I've saddled up a fair amount of horses and ponies over the years. Each of which had its own personality as well as likes and dislikes. No day was the same as any other and sometimes even the most relaxed horse was in a bad mood. So here are some tips to help you saddle up without too much fuss:
1. Start learning to saddle up within your first month of riding.
There's nothing worse than people who want to enjoy the pleasure of riding but aren't prepared to put in the slightest bit of effort as far as grooming and tacking up is concerned. It's all part of the learning experience and your instructor can't do this for you forever.
2. Some people choose to start with the bridle while other prefer fitting the saddle first.
This comes down to personal preference and the nature of the horse. If your horse has a habit of "running away" from you when you are trying to saddle up, it might be helpful to start with the bridle. Place the reins over the horse's neck and loop your arm through them so that your horse can't avoid you.
3. Some horses through their heads up in the air.
There are a few things that you can do about this. Firstly, remain calm. Your calm approach will be far more productive than a nervous or frustrated one. Approach slowly, greet your horse and position yourself on his left side with your right shoulder just in front of its left shoulder. Hide the bridle behind your back if need be. Use your right hand and start at your horse's left shoulder. Stroke your horse's neck and progress upwards. Don't ever just reach up above a horse's head. They might just spook. Many horses lower their heads if you rub their necks. As you reach the top of his head, slowly bring the bridle forward and slowly place the reins over his head. Rest your right forearm between your horse's ears and take hold of the top of the bridle. Use your left hand to encourage your horse to open his mouth. As soon as he opens his mouth to accept the bit, gently pull upwards with your right and to slide the bridle into place.
If your horse is extremely difficult, you might need to gain their trust with a little treat. If a horse refuses to take the bit, you can use your fingers to press down on their tongues softly. It will enable a slight gag reflex and forces them to open their mouths without a fight. If you do this a few times, they soon learn to accept the bit without any problems. Always make sure that you are using the correct bit for your horse and make sure that it is the right size too. Along with the bit size, make sure that the bridle is correctly adjusted. Too many creases on the corners of your horse's mouth indicate that the bridle is too small and needs adjusting or replacing if you can't adjust it sufficiently. No creases indicate that the bridle is too loose or too large and needs adjusting or replacing.
Horses have incisors, canines, premolars and molars just like us. However, they are spaced very differently with a small gap between the incisors and canines and a large gap from the canines to the premolars. You do NOT want to get bitten by this powerful jaw!
4. There are a few tricks to remember when fitting a saddle.
Firstly, many horses have a nasty habit of biting when the girth is being tightened. There are a few things that you can do to prevent being bitten. Start by making sure that there isn't anybody else in or too close to the stable. You don't want your friends to get bitten either! Adjust the numnah (soft padding under the saddle) to fit properly under the saddle before placing them together on the horse's back. Some people prefer placing the numnah on the horse and then positioning the saddle on top. However, if your horse takes a couple of steps when you go fetch your saddle, the numnah could shift or even fall off completely. Place the saddle and numnah correctly on the horse's back and gently lower the girth. Adjust the length of the girth and make sure that it is as long as possible. Make your way to the other side of your horse and slowly grab hold of the girth. Check its position to make sure that it rests just behind the front legs. Thread the saddle's leather straps through the buckles on the girth. Now here's the trick: when tightening the girth, pull on the leather saddle straps. Pull them towards your chest or stomach before pulling in an upward direction. This will pull the girth away from the horse's belly before tightening and reduce the chances of pinching your horse. Tighten the girth further on the other side again. Remember, once you get on, you will need to tighten the girth further because your body weight pushes the saddle down. Also keep an eye on your horse the entire time! I've noticed that by watching their heads as I'm saddling up, I've avoided ever getting bitten! If they turn to bite you, stand your ground and block them with one of your hands.
This horse is saddled and ready to go. Notice, the Western saddle. It's position is the same as an English saddle but the design is completely different. Not to mention, it weighs heaps more too!
Do note that I'm referring to an English saddle in my remarks above. A Western saddle is a completely different "ball game" but you shouldn't have any pinching issues due to the very different design and method used to saddle up.