Friday, January 29, 2010

Tacking Up Trouble

It is so frustrating when a horse won't stand still when being tacked up. What should take you a couple of minutes ends up taking an hour. Why should such a simple task be so strenuous?

The solution to this frustration is to get the horse familiar with the tack. To us the tack may seem like silly objects, but to the horse these objects may look like meat eating creatures. The key lies into familiarizing the horse with his tack.

The Saddle and Numnah /Saddle pad

The saddle must be one of the scariest of tack, because it sits on the horse's back and wraps around his body. For a prey animal there is nothing scarier than feeling something wrapped over him. Before even thinking of putting a saddle on your horse, first allow him to have a look at it. Get the horse to walk past it, maybe even walk circle around it. All of this will help convince the horse that the saddle is harmless. Next, take the saddle in your arm and walk around with it while leading the horse. This is a form of retreat, building confidence in the horse.

Once the horse can tolerate the saddle being around him without having the need to move away, you have to get him used to having the saddle on his back. It is best to start off with the numnah or saddle pad, because it is lighter. Take the numnah and rub it over the horse starting at the neck and shoulder area. If the horse is worried and starts moving around keep on rubbing until the horse stands still and then take it off. You keep on doing this until the horse can stand still (preferably without you having to hold him still).

Now take the numnah and gently put the numnah on his back in the same way you would if you were tacking up. Again, if the horse gets worried wait until he settles before taking the numnah off. It is also good to do this on both sides, not just on the left side. Once the horse can stand still for this he should be ready for the saddle.

First make sure the horse is comfortable having the saddle next to him. You can even try to walk around him with the saddle. Once the horse is calm you can try to swing the saddle onto his back. If the swinging saddle bothers the horse too much, you need to get him used to it. Stand next to him, as far as is comfortable, and swing the saddle back and forth. Remember to stop once the horse calms down, then repeat. Eventually you should be able to do this standing right next to his shoulder (as you would if you were saddling). Now, swing it up onto his back. If he moves around try to stay with him until he settles and then slide the saddle off. You do this until he can stand still. The more you are able to do this, the more confident the horse will get.

The Bridle

With the bridle you can do the exact same thing as with the saddle. See if you can rub it all over the horse without him getting worried about it. Then try to put it onto his head. If he has trouble with this you can try this:
Take the bit off the bridle and change the adjustments so that the bridle is a little bigger than it should be for riding. Now try to put it on (approach and retreat will help a lot with horses have more difficulty with it). Once the horse is comfortable with the bridle take it off. Then put it on again.

The Bit

You can prepare your horse for the bit by getting him to tolerate having your finger in his mouth. When introducing the bit for the first time it can be rewarding to put some molasses (or something sweet) on the bit. What also helps to make the first time more comfortable, is to have the cheek pieces adjusted a little bit longer than normal. This way you won't struggle to get the bridle on, accidently pulling on the mouth in the process.


Some horse don't like their legs being touched. This makes it very hard to get protective boots on. The best way to solve this problem is too get the horse used to having his legs rubbed. To do this use a schooling whip and rub the leg softly. If the horse picks the leg up, keep on rubbing until he puts it down then take the whip off. Once the horse tolerate the whip you can try rub his legs with your hands. Next you want to get him to tolerate the boots. Take the boot and rub his leg with it. Eventually, he will tolerate it and you should be able to put the boot on and fasten it.

It is up to us to make the horse comfortable with the tools we use. By helping the horse build confidence with our tools (tack etc.), we will gain his trust and respect. He will end up enjoying being around us instead of being terrified and worried every time he is fetched from the pasture.

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