The one word we all talk about but, do we really know what it means when it comes to horses?
Every trainer has their own way of handling this. Creating that "bomb proof" horse. From tarps to flags, to random objects like lassos and jackets. We all have one goal in mind - work with our horses to minimize their "flight" reaction.
Horses are fight or flight animals; they either run towards the danger or away. In most cases though, flight is the easier response. When we want to desensitize our horses, it is our job to relay our expectations to our horse in a way that they can understand and in a way that allows them to process everything in the way they need.
When I start my horses, I start with plastic bags and flags at the end of sticks or training whips. This gives them a small taste of the crazy world we live in and gives them a more controlled setting that allows them to react in the way they need. Most of the time that means backing up, rearing, and running away (or in a circle if you have them on a line like I do). Once your horse learns the basics of the behaviours, the larger and scarier objects become easier. The trick, though, is not reacting to whatever it is. Our reactions, or lack of, could be the difference in the horse's reaction. If I stand and not give any attention to the flag, after some time, the horse will sense that through their fear and start to realize that maybe what they thought was scary and out to get them, really is not all that bad after all. If I stare at my flag, or even at my horse, and build the energy behind that item, just by acknowledging that it is there or that something may cause a spook, then your horse will sense that as well, but this reaction would be the unfavorable one. The run away, rear or buck.
Our reactions are key to their reactions. And desensitizing is helping our horse understand how to react through our reactions. If we spook, they spook. If we stay calm and centered, so will they.
Then, when you don't expet it, they surprise you with what they allow you to hand on their head! (i.e. Champers with a beach ball cover on his head in this blogs photo!)