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.

It’s All in the Release

When training your horse, it’s hard to not get impatient and try to force your horse to do what you want him to do.  But lets face it  horses average some where around 1200 pounds, and there is no way you are going to make him do anything he doesn’t want to.  I think it is easy for us to get caught up in trying to cue our horse and press them into doing what we want.  But in all honesty the horse doesn’t learn when we apply pressure.  He learns when we release the pressure.

No mater what I’m trying to get my horse to do, I follow this simple pattern. I ask until the horse makes the slightest effort to do what I want him to do.  As soon as he makes a try in the right direction, I quit asking and let him rest a second.  This is the point where your horse’s head starts working.

Let’s say we want to longe our horse.  One of the first things we need the horse to do here is turn his shoulder away from us.  So we apply pressure to the horse by swinging a rope at his shoulder. The second the horse starts to make even the slightest effort to turn you need to stop swinging the rope.  At this point your horse thinks, “hey that person was swinging the rope at me, and when I started to turn the person quit swinging the rope”.

Again you will swing the rope at the horse’s shoulder.  Because you released pressure before when the horse move away from the swinging, your horse may make a bigger effort to turn.  Once again the second your horse starts to turn release pressure.  Now your horse is thinking “yeah I’m pretty sure that that person wants me to move.  When I started to move again he stopped swinging that rope.” At this point your horse is probably starting to lick and chew a little.

Now that the horse is starting to get the idea, you can apply a little more pressure and see if you can get the horse to actually take a step in the right direction.  After you get a step, release pressure.  You will repeat this until he takes that one step with very little pressure.  Then you will increase pressure again working toward two steps.

This method works with pretty much anything you want to train your horse to do.  I use it to get my horses to cross bridges, spin, flex, anything.  The key is to develop good timing and release all pressure at the slightest try from your horse.  Eventually your horse will recognize that you are asking him to do something and try to find the answer to get you to release pressure.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  Well here’s where it gets tricky.  Let’s say you are wanting your horse to turn left.  You apply your pressure and instead of left your horse turns right.  Frustrated you stop applying pressure and straighten your horse so you can start over again.  Now you’ve just taught your horse to do the exact opposite of what you wanted him to do.  You must remember to continue to apply pressure until the horse makes an effort in the correct direction.  If he starts to go the wrong way, you can not stop applying pressure, in fact you could even increase pressure to discourage your horse from doing the wrong thing. Then when he makes a try at the right direction, release.

Training your horse can be made more simple if you can recognize when your horse makes an effort to do the right thing, and you reward him for that effort by releasing any pressure you may be applying to him.  When you are working with your horse try to remember that your horse doesn’t learn when you are applying a cue, but when you stop applying it.In this picture, I have Dollar’s head almost touching the ground.  There is no way I could pull his head to the ground.  To get him to do this I would apply and release pressure on his poll and nose until he realized what I wanted.  Once he got the picture he lowered his head.

 

 

Flexing at the Poll-Using Aids

In today’s world of horses, we are told to soften our horse’s face or to collect our horse.  Or we often wonder how do those people get their horses to carry their heads so low.  Any of these start with teaching your horse to flex at the poll.  For someone who is just learning how to train a horse, this can be pretty tricky to do.  Teaching a horse to break at the poll without any aids takes a lot of practice.  In this post I will tell you about several different riding aids a person can use to help them teach their horse to flex at the poll.

