There are many reasons a horse may try to bite or misbehave while saddling. I will outline 3 of the most common reasons below, along with tips for re-training your horse to accept saddling better.
3 Most Common reasons for Misbehave while saddling
It will be your responsibility to find out which reason may apply to your horse and train him accordingly.
1. A very common reason for misbehavior is poor saddle fit.
You should investigate this area before trying to re-train him for the situations below. If the saddle fits poorly, there is nothing you can do to make the horse believe otherwise. In this case, the horse is not really ‘misbehaving‘, he is simply telling you that he does not like the way your saddle fits him. Many horses misbehave during saddling when they are anticipating that the following ride is going to be an uncomfortable one. If you suspect this may be the problem, set up a consultation with a professional saddle fitter right away.
You should not continue riding in a saddle that is uncomfortable for your horse, it would only make him miserable. A professional saddle fitter will be able to check for any pressure points the saddle is causing and re-stuff the panels accordingly.
2. The horse may have had bad past experiences.
This is usually the result of a handler/trainer pushing too hard or by creating an uncomfortable experience with the horse when riding or when breaking him to ride, however, the behavior may be from a variety of conditions. If the bad behavior is due to bad training, uncomfortable or unreasonably long rides, the horse quickly learns that an unpleasant experience directly follows the tacking up process. He may even learn that the saddling process itself is unpleasant (if you are not gentle while saddling). If this is the case, you will have to re-train the horse to accept handing in the girth and saddle area, as well as train the mental side of him to learn that what follows saddling isn’t neccessarily uncomfortable.
To teach the horse to accept handling in the girth and saddle area, use the exact same methods as described in our Sensitizing and Desensitizing article. Read that article and pay attention to the Desensitizing methods in it.
Horse no longer misbehaves
You will have to apply contact or pressure to the girth area and continue to steadily apply that contact or pressure until your horse stops fussing. The instant the horse stops fussing and stands still, you release the pressure and move on to different part of his body that he likes to have touched. Wait at least 30 seconds, then go back to the girth area again and repeat. This should be repeated daily until the horse no longer misbehaves when pressure is applied to the girth area.
The horse learns that if he stands still and doesn’t fuss or misbehave, that you will immediately stop bugging him in that area. Soon, you will be able to rub his girth area and apply pressure with your hand without him misbehaving.
You can do this same exercise with the saddle. You put the saddle on the horse’s back and continue your normal routine right through the fussing. As soon as the horse stops fussing and stands still, take the saddle off and put it aside for a minute. Then, repeat this until you can put the saddle on and tighten the girth without the horse misbehaving.
As for the mental part of the training, you will have to prove to your horse that you will not push him too hard, nor confuse him. This can only be achieved by studying what works and what doesn’t. Begin to be aware of when you can push and when you should stop. Do not make riding unpleasant for him, it is your job to make him as comfortable as possible
3. Your horse may not like the girth area being touched.
Some horses just have sensitive sides or a sensitive girth area. Others may just be ‘touchy’. If your horse often flinches, attempts to bite, rear or misbehave in any other way when you touch the girth area with your hand or when you brush the area, you will have to re-train him to accept it and to believe that it is not so bad allowing you to touch the area, and in most cases that it can be pleasant.
I learned this method when I was attending a John Lyons’ clinic on head-shy horses and at first I thought…how could this work? Then, he went on to demonstrate for us how and why it works, and the pieces fell together! I have used it on several horses since then, and it has worked wonders.
The basic idea is: if you touch or run your hand across a spot on your horse so quickly that he doesn’t realize you’ve done it until a second later, he will not have the time to react or misbehave. By the time he feel’s he should react, your hand is already gone from that area.
For example, let’s say your horse doesn’t like his flanks touched.
When you touch his flanks, he swishes his tail and moves away from you. You should start with your hand gently stroking the horse’s back, then for a split-second, run your hand lightly over the horse’s flanks, then return to his back immediately. In this example, the horse did not have time to misbehave, since your hand was only on his flanks for less than 1 second. The next time you do this, you will slow your hand down ever-so-slightly.
When you run your hand over that area for a split second, the horse doesn’t realize you’ve done it until a second later. By the time he realizes you have touched him in that spot, you’re hand is already gone…he then thinks “Well that wasn’t so bad!”.
If you think your horse will start misbehaving when you’ve had your hand on the area for 2 seconds, then only touch the area for 1 second. If you think he can tolerate it for 10 seconds, only touch it for 9 seconds. This is basically teaching the horse that what you are doing is alright, that it doesn’t hurt and that it is not unpleasant. As long as you remove your hand from the area before he becomes upset, the training will progress nicely. Pay close attention to your horse’s movements and anticipate when he will start to become upset. You will be able to begin to leave your hand in the area for a second longer each time, and finally, once the training has progressed enough, you will be able to touch the area for any amount of time.