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You might notice that this post is under the category: New Traditional Training. I put this name on traditional training exercises that I have updated because of our modern understanding of humane training methods as well as horse behavior and our desire to bond, not dominate, our horses.

SAFETY FIRST! Before attempting this with an untrained horse, it’s best to experiment your method upon an older, trained horse who won’t take what you are doing with an attitude of surprise and horror 🙂 Working with an experienced horse can help you refine your approach, and give you a higher payoff sooner because he will respond faster.

Sacking Out is an old Cowboy procedure where the horse’s head would be tied to a center post in the round pen (snubbed up) and then an old sack (maybe flour or feed) would be flapped and struck against the horse’s body. The horse would have no where to go and so would finally submit to the procedure.

This de-sensitized the horse to being touched on the legs, back, belly etc… Like many “cowboy” training methods it served the purpose of getting the horse, in a short period of time, ready to work.

I have also seen this method “modernized” where the horse is in a pressure halter and forced to stand still while being sacked out. Or the horse is asked to approach the object, and when he moves, he is chased off (Roundpen methods). Personally, I don’t see that these are any more humane then the old method.

In this New Traditional Method of Sacking Out there are a couple of key differences:

1.) the horse is free of tack of any kind (when she is in halter, note how little I touch or use it);

2.) the horse is not punished if he moves away, however, he is only rewarded when he moves toward me or stands still;

3.) Clicker training with treats is used though you could go with a pat and verbal encouragement. Whatever the reward it must be meaningful to the horse.

This is the second session with Little Girl on sacking out with a saddle pad and later my Zephyr leadline. Remember, she is a horse with a low spook factor and has already been trained to stand still.

We are working in an area where she could move away – it’s important that the horse have choice to leave if he wants as his returning to the “game” intensifies his play interaction and calms any trepediation he may have. OTOH, work in an area small enough that she can re-focus on you but not so small that if the horse panicked you would get kicked or hurt.

An interesting thing that happened during this video was that she left to go back to eating hay. I considered just ending the session and shutting off the camcorder and calling it a day. Instead, I waited and tried to re-interest her by moving the pad… and waited… and waited… and she came back! Yeah! Success!

Sacking Out is very practicable: You don’t want to be tacking up your horse and when the wind blows your pad off he spooks, goes backward and breaks his tie… you don’t want to be dismounting and have a stirrup leather accidently fall off, brushing your horses’ belly and then he takes off bucking with you half off… and you certainly don’t want to long line a horse who is not comfortable with ropes touching the inside of his legs.

Some Tips for Success:

Before proceeding to a Sacking Out, make sure that your horse knows that standing still is desired.

Start out with asking your horse to target the object. The horse affirms by touch that the object isn’t dangerous and this helps alleviate his concerns.

If your horse is sensitive and has a high-spook factor, realize that this gentle approach will take much longer, but is well worth the effort.

Begin with short periods of time between the clicks. A higher frequency of clicks serves as a strong reinforcer of the correct behavior. As the desired behavior is learned, then lengthen the time between clicks.

Don’t ever try to “hide” the object or sneak up to the horse with it.

Once the horse is fully comfortable with the object then you can intensify the object’s approach by flapping, tapping, going overhead, etc… with it. Stroking areas of the body that are ticklish (legs, belly, rump etc…) can help the horse get used to the object’s movement.

If your horse becomes uncomfortable and leaves – let him. Wait until he returns and go back to targeting the object, using less movement and approaching the part of his body he feels most comfortable with you touching.

When the horse approaches the object on his own, it is a powerful, psychological win. It allows the horse free will to accept it and to become comfortable with it on his terms. IMO, the horse’s learning process peaks higher as well as it deepening the bond between the two of you when he has choice. (or at least this is my theory…)

Always end on a positive note with. Give a jackpot (favorite treats, more treats then usual) at the end and let him know you really appreciate all that he did. With a horse that has a high spook factor, your “high note” may be that he just touched the Scary Object! Take it in small steps.

With Sensitive Horses – horses that have high flight responses due to genetics, temperment, past training experiences, or abuse, you have to approach this process much slower! Keep the training sessions shorter; give larger rewards for small gains; and encourage the horse to set the pace of how much exposure he gets.

Your trust and patience will be rewarded in volumes by deepening your horses’ faith in you as a trainer who can be trusted.

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