Draw Reins

When I was training my first horse I used Draw Reins to help me teach him headset.   There are many different styles of draw reins, and different trainers each have their opinion on how to use them.  Basically, draw reins are a continuous line that runs from one side of your cinch, through the bit, to your hands, back through the other side of the bit and to the other side of the cinch.  They really are a  single movable pulley.    When you pull your hands back it causes the horses head to move inward and down.  I recommend only using draw reins with a mild snaffle bit.  Also because draw reins don’t offer much in the line of stopping power, I like to pair them up with a regular set of reins.  Where a person connects the draw reins to their cinch depends on the individual and the style of draw reins they are using.  I’ve seen people hook them to the  center D-Ring of the cinch, running the reins between the horse’s front legs.  I’ve seen them hook to the rigging of the saddle where the cinch fastens to the saddle.  I personally prefer to hook them to the center of the cinch, but run them around the outside of my horse’s legs.  By using them this way, as the horse walks it bumps the reins.  Therefore, when I ride without the draw reins, if I need my horse to lower his head, I can simply bump the reins in rhythm with his steps.  (The draw reins pictured above are ones I made.  I just took a piece of yacht rope and fastened snaps on the ends. Notice that the pony is flexing at the poll and the front of his face is vertical.)

Training Fork and Running Martingale

These are two similar devices.  The training fork is primarily for western disciplines and the running martingale is used mainly for English riding.  The only real difference is that the martingale has a neck strap that goes around the horse’s neck.

To use either of these you simply fasten them to the center of your cinch (or girth) between the horse’s front legs.  If you are using a martingale, you will fasten the neck strap around the neck of the horse. And finally you run your reins through the rings and then up to you.

These devices work by creating leverage through the reins on the bit and on the bars of your horse’s mouth.  This happens when the horse raises his head too high.  The pressure encourages the horse to lower his head.

Running Martingale

Training Fork

German Martingale

The final aid used in teaching the horse to flex at the poll, I would like to tell you about is the German Martingale.  This type of martingale works in much the same way that draw reins do.  You have rope (or some have leather straps) that runs through the bit to create a pulley.  Unlike the draw reins, the rope on the German Martingale then fastens to rings on the reins.  Because these reins are attached to the bit you have a little more control of your horse than you would if you were just using draw reins.  When you have slack in your reins, the draw rein part of the martingale is working to help lower your horses head.

The German Martingale has four parts: the chest strap, which fastens to the center ring on your cinch; the neck strap, which goes around your horse’s neck; the draw rein, which runs through your bit and then you have the reins, which have rings on which to fasten your draw reins.

Pictured is Dollar with the German Martingale on.  In the second picture you can see that he has dropped his head, and it is now vertical.  The German Martingale should only be used with a ringed snaffle.  (Dollar is pictured with a curb bit, but the picture was taken to show how the martingale operates. Please if you decide to use a German Martingale, use it only with a snaffle bit.)

There are many different training aids on the market.  I think that before you run out and buy any of these, that you should try to borrow one see if  that particular aid will work for you.  Training aids can be great tools when used correctly. If you are uncertain if you are using any equipment correctly, ask a trainer or someone with more experience.  If you have any questions about these training aids or anything else, feel free to ask questions in the Forum section of this website.

 

Sensitize or Desensitize?

When working with your horse you actually want to do both: sensitize and desensitize him.  However, if you make the wrong move at the wrong time you may end up sensitizing him to something you want to desensitize him to or visa versa. That’s why timing is so important when working with your horse.

Sensitizing

When you cue your horse, it would be great if he would do what you want with the lightest cue.  To achieve this you must sensitize your horse.  The concept of sensitizing is simple. You apply pressure to your horse.  Your horse moves away from the pressure.  You release pressure.  However, applying this concept can be a little tricky.  At first your horse may not know what the pressure you’re applying means for him to do.  He may move the wrong direction, and if you stop applying pressure here, he will learn to do the wrong thing.  Or perhaps your horse has moved ever so slightly in the direction you are asking, but you didn’t feel the movement so you don’t release the pressure.  This can confuse your horse.

