EFM6 – Reinforcing Trust – Desensitization


Introduction

Horses are prey animals. Their primary defence against predation is to take flight. They have evolved to flee at the first sign of danger and for them an unfamiliar object is a predator until proven otherwise. From a practical perspective this means we have to teach horses not to be afraid of new things and to trust our judgement when it comes to deciding what is safe and what is not.

We can do this by desensitizing horses to potentially spooky objects and situations in a controlled and safe environment using the horses natural strategy of advance and retreat.

In this session we will practice teaching a horse to trust us when it comes to dealing with the unfamiliar.

Session Objectives

By the end of this session you will:

  • understand the concept of advance and retreat
  • have practiced desensitizing the horse to a variety of external stimuli

Principles to Be Practiced

  • safety first – for you and the horse
  • present moment awareness 
  • leadership
  • clear communication (intent)
  • application and release of pressure
  • advance and retreat
  • 7 attitudes of mindfulness – non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.

Preparation

Please read How to Understand Horse Body Language

How Horses Communicate

Session Activities

  • check in / personal mindfulness practice (optional)
  • assess the herd
  • halter a horse and lead it away from the herd
  • groom the horse
  • park the horse
  • play the friendly game
  • back the horse away
  • draw the horse in
  • cause the horse to yield its hind
  • cause the horse to yield its fore
  • Drive the hind to to draw the head
  • desensitization

Questions to Consider

Before you arrive think about and be prepared to discuss the answers to the following questions:

  • Can you desensitize a horse to every eventuality?
  • Can you teach your horse to trust your judgment ? If so, how?
  • What types of external stimuli tend to be the most “spooky”?