TRAINING -Sensitize or Desensitize by Clinton Anderson

The balance ratio you need between sensitizing and desensitizing depends on a horse's temperament, but all horses need exercises doing both.

Desensitizing the horse does not cause him to lose any of his responsiveness—it just makes him calmer, quieter, and less likely to spook and react to movement around him. When we want a horse to move in response to our pressure, that's sensitizing

Here's how To Desensitize Your Horse

When we're desensitizing a horse, what we're actually doing is teaching him to ignore a stimulus. Desensitizing the horse does not cause him to lose any of his responsiveness—it just makes him calmer, quieter, and less likely to spook and react to movement around him. If you desensitize a horse too much, he may well become quiet and relaxed, but he won't want to move, and may become resentful, pushy, and disrespectful. [caption id="attachment_74" align="alignnone" width="531"]de_1 Here I'm desensitizing my horse, first with the lead rope—tossing it up over and around all parts of his body.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_135" align="alignnone" width="500"]bimage Next, I desensitize him with my Handy Stick and String, always starting softly over his back, tossing and then dragging the string all over his body including his legs.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_76" align="alignnone" width="483"]de_3 Then I begin the same process again, this time with a plastic bag on the end of my Handy Stick. First. I desensitize by tapping the air around the horse's body. Next, I rub him all over with the bag. Finally, I tap him all over with the bag. It is important with all of these exercises to use my Approach and Retreat Method. Approach: apply the pressure with rhythm and keep it constant until the horse stands still and relaxes; then Retreat: remove the pressure and rub the horse to reward him.[/caption]

Here's How To Sensitize Your Horse

When we're sensitizing a horse, we're asking him to pay attention to whatever stimulus we're using to cue him. When you sensitize a horse too much, you may well get him respectful and moving his feet whenever you want him to, but he may also become quite reactive and difficult. Here I am doing some sensitizing groundwork with my horse. [caption id="attachment_90" align="alignnone" width="500"]sensitize_1 Disengaging the Hindquarters: I'm asking him to perform the exercise Yielding the Hindquarters—Stage One by putting pressure on his hindquarters with my body language and fanning the air with the Handy Stick. He needs to keep his inside front foot planted and cross his inside back foot in front of his outside hack foot as he goes around in a 360-degree circle.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_87" align="alignnone" width="500"]sensitize_2 Backing: I am demonstrating Marching, one of my Method's four backing exercises. As I march toward him with exaggerated arm movement, his job is to match my speed and stay out of my space. Backing is one of the most important groundwork exercises you can do. I back my horses everywhere.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_88" align="alignnone" width="500"]sensitize_3 Lungeing: Here I am sending my horse off with energy in my Lungeing for Respect exercise. Notice how he is quiet and attentive. There is slack in the lead line but energy in his feet as he moves around me in a nice, even circle.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_89" align="alignnone" width="500"]sensitize_4 Sending: This exercise is good for sensitizing your horse to pressure from the halter on his poll—and at the same time it works as a desensitizing exercise that teaches him to go calmly through narrow spaces and move past spooky objects.[/caption]

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I want a horse that is responsive when I want him to move, but when I ask him to stand still and fall asleep, he'll do so in a heartbeat. My horse, Mindy, loves it when I relax my body language, because she knows that is her opportunity for a well-earned rest.
Note: Excerpted from Clinton Anderson Lessons Well Learned
 Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books
 Copyright © 2009 Clinton Anderson
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.