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Sacking Out A Horse by Ed Thornton

Safe Horse Safe Rider Through Education

Good weather is just around the corner and the longer day's give you time to work with your green horse.  Starting an unbroke horse is always a privilege.   You have an opportunity to build a foundation that will last throughout the horse's lifetime.  After your initial round pen work is done, sacking out your young, unbroke horse is the next step you will want to take. 

This lesson is also great for older horses to eliminate small problem areas, or holes, in their behavior.  Sacking out is a process by which you systematically expose your horse to a variety of objects so that he can overcome his natural fear of strange and scary things .   Break this exercise down into small steps and remember that it doesn't have to be done all at once.  Once you get it started you can work on it a little at a time each day or whenever you have time. 

Always start with the simplest object you want him to be comfortable with and work toward the more difficult.  Start with your hand.  Your OBJECTIVE is to be able to touch the horse anywhere you want and have him accept it calmly.   If your horse is twitching, flinching or guarding his body anywhere, work through it before you go any further.   


Ed Thornton demonstrates the round pen.Step 1.   Take the horse to an area that you can control him in, such as a round pen or arena.  You can have the halter on or not.  Of course if you have the halter on him he can't escape if he doesn't like what you are doing.  Be sure it is safe to be on the other end of the lead rope.  Put your hand on your horse's face and rub his forehead gently if he will let you.  If he pulls his head away, stop and pull your hand back and step backward one step.  This is where you start and you can not go on until he lets you touch his face.  Repeat this process until he is comfortable with your hand on his face.

Step 2.   Once the horse is comfortable with your hand on his face, move it up over his ears.  This may be another difficult area.  If so, repeat the same step as above until he lets you touch his ears.  Then move on down his neck to his wither.  Back away, to the side, so the horse will move his feet to face you.  Reach up again and rub his face and praise him for being a good boy.  Run your hand again down his neck and over his wither and onto his back.  Again stop and back away a step or two.  You may hold your hand out toward the horse's nose and kiss to him as you step backward, this will draw him to you.  Remember lots of rubs and praise.  Touch his face up over his ears down his neck to his back and to his hip and back away again.  Progressively work toward the feet using many steps to get there.  The hind feet are the most dangerous and some horses need lots of slow steps to learn to trust you touching them. 

Step 3. After you've gone over the entire horse with your hand top, bottom and both sides.  You can pick another object to get him comfortable with.  I use the lariat rope coiled in about a one square foot size to begin with and sack him out completely.  Then a saddle blanket folded about the same size.  The only difference is the blanket will be unfolded getting larger.  When you unfold the blanket you will want to be about 10 to 15 feet away from the horse with the horse looking at you so he will see you open it up.  Slowly walk toward the horse and if he starts to snort and you feel he is about to leave, stop and back away a step or two to the side.  If the horse starts to move toward you slowly approach him again until you get right up to his nose.  Then stop and back away a few steps and approach him again.  This time raise the blanket up about your shoulder height in front of his face.  You might touch his nose with it this time and immediately back away 8 to 10 feet to the side.  When I say to move SLOWLY it does not mean to TIPTOE up to or around your horse.  You don't have to walk on eggs, and you shouldn't.  Being too tentative will frighten a horse because they gain their confidence from you.  Just act normal and he will accept what you are doing.   Keep the horse's attention on you. If he starts to get bored or distracted you can kiss to him, or shake the blanket and pop it against your leg to get his attention back.  He will probably be watching you closely and following you as you back away and this is good.   Approach his face again and rub the blanket on his face.  If he is OK with that, you can push it up a little higher to his forehead then down to his nose and back away.  The more times you approach and back away, the more times the horse sees the blanket and the more comfortable he will get with it.  Continue to push the blanket up and over his head and down his neck.  A word of caution as you cover his eyes; don't go too slowly or he will get scared and not tolerate it.  He may also not like it on his ears too long either.  If he reacts enough to move his feet you have left it there to long.  Just go over these areas more quickly and repeat it until he accepts it quietly.  When you get the blanket to the horse's back you can put it in place as if you were going to saddle him up. Then step back leaving it there. Draw the horse to you and reach around to the opposite side and pull the blanket down and step back again.  Now you can start stroking him on the forehead and neck if you haven't already.  Another thing you want to do here is check out the cinch area for sensitivity.  Put the blanket in place and lay your right arm over his back and reach under him behind his elbows and gently lift against his breast.  Repeat this several times adding pressure each time. Don't forget to praise him and rub his neck. You are just getting him acquainted with pressure there.  Any reaction like ear pinning, nervous fidgeting, or threatening to bite or kick should be noted.  Do not move on until you have worked through this and he has no reaction at all to girth pressure.  Continue with the blanket until you can put it anywhere on him and he accepts it.  Even push it off his back and let it fall to the ground on both sides until he will just stand there.  

Step 4.   You can sack him out for other specific areas or items, such as for cleaning his sheath or clipping his ears etc.  Follow the same plan step by step and repeat them as necessary.  Just remember to start with the easiest object for the horse to accept and work toward the more difficult.  If the horse get too frightened and runs away from you, stop and back up in the lesson plan where the horse is comfortable and repeat, repeat, repeat until he accepts it.      

Be gentle and confident, don't tiptoe around your horse, be non-threatening and keep it interesting.  These lessons can be done over several days and should be repeated several times to ensure the horse has learned them.   If you do try it the next day and the horse has a problem anywhere, just work through it again. This will tell you that the horse hasn't learned the lesson thoroughly even though you showed it to him yesterday.  If the horse knows the lesson or step in the lesson plan he will respond correctly.   Then you will know that you have taught it to him.  Continue to teach him until he does it correctly no matter how many times it has to be repeated.  Some horses learn some things very fast and others take 2, 3, or 4 times as much.  Every horse is different, no matter the breed.  Take the time to do this lesson correctly and your horse will reward you many times over with the wonderful pleasure of his company because of his calm, confident manners. 
Be safe, have fun and remember to STAY BETWEEN YOUR HORSES EARS.


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