Whenever you work with a horse, you must try to see everything from his point of view. Forget about the human point of view. You must concentrate on what works best for your horse.
Most people feel apprehensive when they start a horse under saddle. The last thing they want to do is actually get on the horse’s back, because they’re worried he might buck. So they spend days and sometimes weeks chasing horses with waving flags and flapping tarps. They saddle horses and drive them in long reins or pull them around with a lead rope, thinking this will help to control them and help them to accept a rider. How, I don’t know. Flapping a tarp or pulling a horse around on the ground doesn’t relate to sitting on his back.
Most people think that horses have to get ‘used to’ the saddle, saddle cloth, girth and bit. Trainers say, “Just take your time. Let him look and let him sniff. Let him move around if he wants. Don’t make a drama.” So the horse is allowed to sniff the saddle and the saddle cloth. Next, the girth and saddle are ‘sneaked’ onto the horse’s back. While this is going on, the horse is allowed to move here and there, and to look around whenever and wherever he chooses. Trainers say the horse must ‘work it out for himself’ and deal with all the new items as he (the horse) sees fit.
This is the human viewpoint and maybe it sounds sensible and logical to most people. Let the horse take his time. Let him look. Let him get ‘used to it’.
If you use this approach, you are in fact telling the horse to focus on all the new items. You’re telling the horse “here’s something that I’m worried about and I think you should be worried too. It’s going to be very frightening for you to have a saddle and rider on your back. I know, because I’m frightened about getting up there myself.”
This approach is all back-to-front from a horse’s point of view. It’s actually much easier to mount a young horse bareback for the first time, than to have him accept a saddle and girth. However, most people are too scared to do this, so they revert to the human point of view. People think they’re making it easier and safer for themselves by putting the saddle on first. In fact, the opposite is true.
From a horse’s point of view, it’s relatively easy to accept a rider sitting on bareback. It’s amazing how quickly a young horse can be taught to accept a rider bareback. It’s also quite amazing to see how quickly he can be taught to walk a circle with a rider on his back. All without the saddle, saddle cloth, girth and bit.
After a few lessons, the saddle, saddle cloth and girth can be easily introduced, when the horse is more relaxed and confident. Again, after a few more lessons, when the horse is more relaxed and more confident, the bit can be introduced. This makes sense from a horse’s point of view.
Unfortunately, from the human point of view, it sounds illogical and almost impossible. So the average human sticks to their chasing and driving and bucking, no matter how frightened the horses are. Trainers make all sorts of excuses when horses buck or rush off with the saddle. “It’s the scariest day of his life”, they say. “He’s gotta work it out for himself. He’ll soon get used to it.”
Wake up world. Riding and saddling a young horse for the first time should never be a scary experience. It should simply be another step in every horse’s education.
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.