To properly sensitize a horse you must apply a cue only until your horse makes an effort to perform what is being asked.  As soon as any effort, no matter how small, is made all pressure must stop.  Then basically repeat, repeat, repeat, until your horse responds with just the slightest cue. Here’s an example.  You want your horse to move smoothly into a trot from a walk.  You bump your horse’s sides with your legs and continue to bump him until he starts to trot.  The first step he makes that is a trot, you stop bumping him.  He may only take a couple of steps at a trot and slow down into a walk.  Once he starts walking again, you need to bump him again until he starts to trot.  As soon as he breaks into a trot, stop bumping.  Eventually, he will put it together that when you bump his sides, you want him to trot.

A mistake often made is that a rider will continue to bump their horse once he is trotting.  By doing this you will desensitize your horse to the cue.  If you don’t reward him by stopping the application of pressure, he will learn to ignore the cue.  What benefit would there be for him to trot if you are just going to continue to bump him.

Desensitizing

Desensitizing should be a major part of any training program.  When desensitizing your horse, you basically repeat the same action over and over until you get no response from your horse.  When I start training my horses, I first desensitize them with a rope.  I rub a rope all over their body.  At first most horses will move around and try to get away from the rope, but I will continue to touch the horse all over with the rope until he decides  the rope won’t hurt him and stands still.  I will repeat this with a brush, then a plastic bag, a saddle blanket and whatever else I find laying around.  Then I will take and twirl a rope around and swing it onto my horse’s back.  Again, I will do this until he decides there is no threat and stands still.   I will also take a saddle pad and rhythmically pat it on my horse’s back until he stands still.  Exercises such as this help your horse become confident that you aren’t going to  hurt him and tell him that you want him to stand still.  The most important part of these exercises are that you stop when your horse stands still.

I’m always doing something to desensitize my horse.  The more your horse is desensitized the safer he will become to ride, and the less likely he will spook.  Friends that ride often with me are use to me twirling my reins around and making goofy noises in an effort to desensitize my horse even more.

The most common mistake made when desensitizing a horse is when the rider or trainer stops applying pressure when the horse moves instead of when the horse stands still.  Let’s say you are wishing to desensitize your horse to having a saddle pad thrown on his back.  You start to swing the pad and your horse moves, then you stop swinging the pad to settle your horse down.  Because you stopped when your horse moved he thinks that is what you want him to do. Now you have sensitized your horse to the swinging pad, and he will move when you swing the pad at him.  It is very important to continue with rhythmic swinging until he stands still.

You can improve your riding time with your horse by properly sensitizing and desensitizing him.  With a horse that is sensitized to cues, you won’t have to try to pull your horse where you want him to go, and riding him will become less work and more enjoyable.  By desensitizing your horse he will become safer to be around.  He won’t worry about you touching him, and he will become less likely to spook.

Pre-Flight Check

Any good pilot checks his aircraft to insure it is flight worthy before boarding.  Why shouldn’t a good rider check the safety of his mount before climbing aboard?  Before I even think about putting my foot in the stirrup, I have a check list of maneuvers I put my horse through on the ground to insure he’s safe to get on.  Like people, horses have good days, and they have bad days.  I like to find out what kind of day my horse is having  before I mount up.  Some days my pre-flight goes great.  My horse does everything I ask of him perfectly without hesitation.  Other days my horse may be feeling a little frisky and requires a little more ground work before we go for our ride.

To perform my pre-flight, I saddle and bridle my horse.  I don’t tighten the cinch completely. Just have it snug enough to keep it secure.  I then fasten a 15 to 20 foot long rope (I use nylon rope bought at a farm supply store) to the curb strap of my bridle using a bow-line knot.  Since the bow-line knot won’t pull tight, it will allow my rope to move to what ever side of the horse I am working on.

Flex My Horse Laterally √

First on my pre-flight check list is making sure my horse will flex when asked.  There will be several times during my ride that I will ask my  horse to flex, so I like to make sure he is flexing well.  To do this I pick up the rein on the same side that I’m standing and pull it up to the swell of my saddle.  If all goes well, my horse will tip his nose over to me as pictured.  If he doesn’t I hold pressure on the rein until he turns his nose to me.  Once he does one side well, I check the other side in the same manor.

