The above video shows people starting their own horses at a clinic with Neil Davies in Thirlmere, NSW, in the early 1990s.
A couple of friends of mine – I’ll call them Chris and Macca – because these are their names, looked at a horse to buy the other day. The mare was eight years old and hadn’t been ridden for two or three months.
Macca saddled the mare, hopped aboard and trotted around. “Canter her so I can see how she moves,” said Chris. When Macca gave the mare a kick, she snorted and down went her head. She bucked hard to the left then propped to the right and Macca landed flat on his back. The mare raced off down the paddock, bucking and snorting as she went. Luckily, Macca wasn’t hurt and the mare turned before she hit the fence. I think it was about this time that Chris decided he wouldn’t be buying her.
Think about this scenario the next time you see your favourite horse guru saddle a young horse for the first time and chase him around as he bucks. Some of these gurus seem to take great pleasure when a young horse bucks. Maybe they think it makes an entertaining show for their audience.
“It don’t matter, he’ll soon get used to it,” they say, or “He’s got to work it out for himself. He’ll learn that the saddle is nothing to worry about,” or “Don’t worry, I’m desensitising him to the saddle and girth.”
Funny thing, after being saddled hundreds of times, the mare that Chris and Macca went to look at still hadn’t ‘worked it out for herself.’ At eight years old, she still wasn’t ‘used to the saddle’ and she still wasn’t ‘desensitised.’
Sadly, I’ve seen hundreds of horses like this poor mare.
When a young horse is saddled and let go to buck, you must realize that the only reason he bucks is because he’s terrified of the saddle and girth. It’s not something for people to laugh at and it’s not something to be fobbed off by saying, “It don’t matter. He’ll soon get used to it.” A horse in this situation is fighting for his life.
Let me repeat: the horse is terrified and in fear of his life.
When a horse is terrified in this manner, the fear and terror is burned into his mind forever. Some horses may get over this experience, others never do. Under pressure or when things go wrong, the fear and terror is instantly recalled and the horse will buck as he initially learned to do.
This is why some horses buck after they have a ‘spell’, or when they get a fright, or when things go wrong.
Now here’s the thing. You don’t have to get any horse ‘used to’ to the saddle and girth. Instead, everything must be introduced to every horse in small steps that he can understand and accept. This is the key to having success with every horse. Not eighty or ninety percent but one hundred percent of horses, one hundred percent of the time.
There is a way around every horse. Every horse can be started under saddle without bucking and fighting.
Sure, we all make mistakes. If you move too far or too quickly, any young horse will buck. However, when you make a mistake, you must try to learn and not make the same mistake next time. If we accept chasing, bucking and fighting, we won’t improve and we won’t make life easier for our horses.
Let me tell you, it does matter. If every horse was started without fighting and bucking, there’d be no ‘problem’ horses and there’d be no rejects that don’t make it to the track or show ring because they can’t be ridden.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.