It can be difficult to know when, or how to introduce tack for the first time when training a young horse. Indeed, the very idea of adding tack can be so overwhelming that people put it off for far too long.
Fortunately, most horses accept tack with very few difficulties. The trick is to introduce it slowly so that the horse has time to get used to it.
The first thing to introduce is the bit. If your horse is used to wearing a halter, but is a little head-shy, you might find it easiest to try a bit without a bridle at all. While some people like to sweeten the bit with a bit of molasses, this is really a matter of personal preference.
Start out with a soft bit, such as a snaffle. Use some binder twine to tie the bit to the far side of the halter, so that it is at the level of the horse’s mouth. (You might need to tie the twine to the upper ring on the halter to make it fit properly.) Tie a second piece of twine to the near ring of the bit, so that you can tie it when you are ready.
Now, holding the horse on a lead-line, slide the bit into the horse’s mouth from the far corner. Most horses will readily open their mouths for the bit. If he does not, stick your finger into the near corner of his mouth and he should open up. Hold the bit in place for a moment, and then slip it out again. Repeat a couple of times, until he accepts the bit without fuss. Then tie the near side of the bit onto the halter so that it rests comfortably in the horse’s mouth.
While the horse has the bit on, spend some time grooming him. Try taking him for a walk. Do not apply pressure to the bit, just let him chew on it and get used to the feeling.
Next time, add the bridle. Make sure that it is properly adjusted before putting it on. Once again, just let your horse get used to the bridle, grooming him and taking him for a walk. You can put a halter over the bridle so that you don’t need to put any pressure on the bit.
To add the saddle, start out with a saddle pad. Get your horse used to having it placed over his back and moved around. When he is comfortable with the saddle pad, place you saddle on his back. Make sure the stirrups and any other pieces that might flap around are removed. Place it gently on his back, holding it so that it will not fall. Take it on and off a few times.
When you add the girth, start out with it on a loose hole. Very slowly tighten the girth so that it is snug. Do not move your horse with the saddle on if it is not tight. It is far scarier to have the saddle slip than to have a tight girth.
It is a good idea to put the saddle on in the arena the first time or two. This way, if the horse breaks away from you, he cannot go too far. Once you have the saddle on tight, you can let him go so that he can have a run around the ring. Most horses will buck a few times, or try escaping the saddle. Keep him from rolling, but otherwise let him get used to the feel of the saddle. After a while, he will settle, realizing that it is not going to fall off, no matter what he does.
Finally, you can start asking your horse to work on the longe line with his saddle and bridle on. Again, put the halter on over the bridle, and attach the longe line to it so that there is no pressure on the bit yet. Take your time and allow him to get used to everything before adding stirrups or other straps. If he is given the chance to get used to the saddle and bridle in an easy, non-confrontational way, he should accept them in readily in the long run.
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