by Annamaria Tadlock
Sacking out is based on a basic
principal that horses, when slowly and calmly introduced to "scary"
objects, will learn to no longer fear those objects when they realize
they are harmless.
Every horse should be sacked
out in its life; it helps to make a horse safer, especially in a tense
situation. For example, I have seen horses tear down fences because they
became afraid of a rope caught around their legs, a bag blowing, or some
other 'scary' object. A horse that is sacked out doesn't panic because
it has learned these objects are harmless.
Always be careful and remember that horses learn at different paces; some
may take many sessions before they become comfortable with a blanket on
their back, and others may wear it on their head calmly within a few minutes.
In the photos
I am working with Blaze, my 2-yo AQHA colt. He has not been sacked
out before. He has, however, been handled on the ground and taught
to lead. He was bred and raised by us so he never developed a distrust
or fear of humans.
First I worked him in the roundpen and let him get a little exercise
before we start. He was looking around, watching other horses,
and being a bit absentmined. I roundpenned him for a few minutes
until he started listening to me and claming down.
sacking a horse out, it is a good idea to have a halter and lead
on and keep the horse untied. In case of a horse panicking (which
may happen at first), you want to make sure the horse will not
be injured.You also want them to realize they can move away if
they are afraid. They may, at first, jump back. Knowing they have
freedom to move takes away some anxiety. If your horse is only
tolerating an object because he is tied and can't flee, then he
is only learning that he can't get away, and not that he shouldn't
be afraid. The goal of sacking out is to teach a horse not to
Then I brought the saddle pad over and let him sniff it. You want
to let the horse see the object so they aren't suddenly spooked.
Don't just pull it out and start flinging it around, let them
have a second to see what is going on. Then you can begin to swing
it around. The horse may step back; That's OK. You want him to
get comfortable with the object moving all over, all around his
body. He should begin to get used to it after a little while.
In the second photo, Blaze stepped sideways when I began to swing
Here I actually flung it onto his back (after he is used to it
being swung in the air around him). He stepped a bit but then
He began to tolerate me swinging, flapping, and rubbing the blanket
all over his body. He no longer saw it as a 'scary' object.
After awhile, he is used to it all over his body-- his rear, legs,
belly, and even head.
I let him see it laying on the ground; I don't want him to be
afraid of things around his feet. And then he decided he'd sack
recommend that all horses be sacked out with a rope. Before ever
riding a horse I make sure that it is used to ropes all over its
body-- around the ears, over the face and neck, under the belly
and legs and tail, etc.
Why? Because a horse that panics when a rope gets between its
legs is a potential danger to itself and riders. I have seen horses
nearly break their neck because, when standing tied, they got
the rope over their neck.
In case of an accident (tack breaking or slipping, or a horse
getting loose with tack dangling, for example) you want a horse
that will stand calmly and not freak out. It could save your life.
I have seen saddles slip beneath a horse, causing a potentially
dangerous situation. If a horse panics when tack is tangled, it
may injure its rider, handler, or itself. The last thing you want
is a terrified horse if your tack breaks or gets tangled up.
I use a soft cotton leadrope and swing it gently. If you have
a long leadrope, you can use that, or you can use a different
rope. You don't want to hit the horse. At first your horse might
think you are cueing him to run off, so he might start moving
away. Gently stop him and start again. Just like with a saddle
pad, the idea is to slowly get him used to the rope so he won't
fear it. Throw the rope at the ground, under his legs, over his
body, under his belly, between his legs, etc. Be careful (as always)
because some horses freak out when they feel a rope under their
belly or around their legs.
When he was comfortable with the rope, I moved on to a very scary
object: a plastic bag tied to the end of a buggy whip. Again,
I let him have a look at it, but when it rattled he took off!
He danced arouned quite a bit before he'd let me shake it and
I didn't try to bring it close to his body until he was comfortable
with it being rattled around in the air, up and down, and sideways.
After awhile he was comfortable enough to let the bag touch him--
and even let it go under his belly and on his back...
... and wear it on his
Remember to be safe, and don't move to fast. A scared horse is
a dangerous one! Don't get frustrated or upset. You want your
horse to get comfortable and be fearless; if you are impatient,
it will only make them worse. Try to end on a good note, and be
sure to give them a lot of attention and tell them what a good
job they did!