Desensitizing - How do you do it? - Page 3 - The Horse Forum
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post #21 of 50 Old 05-04-2019, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Knave View Post
@boots kids are the best for it right?! I have the funniest video of my littlest desensitizing her colt in the most random ways and hes just goofing off along with her. Shes jumping off panels and crashing into things. Lol

l
I think you're right about being around kids vs not. I have people offer to rent these little guys! I've always had lots of children around.

Even when get a horse in that is said to be "spooky" they don't get much of a break. The music is on. Equipment is running. Any kids are farther away, but close enough that I can hear and see them.

And life goes on.
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post #22 of 50 Old 05-04-2019, 05:18 PM
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I don't think CA is advocating "flooding" - especially when you
I dont know I've seen any specific desensitising vids of his. I've seen him working terrified horses in a round yard - Inc a fresh caught brumby, trying to escape for its life... and he just kept pushing.... didn't show any reticence about 'provoking' MAJOR reactions.

And comments like 'the more you frighten him the quieter he will get' is indeed the philosophy of flooding. If that's not what he MEANS by it, yeah, irresponsible, as with your comment about his heart attack 'slogan' is one word that could fit...

Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]www.horseforum.com/horse-health/hoof-lameness-info-horse-owners-89836/
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]https://www.horseforum.com/members/41...res-128437.jpg
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post #23 of 50 Old 05-04-2019, 06:56 PM Thread Starter
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With new and exciting (portable) objects, like a long piece of plastic wrap or a beach ball, I tend to take the following approach.

- At first, I bring the object to the pasture and carry it around, overall ignoring the horses and just doing my thing, but alternating between getting closer and farther to the horses (Hamlet plus two minis), trying to "retreat" before they respond by moving away on their own accord. This way, I can usually get all of them to at least sniff it briefly. I let them give it a sniff and take it away immediately.

- Second phase, Hamlet goes on halter and lead rope. Then it's time to introduce the object in motion, but instead of moving it towards him, I arrange it so it moves away from him and he follows. So I give him plenty of rope so he can stay a little behind, and I drag the plastic or move the ball and we just follow it. (He's quite "brave" following scary objects - he had no issues following a big dump truck after we let it pass us on the road; even trotted after it.)

- Third phase then is more CA-esque. He should also be okay with something coming at him not just from the front, but also from the side. We do that in the outdoor arena, on halter and lead rope. Having established that he's okay with the object from the front (recall the "sniffing the object" at liberty), I slowly work my way towards his flanks. He'll probably evade, but since I have a baseline where he's okay with the object, I can control the strength of the response. As soon as he moves away slowly, I hold position relative to him until he stops, then I step back and reward. Then the other side.

The ultimate goal is for him to be as accepting of being touched by any of these objects as though they were mutated grooming brushes. For example, with the 30-foot piece of plastic wrap, he's now okay with being rubbed with it all bunched up, and he's okay with stepping over it and stopping with it between his legs. Ultimately, I want to pick it up and put it around his torso like a bow on a Christmas present.

The minis are okay with anything I introduce long before Hamlet is, even though the minis are just incidentally present during my efforts. I could rest a hula-hoop on one of the mini's butt while Hamlet was still all snorty about it. Yup, he's not a police horse candidate by any measure. What I'm hoping for, however, is that he gets desensitized to the process of desensitization, if that makes any sense, so that he gets accustomed to seeing unfamiliar stimuli all the time (it's a very quiet farm, even if nobody makes any effort to tippy-toe around the horses) and he learns to go through the entire process, from initial anxiety and caution to "Oh, this is no big deal!" faster.

I took him out on the trail today - along the road, because the rains have made the fields soggy again. He "spooked" at a sparrow fluttering up by barely twitching a muscle in his flank (I could feel it in my leg). Three bicycles passed us from behind (they were kind and announced themselves), and - the scariest issue by far today - we rode between a parked semi with a flatbed trailer holding a bunch of white barrels and a huge tractor standing in the field. No, he didn't walk calmly between them, but as long as he didn't try to bolt, I let him choose his own path between the two objects (they were probably parked 50-60 m apart from one another). He also needed to trot for a bit afterwards to release tension, but I let him do that for as long as he wanted, as long as he kept his speed at the trot. After a while, without interference from me, he calmed and walked again, all the way home.

Now, he is on a valerian calming supplement (at half the recommended dosage), but three weeks ago he also tried to bolt at the mere sight of a plastic cow quite some distance away...not just "I'd rather not get any closer than this!", but "I need to get the hell out of here, now!"
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post #24 of 50 Old 05-04-2019, 11:40 PM
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In order for a horse to become desensitized to a certain object, the horse has to have the ability to see that object as the same or similar thing each time.

