Case study

How to saddle your horse without tension?

Bonny brought me her gelding Kanshebber, a sweet horse that wants to please but gets stuck in his own insecurities, especially during and after saddling. Bonny describes the problem here:

Letting go of tension is a physical feeling.

Part of the progress is encouraging the horse to move, meaning that you have to take the horse out of the restrictive environment of cross ties.
This horse specifically had a tendency to shrink back whenever he felt insecure, drawing into himself. So with the saddling, I wanted to encourage him to move forward and to open up his front legs, opening up his body in the process.

Don't focus too much on getting things done.

Another takeaway from this lesson is that sometimes we’re too focused on getting things done. 

This is often done with the best intentions, but it’s not helping your horse. When you’re too busy trying to do the right thing, you’re actually drawing attention to the thing your horse finds the hardest, like how Bonny focused on girthing correctly but instead making it worse for her horse.
As soon as Bonny was distracted from the saddling itself, her horse relaxed because he felt less drawn to the points of pressure and tension

Connect the dots for your horse.

Once the saddle is on, we want to work on replicating the things we’ve been practicing without saddle.
When doing the girth up, you want to draw your horse’s attention towards himself. Let him become aware of the fact that he can relax his own body.
To help the horse with the tension in his front leg, we want him to think of the patterns again. You want your horse to move towards the pressure, the opposite side of where you’ve done the girth up.
With the patterns, we’re encouraging the horse to move forward, to open up his front legs and find his balance through movement.