Disengaging the Hindquarters √

After my horse is flexing well to both sides, I disengage my horse’s hindquarters.  To do this I  tip his nose slightly towards me with one hand, and using my other hand I cue him with the stirrup where my foot would be if I was riding in position three.  We go around in three circles with his legs crossing well. Stop and back.  Then go three circles the other direction. Stop and back.  If your horse is being a little stubborn, you may have to cue him a little harder.  If he is being a little naughty, make him turn three more circles to each side.  The reason I like to disengage my horse’s hindquarter is because it is part of my emergency stop.  I want to make sure my breaks are going to work.

Yielding the Front End √

Now that I have the back end of the horse moving like I want, it’s time to move the front end.  Standing by your horse’s head, start, leading him forward.  Turn and face your horse’s head and walk towards him.  I typically put my hands up, one by his face and one by his shoulder.  Start by asking for one step, where your horse crosses his front legs.  After one step, turn and walk forward again.  Take about ten steps forward then turn and step toward your horse again. If my horse is doing well, I perform five or six turns each direction, more if he is not doing well.  The first few times you perform this maneuver with your horse he may only take one crossover step.  As he progresses he should be able to take more crossover steps.  Horses that I have been working with for awhile can easily turn a half  to a full circle. Until you and your horse get the hang of this exercise it may seem a little tricky.  At first if my horse doesn’t want to turn I will take my thumb and push on my horse where his neck and shoulder connect.  I only push hard enough to get my horse to move.

Moving Hind End and Following the Rein √

This is another test I perform to get my horse’s hind quarters moving.  However, this time I’m going to use rein pressure to get him to move his hind end around.  While my horse is standing still, I take my rope and run it down his side opposite of where I’m standing.  I then bring the rope around my horse’s back legs, making sure to stay above the hocks, and stand  a couple steps away from my horse’s shoulder.

Now I gently apply pressure on the rope.  The object is for my horse to follow the pressure of the rope, turn around disengaging his hindquarters, and end up facing me.  To start you may have to pull a little harder, but after your horse gets the hang of this, it should only take a small amount of pressure.  Also the first few times you do this exercise your horse may try to turn the wrong direction and move around trying to figure out what you want.  Just hold steady pressure until your horse turns the direction you are asking him to move.   I typically run him through this two or three times on each side or until he performs the maneuver smoothly.

If you notice, when I put pressure on the rope, Dollar’s nose starts to come around, and as he’s turning he crosses his back legs, disengaging his hindquarters.  When he has finished, I reward him with a pat on the head and let him stand a few seconds.Lunging √

I finish up my pre-flight check with lunging my horse.  There are a few theories on lunging.  One is that you run your horse in circles to get him worn down.  The problem with this theory is that, much like an athlete, the more you run your horse in circles, the better shape they are in.  The first few times you longe your horse he may get tired in five minutes, but over time it takes him longer and longer to get tired.

The second theory is that you run your horse in a few circles, changing direction often, to make sure he’s paying attention and listening to you.  If the horse I’m going to ride is well broke, I only trot them in this exercise.  If it’s a green horse, I may push them up to a lope a couple times around, but loping in this small of circle can be hard on the leg joints, so I don’t lope them much.

