Here is the last lesson in Desensitizing. There are so many things that horses are afraid of! I will cover one more of those things in this lesson. If your horse is scared of anything else, please use either the odd noises method or the bag method (in Lesson #1) to introduce it to him.
Materials: Find horns and big bags and little bags and big tarps and little ones, anything that makes a noise!
Method: Make just a little of the odd noise at first. Be ready for the horse to jump back! If he does, bring him forward to where he was before and do it again. As he becomes more comfortable with it, you can make more noise with the item in the same manner. An easier way to do this is to put something that will make noise in wind (e.g. a tarp or bag) or something that looks odd (e.g. a flag or balloons) right in the horse’s pen and let him be beside them for several weeks. Pretty soon he will no longer pay attention to them. A note of caution: please do not put anything ‘scary’ right beside the horse’s water source, or he may not drink for several days and that can cause all sorts of nasty consequences.
Some horses are fidgety about their legs. They just cannot stand having someone or something touch them! Here is how to address this problem without getting kicked.
If your horse is really violent about having his legs touched, get something long and soft – a 1 meter long (~3 feet) foam pipe insulator works well, that is what I use. The point here is to desensitize your horse, not get kicked in the knee so you will never walk again. Use caution! Stand well to the side. Horses can strike out forwards, backwards, and to the side! Start high up on the horse’s front left leg. Start touching him there with the insulator until he relaxes. If you have already completed Lesson 1 Desensitizing, he should be O.K. with you touching him here. Work slowly down his leg. As soon as he protests, stop there and hold the insulator on his leg until he stops moving. Again, use discretion. If he is about to run you or someone else over, get the insulator off his leg and try again. However, try to keep it in contact with him, because taking it off will reward his evasive manoeuvres. As soon as he stands still immediately remove the insulator and start again at the top of his leg where he is more comfortable. Do this until he no longer protests. See why training requires so much patience and persistence?
Okay, our first lesson is going to be desensitization to a plastic bag. There are two methods for this, I suggest using both.
Before we get started though, let’s look at why horses are so scared of bags:
- The horse’s instinct dictates that if something odd is coming towards him he either flees from it or fights it, then finds out what exactly it was afterwards. He prefers to flee, and tends only to fight if he is trapped. Don’t trap him, please!
- Again, if it makes a noise that is odd, it may be something that is going to eat him. However much he likes you, if something threatens his life he is going to get away from it first, and then figure out what it was. Life is his first priority.
Materials needed: A plastic bag, a safe place to work with lots of room for the horse to move around, and a halter with a long rope.
Ball up the bag so it is as small as it gets. Let the horse sniff it if he would like. Reach out and touch his neck with the bag and remove it immediately. This is very important. If you keep on doing this touch-and-go approach, especially on a horse deathly afraid of plastic bags, he will eventually realize, “Hey, that thing touched me, and… and it didn’t hurt!” Once he is comfortable with this (on both sides of the neck – horses’ brains are constructed such that something that is O.K. on one side is totally not O.K. on the other), you can either open up the bag to make it bigger and do the same thing, or you could begin touching him on other parts of his body. Cover him very thoroughly with that bag so that no matter how big the bag is and where it touches him, he doesn’t care.
Materials needed: A plastic bag, treats.
Simply store your treats in a plastic bag, and the horse will soon have a good connotation of bags. However, he may not be comfortable with it touching him, even if he doesn’t mind the sound, so make sure you do Method 1 as well.