I have a 4 year old Arabian gelding that I’ve just begun working under saddle. He has very good ground manners and has been taught how to lunge prior to being put under saddle. However, when I lunge him with the saddle on him and proceed to lunge him, it’s as if everything he’s been taught is forgotten. He refuses to trot in a relaxed manner and often breaks into a gallop.
He’s fallen a few times because he’s so out of control. I’ve been on him a few times and he’s very responsive regarding turning, backing and walking, but when asked to trot the same thing happens as on the lunge. Could this problem be due to poor saddle fit, or simply him getting used to the saddle?
The first thing I check in any training situation is the horse’s health. If his back or girth area is becoming sore from an ill fitting saddle, there isn’t a training method in the world that will make him behave. It is top priority to make sure he is comfortable with the equipment that is used on him. If you are not sure of this, ask a knowledgeable horse person, a professional saddle-fitter or call your veterinarian to check him. If you find that the saddle fits him just fine, it is most likely a training problem.
It is important to remember that every time the horse is introduced to something new, you must first find the point in training where he responds as desired 100% of the time and work up from there, slowly.
If the horse lunges well at all gaits without the saddle, and you put a saddle on him for the first time, don’t expect him to lunge exactly the same as he did without the saddle. The feeling of having a saddle on his back may be frightening to him (his instincts may tell him to run and buck. In the wild, predators – such as lions – attack horses by jumping on their backs). It is a very natural reaction for the horse to want to run.
Lunging a Horse
If the horse will lead well while under saddle, start there. Begin by taking him to an enclosed area such as a small riding arena, round pen or small paddock. Work on leading lessons until the horse is 100% comfortable leading at a walk with the saddle on. Work on all types of details such as asking him to move his shoulders over, move his hindquarters over, lower his head, lift up his head…everything you can think of. Also, try work with him on giving to pressure on the bit while saddled.
When he is 100% comfortable with this, slowly work your way towards lunging. Hold the lead rope 1 ft. from the snap and ask him to walk calmly around you in a small circle. In this small circle, practice asking him to stop, go, and change directions. The better you get at asking him to stop while he is walking on a small circle, the more control you will have when you make the circle larger.
When you feel that you have 100% control over him at this pace, start to make the circle larger, a few inches at a time. Each time you make the circle slightly larger, go back to basics and work on asking him to stop, go and change directions until he does these things well at each distance. It may take several days to get him to walk calmly in a circle while obeying your requests. Be sure that you can ask him to walk calmly in a large circle, having complete control over his movements and being able to ask him to stop whenever you want before you ask him to trot.
Continue to work slowly and allow him to take all the time he needs to understand that the saddle won’t hurt him, and to get used to how it feels on his back when he moves. With all of the work you do at the walk, he will soon be a piece of cake to lunge at a trot. If he flies out of control when you ask him to trot, it means you haven’t yet done enough ground work at the walk.