How to Solve Saddling fear

Ever seen a horse do any of these when being saddled?

saddling-fear> Moving away from the saddle
> Pinning ears
> Nipping when girthing
> Tail swishing
> Kicking out

I’m sure you have. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for horses to be afraid of the saddle.

The most common reason is pain – a badly-fitting saddle and/or girth and insensitive tacking up (thumping the saddle onto the back and hauling the girth up as tight as it will go). So, the first step is a complete MOT of your horse’s back and saddle to eliminate pain.
Other common reasons include going too far too fast when the horse is first introduced to the saddle or an accident such as a fall or the saddle slipping.

However, even if these are all fixed now, the memory of that discomfort or scary situation still causes these reactions in the horse. This is when this approach can really help!

Yep, we’re using targets again… this powerful technique can really change how your horse feels about something. Particularly turning fear into calm relaxation.

Watch this video to see how to use this technique with your horse!

Big thanks to our models – Zulu, a zebra x arab with big fear issues about saddling and his fantastic trainer, Rebecca Musselwhite of Jive Pony, who helped him overcome the saddling fears he arrived to her with.

As mentioned in the video, you can learn loads more training techniques like this in our (aptly named) Training Techniques Home Study Course.
You can see the full step-by-step process of saddling Zulu, and follow 2 other horses through the process, in our Daily Handling Home Study Course in the CT Club.

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3 thoughts on “How to Solve Saddling fear”

  1. i am working on a mini that came into the rescue.. he is only 2 years old and is very dangerous to be around.. there dosn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason but he will start backing up and kicking at me as i walk past or even when im handling other horses out of the paddock.. he always has his ears back seems to be fixed that way.. some days hes happy to just follow me around and is interested in what ever im doing then other days he just follows only to try and lay a good kick on me.. he dose mouth sometimes but not actually bit.. if he was a mare i would say its hormones but hes a gelding so manapause lol.. any suggestions as i can’t seem to find what triggers it but i just walk away from him and show him no attention when it happens.. really bad at feed times but he know looks away and waits till i put food in his bucket before he starts eating.. but if i stand around to long he will try and get rid of me.. any ideas he can’t be rehomed until he is a gentleman and allows kids to be near him..???

  2. Hi there, since he’s only 2 and is at a rescue centre, I suspect you’ve got two issues going on here: anxiety and hormones. I don’t know his history, but I’m assuming it’s not been perfect since he’s 2 and with you, so there will most likely be some element of anxiety there in relation to people. The resource guarding around food is another symptom of this, especially if he’s suffered from any food deprivation in the past. It’s a great start that he’s able to wait for you to place the bucket down! The fact that he can’t do it for very long, simply shows that he’s finding it emotionally very difficult and his impulse control only lasts so long before he goes over threshold and has to react – basically, he’s trying as hard as he can but it’s difficult for him. Although he’s a gelding, he still has hormones and many geldings are affected very strongly by them, especially when they are young. At 2, he will be experiencing many colty hormones and play drive, all of which lead to behaviours like chasing, nipping, striking and rearing. This is how young male horses play with each other and these behaviours often come through when they are interacting with humans, as well, until they learn that it’s much more rewarding to be calm and polite with people instead.
    Don’t rush the rehoming – if you take the time to help him feel secure, confident and calm now, he will have it for life. In terms of training, I suggest you work in protected contact (where he’s on the other side of a barrier) for a while. This will keep you safe and stop you needing to react if he starts to get tense as when you react it can either trigger anxiety, which often leads to more defensive aggressive behaviours or he’ll think it’s fun as it’s triggering his play behaviours. Neither one will help him learn to be calm, so if you’re behind a barrier, you can calmly wait him out until he settles a little and reward that. As well as not escalating the situation, staying behind a barrier and letting him sort it out will really build his impulse control as he learns how to work through a situation calmly rather than simply getting worked up. This will help him hugely throughout his life as well as empowering him and building his confidence in his own abilities to problem solve through many different situations. Once he’s solidly calm and relaxed over the fence, you can go in with him and it should then be calm and safe for you to do so, and he will feel much more relaxed and confident, too.

    Other than that, I can’t go into full detail here as there are plenty of things we could look at, but do pop on the forum and join us at our monthly Q&A’s (I’m assuming you’re a member) and we’ll be able to help you with the specifics!

    It sounds like you’ve got a good start with this little guy if he’s often interested in what you’re doing and will follow you around, so keep up the good work. I’m glad he’s found you! 🙂

  3. thank you for that incite.. i have been working in a safe place behind a fence… the kicking at us is when we have to come into the paddock to tend to something… like roll out hay or catch another horse.. it dose seem to be trying to put me in my place as he tried it with the other horses and they slapped him down big time for it and so he just stands under them for shelter and leaves them alone when its feed time.. yes he was food restricted at previous home (vet told them he was to fat and to put him in a pen and only feed him a little).. so wrong….and this kicking was seen as so cute when he was little (they had him at 4 months old) but they surrendered him because they couldn’t even go in the pen.. he will never be deprived of food (exercised instead) and never be in a pen either.. if i am on the other side of the fence he is very polite now and waits and lets me lift legs and pat.. most times he is letting us touch him in the paddock but he suddenly just goes off.. i do see some cheeky looks on his face like its play and other times because he wants us to go away out of the paddock (we can’t just walk down the paddock we have to be on the other side of the fence).. he gets jealous of any attention to other horses sometimes.. and other times he is just “what are you doing”..

    I will try and get to the q&a time in August but am still leaning to navigate the site.. Hercules is his name and tazzi devil is his nature lol

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