I saw this wonderful video on Horse and Country TV today, “Accepting the Saddle” . Monty Roberts is trying to get this warmblood mare to accept the saddle on her back. It’s her first time! It is clear to me after watching this video that the essential elements are trust and bonding.
Monty’s training sessions are always so educational. However, back when I was starting my Danish filly Edel, I just used my common sense to train her. Surprisingly, I used the same methods as Monty Roberts even though it was many years later that I first heard about him! Edel was easy because she immediately accepted the saddle the moment I first put it on her back. I attribute this to the fact that Edel and I had already bonded at a very early stage in her life. It was quite common for me to lead her around without a lead line! She just followed me. However, some other riders and their steeds are not so lucky. I can only say—and this is based on my own experiences—that this is probably because they are not bonded with their horses. When a horse likes to be around you and they trust you, then starting them to saddle ought to be effortless. For many people, watching Monty’s training sessions can be quite enlightening. Now, I watch his tutorials on Horse and Country TV every opportunity I get because there is always something to learn!
When did I know when Edel was actually ready to be ridden? It was Edel herself who told me when she wanted to be ridden! Yes, I listened to the horse. Of course, a number of people gave me their opinions. But my gut feeling told me to wait. Since I knew my horse better than anyone else did, then (according to me) it naturally follows that it should be me who decides when to take that first step. And that first step was dependent on the communications I received from my young horse (of nearly four years). How did it happen? I was out in the field one sunny afternoon talking to Edel—first I gently put my body against her and then I slowly pulled myself up and laid my body on top of her—she didn’t mind in the least. Later that same week, I put my dressage saddle on her (she had had that saddle on her back a few times already as well as the bridle and bit) and mounted her. Within two days I was riding Edel entirely off the lunge line in the indoor school. It was that simple: relaxed and no tension for either one of us. Even my riding instructor was amazed. From that day forward I always told people that it was so essential to be able to read the behavior of a horse because only then could one know how to proceed with every small step in the training process. And ultimately all training is based—every single step, no matter how insignificant you might think it is—on trust and bonding.
The next step, after getting accustomed to riding large in the indoor school, was to ride in the outdoor school and to hack out. We did this successfully both alone and in the company of other horses. And the very first time I hacked out with Edel, we were only accompanied by Karina, a friend of mine, who walked on foot along side us and was only there for moral support. Yes, on foot! So, Edel didn’t have a seasoned stable mate to follow—we were on our own—and my friend would never have been able to keep up with us if Edel suddenly bolted (and taking me for a joy ride). Karina had faith in me and Edel, and she kept saying, “Don’t worry, don’t worry!” Mind over matter: yes, I can do it; always think positive; and I must believe and trust in myself as well as my horse. Edel and I rode out circa 3-4 km on grassy meadows, woodland, and a quiet country rode with an occasional car passing by. Edel was not afraid of anything, and that gave me confidence too. She enjoyed the ride and so did I. I was very proud of my girl. To have such a good experience is due to having a good close and trusting relationship with one’s horse and vice versa.
Getting back to Monty Roberts’ video….notice how in the end the mare Abra “joins up” with Monty. Lovely! And this is the way it should be.
By Karin Susan Fester (c) 2014