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Trainer's Corner

Starting A Horse Under Saddle

There are no magic tricks involved in training a horse.
No whispering.  No spells. 
Just common sense, dedication, kindness and perseverance.

LESSON #1:  Sacking a Horse

Halter, lead shank and longeline with chain.  Feed Sack. 
Silver Duct tape.  Children's light saddle & pad.  Tie chain.

Whether you're starting a horse from scratch, or trying to fix a bad habit, you must always go back to basics and start in the round-pen which should be a place the horse feels comfortable in.  Try very hard to make sure that each and every experience the horse encounters in the round-pen is positive and not frightening.    The horse should know that this is a "work" place, and not a place to play.  You can attach a stout tie chain that is between 24" to 34" long to one of the supporting posts in the round pen.  You don't want the chain too long or the horse could get tangled up in it.  Conversely, you don't want it too short, or the horse will panic and try to tear the wall down in an attempt to flee.  All of my horses are used to standing tied in their stalls, but there isn't enough room to maneuver in that small space.  I don't want to crowd the horse.  I would suggest that you don't even start this procedure until the horse has learned to stand very quietly in his stall.

Take a paper feed sack and scrunch one end down into a handle.  Use silver duct-tape on the "handle" and you now have a nice "sack".   Always stand an arms-length away from the horse at the his right shoulder to avoid being run over or pawed.  The horse is attached to the tie-chain, and you have a lead-rope hooked on the halter.  Hold the lead rope in your left hand to steady the horse and keep his head, (and not his hind quarters) towards you.  Put you right hand reassuringly against the horse's shoulder and give him a few pats and then slowly pick up your sack and let the horse sniff it. 

There will probably be some wide-eyed glances, snorts and movement away from the sack.  Take your time.  Talk quietly to the horse to reassure him that everything is OK.  Voice is really important and soothing.  Remember that horses are very responsive to different sounds.  The horse will try and turn away and bolt, which is why you have the lead shank, so you can steadily pull his head towards you and push on his shoulder to let him know you don't want him on top of you, but facing towards you, instead of maneuvering himself into a "flight" position.  Gradually start to rub the sack on the horse's body, starting with his shoulder, and working your way back towards his hip.  Keep talking and rubbing until his eyes are calm and he's not snorting any more.  Spend as much time as you want doing this.  After he's comfortable being rubbed on his body, move down the legs and onto the neck and head. 

Once the horse has submitted to the rubbing, hold your sack handle and start to gently, with light taps, flop the sack against his sides.  The horse will flinch and might try to flee again, as that is his natural instinct in a stressful situation, but be persistent until he gets used to the fact that he is not going to get eaten by a carnivorous paper sack, despite what he thinks.  After the horse is accustomed to the light taps, increase the strength of the tap.  This gets the horse used to sudden flopping movement from the riders leg, or a stirrup, when he's being asked to go forward later.  The horse learns that sudden moves against his body, are not an attack,  so he doesn't need to be afraid.  This is the first step you're taking towards developing a mutual trust, which is extremely important.  Work that sack on the horse's on the legs, hip, chest, neck, belly, (and more gently) on the face.  When the horse finally stands quietly and doesn't flinch anywhere, despite where you "whop" him with the sack, then he's ready to be saddled.  Sack this horse out every day for at least 2 months, until absolutely nothing bothers him, even after you've started riding him.

Use a child's saddle, if possible, for the first few times the horse is saddled.  It's easier to lift onto the horse's back, is lighter and makes less movement than an adults saddle.  Tighten the girth up slowly.  Not too tight, just snug enough where the saddle won't fall underneath if the horse starts to buck.  Stand there holding that same lead rope in your left hand and pat the horse on his shoulder to give got the saddle on, let the horse just stand there tied, with it on his back, and walk a few feet away so he can get comfortable with it.  In many cases, I'll start to sack the horse out with the saddle on, if he or she is being pretty calm about the whole thing, but be prepared to get out of the way in case this spooks the horse.  Always stand adjacent to a horse's shoulder.  Do not stand in front of the horse or next to his head.  The sacking-out reassures the horse that while this is a bit different from the original lesson, they can still relate to it.  After ten or fifteen minutes, hook the horse to your longe-line, with the chain under his chin, (assuming he is used to working with the chain from our
weanling workout lesson)  release him from the wall tie and quickly walk to the center of the round-pen at an angle to the horse's hip and encourage the horse to walk.  Many horses will never buck, if you've saddled them several times prior to your very first attempt at longing in the round-pen and just left them tied to the wall.

Work the horse at a walk, trot and lope both ways for fifteen or twenty minutes.  If the horse starts to pitch or buck, pull his head towards the center and tell him to whoa.  Stop him.  Do not let him buck with the saddle on, if at all possible.  That starts a bad habit.  When the horse goes into the round-pen, it is to work, not buck or play.  We find that turning the horses out in a pen in the morning to let them play and buck with free-time exercise, works best.  Never try to work a "fresh" horse.  That's unfair to the horse.  Let them have some free time to play for an hour, and even work them in the round-pen for thirty or forty minutes thereafter, before you attempt to saddle the horse.  The horse will soon differentiate between work time and play time, and that's important, as you will see later on.


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Ronny & Michelle Stallings

2422 Dr. Sanders Road

Aubrey, Texas  76227

(940) 365-2860