or gentling continues the lesson "whoa" while systematically dealing
with a horse's natural fears. The term originated with the burlap gunny
sack used by many cow hands to gentle a bronc for ranch work. Actually,
sacking out begins as early as the first few days of the young horse's life
when he is initially touched by the human hand and a halter. Once the yearling
has basic respect for a handler and a halter, the trainer should begin to formally
build the horse's trust and tolerance for stress. Stress is a demand for
adaptation and is necessary for growth. Horses must learn to accept the
sights and sounds in man's world in order to be useful. A trainer should
gradually increase a horse's ability to withstand various stresses so that when
later confronted with them, the horse will be able to cope.
The flight mechanism of self-preservation which the horse has exhibited since
prehistoric times explains why the horse is wary of unusual motions, sounds, sights,
smells, and unfamiliar objects touching him. The horse's instincts tell
him to flee rather than try to fight or ask questions. Once a horse is in
a state of panic, he will often ignore all past training associations even if
they were well-learned, positive lessons. Sacking out will help avoid
a specific group of lessons to help a young horse overcome its natural fears will
pay off throughout its training. When working specifically on building confidence
in the young horse, never trigger active resistance. Do not stimulate the
individual beyond its ability to cope. If you see the horse ready to blow
up or flee, ease up and gradually work back up to his current tolerance level.
Increase the amount of stress on another day.
Although the goal of "sacking out" is for the horse to remain calm when
confronted with spooky objects or suspicious circumstances, it is undesirable
to make the horse a dullard. Sacking out can be carried to extremes and
produce a totally insensitive and unresponsive horse that ignores its environment
and even the trainer's cues. The art of horse training is to produce an
individual that is sensible yet responsive.
To begin, take the horse into a small enclosed area such as a box stall or safely
fenced pen. If the horse has previously been trained to accept restraint,
you may wish to hobble him. Whether or not you hobble the horse, always
retain control of the horse through the halter and lead rope. Do not turn
the horse loose and do not tie him to a post. Show him a soft cloth jacket
or a saddle blanket. Allow him to smell it. Then with smooth movements,
rub the jacket over the horse's neck, head, back, and croup, all the while reassuring
him with the voice that he is safe and he should remain still. Rubbing the
horse's eyes soothingly with the hand often relaxes him.
For the next step, sometimes it works well to have an assistant hold the lead
rope while the trainer walks around the horse in a large circle waving the jacket.
Increase the intensity of the flapping and decrease the size of the circle around
the horse until the horse accepts the motion and sound of the jacket in the vulnerable
areas of his head, back, belly, and hind legs. Never slap the horse with
the object you are using. This would only cause him to flinch and distrust
the object. Be sure to handle the horse from both sides to prevent surprises
that a one-sided horse might have in store for you later on.
horse seems ready to explode, stop and let him take a deep breath and regroup.
The horse is ready to move on to the next phase if you can surprise him with the
appearance of the jacket and he shows no fear. Remember to be fair.
Now, substitute a plastic raincoat or slicker and begin the process again.
The customary bright yellow of a slicker and its crackling sound may very well
send the horse back to square one. Take your time so as not to precipitate
panic. To some horses, the slicker is so frightening that it may be necessary
to leave it somewhere so that the horse can become acquainted with it in its own
time and its own way. Hanging a slicker on a fence rail might be the answer.
One old slicker of mine that no longer keeps the rider dry is good for this "self-paced-sacking".
Some horses who had great fear initially, show how well they have learned their
lesson by grabbing the slicker in their teeth and shaking it all over their heads!
Of course this is not the object of sacking out and could develop into an obnoxious
habit, but it does show the benefit of letting a horse allay its fears on its
The ultimate test is for the
rider to put on a slicker, while mounted, during a rainstorm. If the horse
is not old enough to be ridden, check his acceptance of the slicker from the ground
on a windy day.
Never tie a frightening object to a horse. Never
tie a horse to a post with a frightening object nearby. Both situations
would only serve to increase the horse's fear and could lead to halter pulling,
panic, and injury for the horse and handler.
There are other objects besides a saddle blanket and slicker which the horse must
learn to accept. Again, working in an enclosed area, swing a rope all around
the horse. Drag it on the ground so that he can see it and feel it from
all angles. Touch him on the underside of the neck, the chest and the belly
with the rope. Take care not to accidentally slap the horse with the rope.
Run the rope around each of the horse's legs, up around the front legs, and between
the hinds. Put the rope under the tail being careful not to be in a dangerous
position if he should kick in reflex. Tug on the rope. Then let your
horse learn that if he relaxes, the rope will fall away from his tail.
Use a spray bottle filled with water to prepare him for fly season. Show
him that the hissing noise of the bottle and the mist hitting his body is nothing
to fear. Other frightening objects that could be formally introduced are
electric clippers, hats, vehicles, guns, newspapers, animal hides, blood, and
If a horse allows his head
and legs to be handled, and has had other "sacking out" lessons, clipping
will not be a very traumatic experience. All that is necessary is to accustom
the horse to the sight, sound, smell, and feel of the clippers.
You can choose to introduce your horse to clippers while he is hobbled in the
round pen or while an assistant holds him. It is dangerous to tie a horse
for its first few clipping sessions. Be sure the electric cord is out of
the way of your feet and the horse's hooves. Make sure the clippers are
functioning properly, and that they have sharp blades. Dull blades pulling
at the hairs will make a most unpleasant association with clipping.
Begin by letting the horse smell the clippers. Rub the clippers on the horse's
neck with the motor turned off. Then move to the area of the bridle path
and ears. With the clippers still turned off, run them down the horse's
legs. Now turn the clippers on at a distance away from the horse.
Turn them on and off several times. Then with them off, lay them on the
horse's neck and turn them on, with the blades away from the horse's skin.
Let the horse relax to the noise and vibration on a thickly muscled area before
you move the clippers to the thin-skinned and bony area where you need to do the
clipping. You may need to work with some horses a half dozen times before
clipping can be approached routinely.
If you resort to a twitch while
clipping, you may always have to use one. Take the time to teach your horse
acceptance. Remember not to lose patience with a young horse.
Although discipline may be necessary for a horse that reacts out of willful disobedience,
a horse that acts out of honest fear requires time and training to overcome his
apprehension. A series of "sacking out" lessons will make your
horse more secure and establish a base for the safe and progressive lessons which