Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 6-27-11
Fort Collins, Colo.
Many times I have watched folks saddle and bridle horses in a way that sends shivers up my spine. For instance, You are not comfortable in shoes that don’t fit well, I know because I am having trouble with my feet after all the years of abuse, as well as clothing that does not fit well, either too tight or way too loose. Like wise a horse feels best in a saddle that fits well on his/her back or a bit that sits snug in the corners of his/her mouth and not too short to pinch the corners of the mouth.
It is advisable for each horse to have his/her own saddle because we have gone through the process of making sure it fits. When I ran a riding stable, I had 35 saddles built the same way and it was not a problem making sure each one fit because if one saddle fit, they all did. But it is best to make sure your saddle fits properly and use a thick blanket or pad under the saddle.
I like to place the saddle well forward on the withers, then slide it back into a place in the lowest part of the back behind the withers, check to make sure the blanket is smooth on both sides. With my old bay horse, who was a good 16 or 17 hands high, with age I was unable to lift my saddle high enough to place it in the correct spot on his back. So I taught him to stand either in a low spot or walk up to a stand so I could saddle him.
Beginners should practice using both English and western saddles. The Western saddle cinch knot is more difficult to learn than fastening the billets on the English saddle but both can be mastered with a few practice sessions. Be gentle when cinching up a horse. We don’t like some one to grab our belt and suddenly pull it tight. Consideration for the horse requires that you show the same for your horse by cinching slowly, then come back and tighten the girth later. I like to check the girth before getting on.
Bridling is best taught by demonstrating the procedure because it’s some times hard to explain. Being gentle is the main point with bridling. For example, how would you like to be forced to open your mouth and a hard metal bit thrust against you gums? Or your ear twisted and pulled through leather. It takes time and gentleness to overcome some one who has been rough with a horse’s mouth and it takes a while to get them comfortable with being bridled.
Most horses will open their mouth if the handler will press the thumb of their left hand on the bars of the mouth.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.