Desensitising - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 23 Old 11-20-2012, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by bsms View Post
Actually, it would be more like this:

You hear your grandparents clock. You scream with fear, then run around knocking over furniture in an attempt to escape the clock. Grandma gets knocked to the floor. Your grandfather grabs you and holds you until you realize the clock isn't going to kill you. You snort with relief, and then start to trust your grandparents.

Until the telephone rings. You scream with fear, then run around knocking over furniture in an attempt to escape the telephone. Grandma gets knocked to the floor. Your grandfather grabs you and holds you until you realize the telephone isn't going to kill you. You snort with relief, and then start to trust your grandparents.

And so on, until you respond to something scary by looking at your grandparents to see if THEY are scared...

All I know is that I pity your Grandparents. I bet they really look forward to your visits!

no, really, I know what the OP is saying and I agree with him. Desensitzing and deadening are two different things.

I see that problem happening with the Parelli carrot sticks, or the CA "handy" sticks; the horse cares not one whit about them. Good if you want to direct him a bit, but bad if you want him to shape up and go!

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post #12 of 23 Old 11-20-2012, 06:59 PM
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I agree completely with the OP. I think that what it comes down to, is that we should concentrate more on sensitizing our horses to us as riders and handlers than to trying to desensitize to random stimuli. You can't accustom your horse to every possibly frightening object you could possibly encounter, the best thing you can do is teach them to check in with you to see if coming unglued is the proper response to an object or situation.

If your horse is extremely sensitive to your cues and emotional state, all of the horse's actions and reactions will come directly from you, and how you are behaving in a particular situation. If our horse is that in tune(sensitive) to us there should be very little outside stimuli that will cause our horse to react in fear, unless we ourselves are behaving fearfully.

To get a horse to look to us for emotional guidance we have to expose our horses to potentially frightening stimuli and teach them "if I'm not afraid, you shouldn't be afraid" it is this process that people often mis-label as desensitizing. When really it should be viewed more as a way to make our horses more sensitive to us, rather than simply reacting on their own scattered emotions.

When I first got my horse he was hyper-sensitive and flighty about everything, but now I'm glad to say that he no longer gets worried about much of anything, unless I let my own focus slip. The only two times he has thrown me were direct results of my own fearful(stupid) reactions to situations. If I were a more confident rider, he would be a more confident horse.
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post #13 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 04:54 AM Thread Starter
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I could not agree more with Fargosgirl. I'm going to relate my experiences with James again. He was the most influential horseman in my life, so you'll have to get used to this .
On James yard there were certain things for which you could get a (tongue in cheek) fine.
The list included Loosing Focus, whether you were riding, or just leading a horse.
He related a story of a women that was on a course with him who had a spooky horse. On their first trail ride the horse spooked and James asked her "what did he spook at ?". She replied, "the llama in the field". "Fined" responded James, "you lost focus if you know what your horse spooked at". Repetition on the second day, so it was beginning to cost the rider a fair bit in "fines". Day three and the horse spooked again. "What did it spook at ?", "No idea", "Good". Day four and there were way fewer spooks. Apparently by day 5 this horse did not spook once.
The moral of this story is that if we don't react to a spooky stimulus, don't even look at it, then the horse will pick up on this and, so long as you are viewed as the leader, they are far less likely to react to it.
I now consciously check that I remain focussed and play the childs game of "made you look" when riding. So if the horse even looks to the side and I follow it's gaze I have lost the "made you look game". Please keep in mind that I am riding a freshly started young tb at the moment who has not left the yard for 2 1/2 years, not even for a walk. Everything is new and exciting or scary. I hope as we gain in confidence in each other I will be able to look around and enjoy the view, but in a confident casual way.
My wife Ritchie, makes a habit of calling out random things as I ride around the school, maybe just my name, to try and get me to break focus and fines me if I do
James had a word for riding like this. He called it principled riding and it was an important part of a colts foundation. Folks in the villages around his yard knew when he was on a principled ride with a youngster and would not distract him. He emphasised that you had to look as far ahead as possible with your focus. He was considering a spot on the horizon as the best. Out on a ride on one of his experienced horses and of course he would stop to chat.

Last edited by Pegasus1; 11-21-2012 at 04:58 AM.
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post #14 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 05:28 AM
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Yes, I recently posted advice on another thread that said exactly this: don't look at what you think your horse might spook at. To a horse, your focus on an object gives the object meaning. If you are focusing on something because you think your horse might react to it, that is telling the horse that this is something we should be watching carefully; it is potentially dangerous. When I stopped focusing on objects my horse was positively going to spook at, my horse stopped spooking at them.

In the herd, if all the other horses ignore something, then my horse will too. Most horses are follower types rather than leader types. They rely on a trusted individual in the herd to alert the others to danger. If the leader horse does not alert, they will assume the stimulis is not dangerous.
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post #15 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 08:11 AM
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How do they know/ how can they tell we are looking at something?

This thread was a great reminder for working with my mare and the "Corner of Doom" in the arena where "tigers" live.
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post #16 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 08:35 AM
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They know. For one thing, even though a rider is in a horse's blind spot when their head is straight forward, when they turn their head to one side (so you can see their eye) they can see you. So when they turn to look at an object they can see if you are turning that way.

Also I think it has to do with your weight distribution/seat and legs. Perhaps they pick it up knowing that when you press against their body in certain ways you are turning them that way, so they start to look in that direction. It may feel to them like you are beginning to "point" them at the object you are looking at.

