Desensitizing vs Building Confidence

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Horsemanship & Training

Elsabe Hausauer [Photo: Carrie Kovash of Unseen Expressions]

When working with our horses, we have to always remember that we are working with a prey animal who are designed to respond to danger by flight, fight, or freeze. 

Getting your horse desensitized to noise, movement, plastic bags, tarps will only get you so far. There is so much more to this than being able to ride your horse over a tarp, with a bag or whatever you got him use to. Believe me there was a time in my career where I thought this was life. My horse could ride over a tarp flapping in the wind, and I could ride him with a plastic bag and he would not even flinch. But then I found that there were other things that made him fall apart, and I had nothing. 

So, over the years I have learned that if I build confidence in a horse who looks to me for the right answer and for safety, they will also not bothered by a flag or tarp when they see it for the first time. We could go anywhere and my horse will trust my aids (training) and always look to me for the right answer when they are scared. So why do trainers spend so much time “desensitizing” horses when building confidence?

[Photo: Explore Adore Photography]

I personally still desensitize my horses, but it’s not like it use to be. The idea is to develop a calm confidence and mutual trust. I pay attention to their natural instincts, their fear, and to the body language I am using. I don’t ask my horses to be “dull” to bags, tarps, noise, etc. I ask them to SOFTEN in scary situations and let them find the value in it. I teach them that even when situations change, like they often will, that they can continue to think and that they can rely on me. I let them know that my intentions are pure, and I am consistent with my cues. It’s important to let horses feel like they can communicate with us. Horses need to know that they are listened to and being understood and not just being forced or tricked into doing things we ask. 

There is no value in flapping a bag or tarp over your horse if you don’t take in consideration his natural instincts and don’t understand their body language. So instead of making them dull or having them “freeze,” teach them to soften/yield to the scary objects with a sense of calm confidence.

You don’t teach a horse to not buck or rear when they have a bucking or rearing problem. They don’t easily unlearn a bad behavior. The best way to help them is by showing them that they can communicate with you. 

[Photo: Carrie Kovash, Unseen Expressions]

It’s all about feel. Humans have lost their sense of feel. From a young age, we are being taught to suppress our feel. Horse are way more sensitive than us. Their whole language is based on feel. Every day they are telling us how they feel when they are around us. This is also why horses bring so much healing for so many humans.

What if we could allow ourselves to feel everything while working with our horses and acknowledge everything they are trying to tell us and do all of that without letting it consume us or taking anything personally?! That means showing up with no intention, a open heart, mindful, and ready to listen. Nothing horses do is personal. 

This is hard for us as humans, because our ego always gets in the way with humans and horses. When there’s chaos and stress around us, it’s only natural that we begin to internalize it. It affects our mental and physical health. But what if we could create an barrier between the stresses around us and our inner selves? What if we could tap into an inner sense of peace that can ride out any storm?

[Photo: Explore Adore Photography]

It’s hard working on accepting every little weakness and strength about ourselves (even our horses) and be 100% honest with who we are and what our intentions are. But there’s magic in letting them see you as you are and let them know that your intentions come from a place of love and good. We can allow ourselves to feel everything without letting it consume us. 

I love Psalm 139:23-24 that says…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

In this chapter… David prayed that God would enable him to continue to grow.

David used the word “search” meaning to explore, dig, probe, examine, and investigate.

Learning more about ourselves, others, and our horses without judgement is a beautiful journey. Same with seeing anyone, our horses, and everything exactly as who they are today regardless of their background.  There’s beauty in listening. 

Let’s tap into a inner sense of peace that can ride out any storm. I know I am a work-in-progress, but I am truly thankful for my faith and these magnificent animals who remind me every day to live in the moment and not take anything personally.

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