In my opinion, you can never desensitize your horse enough. There will always be something new you can introduce your horse to. And even with massive desensitizing there is still no guarantee that your horse will not spook. No matter how broke or old a horse is they still can spook. However, we can lessen the chances of your horse spooking by desensitizing them to many different “scary” things before we start riding.
After my colts are leading well, are comfortable with me brushing them everywhere and will let me touch them everywhere on their legs and body with the rope and a blanket, I break out the scary stuff: plastic bags and tarps.
First I will work with the plastic sack because it is smaller than a tarp and easier to handle. Begin with it wadded up in your hand and only a small portion sticking out. Let your horse see it, and then crinkle the plastic a little so the horse can hear the noise it is going to make. Warning: this make spook your horse, so be sure to have a good hold on him. Let your horse sniff the sack, then starting on your horse’s neck rub the bag all over his body. Take your time. If you rush you may cause your horse to get uncomfortable or to spook. If he starts to get a little antsy, back up to a place where he was okay being touched with the sack.
Once he is comfortably being rubbed with the sack wadded up, unfold it a little and go through the process of letting him see it, sniff it and then rubbing it over his body. After you’ve done this you can attach the sack to a stick and repeat the process once again. Make sure to take your time. If he is ever uncomfortable go back to a place where he is calm then work from there.
Desensitizing your horse to a tarp can be slightly more of a challenge, mainly because the tarp is a little more awkward to work with. Also because it is a little bigger it can seem more threatening to your horse. I start with a tarp that is around 8 X 10 feet in size. When I first start introducing it to my horse, I fold it up so it’s a pretty small square. Then I preform the same steps I use for desensitizing my horse to anything: First I show them the tarp;
Then I will touch my horse’s nose with the tarp;
I then proceed to rub the tarp on the horse’s neck;
When my horse starts to get nervous like this, I back off and let him sniff the tarp again and start the process over.
After your horse lets your rub one side of his body pretty easily with the tarp, repeat the process on the other side.
The ultimate goal here is to get your horse comfortable with the tarp touching anywhere on his body. Eventually you will be rubbing your horse with the tarp completely opened up. You are not done with this process of desensitizing until you can have the tarp opened completely and pull it over your horse’s back, head and through his legs. It may take you several days to accomplish this. Take your time. Don’t get in a rush and skip desensitizing your horse thoroughly. After you’ve moved on to ground driving or even riding your horse, you may want to come back and work with the plastic sack or the tarp just to help keep him trusting you and well desensitized. Remember you can never do enough desensitizing.