Some horses do not seem to have this ability, or rather, they seem to have the ability to see something about an object that makes it appear different each time.
For these horses, you could work on desensitization every day and still have them remain spooky all the time.

One horse might get exposed to a red bucket and learn that red buckets are safe. Another horse might see a red bucket two inches to the left of where it was yesterday as threatening, or upside down as threatening, or with a shadow coming off of it as threatening, or with the sun glaring off it as threatening.

One horse might see all motorcycles as the same, another horse might see every motorcycle as different because of having different sounds at different speeds, or over dry or wet ground, or because of the exhaust smelling different, or because of different colors and differently sized riders.

The easy horses can see one plastic bag, tarp or clippers and be good with all of them. For more difficult horses, you'll never convince them that any two objects are the same. For this type, desensitization is a waste of time. They may learn that loud objects going by their field like cars or tractors will not enter the field and harm them, but that does not mean they will feel safe being passed by a car when they are out of the field.

In my opinion, horses that can't be desensitized need a different type of handling. The handler/rider can teach the horse that when they spook, they should react a certain way, such as following the rein and steering safely, only moving for a short distance, and with this type of practice they can learn to become calm faster and with less of a dramatic reaction.
Rather than trying to get the horse to stop reacting to things, the focus should be on how the horse reacts, and making that less severe over time.
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post #25 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 03:33 AM
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^I have no more than some anecdotal evidence, and I'm sure it's not ALL to do with this, but horses who seem 'hypersensitive' such as your egs gotta, I think there is a nutritional/gut health component there. I and others I know of have found that getting the gut healthy & providing well balanced nutrition & adequate magnesium effects them mentally & causes them to be less 'spooky'. It has also been found that gut & nutritional health in people is linked quite strongly with mental 'disorders' too.
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Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]www.horseforum.com/horse-health/hoof-lameness-info-horse-owners-89836/
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]https://www.horseforum.com/members/41...res-128437.jpg
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post #26 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 08:20 AM
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This is a great question that has really got me thinking about how I think of Desensitizing and how I would do it. I think i agree with BSMS's thinking on this.

I have read a lot of articles on the subject and I feel like really before anything you need to be able to have a conversation with your horse. I am not a big fan of the CA type training. For me, I think I choose the latter choosing to Desensitize at liberty so to speak so that they can get used to something at there own pace rather than being forced or broken to that stimuli.

My mare for example never spooks she is super curious and loves to check out new things. She is cautious so if there is something she is unsure of she will shy (give a few extra feet around something) a little but never freaks out I think with her either method would work as long as the CA one was done correctly but why risk it.. If you give her time to think without forcing she will quickly get over shying fast.
Our Gelding, on the other hand, is very spooky, If there is something new a sound a sight a smell he goes straight in to flight mode. For him the CA way would not work in my Opinion. Using more of a liberty method works best for him. When he is exposed to a stimuli enough with him being able to flee as often as needed it takes longer with him but it works and as he gets used to all on his own I can add in a new element me so that he learns that that object didn't hurt him before and he can learn that this object will not be harmful when im holding it. Its taken a lot of time to gain trust with him and get him to the point where he is not spooking all the time and just about everything. But I have been ok with working that way with him. And he seems to be a much calmer and more trusting horse because of it.

But most of all just learning how to truly talk with my horses have been a great help so far.
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post #27 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post

In my opinion, horses that can't be desensitized need a different type of handling. The handler/rider can teach the horse that when they spook, they should react a certain way, such as following the rein and steering safely, only moving for a short distance, and with this type of practice they can learn to become calm faster and with less of a dramatic reaction.
Rather than trying to get the horse to stop reacting to things, the focus should be on how the horse reacts, and making that less severe over time.
My concern with this line of thinking I'd that owners/riders of a certain temperment will make excuses for a horse all day long.

Years ago if I couldn't get a horse to pass something, I would say it was scared and spend so much time getting it "desensitized." If the horse didn't give a hoof willingly, it had been abused. Avoided the bridle? Abuse. Show the whites of it's eyes when there clippers started, or when I brought tools into the stall to muck it out? More evidence of abuse. Or being sensitive. Or smart!

Then I started having the uncomfortable experience of seeing others able to get horses to do things I was unable to get them to do. Horses were positively calm when others did things to, or with them, that caused the "spooked" reaction if I tried it.

I was setting up the reaction.

When I started modeling the actions of horsemen that treated things more matter of fact, I stopped having spooky horses.

