation. It’s minor, until we put a saddle on his back. The sensation is not pleasant, “Oh shit. Ow. What the hell? No. No. No.” It’s almost as if his initial outburst was as much of a surprise to him as it was to us. Photo below taken seconds before he absolutely loses him mind, dumps me, and takes off bucking around the field [Did I Piss Off the Universe and Not Notice?]. None of us saw it coming. Including Milton? Over time, he adjusts to this annoyance as his new reality, but he’s never happy about it.
Interesting narrative. Now to see if it has any bearing in reality.
Thank you for reading,