De-sensitising horses

Discussion in 'Training Horses' started by taylor, Apr 25, 2011.

  1. taylor

    taylor Well-known Member

    Ok, since obviously a number of people had differing views on what de-sensitising horses is and isn't, perhaps it would be worth finding out what people think it actually is. I'm not asking for or encouraging discussion about particular trainers, I'm just interested to find out what people think it in fact is.

    I believe that a horse that has been desensitised is one that will not instantly react to outside influences in a way that effects its work. By this I mean that it will stay with its rider/handler rather than worrying about what's going on around it - for example if you're at a show, there's lots of flappy flags etc, and instead of losing it because of the outside influences (flags) the horse listens to the rider/handler. The horse can cope with new and different situations because of its handling and experiences, and does not let its natural fight/flight instincts take over when exposed to new things. It's not that the horse does not notice things, or that it is dulled to aids, it just listens to what its rider/handler is asking it to do over the scary/different influence. I realise not everyone will agree with that definition, and that others may phrase it differently, just looking to find what other people think.
  2. whitepantheress

    whitepantheress Well-known Member

    The whole emphasis I think is what you are desensitising to. "Normally" one would desensitise to potentially scary things like flappy things, and at the same time "sensitise" to aides. Because you can do both, at the same time. You train up to reaction to aids from the smallest possible pressure before release, and also to "stand" and wait when "scary" things happen.

    An unresponsive horse has been poorly trained rather than the training philosophy being incorrect.
  3. valdez

    valdez Well-known Member

    I believe in sensitising the horse to the aids so that when a scary situation comes along they are sensitive enough to the aids to listen when the situation gets a bit hairy.

    Accustoming (instead of de-sensitising, i don't like to put it that way) horses to things we might encounter like cyclists, flying plastic bags, dirt bikes while under saddle is important so you know if you have sensitised the horse enough before the situation occurs.

    My horse had to get used to being lead down the road with a pram being pushed ahead, kids popping up at random times at the sides of arenas and loud noises going on. I don't expect for a second that i have overridden her flight instinct, just given myself tools to deal with it should i need to. I suspect of her own choice, on her own, or in a herd she would behave very differently confronted with the same situations.
  4. shadowkat

    shadowkat Well-known Member

    I agree with what's been said, and I also think desensitising trains the horse to look to the leader (you, hopefully) for guidance, instead of reacting instinctively to outside stimuli.
    I'm guessing in a herd situation, the lead mare and stallion's reactions would guide the rest of the herd when something unexpected happened, that the horses wouldn't just bolt in all directions independently.
    I don't think it has anything to do with sensitivity to the aids - except free the horse's mind up to pay attention to them.
  5. Eoroe

    Eoroe Gold Member

    I honestly think.....that it is just in misconception with the use of the english language.

    Those who describe desensitisation as introducing your horse to potentially confronting situations and giving them the appropriate leadership, with handling/riding skills at the time to encourage a clam, thinking sensitive response with the horse still in hand.....

    Well honestly -I would call that exposure......and so would many :)

    Desensitisation really does - in the true sense of the word, make the animal less sensitive.

    I think that their is a TOTAL misconception between the wording - desensitisation is a broad phrasing, and does not differentiate between response to external influence - or the response to a riders aids and requests....

    Exposure - explains the activity that is done to try and encourgae a less sensitive response to external stimuli.

    The act of desensitising the horse to external stimuli - whilst maintaining sensitive aids, with a thinking horse......basically comes down to good riding, timeing and feel.

    The act of employing a trainer to undertake this excersie is simply employing their experience, timeing and feel - as well and giving them danger money to undertake this process.

    How a rider will interprit this outcome, the training undertaken, or the current state of the animal - is entirely dependant on their personal riding skills, sensitivity, ability, timing and feel.......
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  6. taylor

    taylor Well-known Member

    I like the terms accustoming and exposure - generally that's what I'd call it too, I was just using the term from the previous thread that was shut down!

    Thanks for the replies so far - good to see everyone being constructive and positive. :)
  7. Merlin

    Merlin Well-known Member

    Having a 4 year old boy, a hubby with his toys in the same shed as the stables, a barking heel nipping heeler and a sports oval over the road has pretty much de-sensitised my 2 TB's. Correct feed, work and TRUST go along way in de-sensitising in my opinion :)
  8. Roskyle Mr GingerbreadMan

    Roskyle Mr GingerbreadMan Well-known Member

    I think I might start calling it accostoming and exposure!
    I think those words are a better description of the term anyway **)
    I see "desensitising" or accostoming, as I will now call it, as exposing the horse to many situations so they are generally more calm in new and scary situations. I do not believe it dulls the aids, I think of it more in a sense of if you happened to be at a show, and there was a horse bolting or a jump rail falling over, instead of spooking/bolting, the horse would be much more calmer than a horse that had never been "accustomed/exposed/desensitied.
    But everyone is entitled to their own opinion and ways of training, I find this is what works best for me, but others may not :)
  9. BillyBob

    BillyBob Well-known Member

    Agree with Eoroe - desensitising is a fancy way to say the horse has been exposed to possible situations.

