Welcome to Fern Valley

Here in central Alberta prime farm country,my husband Martin and I work together raising beef cattle and Appaloosa horses. Fern valley appaloosas have long been known for their quality of temperament conformation and color.I have recently rediscovered a love of writing and have published 2 collections of poetry. "Telling Tails" and Tails Trails and Campfire stories" . I look forward to a future spreading my wings as an author and as a horse woman .

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sense and desensitize


Thinking post again gang , and all of this is simply my opinion and  my experiences. I am not here to tell you I am the next  best thing in training . I am just here to share my thoughts and insights, take it,leave it  as you wish .
I have been thinking about this for quite some time. The idea of "desensitizing" horses to certain items. Temple Grandin  touched on this briefly in her talk to say ,(more or less) that a blue tarp at home on the barn may become familiar and safe to a horse, but that an Orange tarp flapping off the pack on the trail is a whole different thing .Another prime example is here, my horses are raise around and even at times in with cattle  Beef cattle so all should be well right? Well try the neighbors yearling holstein  getting loose a few years ago and wandering onto the farm a little rattled and"  heads up" You would have thought the Circus had come to town . Jazz and co took out 2 fences in their  panic! Even Unflappable Johnnie ,steady Eddie Blue and Stryker were a bit bug eyed!
 So if that is the case why do we desensitize? If it is impossible to  think of every possible  thing that may or may not spook a horse . And I know from experience,NOTHING prepares you for a frying pan  bouncing  along beside a panicked horse in a shale wash in the mountains !!!

So what is  this about ?I see and read a lot of  folks talking about "desensitizing" to this and that , and they seem to have the how down , but I am not sure if they have the why. And without the why ,in my opinion the how doesn't really work or matter . As I said above  you are never going to think of every possible scenario, so the why is  paramount !I believe a limited amount of desensitizing is a good thing in that it is a TOOL to teach your horse , teach them what?Quite simply to  FOCUS on you . So that when your horse is startled , spooked,panics which they all invariably will do at some point the skills you have built into their training will help you to focus them on you and less on the object of fear. The one rein stop does  what? slows them, brings their attention back to you , as do several other tools .
So when I am working a horse, same as halter breaking ,I use small steps and don't  hold the horse hard and fast rather I let them  move but I move with them in a circle , so that I am encouraging them to stop.when they do I stop, and then start again until they are calmly accepting whatever I am doing .Now during this process I do ask a little harder each time for them to stop or to at least face up, because running in circles doesn't actually accomplish much  unless there is an end point , once they focus on me even briefly I ease the pressure , then add a little and so on . Does it matter what I desensitize to? well yes and no, a rope around a leg  can and does happen so I guess you could do that, and the girth /cinch is a good thing to introduce (I actually prefer that than desensitize ) same as eventually  pad saddle etc but mostly what I am about when I am introducing things is getting them to react to it and bring back focus to me.And I am not saying  never practice new things, if you are going on a trails ride and your horse has never seen water? show it to him if you can . And practice trail obstacle etc , I am just saying , you can show a horse 50 flags and  one day it will be a different color and size and it wont be a flag to them , so what do you do then if you cannot get him to  focus on you ? That is paramount to safety, the horse should be focused on you , or able to be brought back to focus  easily. And that is what I think "desensitizing" exercises are about .which when taken that way its not at all about desensitizing , it actually makes your horse more sensitive and therefore more responsive.And that horse "when the Circus comes to town" , will keep you safe .

Clear as mud? As I said in the beginning it is my opinion and based on my experience . All are welcome to their own opinion. A desensitized horse  to me is a slab sided deadhead who wouldn't know a circus from a circle .
So maybe its is about terminology and I am totally off base or ...

Anyhow  stay safe my friends

23 comments:

Crystal said...

I agree, its more about the horse paying attention to you no matter what is going on around them. And unfortunately there is no possible way to make a bombproof horse and get them used to everything. One of my favorite tricks is to pretend it is normal and it happens all the time, like its no big deal. Seems to work pretty good so far.

I too agree with your last statement, you don't want a super desensitized horse or a super sensitized horse either, somewhere in the middle seems to work - action without craziness and fear.

Kate said...

I agree with everything you say. Horses don't generalize well about objects - a water bucket on its side isn't the same as a water bucket sitting upright.

I'm looking for the horse to have an ability to self-calm, have curiosity be greater than fear, and to be able to respect my space and listen to me and stay with me even when something really worries them. I think a lot of "desensitized" horses are really overwhelmed and shut down, particularly if the desensitization has been done in such a way as to force the horse to tolerate whatever it is.

With Dawn, who is particularly reactive, I've had good success with using a bit of clicker training to get her to approach scary objects on her own and calm down if an object scares her. She's much better than she used to be. I don't use clicker a lot, but it really worked in this situation.

aurora said...

Good thinking. You are not off base, anyone with half a horse-sense will understand what you are saying and agree with you. I do.

GoLightly said...

Love this. So true.

Ami said...

I am always so impressed by the depth of thought you put into taking care of your horses. I'm sure that same compassion, thought, and intelligence goes into interpersonal relationships, too, although men don't really need desensitized. Ha.