Start with your horse facing you.  We’ll start going left.   Hold the rope in your left hand and stick your hand out to the side.  You will hold the tail end of the rope in your right hand and swing it at your horse’s left shoulder.  As your horse starts to move away from the swinging rope you  keep him going in a circle around you.  If you need him to go faster, you can swing the tail end of the rope.  I try to direct my swing around the saddle area.  If he needs more encouragement you can pop him on the rump.  I try to keep my body positioned in the drive line of the horse, which is about level with your stirrup.  If you get in front of this line your horse will stop. Behind it and your horse will end up turning  his nose toward you.  Usually, I go three circles and switch directions.  To switch directions you disengage your horse’s hindquarter by bending your body and looking at his hind end at the same time you will gently pull his nose in toward you.  He should cross his back legs, moving his hiney away from you.  As you straighten back up, reach across your body with your right hand and grab the rope out of your left. Pick up the tail end of the rope in your left hand and swing it at your horse’s right shoulder.  From here it is just repeating what you did with your horse going to the left.  I typically go three circles to the left, switch and go three to the right. I perform this exercise over and over several times until my horse is paying attention to me and moving how I want him to, when I want him to.  The most important part of this exercise is not the running of the circles, but the changing of direction.  The more changes of direction you do, the better your horse will pay attention to what you want him to do.  Also this shouldn’t be a tug-a-war with your horse.  If he is pulling on the rope don’t pull solid pressure back on him.  Instead give the rope three good tugs and see if he quits pulling.  If not give him three more tugs.  I have found over the years that little bumps or tugs work better than solid pressure.

Tack Check √

Checking your tack before you mount up is an important part of your pre-flight check.  Most horses will puff out their bellies when first being saddled.  Because of this your saddle is probably fairly loose.  Take this time to tighten your cinch and make sure all the rest of your tack is on correctly.

Now that you’ve done all this work with your horse, you should have a good idea on how your horse is going to act this ride.  Remember sometimes your horse will have bad days where his mind is on something besides you.  On these days he may require a little more ground work before you go for your ride.  Other days, your pre-flight may go smoothly without any hitches, and you can get to your ride shortly after saddling your horse.  But unless you preform a pre-flight check you won’t know what kind of day your horse is having, and you might find out the hard way that he was having a bad day.

Do It Yourself for the Average Horse Owner

Do It Yourself for the Average Horse Owner. What exactly does that mean? It means that this is a website designed to help normal people with their normal, day to day horse issues. The horses that I use are not professionally trained, show horses. My demonstrations are all done with horses that I or my friends own. In fact, the horse featured in most of the pictures and video, Dollar, is a horse that I acquired in a trade when he was only a yearling, and I have done all the training on him.  He’s not perfect, but he gets the job done.  I created this site, because most of the horse owners out there are just average people. They have their horses out in a pasture. They saddle and bridle their own horses. And for a many, they don’t do much with their horses except for the occasional weekend ride.

This site is designed to be easy to use.  It has step by step instructions with pictures that make it easy to follow.  Then many of my posts will also include a video showing how to do what was described in the post.  Eventually, the posts will also include links to other posts that tie in with what you are learning to do.  For example, the post on bridling will have a link to the post on how to train your horse to position his head while being bridled.  Right now the site is a work in progress, and I don’t have half the information on here that I want to get on here.  But as the weather gets better, I’ll be adding information day by day.

The training information that is going to be on this site is going to be broken down in very easy to follow step by step process.  The training videos will be performed using horses that don’t already know how to do the maneuver we are working on.  I know when I’m looking up “how to” information, it is very frustrating to watch a person explain how to train your horse to do something, and their horse does it perfectly in minutes.  For most of us in the real world, it doesn’t work like that.

Each post includes an area where you can comment.  All comments are welcome.  Please comment if there was something you found confusing or know of a way I can improve the information.  There is also a forum on here.  Hopefully that will take off and people will be able to ask questions or give tips, and get feed back from other horse owners.

So is this a site that is going to be useful to you?  This site is great for a new horse owner who is just learning how to do many of the tasks involved with horse owning.  This is also a great site for children that are just learning how to take care of their own horse.  Perhaps mom and dad are worn out from saddling and bridling their child’s horse for them.  This site is perfect for that.  Also if you are an experienced horse person and are stuck on how to get your horse to do a particular manuveor, this site could be for  you.  Not all horses respond the same to the same training.  I may offer a little different way of training the horse to do something, that may work on the horse your training.  Basically this site can be useful to anyone.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Anna

Pictured is my daughter Mirandah and Dollar