Now I get horses in with a laundry list of "he won't" or "he's afraid of" and generally it's because of a timid rider, or tentative handling.

Last edited by boots; 05-05-2019 at 09:11 AM.
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post #28 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 11:28 AM
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My concern with this line of thinking I'd that owners/riders of a certain temperment will make excuses for a horse all day long...Now I get horses in with a laundry list of "he won't" or "he's afraid of" and generally it's because of a timid rider, or tentative handling.
The problem I have with that, boots, is that it cuts both ways. There are certainly folks who always make excuses for horses. But on the flip side...

Mia was a nervous horse. The pro I eventually hired concluded Mia had never been broken to ride because she interpreted some cues differently than a trained horse would. The pro concluded Mia & I had been riding together on a lot of mutual good will but very little understanding or training.

But when I asked for help on dealing with her spookiness, what I heard over and over and over again was that she was spooky BECAUSE I was nervous. Yet I couldn't help notice many of her worst spooks came when I was totally confident. If she was spooking BECAUSE I was nervous, why were the majority of spooks coming when I was totally confident?

The other thing I heard hundreds of times was "Make her!" If I would just stop trying to figure her out, and make her mind, she'd be fine! It was on the forum that I received the advice to "Get a bigger whip!" if the one I had failed to "make her" obey.

Tried it too. When she refused to go forward, I whipped her HARD with a folded over 8' leather rein. She backed up. So I whipped her more, and the harder I whipped her, the faster she went - backwards. When we were running out of room to go backwards, I stopped whipping and she stopped backing, then turned around and looked at me as if to say, "I don't know WHAT that thing ahead of us was, but I saved you! It hurt, but I saved you!"

Not long after that, I read a book (1890?) by James Fillis. He wrote:

Quote:
"The impressionability of a horse can be greatly diminished and modified by breaking. Custom establishes mutual confidence between horse and rider. If the animal has not been beaten, or violently forced up to the object of his alarm, and if the presence of his rider reassures him, instead of frightening him, he will soon become steady. It is a sound principle never to flog a horse which is frightened by some external object. We should, on the contrary, try to anticipate or remove the impression by "making much" of the animal.

I have already said that a horse has but little intelligence. He cannot reason, and has only memory. If he is beaten when an object suddenly comes before him and startles him, he will connect in his mind the object and the punishment. If he again sees the same object, he will expect the same punishment, his fear will become increased, and he will naturally try to escape all the more violently....

...My only advice about the management of nervous horses is to give them confidence by "making much of them." If we see in front of us an object which we know our horse will be afraid of, we should not force him to go up to it. Better let him at first go away from it, and then gently induce him to approach it, without bullying him too much. Work him in this way for several days, as long as may be necessary. Never bring him so close up to the object in question that he will escape or spin round ; because in this case we will be obliged to punish him ; not for his fear, but on account of his spinning round, which we should not tolerate at any time. In punishing him, we will confuse in his mind the fear of punishment and the fear caused by the object. In a word, with nervous horses we should use much gentleness, great patience, and no violence." (page 186)
That was my first encounter with someone who distinguished between types of horses and said some types need a different approach. Later, I came across the passage in Tom Roberts about the Bollock Carts in India, and giving a horse options.

In the "sticky" on making a good trail horse, for example, I find:

"2) Your job (as the rider) is not to let your horse look at everything new and decide it is OK. That is your job. You should NOT show him that there is nothing to be afraid of. Your job as an 'effective' rider is to teach him that he needs to trust YOU and ONLY YOU -- not his natural instincts....If you let a horse look at things, then you are teaching him to be afraid of everything that is new and telling him that things should be looked at instead of ignored. You are not telling him that it is OK to go right past it. I want a horse to ignore everything but me."

I asked the writer about Mia in a private message years ago, and she replied that Mia was an unusual horse who would need a different approach. I'm grateful for her response. But the approach she wrote about is the one many around me teach, and it made Mia go backwards - physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Bandit had been ridden using that approach. He was a PITA to ride when I got him! You never knew when he'd snap and suddenly race off across peoples' yards or across the desert. He'd spin and buck and I was told to just ride it out. And riding it out WAS part of the solution! I couldn't solve it in an arena! But I also needed to convince Bandit that we could work as a team, that I wouldn't try to just whip him past something!

There is a balance somewhere between, as you obviously recognize. There are people who make endless excuses and never give the horse a reason to get better. But there are also plenty of folks, both online and around where I live, who ought to give up horses and take up riding machines!

