Desensitising Your Horse – Part 3

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Desensitising Lily

If you have already desensitised your horse with the saddle pad, the next logical step in the progression would be to move on to the rope. It is important that your horse is not afraid of a rope. All areas of the body need to be covered, and these include the head, ears, rump, under the tail (yes, under the tail), around the legs, under the belly, the chest and the withers. It is also important to train your horse to stay still while you have a rope tied to its feet. This helps to ensure that he will not panic in the situation that its leg gets caught in a wire or other similar objects that might hurt him.

Desensitising with a rope also has far more to it than what most people think. It is required because most of what you use to ride a horse has something on it that will bump, slap, slide down or get tangled in the legs and feet (long reins, cinches, etc). They should also learn that a rope in itself will cause them no harm and that they need not get frightened by it and start throwing a fit. The lesson not only teaches the horse to stay calm but also serves to protect the safety of the rider.

First of all, take your horse into a safe working area like a round yard. As explained previously, not a stable. Lunge in gently for a minute or two to focus his mind on the job.

To start off, try using a long soft cotton lead rope. You want to make sure that you never hit the horse with the rope. When you first start using this rope, the horse may think you are asking him to move off. If this occurs, just stop and wait until the horse settles. Approach the horse slowly, but directly at his shoulder. Present him with the rope and let him sniff it and let him have a good look at it. When you feel the horse is ready, gently bring the rope to his neck and rub it. As the horse feels more comfortable, slowly move towards his withers, then back and rump. Be cautious when you reach this area and the horse might kick. Then move back towards the head. Do it on both sides. Keep doing this exercise until the horse is fully relaxed and at ease with the rope.

You might want to finish the session there or keep going. Don’t’ forget you always need to finish on a good, positive note.

Once your horse is accustomed to the exercise above, then you want to go further. As you did with the saddle pad, slowly start to swing the rope all over the place. Work away from the body for it to get used to the movement. When he is alright with that, start to throw it on the ground, over his body, under his legs, between his legs. Do this in a slow, calm and non-threatening manner as there is a tendency for horses to panic the moment they feel a rope under their bellies or around their legs. Never hit the horse with the rope or you will go back to square one.

In the event where your horse runs away then you need to take on the role of the leader or Alpha horse. To do this, make him move around the round yard, then stop and call him back. Your horse must feel safe with you because you are the alpha horse. Until you achieve this status, your horse will run away from you when frighten.

Praise your horse when he is doing well

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