Have you ever had a horse who panics when they step on their lead? Or when they feel something brush up against their leg?
What about refusing to stand on plastic? Or seeing a bag on the ground and not wanting to go near it?
There are two helpful desensitising lessons you can use to help horses be comfortable in such situations.
Most of us have heard of, or experienced a horse who panicked when they had accidentally stepped on their own lead, put a foot through the reins or had something brush against their legs. It is a scary experience for horse and rider and a potentially dangerous one.
The horse's reflexive, panicky response can be avoided if we carefully teach our horses about different kind of pressure progressively and in a safe manner.
When my Mum starts working with a new horse one of her goals is to help them feel confident and secure by putting them through a desensitization program.
This is a broad subject as there are many different lessons in the desensitization program and many different tools. The point is that every small step in the program and small goal met, leads to bigger goals being met like wearing blankets, walking into horse trailers, standing calmly when at a show, etc... It all starts at home with one small, easy exercise building up to another and another.
I am going to share the exercises Mum is using with Uptown Girl and has used with the many horses she has started over the years.
How does she begin?
Mum is starting with teaching Uptown about standing on her lead. It's a very simple non-invasive little lesson that is allowing Uptown to not feel any pressure since she has just recently arrived at her new home and met her new human and horse family.
What does my Mum do?
Each morning and afternoon at meal time, Mum collects Uptown from her paddock and takes her to the roundyard where Uptown finds dinner ready in her feed bin. Once Uptown has had a few mouthfuls of feed and a look around, seeing where she is, Mum attaches a long rope to her halter. Mum leaves the lead on the ground and steps back towards to edge of the round yard so she is safe in case Uptown were to panic. Mum stays in the round yard while Uptown eats, and talks to her gently every time she moves her feet.
On occasion, Uptown steps and stands on the lead and lifts her head, she tugs a few times and then returns to eating, not too fussed about the lead because ultimately she is content in her roundyard with her food and Mum close by.
Using food in a situation like this is great because mostly our horses love to eat and their life is very happy and peaceful during meal times so it's an opportune time to teach little lessons that don't seem like much of a lesson at all to our horses. For us, it can be a very good lesson to have our horses learn.
Note: * This lesson shouldn't be approached until your horse has learned to wear a halter comfortably and had a lot of leading experience.
Never leave your horse alone and unsupervised.
Do not use a western halter but a comfortable halter with a wide poll strap.
Uptown Girl is 2 and a half years old and even though she has had very little handling experience she wore a halter many times and has had a lot of leading experience before she was purchased by Wes and I.
In the photos you can see this lesson with the rope AND the sack on the ground. A sack on the ground is an excellent lesson.
Uptown is learning about different sounds as well as what it feels like stepping onto a sack ( a different surface for her) which is all good learning for her. It's very easy to do... Tuck the end of the sack under the feed bin and voila.... Your horse is learning another great lesson while eating dinner. The next stage from here will be walking over tarp.