Knowing my horse, that means she begins to wonder what exactly I want her to do with the object. Go over it? Through it? Under it? Drown in it? Once I was looking at a tree and she walked right into it. Dumb rider. I hadn't thought I needed to indicate that she should not keep walking straight into a tree.
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post #17 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Pegasus1 View Post
...The moral of this story is that if we don't react to a spooky stimulus, don't even look at it, then the horse will pick up on this and, so long as you are viewed as the leader, they are far less likely to react to it...
Hate to break it to you, but I almost never know what my horse spooks over. Usually we land about 6-8 feet to one side without warning. Or she'll be trotting happily, and then do the OMG Crouch.

If she does look in advance, it is much easier to deal with. If there is something she alerts on, then we can deal with it together. And at times like that, with Mia - not with all horses, but with Mia at least - it works best to let her look at it, let me look at it, and then about 5 seconds later let her know what I want to do about it. And if it is a rattlesnake, I thank her and tell her what a wonderful horse she is as we go somewhere else.

Further, some of this "leader" stuff is overblown. Frankly, a well trained horse should be able to go on a trail ride without first needing months of introduction to and working with an individual rider. Some horses may be too high-strung to get there. That is a fault in their temperament. Mia is a sweet horse in some ways, but her temperament is a fault, and the work we are doing is intended to overcome that fault to the maximum possible.

But if she was inclined to walk into trees unless I steered her around them, I'd get rid of her.

And if someone wanted to "fine me", I'd strap my 44 to my side before mounting...

Focusing on something should NOT frighten a horse. It would be pretty tough to work on a ranch if the horse spooked when the cowboy wasn't looking at the horizon. I need to be free to look at something in the desert when I ride without my horse deciding that means to walk into it or to spook over it. Don't do ranch work, but I ought to be able to watch what a car or dirt bike is doing, or watch for a rocky spot or stare into a wash without having my horse freak over it. And she doesn't. She may spook sometimes, but far less than she used to and she never does it because I'm focusing on something.

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."

Last edited by bsms; 11-21-2012 at 09:35 AM.
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post #18 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 11:32 AM
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Well, perhaps it is over simplifying to say the horse is frightened just because you look at the object. It is more likely that you suspected they would spook at the object, so you focused on it. They understand you are looking at it, and along with your idea of them spooking comes some tenseness, perhaps you hold your breath, and other subtle things the horse may interpret as fear of the object you are focusing on.

It's not a guarantee by any means, but often it works to not focus on an object that you suspect will spook your horse.

The thing about being a leader with a horse does not mean you personally have to know and work with the horse for months. Just a couple of weeks ago I rode a horse that I had never ridden before but had heard he was timid and green on trails. He went out in front and led a group of horses because I was the "leader."

This was because when I got on him I immediately shifted my weight, straightened him up and made him take a few steps here and there. That immediately told him I was planning to be the one calling the shots. At the very second he began to hesitate moving in front of the others, I was there with a firm seat telling him to keep going before he had a chance to stall out. As a more timid horse, he took confidence in my leadership and was happy to move out and do things he would have been afraid to do with a rider that made it seem like the horse was making the decisions for himself.

Some horses know when you are not confident even if you are 98% confident. It can be the 2% that hangs them up. That's what I discovered jumping my one mare who would never go over unless I was 100% certain I wanted to. I have gotten to the point where I do not care whatsoever if a horse spooks or doesn't spook. Horses can sense this confidence.

BSMS, your mare may have a slightly different temperament and may spook for other reasons. She may actually trust herself to be the leader and call the shots. My second mare is also a high-strung, sensitive spooker but she would never run into a tree just because she thought I was asking her to. There is definitely more than one type of spooky, sensitive horse.
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post #19 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 12:30 PM
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Horses spook for more reasons than just not liking the look of something and I've certianly found that if you focus on something you think they wont like then there are high odds that they will spook - might be they pick up more on your tension or even something we cant even sense in another person like a rise in blood pressure or heart rate. We had a mare that was very placid ridden by a confident rider but was a total maniac if a nervous person (who could ride) got on her
We have a monster in the corner of our menage too - thats just an excuse to avoid work - they know full well theres nothing there and horses that are barn sour will use the exact same trick
Horses pick up on smells and tiny noises that to them will trigger a fear flight response - our lot stop dead in their tracks if they scent a bear and rely on their trust in us to say its OK and go on. A well trained horse should see any human as the person it obeys - the one who 'leads' but a leader has to be convincing or the horse wont believe in then
And then there are the imaginative horses and bsms you have one of the best breeds for fitting that bill. The one arabian I had went to a County show for his second venture into the world of showing - he didnt look twice at anything, huge farm vehicles, balloons, flags, brass band, crowds of people etc but he would stand in the barn at night and go rigid with fear staring at 'nothing' in the corner. It used to freak me out!!!
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post #20 of 23 Old 11-21-2012, 12:52 PM
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I think it's not so much a matter that you cannot put your focus on outside things, such as bsms mentioned with the cowboy, but that you cannot allow the horse to dictate where you put your focus.

Charles De Kunfy, in one of his books, likened it to the spooky horse being a tour conductor; saying "now everybody look over there, now look to the right, now ...." YOu dont join in on the tour bus, you just keep your own agenda in mind and bring the horse along with you.

So, if you've got cows to tend, you don't let the horse focus on anything else.

Good horsemend will be connected mentally to their horse without appearing to be so. they may be doing cowwork or teaching or whatever, but they have never left the horse, mentally.

"If you leave your horse, he'll leave you", so says my teacher.
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