You can't give a horse courage by being afraid. But you don't give a horse confidence by ignoring its fears, either. Somewhere in between is where I want to be. I'm not Omnipotent but neither am I someone the horse can ignore. Man is God to Horse doesn't work for me. Neither does Horse is God to Man. I need to be tough enough to be worth listening to, but gentle enough to listen to my horse as well. And I still struggle to find the balance.

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #29 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 12:36 PM
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IMO it is impossible to desensitize a horse to everything in the environment, so it is a rather limited approach.

I use more of a behavior modification approach, combined with verbal and physical cues.

By behavior modification, things like mounting are taught. Also basic standing while I do things; brushing, cleaning hooves, etc. I recently obtained a rechargeable clipper (no electricity at barn) with the intent of partial body clipping my hairy gelding. I've owned him since 2012 and he has never had a clipper used on him.

So, his basic trust in me and training to stand was utilized with the clipper. I was able to body clip him on the first try with very little nervousness, even though he is in general a nervous horse.

He was rewarded with treats for his good behavior, and knew he did well.

I have also taught him to approach things that make him very nervous, so that he can see for himself that there is no threat.

Mildly worrisome things or sounds, he sort of asks me about, and I can verbally give him a cue that I have deemed the thing harmless and he can just carry on.


A prior horse I had, a grade QH, was completely content to let me make decisions on anything and everything. He was absolutely the most confident horse I have ever owned and probably ever will. Nothing scared that horse! Seriously nothing at all.

He was mainly my Dressage horse, but I could ride him on the trails or in a parade. He was the same horse every time. Simply amazing animal. He was not by any means a dead-head though, he was forward, and willing, and had absolute trust in his rider. Plus very affectionate. He was my heart horse...
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post #30 of 50 Old 05-05-2019, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post
horses that can't be desensitized need a different type of handling. The handler/rider can teach the horse that when they spook, they should react a certain way, such as following the rein and steering safely, only moving for a short distance, and with this type of practice they can learn to become calm faster and with less of a dramatic reaction.
Rather than trying to get the horse to stop reacting to things, the focus should be on how the horse reacts, and making that less severe over time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by boots View Post
My concern with this line of thinking I'd that owners/riders of a certain temperment will make excuses for a horse all day long.

I was setting up the reaction.

When I started modeling the actions of horsemen that treated things more matter of fact, I stopped having spooky horses.

Now I get horses in with a laundry list of "he won't" or "he's afraid of" and generally it's because of a timid rider, or tentative handling.
My horse Phin is exactly like what @gottatrot described. I can desensitize him to a specific thing in a specific place, but if that thing happens in a different place, its brand new again. He is aware of any change, no matter how minor, in his environment - he was raised feral on a big ranch in NM, so I assume that was a good and necessary life skill there. I quickly gave up on trying to desensitize him to specific things and instead worked on getting him to look to and trust me when something worried him and to contain his reaction to a more manageable (for me) level.

I do a lot of my training with a heart rate monitor, which was a fascinating learning experience for me in this case. To start, Phin's initial spook reaction was spin and leave, stopping 20-30 feet from the monster. As we became a team, he progressed to a spook and jump sideways, to now generally a startle in place without any sideways movement. To begin with, we had to pass the monster at a distance of several yards, with him wanting to scoot away once he was beside it. We have since worked to being able to pass within a couple feet of the monster with no attempt to scoot after. This would lead one to think he was less afraid, due to his trust in me. However, looking at my heart rate monitor during these events, I can tell you his heartrate is every bit as high now dealing with a scary thing as it was back when we started. So he isn't an iota less afraid, though I have taught him a different way to react to that fear.

Is this a reflection on myself as his rider? It may well be, as nobody else has ridden him since he's come here. I love my DH, but he is a not a problem-horse rider and I fear putting him in a situation where he might be injured. I hope to have the opportunity to put someone else on him at some point, because maybe it IS me. I don't make excuses for his behavior, but I do make some concessions (such as dismounting around traffic) to keep us both safe. Is that enabling his reactivity?

Quote:
Originally Posted by loosie View Post
horses who seem 'hypersensitive', I think there is a nutritional/gut health component there. I and others I know of have found that getting the gut healthy & providing well balanced nutrition & adequate magnesium effects them mentally & causes them to be less 'spooky'. It has also been found that gut & nutritional health in people is linked quite strongly with mental 'disorders' too.
What, specifically, is a 'healthy gut' and how do you know if a horse does or doesn't have one? Phin has had his magnesium (other electrolytes, vitamin E, selenium, and basic CBC/chem values) all checked and shown to be in the normal range. If there is something else I can be doing to help address his reactivity, I am all ears!
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