((((hugs))))

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Yeah, I've noticed that desensitizing to specific objects never really seems to work. What I hear all the time is to teach your horse "to spook in place" while desensitizing, but I have yet to hear how to teach a horse to spook in place. Hobble them while you shake a bag in their face? I've just come to the conclusion that some horses will always spook. There's no warning, so you just always have to be ready to hang on and circle them after the fact. I'm not sure how to get them to resist the impulse of spooking and voluntarily turn their attention to you if they don't give you any warning. If you feel them tense up, you can turn them to face the object, but if something bursts out of the brush at your horse's feet, he's just going to react. I'm an older, experienced woman and I still jump when that happens. You can't train me to hold still when something scary and unexpected flies at me.

Ian Holland said...

My biggest worry is coming across a moose while on a trail ride. All three of my horses "Blow up" when they see one. I haven't come across one while riding, so I hope their trust level is high enough to ride it out.

I was also worried about bears, but this proved unfounded when I had to pass within 40 feet of a small one. My horse saw it, but responded to my commands OK. Next time? Who knows?

My worst horse for spooking is now down to a quick startle response when something comes out of the bush , like a dog. She no longer does the turn and run.

My feeling is that the more time you can spend with the horse, the greater the trust level, and the less explosive the response.

But then again, what do I know? :-}

fernvalley01 said...

Nuzz Muzz, the circleing in smaller circles when spooked is part of the learn to spook in place , as you teach them not to come into your space but to look to you for feedback and comfort. You are doing well with your lessons , keep up the good work

fernvalley01 said...

Yup, Crystal dont want hem to be in your lap either! LOL
Ami,GLand Aurora, thank you .
Ian, I actually was startled by how casual my horses were when near a bear(kinda freaked me out a bit )As to the moose, same thing as quickly as possible get ther focus back to you , circle , take the back end away etc
Kate I have often wondered about clicker training, as much as I know about it I can see where it would be helpful

Linda said...

Your clear as mud but I understand you ;) I want my horses to trust me when we get in a bad situation. Sometimes that's easier said than done too.

Shirley said...

Good points, Sherry. I prefer to think of it as building trust rather than desensitizing. I like to introduce young horses to many different "obstacles" with the purpose of teaching them to think, and to trust that a) said object won't hurt them, and b) I won't put them in a situation that will cause them harm. I like them to have their natural "fight or flight" reaction at first, and then stop and think it over, and approach with caution, if they do that, then my plan is working. The more you introduce them to, and the more they look to you for leadership, the better your chances of them not blowing at strange things on the trail. It's always good to have a "calm down" cue, usually the one rein stop unless of course you don't want them to actually stop. As in, if they see a bear or moose etc. Then maybe a cue that gets their attention on you, such as bridling up.

Gina Gao said...

I totally agree with everything said in this post. Horses are amazing.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Janice said...

I don't think you're off base:)

C-ingspots said...

Good post Sherry! And yes, quite clear actually. I so agree. I was reminded that Ray used to ask people; "why in hell would you want to desensitize your horse?". And like you've been saying, it's not about desensitizing them at all; rather about being able to focus and place their trust in you as their reliable leader. But the more experiences/obstacles/situations, whatever we can introduce them do will help to build confidence. Both confidence in themselves and in us. Love it!

C-ingspots said...

Just now read your other comments. Good thoughts and ideas all around, I think! Terminology is in many cases different that people may use, but often times can be similar processes. My main thing with teaching horses just about anything is to keep them moving their feet. A stuck horse is a time-bomb. Always better to get them moving, direct their feet and that is a sure fire way to get their brains working. Seems like their brain is directly connected to their feet. Move the feet/direct their mind. Ray always said this too, "direct the life in the body through the mind to the feet". It's all true, and more simple than us people want to make it most times. Good thing when we think too huh?

Cut-N-Jump said...

Desensitizing is one thing I can't stand hearing around horses. Right up there with 'bombproof'. If there are bombs going off, I want my horse to get me the Hell OUTTA Dodge! Not just stand around ignoring everything.

One Bad Pixie said...

I agree that maybe the terminology is leaving something to be desired.

I can't stand the 'treat mongers'. Ohhh she looks pretty, give her a treat. Wow, she flicked an ear, give her a treat. She looked at me and blinked an eye- two treats.

What happens if (Heaven forbid!) you ever run out of treats????

fernvalley01 said...

I agree Pixie. I am not against treat totally but not so much as a training tool. Especially with pressure and release. If you become too free with the treats you will become ever so familiar with pressure and release , as the horse pressures you to relase the treats

Sarah said...

I just found and joined your blog. We are lovers of horses and all things country!

fernvalley01 said...

Welcome Sarah! thanks for stopping by

4RRanch said...

Make total sense. I think the desensitizing gives the horse more confidence but also helps it look to you as the leader. But really, they are all individuals and therefore always unpredictable. Good descriptions. And what a day you had meeting Temple Grandin.

Country Gal said...

I agree with you here 100% Its like training a dog to trust you and focus on you when things arise . No animal can totally be Desensitize not even humans are fully desensitized there is just some things that will make animals and humans freak out about that's nature in it's self ! It can go either way make them feel comfortable or a bag of nerves all in how it is done ! But you can help the fear of what ever it is be a bit easier for said animal or human . Great post and subject . Have a good day !

Reddunappy said...

I agree with you too.
Respect and trust leads to confidence. What gets you there, consistency.
Desensitation, bombproof, etc. are buzzwords.
Some horses are very high flight, some are fight, most are somewhere in the middle.
Back to trust and respect. Both ways! They know if you dont trust them, we arent so good at telling sometimes if they dont trust us.

We could go on and on, on this subject! LOL