Desensitizing a horse:

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Desensitizing a horse:

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    07-03-2011, 08:35 PM
Desensitizing a horse:

Hey all! I just bought my horse, a yearling Quarter Horse gelding and he'll arrive at the barn mid to late July. His ground manners are pretty good, he's generally calm and he has a very sweet and willing personality. However, I would like to desensitize him to as many things as I possibly can. The stranger, the better... I would like him to experience and work through as many scary things as possible, before he's old enough to back.

So far, I have the following on my list of things to introduce:
- plastic bags
- strollers
- children running around outside the round pen
- people throwing footballs, soccer balls, etc around in and outside the arena
- balloons - both inflated and being popped
- sudden loud noises (I'm thinking of dropping planks of wood, slamming gates, yelling, etc)
- Engines revving and back-firing
- tarps
- dogs barking and being walked around

What else can you add to my list? My plan for the next year/year and a half is to work on his ground manners, showing him as many things as I can, grooming and hand walking. He'll be introduced to and handled by as many people as I can possibly find. Toward the end of this year, early next year, I might introduce him to a bridle so he learns how to tolerate a bit and gentle pressure from being led on the ground. Next May (his second birthday), he'll learn what a saddle is. After that, we'll play it by ear and see what we're both comfortable with. If all goes to plan, I'd like to be riding him very gently at a walk (and maybe a trot) in the arena by about July/August. It all depends on how he grows, what I think he can handle, and what he tells me he's ready for.
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    07-04-2011, 08:32 AM
Sounds like you've put a lot of thougth into it. Good start to your list. Is your horse going to be around animals other than dogs? That's the one thing I might add if possible. My 5 yr old mare (which I have had since she was a baby) was boarded a while at a small farm where there where chickens, rabbits, cats, pigs, etc. It really helped her a lot! Before she was there, she would spook on a trail if a rabbit even jumped out in front of her. So if you get the chance to have her around other animals, even having a barn cat, it helps with little critters out on the trail. Also, one of my older geldings was used for birthday parties and such. Even though my mare didn't do the activities with the kids, she was tied up close and observed.(And of course, loved on a lot!) She slowly got used to what it was all about. I have found that sometimes densensitizing is simply more about exposure to many things. Even with 4th of July..we simply put her in the round pen and let her watch with a safe, (but a little loud) close-up view. She was a good 20-30 feet from the action but she wasn't way out in the pasture. She ususally watches things like that with curiosity now, not with fear. I have just kept her close-by for a lot of things, even if they didn't directly involve her. It gave her something to do besides be a pasture ornament and it was good exposure. It has really paid off..she is very solid at only 5.
    07-04-2011, 10:50 AM
He will be around other animals, yes... there are cats that wander around the property, gophers that pop up randomly and deer that could visit with the horses in the paddock. Since he's too young to be ridden, I was thinking I would take him on walks along the trail, just to show him what goes on outside the stable yard and introduce him to scary trees, tall grass, rocks, logs, animals that pop out of nowhere, etc.
    07-04-2011, 12:14 PM
You need to just hang out with this youngster as well so he develops trust in you. Take him for walks. Teach him that when he's well out of the yard he may get a treat of grass. Take a small brush and hoof pick maybe even pack a small lunch for both of you. Can you think of a better picnic companion? One lady walked her filly to a small lake and picniced with her filly, many times. One day when the filly was old enough she just got on with only a rope around her neck and rode the filly to the picnic site and the two shared food. She did this many times also, even introducing the saddle this way.
    07-04-2011, 12:31 PM
Sounds like you're on the right track & are thinking things out & planning well which is good. Things like walking him over tarp, and draping the tarp over his back/head. Getting him used to hoses, if he's not already. Things like flags/plastic bags waving around in the wind tend to worry many horses. One thing I worked on with a mare I used to look after was barrels.. she was deathly afraid of them, even just walking up to one she would pull backwards & rear. Eventually I got her so calm around them I was able to roll one up to her, under her belly, stand on one whilst lunging her around it. I might add the barrel had sand & stones inside it, so it rattled & made quite a noise whilst rolling it around her. I don't know if there are any small rivers or anything like that you are able to walk him through, or even if you have anyway over making a small water "jump" to walk him over. For loud noises, you could always buy an air horn. Swinging ropes near him, anything that comes to mind really. Even tiny things you wouldnt think would be scary could be terrifying to him.. id know.. a tb I know is scared of leaves on the ground being blown around... an anglo arab I know is scared of any road markings, and has to jump over them instead of walking on it xD
    07-04-2011, 12:38 PM
I find the waterbottles that crinkle up & make that weird noise is another good one, also paper crinkleing. Both great for trails rides & showing :)
    07-04-2011, 01:25 PM
These are all such great ideas – I love the picnic suggestion! What a fun way to bond with a horse. I’m adding all of these ideas to my list of things to do with the colt and I’m really excited to see how he reacts to them. From what I’ve been told and what I’ve seen myself, he could possibly look at all these items calmly and take the desensitization process in stride… he’s very calm. Or he could make a liar out of his seller and flip out at a single blade of grass. This is going to be a lot of fun!

Thanks everyone! Please, keep the ideas coming. My boyfriend suggested bicycles this morning, which was a great thought. He’s now been ‘voluntold’ to bring his bike to the barn and when the colt is used to the appearance of the bike, to ride it around and let the colt see that it moves.
    07-04-2011, 01:29 PM
Ohh bike! Also the sound when you run over a soda can with a bike and it sticks to the tire! That's one to try :)
    07-04-2011, 01:38 PM
If you plan on every riding down the side of the road, plan for road trash! Empty soda cans, trash bags and feed sacks, shoes! (people lose the craziest stuff!) With my yearlings, I fill a trash bag full of cans, put it in the center of the round pen and let the baby smell it, walk around it, etc, then I rip it open and throw the cans everywhere so they can hear it, see it, step all around it. Then we do some round pen work until the horse is runnind around kicking cans like they aren't even there. (Make sure to keep an eye open for any cans that might get sharp edges if crushed and get those out!) Then when we start riding we play "kick the can" when we find one! Howevers horse kicks it with all 4 feet wins!
    07-04-2011, 01:42 PM
Ooh ooh another thing. Mopeds/Scooters. A lot of horses are scared of them because theyre like hairdryers on wheels xD also phones playing music, or just a phone ringing can be scary to some horses. Hmm.. trying to think of other things.. pool noodles! Umbrellas, tractors & big machinery, clippers is a good one if you ever plan to clip him, car horns, getting him used to having his ears, tail, under his belly & pretty much everywhere touched, tin cans on a string to drag across the ground, fireworks, or something that sounds like a firework, velcro, if you can, trailer him to the beach to take him into the water.. you'd be surprised how many horses are fine with puddles & such, but as soon as they see a wave the run a mile lol, & get him used to other horses freaking out around him. Many horses will start acting up just because another horse spooked near them. Lawn mowers.. walking him over gravel.. if I think of anymore i'll post again lol

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