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Horse panics when I put saddle panniers on

I've got a seven year old gelding that I've had for a couple of months. I bought him to ride at home and to use for packing out elk for short distances in the mountains.

We've been getting along fine in our daily rides around our place (40 acres in the foothills in Wyoming).

The guy I bought him from said he had been used in the mountains before and I believe him.

Several days ago I got out my saddle panniers to try him out with them. I assumed he had been used with them before (bad move on my part) so I didn't take any special precautions. When I put them on I could tell he was uncomfortable, so I brought him to the round pen to continue getting him used to them.

I let him look at them, smell them, showed him how they made noise, etc. and he seemed comfortable, then when I put them back on, he got excited and began circling the pen rapidly. I got him to stop, removed them and continued to try to get him used to them for a couple more minutes, then unsaddled him, groomed him
and turned him out.

Today I rode him for about an hour, then got the saddle panniers out to try him again.
I let him look, smell them, I made the noises they make when being used, etc., then put them on the saddle. This time he panicked, and took off around the round pen at a run, and I had to get out of the way, couldn't stop him until he got really tired.

I'm know I'm not very experienced with horses but I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Any suggestions?

Hi C.H.,

Sounds like you are doing most everything right. Try sacking him out even more with the bags. In other words, without a saddle on the horse and then with a saddle on the horse, rub him all over with the bags. Get to the point you can throw them up in the air a bit so the land on the the horse. Anything else you can think of to add to the sacking out process try to do. Do this more than you might think neccessary. It sounds like these are western saddle panniers as opposed to regular panniers of the type that you use with say a Decker Pack Saddle. The girthing is different with a notmal pack saddle. Western saddle panniers are relatively new. Regular pack saddles frequently have breeching straps, two girths to snug and feel very different than a western saddle to a horse. This may be part of the problem. These packs may not feel as secure to the horse (I'm of course guessing at this). Also, normal pack saddles (panniers) are easier to balance because they are separate for each side and can be easily individually weighed. They are frequently tied on more securely as well. All of these things may make a difference. The western saddle packs (panniers) I have seen were either bright orange or yellow. 'Normal' panniers are drab colors (grey canvas, etc.). This may make a difference as well. These are all just possibilities. I would suggest you investigate by trying other types of panniers and perhaps a Decker or some other type traditional pack saddle. Letting the horse run (hopefull not too panicy) until he tires himself out may work as well, although it is not a method I whole-heartedly suggest as the horse could still 'blow' unexpectedly. Ask the previous owner exactly what sort of pack equipment he had used with the horse. That might be good information to have. Good Luck and be careful.

Sincerely, Franklin

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