Overcoming trauma from being started under saddle

Starting a young horse under saddle is not an easy feat, no matter how easy-going your horse is. It always takes time and a gentle approach.

But what do you do if during that process something happens? What do you do if your horse has a traumatic experience?

Meet Simone and her four-year-old mare Ocamilla, the horse that “couldn’t” be started under saddle.

Step #1: Realize why your horse is uncertain

First off: no horse is impossible to start under saddle (barring any medical issues, of course).

The first thing to think about is that no horse wants to feel tense. Tension, anxiety, and fear are all unpleasant instinctual responses that we think we cannot control.

These uncertainties are not part of your horse’s personality. It’s because they simply do not know better. 

And that’s something we can train. Through groundwork and recreating environmental pressures, we can teach our horses what to do with themselves in case something happens.

Watch that process in the video below:

Step #2: Rewrite your horse's story

There are many steps I take in order to safely start or restart a horse under saddle and we won’t be able to show them all here, but one of them is girth pressure. It’s a really important part of the process.

Often, when presenting a young horse with the girth and saddle for the first time, we’re overly careful. We’re trying to be silent, to be gentle. That works, right up until something undoubtedly happens and suddenly the girth isn’t silent and careful and the horse explodes, leaving a negative memory.

The key to overcoming trauma is to explain the elements involved with girthing, like pressure, sounds, and movements.

Discover my process here:

Step #3: Teach your horse new skills

A known issue with Ocamilla was that she panicked when getting on.

So we paid extra attention to how she was presenting herself to the mounting block. Teaching your horse to present themselves so you can get into the saddle is not only beneficial to you, but also to your horse.

It’s a physical confirmation that they’re ready to follow your commands and they’re expecting you to get on. In this way, you eliminate any element of surprise and you make sure you and your horse are as comfortable as you can be.

Watch the process here:

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