Desensitising your horse

As you begin to train your horse you will realise that no matter their age, they will most likely have to become desensitised to something. Desensitising refers to applying a stimulus to your horse until a response is eliminated. This can relate to when a horse is touched in such a way that it flinches, however as you continuously touch the horse in a certain area they will stop flinching and realise that you mean no harm.

What you SHOULD do!

Starting as early as you can will make the whole process go a lot smoother. In saying this, desensitising can be done at any stage in a horses life, although it may take some more patience and time.

There are only 4 simple steps needed when desensitising your horse which include:

  • Create a stimulus
  • Wait for NO response
  • Release the stimulus and praise horse
  • Wait a couple of seconds and start the process again

It is imperative to continue this method religiously until there are no signs of a response to the stimulus. If there is no consistency or repetitiveness, your horse may learn bad habits or the initial lessons can be just a waste of time.

This process, if done correctly, allows your horse to know that this action is not to be feared. If you do the process and remove the stimulus before there is NO response, you may be telling them that the action that they are doing is the correct response. This can mean that they may have been stamping their foot when you released the stimulus and therefore think that this response will remove the stimulus next time.

Depending on what the stimulus is, it may be a good idea to start with a lesser stimulus to get the horse used to the sensation. For example; when introducing a foal to brushing, use a soft brush to start with. Continue to brush them, even if they walk away, and only stop brushing when they stand still. Continue this process until there is no reaction from your horse and then gradually introduce new brushes that have firmer bristles.

What you SHOULDN’T do!

One of the biggest mistakes you can do as an owner is not releasing the stimulus when there is NO response. Your horse will need a release when you’re trying to desensitise them, otherwise, they will not know if there is a desired response and will continue to dislike the stimulus. It can also lead to horses ignoring your commands when it comes to stimuli during riding.

When desensitising your horse, it is best to start using your hands first rather than flags, ropes and hoses. These other techniques can scare the horse if they’re not used to touch first. Once a horse is well desensitised to being touched all over, you can progress to using other stimuli that a horse may find ‘scary’. Using your hands can also create a strong bond with the horse. In saying this, if you feel as though using your hands could put you more at risk, seek professional help.

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