Are Saddle Pads Scary?

Rosie and I played with a saddle pad for the second time yesterday. In traditional horse training, many horses will learn to put up with saddling without truly ever accepting the process. Or, through rough handling, they later learn to resent the act of being saddled. I want Rosie to like being saddled and to know that the saddle and pad are harmless. Also, I want to go about teaching her this in a stress-free way. By using clicker training, I can set her up for success so that she wants to participate in the training process.


(From L to R: Maggie, Rosie, Me, and Shiloh)

I started first by flapping and waving the saddle pad around a bit, something we hadn’t really worked on before. I started slowly so she wouldn’t be startled and rewarded her for standing calmly. Once I could wiggle it gently near her side, I wiggled it harder, then shook it, then waved it around. By training in small increments, she gradually becomes desensitized to the saddle blanket without any spooking or fear.

Next I practiced putting the pad on and off of her back, something we had done before. I went slowly at first, lifting the pad and gently placing it on her back. Since she was mostly okay with this, I started doing it not as carefully. After a dozen times or so, I could throw the pad on her back in one fast motion without her being bothered at all. Again, we went gradually, with lots of clicks and treats!

Finally, I worked on rubbing the saddle blanket all over her body. First, around her back and whithers, which we had done before. Then, we moved to other parts of her body–her shoulders and chest, under her belly, her legs, her hindquarters, even up her neck and over her head.

As long as I went slowly, she was okay with all of this, until we got to her head and ears. She wasn’t too sure about having that big western pad over her ears! So, I backed off a bit, and we can work more on that next time. We worked a bit more on rubbing the pad over the rest of her body and then quit on a good note. Next time we’ll probably start playing with a bareback pad, so that she can get use to feeling things under her belly. (See here what happens when Rosie and I start playing with a bareback pad.)

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