Desensitizing — Sacking Out

When I first start messing with my colts I like to really desensitize them to everything I can think of.  Horses are prey animals and are always on alert that something may be coming to eat them.  I want to expose my horses to as much as possible so they will be less likely to spook later on.

I like to start by desensitizing my colts to the everyday tools I will be using.  I take the object I’m desensitizing my horse to and first let him sniff it.  The first object I usually use is my lead rope.  I  rub him on the forehead with the rope, and once he relaxes and doesn’t seem to mind the rope touching his head, I rub the rope down his neck.  I then proceed to rub the rope all over his body.  If I come to a place that he is starting to act a little spooky, I just move back to a place where he was relaxed.  Let’s say you are rubbing his neck with a rope, and he is nice and relaxed with that.  Then when you start to move down his shoulder onto his leg he starts to move around.  I simply go back to rubbing the rope on his neck and work my way back down to his shoulder then onto his leg.  Again if he starts to act up go back to rubbing his neck.  Eventually he will be okay with the rope touching his legs.  You also need to make sure to desensitize you horse to everything on both sides.  Something may be okay with your horse on one side and completely freak him out on the other.  The following pictures are of me desensitizing Cobain to a rope.  Notice how in the first couple pictures he looks a little unsure.  Then in the bottom picture he seems completely relaxed.  It is at this point I will either quit for the day or move on to another object to desensitize him to.

Every time I introduce my horse to something new I go through the same process.  I let him sniff it.  I rub his face with it.  Then starting at the neck I rub it all over his body.  I feel that desensitizing is a very important part of training and is a step that your horse can never get too much of.

Here I’m desensitizing Cobain to a brush.  Because Cobain was born in the wild, everything he sees he thinks is a potential threat.



Next I desensitize him to a saddle blanket.

I can’t stress how important it is to desensitize young horses to as many different things as you can.  While you can’t expose them to everything,  the more you do expose them to the better horse you will have.  Take your time in during the desensitizing process,  the results will be well worth the effort you put into it.

In the Beginning

People have many different ways of gentling and training their colts.  Not every method works with every horse, and not every method works with every person.  Because the horse I am using for this process is a mustang that was born in the wild, I will be using methods that won’t make him feel trapped or in danger.   If I put too much pressure on him, he will feel captured.  At that point he will only have escaping on his mind and won’t be in learning mode.

I actually have been extremely busy this first week that I have owned Cobain, my 2 yr old mustang, gelding, so I haven’t been able to spend much time with him.  But I have taken several steps to get him ready to be worked with.

When I picked him up at the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, they ran him through a shoot to load him into my trailer.  While he was in the shoot I had one of the BLM employees slip a halter on him so that would be one less step for me.  Because this halter is going to be left on Cobain for several weeks, I selected a nylon halter.  I love rope halters for training horses, but I find them dangerous to leave on a horse full time.  You also want your halter to be well fitted, so it won’t slip off of your horse, or he get a leg caught in it if he reaches to scratch his face.  Cobain has a smaller head for a mustang so I ended up using a halter for a horse 500-800 pounds.  It fits perfectly.

Because my resources allow it, I have placed my colt in a pen that is away from other horses.  This will help him bond more quickly to me.  The pen is constructed of heavy duty panels.  The pen is about 50 feet in diameter and is attached to a small barn so Cobain can get out of the weather.   I do not leave a bale of hay in the pen that he can eat off of when ever he wants.  I pitch hay to him twice a day.  This actually is important.  By me coming out to pitch hay to him, he recognized that I am a source of food for him, and he gets excited to see me.  Also it forces me to make an appearance twice a day.  I figure the more Cobain sees me, the better he will know me.

