Have you ever gone to the barn, full of anticipation for a great ride, only to spend half the time attempting to saddle up as your horse dances around? Saddling problems range from being simply annoying to downright dangerous. You can correct the problem yourself by following the sequence of steps described below.
First, check to see if the saddle fits your horse properly. If you are not sure how, get help from a saddle fitter, or someone else who has experience with this skill. Then check his back and girth area to be sure that pain is not an issue; get help from a vet if needed.
If the saddle fit is good, your horse is pain-free and you still have a problem saddling your horse it’s probably because he has a “hole” somewhere in his basic training that needs to be filled. Let’s just put the saddle down for now. Start in an enclosed area, like a round pen, where he can be untied, yet secure. Pet your horse all over his body while working in an open area and having him outfitted in his halter and untied lead rope. If you find any spots where he’s uncomfortable with your touch, you’ll have to work through this first using an approach (the sensitive area) and retreat method.
Don’t rush this step; it’s the most important part. We need to have our horse comfortable with our touch anywhere on his body including inside the mouth (rub his gums) and nostrils, under his tail, and so forth. Also start putting pressure with your hand and arm in the cinch area. Now we can go and get either a lariat or another lead rope and begin to rub him all over with this new object. Start by facing and walking toward your horse with the rope in your right hand and down at your side; when you reach the horse just pet him with your left hand (the empty hand) and turn around and walk five feet away. Approach again but this time just show him the rope (hold it about one foot in front of his nose and allow him to sniff it), pet with your other hand, and leave again. Re-approach and just touch him with the rope on top of his nose, leave and come back, touch the nose, and the side of his neck before leaving. Continue this, adding the shoulder, barrel, hip etc., until you can rub all over the horse with your rope. You must also be able to do this from both sides of your horse.
Now you are ready to move on to the saddle blanket. Again start out in front of your horse and fold the blanket so that its size approximates that of the rope you were using. This will make it a little easier for your horse to accept (it’s a different object but at least it’s the same size). Go through all the steps we used with the rope, approaching, rubbing and leaving. Then unfold the blanket halfway (do this while your standing at least five feet in front of the horse) so that he sees you doing it. This way if he’s frightened at least he won’t strike at the blanket. Repeat all the steps with the half folded blanket on both sides of the horse.
Now completely unfold the blanket and rub it all over. Then throw it up on his back, his rump, his neck, etc. from both sides. Place the blanket on the horse and squeeze a little on both sides of the withers (where the saddle will lay). Also use the full length of the blanket to make a sling under him and lift upwards, putting pressure in the cinch area to further desensitize your horse to this feel. Throw the blanket right over his back and off the other side, letting it land on the ground to get him accustomed to an accidental drop. When all these steps have been accomplished and your horse is not only accepting, but comfortable with what we’re doing, it’s time for the saddle.
Walk nonchalantly up to your horse with the saddle (not like a predator stalking a prey animal), show it to him and then place it gently on his back, taking care that the stirrups and cinch straps do not bang against him. Now take the girth strap and manually apply just a bit of pressure to the cinch area of your horse. When he accepts it, go ahead and cinch the horse up. Don’t cinch too tight right here, just enough so that, when he moves, the saddle is stable and won’t rotate. Ask him to move around you in a circle a few times each way and then cinch up again before you mount. This last step allows the horse to relax knowing we’re not going to pinch him and tighten so much that he can’t move or breathe correctly.
If you follow each of these steps your saddling problems should be over and there will be more time available to enjoy your ride.
©Two as One, LLC 8/07