Training & Services

Sacking Out Part 1 – The First Touch

By Ann Kirk

Hello again! It is Summer and we are in the middle of the best riding of the year. Whether you have a good seasoned horse, a young one you are starting to train or one that is less than ideal, these next lessons can help teach your horse more self-control. I’m looking forward to sharing with you another step to increase safety and improve the connection with your horse.

How did you like the last lesson? I know it can seem like the horse will never get it but, trust me, I have taught this lesson to lots of horses and it works on all breeds (including donkeys and mules), all ages and all genders. It also has taught me more patience and better timing every time I’ve taught it. So don’t give up for it is a critical foundation to build upon.

Now, theoretically, we have not yet touched the horse. I know that most of you are working with horses that you can catch, move to the round pen to work and then catch to put away. But some may be working with Mustangs or horses that have not been handled much and touching or catching them is not so easy. Or they are fine with you but seem suspicious of anything you have in your hand or anything out of place. It also does wonders for problems with fly spray or baths. This lesson will provide a starting point for eliminating these concerns.

You will need your lariat or lunge line and your hands. Your horse should be loose in the round pen. When you enter, he should turn to face you and stay looking at you without moving off. If your horse takes off or ignores your cue to turn and face, you must work on the previous lesson until he is solid enough to stop and face you on command. If you do not have the stand and face cue solid, you cannot effectively teach the next several lessons.

When the horse is standing solid and facing you, you can begin your approach. You want to keep your motivation tool in your hands in case you need to move him off and reset him. But the goal is to only approach as far as he is comfortable in the beginning. So if you can get to within 10 ft but he would leave at 9, turn and walk away at an angle and ask him to turn to face up before you start again. Every time you approach (on a concerned horse) it raises the emotions and when you walk away, the emotions go back down. By walking away, you let the horse know that is all you wanted for that moment and he will get more confident in your approach. Keep working closer and closer until the horse will let you stand directly in front without moving away.

The first place I want to touch my horse is on the face between the eyes. I am very diligent about handling a horse’s head so I start there. Also, it is the farthest from the hind feet! If I can teach the horse to look at me and let me walk up and pet its face, I can be certain it is not going to run away. It is hard to catch a horse that is afraid or just bad about having its head controlled so I spend a lot of time making sure that is good. There have been a few horses that the shoulder was the first touch but I never quit until the face is first.

When you’re relatively certain the horse will stand, raise your hand as you approach the horse. This can raise the emotions again. You may have to make your approach progressive and repeat until your horse will stand when you approach with your hand raised to touch him. When able, pet the face briefly and walk away. Remember, horses learn on the release of pressure so, if you raise your hand and the horse seems concerned, keep your hand up without touching him but don’t leave until he shows signs of relaxing. If the horse backs away from you, just slowly follow him with your hand still up until he stops his feet, then walk away. If the horse turns to leave, step to the side and cue him back with the “kiss”. If he continues to leave, move him a few steps, a few trips or a few minutes of turns to reset his feet and get him to try harder. Then ask for a little less and build upon it until you can consistently walk up, pet his forehead and walk away.

This will give you the starting point for next month’s lesson on working the whole horse. Again, I realize that most of you won’t have problems touching your horses but for those who are frustrated with your horse’s fear or struggle with catching your horse, this is the best lesson and will give you years of enjoyment. Until next month, have fun and be safe.

For more information on Ann Kirk and her Sensible Horsemanship Programs, go to And check out the Sensible Round Penning DVD now available! You can also sign up for a Sensible Horsemanship Clinic or Private lessons.

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