Sensitization and desensitization are two major components of horse training. Sensitization has to do with the horse noticing and responding to the aids i.e. reins, legs, and voice. Desensitization has to do with the horse getting used to and remaining calm with all the possible situations and tack that human contact brings into the life of the horse. Each horse is different in this regard some horses need more desensitization and others need more sensitization. When I am training two or more horses at once it is always interesting to see how each horse forces us as trainers to emphasizes one or the other. This time Ruby’s training is more about desensitization; Pearl’ s training is more about sensitization.
Ruby is a lot more worried about the equipment, me and my attitude and all the scary stuff around her. The way I deal with her fear is to carefully and systematically confront her with the object of her fear. With enough exposure to the object she will lose her fear of it. At the present she is so tuned to me (possibly because of her fear) that it is easy and almost automatic for her to respond to my cues. Meantime she can suddenly get so afraid of something that she doesn’t even notice my cues.
Pearl, on the other hand, is not particularly afraid of me or the situations at hand, so she is less attentive to me. The challenge for me with both horses is a lot of repetition with consistency and patience. Consistency because I must perform the same cue for the same action that I’m asking for. Patience because I must be able to do the cue again and again, sometimes in the face of erratic, irrational, violent behavior, and not get exasperated.
Both horses are progressing nicely now even though I can still feel the edge with Ruby. But she is performing better and sometimes I can get her to just stand for 30 seconds rather stomping the ground, snorting and trying to go back to the other horses. Pearl is gradually learning the cues by lots of repetition. She is performing the cues better and with more finesse, but she’s not brilliant yet like Ruby is sometimes.
The photographs is long reining from my perspective. The main goal at the outset of this exercise is to let the horse get desensitized to feel of the rope around it’s haunches and legs. But also I am teaching it to drive. I am sensitizing it to my cues from the ground, which has a somewhat different feel than when I’m in the saddle.