Unfortunately, most of the time, classic horsemanship leaves no place to such desensitizing, which eventually leads to problem horses: fidgety horses, animals moving when you come with the saddle, others biting when you cinch up, etc.
There are three steps in desensitizing a horse to the saddling process: the pad, the saddle, the cinch.
All the time you will spend to do the following work with your horse is an investment that will be rewarded a hundred times. Think about that: you will ride your horse for more than 15 years, so what about spending a couple of hours to get it used to such important pieces of equipment?
1 ) horses learn when you release pressure.
2 ) timing is essential to good horsemanship, recognize the signs of relaxation to make sure you release right on time: blinking eye, lowering the head and neck, chewing mouth, cocking a hind leg.
If you work with a very green horse, or if you start a colt, make sure you have been through the fundamental groundwork first. You want your horse to be respectful and to trust you when you approach it with a pad or a saddle. In any case, always keep the horse in a halter and lead rope that you will hold. Do not tie your horse as we want it to feel at ease, it should have the possibility to move around, even though we want to teach it to remain still and calm… remember one of the natural horsemanship principles: make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult, but not impossible!
Saddle pads and blankets
Consider the following: how would you have liked your riding teacher come behind you and throw a helmet on your head without any warning? It could have been quite surprising, maybe unpleasant.
So, position yourself in front of your horse and approach gently the pad or the blanket, say 20-30 cm away from its nose.
From there, let your horse do the work: it will analyze, then get closer step by step, smell and maybe taste the blanket. Once it went through that process, you can move to its flank.
Some horses will start to walk in order to move away from the pad, do not rush, just keep walking toward its flank, holding the pad. Bring it close enough so you just touch your horse with the tip of the blanket. As soon as your horse stops and shows one of the relaxation signs, take the pad away and rub your horse.
Repeat the process until your horse stands still when you raise the blanket over its back, then lay the pad down and shake it on your horse’s back. That will probably make it walk and move away: remain consistent, keep shaking the pad until your horse stops, calms down and shows a sign of relaxation.
Pretty soon you will be able to throw the blanket over its back and shake it firmly without a problem.
Same approach: bring the saddle close to your horse’s nose and let it get in touch. Remember to consider your horse’s point of view.
““I want to strap some hide of other dead animals around you before I crawl on you” […] it’s gotta to believe in you to let you do that!
Buck, Buck Brannaman
Once the saddle is on its back, your horse might walk or move away from you. Walk with it and let it stop, do not try to stop it. After a while, the horse will stop, calm down and show one of these relaxation signs: that will be the exact moment when you should take the saddle off! Repeat the process, everytime leaving the saddle a little longer, petting and rubbing the horse once the saddle is on.
Cinches and girths
The last step of the saddling process is to fasten the cinch or the girth around your horse. When starting a colt, you should prepare it to that pressure around the belly. See how to desensitize a horse to the rope.
After this desensitizing process, your horse will accept a lot faster the girth to be tightened up around its belly. Yet, I strongly advise to take the habit to consider that nothing is acquired for sure! So, take a few seconds to pull gently on the cinch and wait for a relaxation sign, then release and rub your horse. Doing so two or three times before EVERY saddling will educate your horse to remain as still as a statue when you saddle it.