Desensitizing Your Horse to Water
Jul 1st 2012
Whenever you desensitize a horse to an object, it’s important to do so in a big, open area where he has room to move his feet. As a prey animal, the horse has a flight or fight response, which means he either runs from danger or fights it. A horse would always rather run from danger than fight it, but if his ability to run is taken away from him, he’ll do whatever it takes to survive the experience. When every horse is born, his mother tells him to run from danger. If he even hears, smells or thinks there’s danger, RUN! Act first and think later. Your job is to teach the horse to completely ignore what his mother taught him. Instead, you’re going to teach the horse that if he thinks he’s in danger, he needs to stand still and relax and the danger will go away. You’ll do that by using the Approach and Retreat Method-approaching the horse with an object and then retreating (taking it away) when he stands still and relaxes.
Do not introduce water to the horse in an enclosed area like a wash rack or try to tie the horse up so that he can’t move his feet. If you do either of those things, I guarantee he’ll panic and try to fight his way out of the situation by kicking, biting, striking-whatever he can do to survive. A roundpen is the ideal place to practice this exercise because it gives the horse room to move, but not so much that you’ll need a 300 foot hose to keep up with him. But the exercise can easily be done in the middle of an arena or outside on the lawn. Just be sure that you have enough hose to move around with the horse.
CYNTHIA’S PERSONAL COMMENT: I am so glad I came across this article. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to share a sorry and sad story…I received a distressing phone call from a girl I knew. The day before the call she had “rescued?” 3 horses from someone who simply wanted to get rid of them, one of which was a 17 hand beautiful thoroughbred. She proceeded to bathe this one in the shower stall and started with turning the hose on it. The horse panicked and quite obviously feared water. Being restrained in cross-ties, it went down on its hind legs and got up again. The girl shouted at the horse and did the same thing again. For the second time, the horse resisted and went down. This happened 4 times until the horse finally broke it’s leg. She said the me “he wouldn’t listen, he just wouldn’t listen!” Folks, I cannot begin to share the emotion I was feeling … severe anger at her beyond words and indescribable sorrow for the horse. Never, NEVER, EVER introduce a horse to a bath inside a building. Always, ALWAYS do it out in the open where a horse can at least safely convey it’s feeling of fright. Everytime I think of this situation I get sick in my stomach. How utterly stupid and uncaring was this girl who had worked with horses for years on end. I never spoke with her since.
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