THEORY AND METHOD
Before I put a saddle on my horse, I like to expose them to the feel of a cinch. Anytime you can break a process down into smaller steps, there is a great chance of success!
By using a length of rope, you can easily simulate cinching in a progressive fashion. If you were to just put your saddle on, you'd have to cinch up tight enough to ensure that the saddle did not slip. If you failed to do that, you'd be in for a potentially BIG wreck. A saddle slipping under a horse's belly not only often means the end of your saddle, but can ruin a horse physically and mentally. I've seen horses get rear legs hung up in the stirrups once they've slid underneath, and come crashing down. I've seen horses go through fences in a blind panic. It's never a good situation! With this rope method, you have the option of putting as much or as little pressure as you want, from a safe distance.
Basically, all you need is a long soft length of rope with an eye on one end. Place the eye over the horse's back, reaching under the belly to pull the rope back towards you. It is important that you place the rope on the horse in this manner. If you set it up the opposite way, the rope doesn't loosen as quickly when you release pressure. Remember to change the set up of the rope when you work on the other side of your horse. If you've done your homework, this shouldn't be a big deal, after all, your horse is used to things much scarier than a rope being tossed over his back!
While the horse is standing, I like to put light pressure on my "cinch" to just check his reaction. If he starts to move off, or get agitated, I maintain the light pressure, but start stepping his hips away from me. When his expression starts to soften, I give the horse an opportunity to stop. If he does, I release the pressure. If not, I move the hips for a while more. Eventually, I want to get to the point where I can put some pressure on the "cinch" and my horse doesn't bat an eye.
When the horse has mastered this preliminary step, I do the same thing while having the horse walk and trot around me in a circle. I start at a walk, using just light pressure, and progress until my horse can do a forward trot with quite a bit of pressure without getting upset. If at any point, he does get upset (you may see him get nervous, quick and choppy, try to bolt, or maybe buck), I simply hold the pressure until he changes. When he slows down, quits bucking, or relaxes, the pressure comes off. What you don't want to do is quit while your horse is upset; if you aren't confident enough to stick with it the whole way, don't start!
Being confident in your abilities is especially true for this next part. I like to work my horse's with a flank rope. It prepares them for a rear cinch, for my leg, for branches brushing up against them on the trail. Most importantly, it teaches the horse that bucking doesn't relieve him of any pressure. The concept and execution are exactly the same as before, but the likelihood of a reaction from your horse is much higher. If you aren't a good hand with a rope, or can't deal with a nervous bucking horse, don't do this one!
Please use caution and common sense. Horses are large animals, with an exceptional amount of power and strength. They are also concerned above all with their own personal safety, and will do whatever they feel it takes to keep themselves from harm. Being individuals that act and react differently, the only certainty you have when working a horse is uncertainty. I am a professional trainer with twenty plus years experience, yet even with the knowledge I possess, I still get hurt from time to time. This blog and the accompanying media are for entertainment purposes only. No responsibility will be assumed for injuries or damages incurred while trying to use these methods at home. Please ride responsibly; protective gear can save your life!