I like to get my horses trusting me and wanting to come to me.  I like to give them a little grain from my hand to get them wanting to see me.  I know some people disagree with this, but they can start their own blog on how to do it their way.  Because Cobain had never had grain, I had to get him use to eating it before he would even consider eating it out of my hand.  To do this,  Cobain’s first few days at my place I put grain in a grain tub for him.  The first time I just put the grain in the tub and left the pen.  The next time I put grain in the tub and messed around in the pen.  Then the next couple of times I put grain in the tub and stood a few feet from the tub.  Now he loves grain.  Here is where I add a catch.  He only gets grain if he will eat it out of my hand.  He knows the bucket grain comes in, and the first time it took him a little while to actually take some from my hand, but now he will come right up and get the grain from me every time.  As I feed him grain with one hand, I will take my other hand and rub his face.  He is now starting to let me rub his face when I don’t have grain and will come check me out when I come in the pen.

Another part of training I’ve been doing with Cobain is a little round pen work.  Because my family has had such a busy schedule the last week, I haven’t done as much round pen work as I would have liked to with Cobain, but he is such a smart little guy and is catching on quickly.   When I first do round pen work with colts, they are “at liberty”.  Which basically means I don’t have a rope on them and they can go where they like.

I would like to mention that parts of this process would be slightly different if the horse that I would be working with was some what tame.  These are the steps that I use on a horse that has never been around people.  I have found that this process works best for me in most situations as building trust of the horse.

In the Round Pen

The only equipment you need for this first process is a lunge whip or a stick and string. I use a lunge whip because it’s what I have,  I don’t whip the horse with it.   I basically use it as an extension of my arm.

To start I will ask the colt to move.  Now Cobain has not ever really been handled so to get him to move, I just walk towards him a little and he starts to go. If your horse is a little reluctant to go you can move your arms a little, click to them or whatever it takes to get them traveling around the pen.  I then quit moving and just let the horse go until they stop.  When they stop moving I take a step or two backwards to see it I can get the horse to turn towards me.  If they turn towards me I let them stand  until they turn away, then I ask them to move again, and continue to repeat the process over again several times.  If the horse doesn’t turn towards me I make them move out again right away and keep repeating the process until they turn towards me.

The second thing I like to do while my colt is at liberty is to get him a little desensitized.  To do this I will swing the tail end of my lunge whip, or the string of a stick and string, up over my horse’s back.  The horse will probably take off running around the pen.  That’s okay. Try to keep the whip riding on the horse’s back if it falls off swing it back onto him.  Eventually the horse will stop and stand still.  When he does so, immediately remove the whip from his back and let him stand a few seconds.  Then repeat by swinging the tail end of the whip back onto his back and wait for him to stop moving.  The goal here is to get it so you can swing the tail end of the whip onto him without him moving.  Some horses will figure this out more quickly than others.  Don’t give up eventually every horse will figure out what you are looking for.  I continue this exercise daily until I can go out and throw the end of the whip over the horse and he doesn’t move the first time I try it.  (If working with a horse that is halter broke and willing to let you touch him, I start out by just rubbing him all over with the whip until he lets me touch him everywhere with it.)

Cobain figured out really fast that if turns and faces you, you will quit swinging the whip at him.  Here you can see the tail of the whip hanging over Cobain’s back.  He’s facing Dan, and Dan offers him a “hand shake”.

After I get my horse so he is standing when I am tossing the whip over his back, I start to rub the stiff part of the whip on his back.  I will rub it on him and try to work my way closer to him until I am actually touching him with my hand that is holding the whip.  To start I usually can rub him with the end without much problem, but as I get closer to touching him with my hand I can see he starts to get nervous.  At that point I will back off to a point where I can see him relax and try to work my way closer.    Eventually I will get to where I can touch him without first using the whip.  Just like everything, some horses will except you getting close to them faster than others.  If you want it done right take your time and let your horse be the one who tells you he’s ready for the next step.

