Saddling an untrained horse might sound like a real challenge; in fact for old-time bronc busters who didn’t understand how to gently school youngsters, it was dangerous and intimidating! If it’s your first time teaching a horse to accept a training saddle, you’ll find these tips helpful. If you have never saddled a horse and are hoping to learn how to do it correctly, it’s best to get assistance from someone who has plenty of experience with horses. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to get started.
It All Starts with Good Ground Manners
Before you teach a horse to take a training saddle, spend plenty of time teaching him to accept touching all over, and to stand quietly for handling. Don’t be in a hurry! There are plenty of great resources available online, including ways to turn training into a fun experience rather than a stressful one. By taking your time and being gentle, you’ll end up with a steady mount that’s a joy to handle.
Get a Helper
You’ll need a horse-savvy helper to hold onto the horse with a long leadrope or lunge line while you’re introducing the training saddle. Don’t tie the horse even if he is normally calm. Some horses will stand still while being saddled for the first time, and others will panic. Show the saddle to the horse and allow him to smell it before getting down to business.
Work from the Left and Begin with the Saddle Pad
Stand on the left side of the horse and rub the saddle pad gently over him. Don’t back off if he flinches, just keep applying moderate pressure and rub his neck or shoulder each time he relaxes and shows acceptance. Speak calmly, even if it’s just nonsense. The sound of your voice should help the horse relax. Once the saddle pad is on the horse and he’s relaxed, lift the saddle up onto his back in a single smooth motion. Moving too slowly and / or cautiously at this point can lead to skittish behavior.
If Using an English Training Saddle….
Walk around to the right side and attach your girth. Be careful not to smack the horse with the girth. Pull it up into a relatively snug (but not tight) position on the horse’s left side. Don’t tickle the horse during this procedure. Give positive reinforcement and then start to tighten the girth in small intervals, making it tighter every thirty seconds or so until it is in the correct position. Keep on praising the horse for acceptance.
When using a Western Training Saddle…
Walk around to the right side and attach your cinch or bring it down off the saddle seat and into position. Go back to the left and bring it up, set the loops in the latigo, and gradually work it up to the correct tightness, tightening about every 30 seconds. Keep on giving the horse positive reinforcement for accepting the cinch.
Check it Out!
Once the saddle is on and the horse is staying calm, take the lunge line from your helper and let the horse relax and walk off on his own. Don’t work him on the lunge, just five him light direction and let him get used to the feeling of the saddle on his back. Do not ask him to move into a trot or canter until he seems a bit bored.
Next, get the horse to work a bit. Now that he’s accustomed to the feeling of the training saddle on his back, it’s time to trot and canter in both directions without any bucking or playing. Work until he is quiet and comfortable.
Horses learn best through small steps and repetition, along with plenty of positive reinforcement. Remembering to stay calm and confident, repeat this lesson for several days in a row. Yes, it takes a while, but in the end you’ll be thrilled to have a calm, accepting riding companion you can count on!