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How can I get my horse to stop biting me every time I saddle him?

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - September 1st, 2011 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: Whenever I saddle my horse, he tries to bite me and moves around every time I cinch him up. The only way I can saddle him is to have somebody strong hold him. What can I do?
Romona Johnson, Orange CA

HEY ROMONA: If that is all he is doing, the solution to your problem may be fairly simple if you try this approach. First, begin by tying your horse in a way that if he pulls, the rope will feed with a decent drag so that the horse has to work at pulling away. There’s a few ways you can do this. You can simply throw a long rope attached to his halter over a rail and back to you so that you can control how you feed the line to him. The rail I am talking about is the top rail of an arena wall or pen, the higher the fence the better. You can also throw the end of the rope over the top rail and wrap it around the post directly below it until you achieve the desired drag or resistance. The end should be left on the ground on the opposite side of the fence. There’s also a tie-ring that you could buy at your local tack store that will do the job nicely. This should take care of replacing your helper and regaining focus from your horse back on you.

The next thing is to get yourself a 15-foot rope that you can easily twirl around and make contact with your horse’s hind end from a safe distance in order to (roll-back) him from left to right repeatedly. This will be the reward-able exercise that you will have him do when he chooses to show any undesirable action or expression you find unacceptable. It might be a good idea to physically pull on the line he is tied to, in order to check on the desired drag of the line.

Another thing you may want to practice before putting the saddle on is to throw a tarp or blanket over his back until he stands there quietly. This way, we can easily pinpoint all of the weak links in this challenge. It’s important to be aware that this can turn dangerous quickly if you are not on top of your horsemanship skills. So, this is where your judgment may keep you safe. If it looks like he is trying to hurt you in any way, attach a flag to the end of a handle to put safe distance from harm’s way. Do not attempt to approach your horse until you are sure that it is safe. Make sure your horse proves that to you. We are trying to accomplish three things:

1. Your horse learns to stand without pulling away (even if unsettled).

2. He will accept things draped over his back — like a flag, tarp, blanket or saddle.

3. Your horse should tolerate being cinched up willingly.

The only thing that is left now is to cinch up your horse and wait for him to show you how he feels about that. Taking the pad and saddle over to him and putting it on his back may seem awkward and cumbersome, especially if you feel threatened in any way. So, I suggest we throw in another step. It will be easier and quicker to put a surcingle and buckle it safely until your horse becomes more accepting of it than with a saddle. If he shows signs of resistance or attitude, this is the time to interpret his behavior as his cute little way of asking you to roll back him on the fence in order to reward him for that exercise. Continue to challenge him by loosening up the girth on the surcingle, even taking it off in order to start the process all over again. You will not want to attempt to use the saddle until he understands and accepts all these previous exercises first.

Romona, it won’t be long before your horse will recognize that standing quietly while being saddled is the smart thing to do. You might not care what you reward your horse for, but he will care.

Remember to trust your instincts and think safe,

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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