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Feet Alive

When preparing a young horse to be saddled many people go through a process that they call “sacking out.” I am not sure I like the term but it is commonly used and mostly understood. This term generally means a process of getting a horse to accept different scary objects, such as tarps, flags, slickers, ropes and so on in order to get it saddled and to “desensitize” it. This “sacking out” can take on a wide variety of forms, but often the horse is restricted in some fashion, either tied or hobbled.

There are two thoughts I would like to share about this “sacking out” process.

  1. The main goal is to build incremental tolerance to pressure.

  2. A horse learns tolerance to pressure best by moving his feet.

When I prepare a horse for the saddle, I don’t think of it as sacking him out, or as forcing him to take the pressure. In reality, I am pursuing multiple goals such as arc in his body and softness in his nose, but it can look like “sacking” to the untrained eye. The main objective is to create enough confidence in him so he will safely tolerate me saddling him. A confident horse is the goal, in every step of the journey.

The fastest, safest way to prepare a horse for a saddle (commonly called “sacking”) is to allow him to move his feet. While flagging him I will let him walk, trot or even lope around me. Bear in mind that I do this from the back of another horse. I want the horse to feel like he can get away from the pressure. When his tempo slows I back the pressure off. Often he will quickly learn that it is much easier to walk or stand while I am sacking him. What happens mentally is that he learns he can move with a scary object on him, beside him or even underneath him. He learns that this is ok. He also learns that stopping is a good thing and a way to be released from pressure (this works in my favor for building a stop in the future). Side note: Some horses for a variety of reasons are locked down and won’t move. This must not be mistaken as acceptance. A horse needs to move with pressure before he stands with pressure. And when he moves and then stops, his stop is his idea and as a result, he remembers it much faster.

Generally, I dislike complete restriction of movement while I am sacking. When a horse feels like he can’t get away it often creates an explosion later down the line when he can move his feet. If there is a horse that just shuts down mentally, or has been spoiled or has a huge fear/flight response I really prefer a single foot hobble. By taking a front foot up the horse can move but he has to really work at it and quickly looks for a solution other than running away. Which then becomes his idea.

We all want a horse to quietly accept a saddle and tolerate scary objects. My hope is that whatever method you use to achieve this, you remember that a horse gets confident while moving his feet.

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