From “Cinchy” to Steady

With patient and reassuring horse-training techniques, you can help horses who hate to be saddled.

There can be many reasons a horse doesn’t like to have the cinch tightened. The main reasons seem to be:

1.    A fear of being hurt, usually stemming from memories of someone cinching up too quickly, causing pinching or surprising the horse.
2.    Physical pain when the saddle is placed on the horse or when the cinch is pulled snug.

The first thing I do with a “cinchy” horse is take my hands and rub/press along the spine, then down the area of the cinch, then along the ribs. I also check the neck, and across the rump and hips.

If the horse is touchy about any of these places, I try to determine whether it’s from actual pain or from worries from bad experiences. I also check the gear the owner has been using to make sure it’s suitable.

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If it’s physical pain the horse is reacting to, stretching or massaging may help ease the problem. If it’s from an injury, I’ll recommend a vet and/or a chiropractor. Getting the horse physically sound is the first priority.

Often, horses with this problem have memories of bad experiences. Either they were pinched by the cinch or were scared by the cinch being pulled too tightly and they weren’t prepared for it, or their first saddling was a wreck.

When I’ve ruled out physical discomfort, I prepare the horse for the saddle. I approach every horse, colt or going horse, as if he has never been saddled.

If I let the horse move forward when he needs to in the first part of this process, he’ll usually stand for me when I approach with the saddle.

The first thing I do is rub the back firmly with my hands. I swing my arm up and over his back to see how he reacts to something crossing over his back and landing on the other side. If he’s touchy about this, I go slowly to help him accept my arm and hand.

When my arm and hand don’t bother him, I take a coiled-up lariat rope and rub it, bounce it and swing it over his back and let it drop on the other side. I rub his neck often to keep the attention on me.

Next, I make a small loop in my lariat and lay it over his back and rump while he walks forward. When he’s relaxed in the walk, I take the loop off. Then I make another big loop and repeat the process, allowing the loop to drop almost to the hocks.

I let him step into the loop with a hind leg, bringing the rope up and down his leg while holding the loop open. When he’s feeling good about the rope on his leg and is calm, I take the rope off and pet him.

Now I make a big loop and hang it off his rump to where it’s on the ground and I can back him into it. I bring the loop up where the cinch will fit and let him feel it there as I take the slack out of the loop. When the rope is slightly snug, I relax and pet him. I pet him and give him slack before he realizes he should be scared.

I repeat this process until he’s relaxed then ask him to move forward with the rope snug around the girth.

If he worries or bucks, I want him to either look to me or change to the walk, then I give him slack again. Pretty soon, he’ll walk relaxed whether I’m holding tension on the lariat or not.

What I’m looking for is “forward” and “calm.” If the horse worries, I’d like him to look for me, and I’ll help get him out of trouble.

When the lariat rope is a non-issue around his girth, I take it off. I’m careful not to get the loop around his flanks and pull tightly. I don’t want to teach him to buck.

I approach him with the saddle pad and set it in place a few times until he is relaxed. I make sure I have a hand on the saddle pad in case he worries and sprints forward. I’d rather the saddle pad not fall off and scare him.

The saddle is next. Before I approach the horse with the saddle, I’ll make sure I can swing the saddle into place without the off stirrup banging the horse.

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Leave the pad on his back and swing the saddle up smoothly with the same rhythm. If he stands nice and relaxed, I let the cinches down. If he’s worried, I’ll work at it a bit until he’s relaxed and accepting.

When I let my cinches down, I check to see how long they need to be, make the adjustments necessary and proceed. I step to the other side of the horse, pet him on the neck and shoulder, run the back of my hand down under his girth, take the cinch and bring it up to his belly smoothly.

Hold the cinch against the horse’s belly while feeding the latigo through and snug the cinch slightly.

Being as smooth as I possibly can, I tighten the latigo. Then I let him move forward at the walk. I’ll check my cinch, make sure it’s tight enough, pet him and let him walk again.

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I’ll work through walk-to-trot transitions, ask for the hindquarters and bring the front end through, walk-to-trot transitions in the opposite directions. When he feels relaxed, I take the saddle off and end on a good note.

It’s very important with horses that have had bad experiences to end positively. The more good saddling experiences we can give them, the better they’ll be to saddle.

Brent Graef is a horseman and clinician from Canyon, Texas. Visit for more information.

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Watch an exercise demonstration from AQHA's "Fundamentals of Horsemanship" on saddling a horse. Introduction to the saddle can shape a horse's attitude for the future, so make sure the experience is a positive one!