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My horse won't let me buckle his saddle!


I am a 15 year old girl who just bought my first horse, Diego, a beautiful 7 yr. old black and white pinto. We bought him about 3 months ago and I have only ridden him once. His problem is that he kicks his hind leg up at me when I try to buckle the cinch on his saddle. He has always been fidgety, and we were planning on getting him gelded and thought that when we did, it might help settle him down a little and he wouldn't be so jumpy. Well, we got him gelded about 2 months ago, and his overall attitude is a bit calmer, but he still kicks at me when I reach for the cinch. I'm not very experienced with horses (I've only been riding for about 2 or 3 years) so I had a friend saddle him up for me and Diego didn't even kick at him! I was surprised and happy that I finally got to ride him, but the next time I tried to put the saddle on, he kicked at me again! I couldn't ask my friend to help because he lives out of town, so I don't know what else to do.

I have been dreaming about having my very own horse for all of my life, and now that I have Diego and I can't ride him, it just drives me crazy! I hope you can help.

Thanks a lot! Amy

Hi Amy,

Congratulations! Getting your first horse is quite a milestone in your life. Let's see if I can help you get more on track.

First off, I want to suggest that you always have as your overall goal the successful relationship and bond you have with Diego. If you have as your bottom line agenda that Diego trust that he is safe with you, you will have a much better chance at having the kind of successful outcomes you want with him. This may mean that you have to understand and accept that he will only be as confident and assured that all is OK, as you are. Horses are our mirrors and reflect back to us, by their behavior, whatever is presented to them. If the handler is experienced, self-assured and confident, so is the horse. You saw evidence of this when your friend had little difficulty in saddling Diego, but he continued to be insecure when you attempted to do the same thing. His insecurity showed up in his kicking out a bit when you tried to cinch him up. He is not doing anything to you. He is merely protecting himself. He was probably not introduced to the saddle and girthing process that well when he was first 'started under saddle' and is left with this bit of insecurity. There are several ways to deal with this.

Probably the best way to resolve this substantially is to find someone who can re- introduce the horse to the saddling and girthing process in the appropriate way. This type of rehabilitation works very well is fairly quick and lasting. The downside is you need to find someone who can appropriately do this for you. Perhaps your 'friend' has the skills to do this. You would learn a tremendous amount by just watching this process. I teach folks this all the time as it is basic to gentle horse training.

Another way to deal with this is which may be a quicker fix but not as permanent, is to have someone hold up one of the horse's legs when you reach under him to get his girth and slowly begin to snug it. You might have your friend go really slowly and try to show you why the horse does not get nervous when they cinch him up. Over time, if you are never inappropriate in how you girth the horse, he may come to understand that you can do this appropriately and not hurt him. If you are pretty good at picking up your horse's feet to clean them, you could probably life up his left front with your left hand and reach for his girth with your right. However, you would have to put the foot down in order to cinch him up. Because he may still kick out a bit, you might want to have a second person there with you for a while when you do this. Please remember your horse has some fear around being cinched up and this means you must take extra care and always assess his comfort level while you are girthing him or doing anything else for that matter. He is innocent and not bad, he is merely fearful of being hurt by someone he senses is unsure and not confident in the process that is being done to him. As he was a stallion, I would imagine his 'sheath' was cleaned and handled a lot. He may associate you trying to girth him with his sheath being handled. This could also be in the mix of the problem.

Your horse was a stallion for a long time. Whether he was bred much makes a difference in his behavior. If he was a mellow stallion, for the most part he should be a mellow gelding. Gelding a horse beyond the age of three is no guarantee that all of a sudden his personality will completely change. Much of the stallion behavior (all behavior for that matter) becomes habitual over time. Horses habituate very quickly. His kicking (is it a kick to the rear or a 'cow kick'?) is becoming a habit or may already be one. Old habits are hard to break for all of us. Again, this is where good solid training techniques can make a real difference. How is he around mares and other horses in general? Does he show any additional stallion like behavior? I would be interested to know. Also, the more games and fun you can have on the ground with him the better. Have someone teach you a lot of ground play activities. This is really where your relationship should begin, not in the saddle. The ground activities really get your horse in tune with you and you him. They build trust, communication awareness, sensitivity and a host of additional qualities that will enhance your relationship with Diego.

The way to have avoided this problem for you was to buy a horse that had not been a stallion so long and perhaps didn't come with any 'baggage'. But if this is the only problem you are having with the horse, you are doing quite well. The goal to have might be to make certain this does not get any worse and, in fact, gets remedied ASAP by a professional trainer or someone you know who has the skill to retrain the horse. It will get worse if you keep trying to make it happen for you w/o assistance. The horse senses your apprehension and uncertainty. This makes him nervous and wanting to fend for himself (kicking out). This is a relatively easy problem to correct though and I wouldn't feel too challenged by it. Ask for assistance, watch and learn. This is how you will gain the experience that only time and education can bring.

By the way, I am free to travel to teach and train and shall be going to at least five states and Alberta, Canada over the summer and fall. Perhaps there may be interest in your area for me to come there and do a 2 or 3 clinic. Please let me know what you think about that.

I hope I have been helpful. Keep me posted as I am very interested that your first horse experience be a wonderful one. Remember, the horse is always innocent and never bad or wrong. They do get fearful very easily and act out of that fear. I always have as my overall goal the peace and feelings of safety I can bring to the horse. This really sets me up as the 'great leader of the dance' between the horse and the human. Good Luck!

Sincerely, Franklin

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