THEORY AND METHOD
I introduce the saddle after I have made the first ride. As I said in earlier posts, I feel that riding bareback keeps me honest in my ground training, and reduces the risk of injury once I'm up on the horse. So, for my purposes, putting a saddle on doesn't need to be done very early in the training (of course, it can be... the more your colt is exposed to, the better!).
If you've gone through all the steps we've talked about earlier, this should be a non-event. You colt should already be used to you sacking him out with novel objects, so a saddle and pad is nothing! He is already used to the cinch because you've done your work with the flank cinch. I feel this is very important. Many people (myself included for a number of years) will throw a saddle on the horse, and then turn them loose to just buck and run and carry on until they settle and accept the saddle. I never want my horses to buck with a saddle on. Ever. Getting them used to the saddle in this way sets that precedence.
So, to begin, I place all my tack (my saddle, blanket, cinch, and breast collar if one is being used) in my arena. I'll do my ground work around the tack, completely ignoring it, but letting my colt get closer and closer. I'll then send the horse up to the tack and allow him to investigate it. If he feels like he needs to touch, lick, even chew the saddle, I'll let him (I designate a special saddle just for colts for this reason!).
Once the colt has explored a bit, I'll go ahead and tack him up. I try not to 'tip-toe' around him as that just tends to make the colt think there is a reason to be nervous. Just like when I'm sacking the colt out, I'll toss the saddle blanket on and off over the back a few times before settling it in place. Then I'll put the saddle on. Swing it up politely and gently, but again, don't tiptoe around. Put your stirrups and cinch up over the seat so they don't bang on the off side. Rock the saddle around a little so the horse can get a feel for it moving.
If your colt is really nervous with all this, don't cinch up yet. Rock the saddle gently until he either relaxes or stands still for ten seconds. Pull the saddle and blanket off. Repeat the whole procedure, starting with the blanket all over again. Keep taking the tack on and off until you notice a change in behavior; a relaxed, quiet appearance.
As long as everything is going well, you can cinch up. Use caution crossing in front of the colt, in case, in spite of all your preparation, he jumps or spooks. Cinch up tight enough that it will not slide, but not overly tight. Again, assess your horse. If he looks like is is ready to blow, very nervous, or maybe he freezes up, then you aren't ready for the next step. You should at this point put the cinch on and off, multiple times, gradually getting tighter each time.
When you colt can tolerate you saddling and cinching him up, start your basic ground work. Remember, sometimes even with all your prep work, the colt will still buck and carry on. Hopefully, you can influence his feet enough to keep him under control. Keep your colt moving in a circle, yield his hips, change directions and speed frequently. The more he has to pay attention to what you want, the less time he has to pay attention to the 'horse eating monster' up on his back. Work your colt until he seems comfortable with the saddle, then end your session on a good note.
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!