    We "desensitise" a horse so it accepts being ridden, floats, ties up etc.

    None of this comes natually.

    We expose it to as much as possible so it becomes a safe horse to handle and take out.

    We hope that in a situation, rather than take flight the horse will stop and either look for its rider for reassurance or have the training to safely respond to the situation.


    Horse caught in fence.

    Hopefully it will stand and wait for owner to find it and free its leg and due to training, rather than have it struggle and potentially cause a lot of damage to fence and itself.

    If said horse has been chased into a fence by a predator that is still attacking then it sure isn't going to wait to be freed.

    Natural instinct will always kick in but its the amount of exposure a horse has had to its environment and that particular situation that will predict how it will react.

    To me desensiting has nothing to do with dulling aids or a horses response to them.

    Any one who has desensitised a horse to respond to aids is just plain silly.

    There is no benefit to that and just screams a poor rider to me or an uneducated horse.
  10. Go the Distance

    Go the Distance Well-known Member

    Personally I don't like a horse that is 'desensitised' as such. I find them doughy to work with and at times unresponsive. This is one of the reasons I do not over handle babies and youngsters. They get daily handling and learn thier manners with a bit of a scratch at the same time but they do not get over handled or 'desensitised'.

    Some natural horsemanship gurus go completely over the top with desensitising and the resulting horse can be completely bored, dull, sour and at times difficult to work with.

    Now exposure is a different thing and I think it is good for horses both youngsters and older horse. However once again a young horse can be ruined with over exposure with showing and going to events. Just my opinion.
  11. Nicki

    Nicki Well-known Member

    Taylor your OP took the words out of my mouth, was exactly what I was thinking. I too have reservations about the term 'desensitising' as it can clearly (especially when looking at some of the responses in the closed thread) be misunderstood. Remember when it used to be called 'bomb-proofing' and everyone knew exactly what that meant? :D
  12. lollipop

    lollipop Active Member

    So the question posed is, if you take a horse to a "trainer" and get it '?ccustomed' to all sorts of frightening ojects that it will be better to handle at shows etc? Perhaps different enviroments create different reactions? ';' IMO teaching a horse to float ,tie up etc is not desenitising but is in fact part of the process of 'starting' or handling horses.;)
    IMO 99% of people have never really ridden a horse that is soft and 'right on'. They just assume they have;)
    How many people on this thread or the Watkins thread have actually 'started or broken their own horses' in? Perhaps that should be the most important question asked.

    I have been on SY long enough to know that NH threads get crucified by other members pretty quickly however these same culprits take real umbrance to anything being said in a less than positive light about one of their locals, why is that I wonder?';'
  13. sil

    sil Gold Member

    I have. I use Watkins as I am no longer able to break my own in. However I don't feel it's a 'requirement' to discuss desensitisation. We have plenty of intelligent, thinking horsepeople on this forum with good advice, who may have never fully broken in a horse; it would be a shame to exclude them.

    You mentioned in the now-closed thread that there are "many ways to teach a horse to stand ' while tangled in a fence without strapping its legs together." Perhaps it would be useful for you to share some of these techniques with us? It would be much more informative than just telling people they are wrong?
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  14. Diana

    Diana Gold Member

    I'd better start calling it accustoming then :p but yeah...
    (bearing in mind I'm not very good at it, but I do my best & read a LOT) I teach my horse aids, practice them (mainly groundwork - so moving him to both sides, backwards, forward, around on forehand & hindquarters...) and by practicing them the idea is that if/when we come across a challenging situation (Dave's favourite: Uncle Philip going past in the tractor with the sprayer) Dave can handle it. Because he's listening to me rather than freaking out about the "distraction".
  15. BillyBob

    BillyBob Well-known Member

    I have started and broken in a few horses in my time.

    Does that make me good.... hell no!

    Agree with Sil.

    It has no relevance.

