Since about 1955, I've been searching for a better way to gain my horse's cooperation, a better way to help him reach his potential, a better way to help him perform with enthusiasm and willingness.
I know that if something hurts me, I don't want to do it and neither does my horse.
Effectively I want to encourage his performance, not discourage it.
After the first dozen or so horses that I got in for training, I began to notice that their behavior changed when the saddle change or when I rode bareback.
Bucky was one of the first. A neighbor lady called because her 14 year old buckskin grade gelding that the bought for her ten year old son kept bucking the kid off.
I went over and they saddled up Bucky and I rode him. He had a jackhammer trot, it was awful! No wonder the kid was falling off! I took the saddle off and rode him bareback, he had a smooth, comfortable trot, for a trot. Obviously better than with the saddle that they had presented him in.
The Paso Mare
Next a Paso mare came in for training because she wouldn't hold still under saddle. Quiet, willing, calm and cooperative on the ground but almost dangerous under saddle. The owner said, "After you rider her in gain for a while she gets real hyper."
I thought I knew the problem.
We took her to the arena and I hopped on her bareback, she didn't move. The owner was surprised but didn't want to admit it so I rode her in gait for a while and then asked her to stop. She stood still. The owners couldn't believe that a saddle could make that much difference.
Cindy and Ruby
A real interesting example was a lady that I'll call Cindy and her horse Ruby. Every fall Cindy and 6 of her girlfriends went trail riding for a week. They rode every day, all day long.
Cindy had to pull on her reins with all her might to keep Ruby from running. It didn't matter if Ruby was at the back of the pack or 2 miles ahead, she wanted to run. She never got tired and never quit.
Ruby was huffing and puffing, dripping with sweat and all lathered up at the end of the ride. But at the next ride, Ruby wanted to run again. Cindy was scared and Ruby was out of control.
Cindy and I worked with Ruby once a week for a couple of months. I showed Cindy how to get Ruby to relax her back and neck, lower her head and respond rather than react.
Cindy was gradually gaining control and not feeling terrified. Then Cindy and Ruby went on a long ride down a gravel road with a couple of friends. The longer they rode, the worse Ruby got. Ruby was dancing sideways, backing down into the ditch, and rearing. Back to square one it seems.
Cindy called, very discouraged and told me about the ride. I couldn't imagine what had gone wrong so I went over to Cindy's with my saddle and decided that I should ride Ruby and try to figure out what was wrong.
Cindy, on another horse, and Ruby and I walked down the road on a loose rein for an hour. Then we turned around and walked home on a loose rein. Cindy couldn't believe her eyes. Poor saddle fit was a big part of the problem.
Now I knew saddle fit affected behavior.
Originally authored in 1997 - by Nancy Wong - Gaitway Paso Finos (Trainer & Recipient of national awards in gaited Pasos)
In 2003 - Revised by Cathy Tauer
Then again in 2021 - Reprinted and revised by Lara Kronberger