For the next part of my round pen work, I use a 20 foot cotton lead rope with a bull snap on the end.  This is one of the tools I use most during training so I highly recommend buying on.  I prefer the bull snap to other snaps mainly because they are very strong and will hold up to just about anything.  And I recommend buying ropes that the rope is braided back through itself where the snap is fastened on.  Ropes that just have clamps holding the snap on tend to break easily.  I prefer the cotton to nylon because it won’t create burns as easily on you or your horse as the nylon will.  I have tried the colored cotton ropes, but I think that the coloring must make the ropes more fragile because they seem to break easier.  (Starting to sound like I break a lot of stuff, huh?)  Anyway, the rope pictured is the type I prefer.

With this rope you will basically go through the same process that you did with the whip.  This will help get your horse desensitized from the
rope.  You will HOLD ONTO THE CLASP END and throw the loose end over your horse’s back.  Your horse will probably start running around, and you will hold the clasp end of the rope and let the other end ride on your horse.  If it falls off toss it back on the horse.  When your horse stops running, pull the rope off of his back.  Repeat until your horse just stands and lets you toss the rope onto his back.  Eventually you want to get where he accepts the rope sitting on his back, and he will let you come up and pet him. (The process here with a tame horse would be to rub him all over with the rope then proceed to swing it onto him. Because the horse we are working with isn’t tame, he probably won’t let you get near him with a rope until he figures out it isn’t going to eat him.)

Here Cobain has started to relax and is facing Dan.  As a reward Dan will let Cobain stand for a few minutes before moving on.

I really feel that it is important to do these exercises with any colt you are starting.  They really help desensitize the colt to sudden movements and help them realize that you aren’t going to hurt them.  I repeat and repeat every exercise I do with my colts until they will stand relaxed while I performing whatever exercise we happen to be working on at the time.

Riding a Legend!!!!

Mustang.  The word itself just excites me.  When I hear that word I think of the Wild West and of cowboys and Indians.  I think of the untamed spirit of an animal that runs free with the wind.  Recently I adopted a mustang.  My goal is to gentle and ride him.

If you are unfamiliar with what a mustang is, let me explain it to you.  A mustang is a feral horse.  Some people will refer to them as wild horses, but mustangs are technically feral horses.  Feral mean that the animal, a horse in this case, has escaped from its domestic home and it has been on its own long enough it is now living as a wild animal.

Mustangs are horses that are not native to the Americas.  All the wild horses that had lived in the Americas died out in the last ice age.  The mustangs that roam here are mainly derived from horses that escaped from the Spanish when they settled in Florida and Mexico.  Over time ranchers wanted to cultivate the herds to fit their preferences, so they would kill the dominate stallions of the herds and release their prize stallions out to breed the mustang mares.

Most of the original mustang were descendants of  Andalusian, Arabian, and Barb breeds of horses.  However over time many other breeds have been added to the mix, and various herds of mustangs show evidence of Thorough bred horses, draft horses, and several other light breeds of horses.

Over the years mustangs have been captured and used in various ways.  The Native Americans captured them and used them for hunting and transportation.  The military used them for food.  And at one point in U.S. history they were even captured and used to make pet food.

The mustangs today are protected under law, but they have disappeared from  several states where they once roamed.  Nevada is home to over half of all the mustangs in the U.S.  Other states that have significant populations of wild horses are Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, and California.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for controlling the number of animals that remain in the wild.  The country side can sustain only so many.  If they are allowed to over populate they will run themselves out of food and habitat.  The horses that the BLM gather from the wild are moved to holding facilities where they are put up for adoption.  Of coarse there are always more animals available for adoption than people willing to adopt, so the BLM is trying to decide what to do with the excess horses.

When I was 12 my dad bought me a horse that was out of a mustang mare.  I broke the horse myself, and it was the best horse I ever had.  I’m just starting on my adventure with my new little mustang.  I’m sure he’s going to be the second best horse ever.  You can follow my progress on here.  I will be posting photos and videos on my step by step process of gentling my mustang.

For more information on adopting a mustang check out the BLM’s website. You can adopt horses on line or go to a holding facility near you and pick one out today.