    It is interesting to see what each people label "desensitising".
  16. Eoroe

    Eoroe Gold Member

    I would be one of those :)* **) I still do - and will continue to do so :)

    Yep...its not really that important to the topic. I agree - every day, in each new environment our horse may imagine boogey men, they may see something that they do not understand, and may require the appropriate riding - with the right timeing of aids, and the right feel to move them on from that.

    This will give the desired outcome, and the ultimate acheivment from the act of exposure.

    The way of riding that one must have when breaking, starting, training a horse to acheive the softest outcome. And one that we must ride in to continue to maintain this, and throughout the process of Exposure - is the samge riding style me mus tall strive for, all the time - and every time we rdie.

    Its quite simply - good horsemanship, and clear communication.

    When we talk about timeing and feel, we need to understand it. And we also need to completely understand exactly what we are asking.

    Timeing - is the art of knowing the desired outcome having been acheived, and then providing release at the right moment for the most effective understanding.
    For example - Release of pressure at the exact moment of response. This is hard to see for many - and it certainly isnt the moment the horse has stood complety still when asking for a halt from a baby.....

    Horses are the Masters. They carry the BEST timeing and feel. Such as we do when learning ourselves........Horses are their best teachers. As we are our OWN best teachers.

    The use of equipment, and activities such as, Leg restraint training, use of Chambons, pessoa systems, solid tieing with neck straps, side reins, running reins are all relying on the horses own give and release mechanism. The horse provides itself with the quickest, most effective point of release that it can have.

    The horse is ALWAYS the best at providing its own pressure and release. The horse is the best at Natural Horsemanhip.....The horse is the best horse trainer.

    Providing these training aids - in the safest environment, with undertsanding of the system, and our HUMAN role in it is imperitive.

    The rest is up to the horse.

    If we put our animals in domestic situations - if we expect them to be safe, happy and healhty in it. If we care enough to provide them with the skills to give them the best chance of providing this safety for themselfves, and coming out the other end mentally sound - we NEED to do the hard yards. We need to provide them with the skills to survive.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  17. lollipop

    lollipop Active Member

    I think the question is totally relevant, how can anyone talk the talk if they can't walk the walk. ';'
    The use of artificial aids IMO shows a lack of feel and timing which really equates to good thinking horsemanship.:}
    I actually am not telling people they are wrong, just there are other ways.**)

    Teaching a horse to lead by his feet kills two birds with one stone firstly you can pick up their feet and secondly they will stand still when tangled. I find this works particularly well with horses that have had very little exposure to humans. Leg restraints can cause wilder horses to become very frightened and panic as their flight mechanism has been taken away. I have seen so called pro's try to deal with these horses and have managed to just get the horses necks broken.#( Perhaps it is all ok with horses that are handled since birth. Why then do you need to desensitise a horse that has been handled since birth and is basically more human than horse, sureley it would have had its feet handled, been rubbed out, loaded on a float?';'

    I I agree with GTD overhandled horses equate to rude, dull and spoilt horse. I have never seen one otherwise;)

    Horses no well how to survive they just have problems surviving humans sometimes.:D
  18. sil

    sil Gold Member

    Lollipop, perhaps it would be more useful to lay out what YOU would do? Saying 'move his feet' is not very helpful. I'd be interested in learning how this will lead to yielding the legs when caught in a fence.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  19. taylor

    taylor Well-known Member

    I have started horses, however I don't see how that is relevant to the discussion. Some people have not had the opportunity to do so for a variety of reasons, that doesn't mean that they are not able to discuss what they think a concept is or how it may affect them. I know that now I would rather have someone start a horse for me, as I don't have a property anymore or the time I used to have to spend with the horses. I'm sure there are a lot of people in the same boat, doesn't make their opinions any less valid.

    Overhandled or incorrectly handled??? I don't see how handling and exposure from a young age results in an unpleasant horse if it's done correctly.

    Sil - couldn't agree more with your last post! :)
  20. Eoroe

    Eoroe Gold Member


    That is exactly what I was saying **)

    Their is a difference between teaching a horse to walk with a rope.

    And teaching a horse to stand with a rope.

    One encourages movement.

    One makes it clear that the horse is best not to move :)

    I personally - am happy to do whatever it takes, to provide my horse with the mental skills to be able to overcome panick when they are on their own, wrapped in whatever fence they may have found, tangled in whatever situation they have gotten themselves into.

    I WILL not teach my horse to rely on me - when I am preparing them for a situation where I am not around to help them.

    This is simply betraying trust in my mind. And contrary to effective learning - and effective preperation and teaching.

    The situation will not occur when I am around - as I would never put them in that situation...........
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011

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