Oh that word! Desensitize. Some like- some don't.
Well I'm neither.
Desensitizing can be helpful and necessary while working with horse- but sometimes it is taken a step too far, and instead of making sure the horse is o.k. with several objects and obstacles people end up with a non- responsive or over- responsive horse.
There are plenty of way of way to expose your horse and create a safe and fun one to ride, though keep in mind that you don't want your horse to quit responding- we want our horse to be responsible.
Responsibility- response + ability
We are able to choose how we react to certain things and situations- so is our horse. The difference between us and the horse is that horses by nature have the need to run. Even though horses are domesticated the first thing they learn from their moms is running- in case there is a predator around.
Domestication and breeding well have helped create horses that are suitable for each need- some horses are bred for strength and endurance, some for jumping, cow- work etc. having that awareness have helped create better preforming horses, though it can't promise what will happen during their training or first couple of years.
In some cases, even the best blood lines will not help when training poorly.
Back to desensitizing- in my eyes it is important to maintain some guidelines no matter what is the final destination of your training- as long as we work with a horse we want to create a safe environment for both us and the horse; without that mutual feeling it will be much harder (yet, not impossible) to build respect, communication and achieve our training goals.
This is where response-ability comes in.
If we want to expose or desensitize (pick your word) our horse, we are basically teaching our horse a new life skill. Up until that moment our horse knew that he had the ability to react- running, jumping, freezing or well, not reacting at all- and I have titled it before under- 'Crazy- Fast' and 'Crazy- Slow' (remember? First ride post)
No matter what reaction you get when trying to expose your horse for something new, we don't want to be on any end of the spectrum. We want a responsive horse, but not a 'Crazy-Fast' out of control horse.
For example- one of the best examples I have in mind is a water bottle.
One day one of the instructors at a ranch I have worked in handed a water bottle to a student, before she even grabbed the bottle the horse she was riding jumped away. The instructor kept on walking towards her, still holding that plastic bottle in front of the horses had- the horse, kept on moving away and eventually the rider fell down.
If he had only let- go of the bottle maybe that girl wouldn't have fallen.
Next time; probably check it without a rider on.
But you can go way back- to basic training we do with every horse- that first exposure and experience we create. If we are aware of the fact that we have an ability to choose our reaction- we can reflect it to our horse.
But if you try and do something with your horse, and you don't get the reaction you want- and as a result act out you only teach your horse that he has an ability to react in any way.
Let's say we have an easily spooked horse- trained or a colt- it is up to us to teach that horses responsibility.
We do that by laying down a few ways for the horse to react:
1. Run away
2. Run through
These are 4 basic reactions we can easily anticipate when working on exposure.
Example: working with a tarp, main goal- walking over it; in the horse's mind- this is big colorful spread, that makes scary noises when it moves, and if you step on it might grab your leg and follow you around.
Yeah, well, hey little horse! This tarp only eats pink unicorns- you're good.
In order to make our horse less sensitive (desensitize) around the tarp we want to first lay it on the ground and create movement around it- get comfortable with the presence of that creepy object- using change of direction to work on both sides of the brain.
Don't overdo, a couple of times should be enough- like said we don't want to get to a point where the horse doesn't care or bored.
Moving on we want to minimize the "escape space"- some horse that try to run- away would be a bit crankier at that phase. You can do it by closing the gap between the tarp to the fence, or by moving around while working with a long lead rope and guiding your horse closer to the tarp each time.
By the way, the closer you get, and sand will hit the tarp and it might add a scary element.
Run through horses will do one of two, as I see it; try and run through you- or run through the scary object as fast they can and spook themselves even more. In both cases I would walk away from the object and work from the ground on body positions, making sure my horse knows to respect my body language and won't run over me. That is not fun!
After refreshing your body work ang ground work- go back to the object and continue to work around it.
Once we have covered getting closer and changing directions around the tarp we will try to guide our horse over it- by either closing the gap between the tarp and fence completely or by stepping backward making sure the tarp is a part of our lunging circle (might be harder).
When we try and go through/ over an obstacle we sometimes hit a stop- sign. The horse get all the way to the object and stops- I actually don't mind it the first couple of time- most of the times as long as the horse shows some interest I would let him rest there, push a bit forward/ try again. Just don't let them picnic there.
The last reaction- and phase of work with the tarp- is acceptance. We can get there by working on it and teaching the horse to response, or, and this is not a far fetch idea- our horse won't make a big deal out of it! Yes, many people make a bigger fuss than their horses- expecting them to spook and end up causing them to spook.
Once our horse walks over the tarp a few time- even trotting over it- this is the time to quit!
Do not over do, leave your horse with a positive experience, you can always try again tomorrow- but your horse will not get bored.
By not over desensitizing our horse- we make sure we keep them alert, and responsive. That way they still have response-ability left in them and not a robotic dull horse.
We should probably desensitize ourselves first- that way we choose better reactions, less impulsive and more aware.
We are responsible= response- able. We have the ability to choose our response, that way we can communicate it to out horse.
Send me some cool videos of your way to expose your horse!