Desensitizing a horse? Or not?

If we’re talking about the old cowboy methods that were used to “break” a horse in the old days, most certainly not! In the old days horses were often sacked out with cruel methods, not seldom with one foot tied up, blindfolded etc, while facing new, scary things. The sole purpose was for the horse to “break”, give up, stop fighting, accepting that humans can do anything they like.

While I am totally against that, I am totally for helping the horse to become brave, by exposing it to new things. It should be done while listening to the horse, with a minimum amount of pressure (physical and mental.) It should not be a stressful situation for the horse. Horses are curious animals, and if we manage to trigger their curiosity, in a safe environment, letting them explore scary objects at home, we are buying ourselves an insurance. Sort of.

It’s much safer, and so much more fun, to have a brave horse, that enjoys going out on adventure with you, compared to a horse that is scared for everything. The way I see it, when we decide to invite a horse to our lives, we take responsibility for the relationship.

Our horse Ariel have only been with us for 10 days. We are only starting to get to know her. We aren’t sure of her background. Therefor we are starting with the basics. Since Ariel is our horse, and we aren’t training her for anyone else, we have all the time in the world. Making things right the first time, and earning her trust, is our goal.

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Ariel is a very sweet, and sensitive horse, with a lot of energy. When she feels stressed, she wants to run. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit this morning at 8am. The weather worked to our advantage, and she was calm, almost a little lazy. In her case, that is a good thing.

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My goal, before starting out this session, was for her to be relaxed in the round-pen with a big scary tarp in the middle. Since she already was in a relaxed state of mind, I decided to see if I could get her interested in the tarp. I am not a big fan of hand feeding horses (I don’t like when they get mouthy, run all over you for treats,) but I took small pieces of an apple and placed them on the tarp. She loves apples, and could not resist checking them out.

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My daughter was in the round-pen, and since I didn’t know how she would react, I had a halter on Ariel, for safety reasons. This exercise could of easily have been done without a halter. After ten minutes her front hooves had been all over the tarp, and we were out of apples. By now this was a fun game. I got up on the tarp and made noises with it, jumped up and down, and acted silly in every way my imagination could come up with. Funny thing is that Ariel did not mind that at all. On her own she only had her front hooves on the tarp. When I was on the tarp, she was standing with all four hooves next to me. If I stepped off, she got off. She did not feel comfortable standing with all four hooves on the tarp by herself, but was completely relaxed if I stood next to her.

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There was never any force, or stress involved. She enjoyed getting scratches while standing on the tarp. Next time, we’ll try a few more things. Eventually she will be fine with the tarp flapping in the wind, and covering her whole body. Maybe you’re thinking, why? Why would I take the time to do this? How will this benefit my horse? Or me?

Imagine a ride on your horse. It’s a beautiful, and sunny day. An hour into the ride, the wind picks up. You decide to turn around. You take the shortest way home, a dirt road with very little traffic. There’s some cars, and trucks driving by every once in a while. There’s a few houses. One of the houses have a clothe line full off laundry flapping in the wind. Another house have a metal mail box, that opens and close every time the wind increases. Someone is mowing their lawn. A dog barks. A plastic bag comes flying, and lands on your horse’s head, and falls down towards the ground, but get tangled up in one of your horse’s front legs. How does this scenario unfold in your head? I can see a few scenes that I wouldn’t like to experience, including the horse bolting, and running into traffic.Β 

To avoid these scenarios (including expensive vet & medical bills,) I prepare my horse. For the horse sake, and for mine. Things happen with horses, but there’s a lot that can be done to make every experience as pleasurable, and positive as possible.Β The mounted patrol spend a lot of time preparing their horses. Why wouldn’t I?

I hope YOU are having an awesome day πŸ™‚

Love & Light, Always


14 thoughts on “Desensitizing a horse? Or not?

  1. Oh I love this fun exercise with Ariel, the fact that you are making it a fun experience is big in my book. My daughter’s horse had some really odd fears like baby strollers or goats. Yep, not fun when you are on top of her. You going through the “possibilities” is very smart and it is also a way you can learn with her, giving her confidence. It isn’t something that you are doing just to you but with yourself in the whole experience. πŸ™‚

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    • It was a lot of fun! I admit that it isn’t the first time I’m doing this with a a rescue horse. More like the 20th horse or so. 2,5 years ago, I had a rescue ranch. I was staying at home with my daughter, and had 17 rescue horses at the most. I couldn’t actually ride so much, since I was carrying her in a baby carrier, or had her by my side. The horses came from different sad situations. It was a great blessing to spend time with them, and see them grow. Playing with them was our greatest joy. They all have their own families now.

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  2. This is great. I don’t know anything about horses, I’m only on my second dog, but I remember how a dog breeder I knew told me to create noises on purpose when my first dog was still a puppy so that he gets used to them. What we didn’t take care of were the hot-air balloons. Every time there was one in the air, he would act completely crazy, all his life. Wishing you good life with Ariel. I love so much how you go about it. ❀

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  3. Hi, Fab blog! I have just set up mine, but still in the very early stages – a few months old. Just making efforts to link in with fellow bloggers to improve our followers and get the word out there for us both. I would appreciate you having a peek at my blog, as I have published several posts. Feel free to like, comment, follow or just take a peek. Thank you πŸ™‚


  4. It is so important to work WITH and animal, in the same way as we would work WITH a child. Gently introducing them to new sensations and allowing them to take time. Ariel is lucky to have you both. And your daughter is learning young the true ways of the whisperer.

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