Desensitizing - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 12:50 PM Thread Starter
Green Broke
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Pony used to be fairly jumpy. Lately I've worked on desensitizing him to scary things. So far we've done a plastic bag, a crinkly plastic bag, a crinkly plastic bag full of metal containers that have rocks in them, rattled around, all over him, an umbrella (open, closed, opening, closing, over his head, over his whole body), and of course the classic blue tarp (open, closed, crinkly, all over his body, sitting on his back).

I understand the idea that I'm just desensitizing him to, say, blue tarps, and that it may not cross over to other things, but we're both enjoying working on this so I'd like to keep it up. And he's been a lot less jumpy lately. My question is, what other very scary things can I use with him?

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post #2 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 01:09 PM
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When Joker first came fo live here, he was not happy about having a bag of shavings thrown out over his stall (I have pipe panel stalls. Didnít take him long to get used to the bag being launched into his stall and sometimes hitting him.

He was used to getting bathed with the water hose but they mustíve never used a shower type nozzle, as that bothered him the first couple of times.

Work on wiping out ears with a damp paper towel. Not only removes excess dirt but itís a great way to teach the horse to allow its ears to be cleaned, in case they ever have to be cleaned.

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I CAN'T ride 'em n slide 'em. I HAVE to lead 'em n feed 'em Thnx cowchick77.
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post #3 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 01:17 PM
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It sort of does carry over, not so much the individual item, but the trust in you that you're developing with him.
Also, anything and everything can be used. Going on a hike away from others may reveal that he's afraid of leaves or water when he wasn't afraid of them back home.
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post #4 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 02:08 PM Thread Starter
Green Broke
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@walkinthewalk that's a good idea. He's a bit sensitive around the ears. We worked on that for a while, and he got much better, but it would probably be a good idea to work on it some more.

I have gotten him to where he holds still for me to poke and prod all of his other head orifices...
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"Saddle fit -- it's a no brainer!"" - random person
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post #5 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 02:49 PM
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I think it can carry over, in a general way. But, I think it depends on how the horse feels at the end of your desensitizing sessions.

If the horse learns to just stand still, and 'take' it, but feels really worried about it still, then I don't think they have learned the skill that will carry over into most future scary situations, and that is how to calm themselves or allow you to calm them.

That's why I often mention the horse that has learned to 'take' the tarp or stick or flag or whip moving around them while standing stock still, but cannot accept it if they are asked to just walk forward while the stimulation is still happening. They can't just walk calmly, because their defense was to freeze. Once that is gone, they need to flee, as that is their only defense left.

IMO a horse is not truly desensitized until you can do all the stuff you mention AND ask them to walk along at the same time.
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post #6 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 03:17 PM
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I have been surprised how much of that stuff has actually carried over into real-life situations.

For eg, where I ride a lot is on crown land. So you will end up riding through people's random camp sites. They will have garbage bags full of bottles/cans as well as garbage tied up and flapping around, plus clothes lines with towels, etc hanging. My horses, for the most part aren't too concerned with that stuff and can walk through with very little drama. Same with generators running, etc.

It can sometimes annoy me when people are always in our yard with their dirtbikes and snowmobiles, but man, I will tell you! My horses are so used to that stuff, that out on trail it rarely becomes an issue when we run in to people on quads and dirt bikes.

Although, the odd thing my mare is not desensitized to is kids. I don't have children and I haven't had her in many situations where little kids are around. So last weekend when we were riding and a little girl wanted to come pet the horses, Amber looked so unsure of what this little creature was.

But, I agree that having them walk through and not freeze up is the key. When I work my mare with a flag, I ask her to walk towards it; it piques her curiousity and also keeps her from freezing up.
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post #7 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 07:44 PM Thread Starter
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@tinyliny hmm, that's a very interesting about walking through. I had never considered that. I will say that Pony was pretty enthusiastic about the umbrella, once he linked that with treats. Once I decided that we were done with it, he followed me back to the barn with his nose on in ("Can I have more treats?") and waited while I got the tarp. Maybe that's not the same, though.

With the umbrella over his head, it was actually easier for me to ask him to come to me while I was holding up the umbrella.

So... with the tarp on his back, I guess I'd just leave it there, and then ask him to walk on?

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post #8 of 12 Old 06-02-2020, 10:28 PM
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when he's ready, yes. Set him up for success by having him ok with it at a calm standstill before you ask him to move with the same stimulus, and starting with it out in front of him, like you said, is kind of easier becasue horses are braver if they can 'chase' a scary thing.
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post #9 of 12 Old 06-07-2020, 10:02 AM
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I definitely think that it carries over,,the more scary/moving/noisy things he learns to accept and be calm around (Vs just tolerating briefly), the braver over all he will become.So that seems to help with say unexpected things that you have not desentized him to. After all, we can't possibly include every single thing, right? At least, that was my experience with Sonny.

Be creative and have fun. If you feel safe, do some of it while riding,,, along with the groundwork you're already doing. It's easier for the horse to be brave to a new object if YOU are on the ground and in the front (ie You are closer and likely to get eaten first, giving him time to run). It's a different situation when you are on the horse and he is closest to the scary object. I've used jacket on the fence-can I pick it up, rub him with it, put it on and take it off (while mounted), a child's floaty toy on a barrel--can we ride up to it, will he put his nose on it,,,can I get him to put his ribs up close or on it, can I pick it up and swing it on both sides of him,,,,a pole of pvc pipe laid across 2 barrels with a plastic bag on one end--can I pick up the pole and walk around the remaining barrel without having to drop it--if I do drop it does he remain calm----can we sidepass up to a mailbox-open it and take something out, then reclose it ? (things I've seen at obstacle trail competitions) Doing some of the desentizaion from the saddle , imo, really carries over to the horse being braver under saddle.) He learns to trust that if you 'say' its ok, it's probably ok.
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post #10 of 12 Old 06-07-2020, 10:20 AM
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We tried the tradition blue tarp which was fun. Umbrellas next. (and cars and bicycles and scary logs out hacking).

[IMG]101353424_2844147529027448_2019881647104589824_n by Frances Pidham, on Flickr[/IMG]
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