Desensitising Your Horse – Part 4

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Desensitising Lily to a big plastic bag

Now that you have finally accomplished desensitising your horse to the saddle pad and rope, it is time for the most difficult job. Horses have a natural fear of plastic due to the unnatural look and feel of it as well as the noises plastic bags or sheets make when you touch them.Similar to how you desensitised your horse to the saddle pad and rope, you want to take this lesson slow and easy. Set the pace according to the horse’s ability to adapt, mood and its personality. To start off, try hanging a plastic back at the end of a buggy whip or lunge whip in front of the horse. Once you have caught its attention, shake the whip around a little to rattle the bag. Do not be alarmed if your horse runs away immediately upon this action. It is quite normal the first few times. However, your horse should gradually start to get accustomed to it and finally calm down enough for you to shake the plastic bag in front of him without moving away too much.

Once that is accomplished, it is time to up the level of training. Your horse is already relatively comfortable with you shaking the plastic bag in front of it but you must now try to get it to accept the touch and feel of the strange object. To keep things progressing at a comfortable pace, try touching the back of your horse with the plastic bag lightly. If it gets too panicky, go back a step and show it that the plastic bag is harmless. Slowly start to get your horse to accept the feeling of the cold and noisy plastic bag touching its bare skin.

Your horse will get used to it soon and start to stay still while you touch its back with the bag. The moment you get to this phase, try to escalate once more and touch the other parts of the horse with the plastic bag. As before, if the horse throws a fit, go back a step and touch its back with the plastic bag again. Every once in awhile, shake the plastic bag in front of it to remind it that it is harmless. Make contact with every part of the horse’s body using the plastic bag. When your horse gets extremely comfortable with the plastic bag and knows that it is of no threat to it, it might even let you put it on its head. Once again, bear in mind that how long the entire training process takes depends on the personality of the horse.

In conclusion, remember that when working with horses, keep calm, stay careful and always work safely. Be patient and do not get frustrated as these methods take some time to work. Furthermore, constantly remind yourself that, like humans, horses have personalities and moods and these will affect the speed and progress of the lesson plans. Treat every horse with respect and show them love and they will soon return the favour.

Don’t forget to praise and reward your horse when he does well!

You can now apply the same technique to as many objects and situations as you can think of. Some horses need a lot of repetition to really get used to things, so it’s a good idea to revisit these exercises now and then.

Have fun!

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