Desensitized or Tuned out?
I see a lot of advertising about "Desensitizing Clinics". In a nutshell these are geared towards all kinds of plastic bottles, barrels, tarps and those pool floating noodles set up as like a big gate horse and rider walk through. I can see the attraction to these clinics it sounds like something useful to gain confidence and have some fun. Generally that is not the expression I see on these horses in the advertisements. I usually see a horse that looks tuned out and the life gone from the horse's eye.
It seems like a lot of things today are well intended, having a useful purpose but go so far beyond reason that at times does more harm than good.
I like to use a flag when working with horses. A flag is basically like a fishing rod without the reel and eye holes with a plastic flag attached on the end. About 4' long. You can use it as an aid to get your horse to move, and to get your horse accustomed to scary things that sound and look strange. This is the beauty of it. It is so wonderfully simple of a concept. Just like my hands and legs and riding I don't want a horse afraid of either but I want the horse to respond to my hands and or legs when asked to do something.
The concept is simple but applying the principles, and coordination takes lots of practice.
My concern with the Desensitizing is the extreme people go. So much so that it can be forgotten that a horse has emotions, the ability to think and respond to what going on around them in a fast amount of time that can keep both horse and rider out of trouble
This was the case today when I got a call saying a neighbor had a couple of calves get out that were fresh of the truck from Montana. When I got there with my horse Copper there were people in trucks, there were people on 4 wheelers and they had been trying to get these bovines in for several hours. It was a cold, windy day that felt about 12 degrees. There was a freshly dug up corn field bordered by a hay field. Copper responded nicely to trot quickly up a unfamiliar steep field that looked like perfect footing. I was wrong. When we got near the top of the hill my focus was on the two calves and where they might go, as I did Copper quickly changed his pace and veered. I was thankful he did. There were a few large gopher holes he avoided.
Gopher holes are the perfect size to get a horse's foot trapped in causing possible great harm to horse and rider.
This reminded me of the Spring of 2016 when I was riding Sawyer checking fence, and cattle. Like Copper we were clipping along at a nice brisk trot in some tall grass when he suddenly stopped in his tracks. I thought for a moment about what happened, when I realized why he did so abruptly, but with obvious reason to. There lay a young fawn directly in our path. It was really hard to see. Deer will do this on purpose. While mom goes off and forages she leaves the fawn so that it does not bring predators near her for an easy meal. I was thankful I was on Sawyer and not a four wheeler.
I am very thankful I let my horses respond to what is around them while having control.
I work hard to get my horses so they are not reactive and unbothered by things like ropes, chaps, flags, tarps, water, cattle, cars, etc etc. I think it is important not to kill the side of the horse that can respond, think, and save themselves, saving me in the process of it.
I would think a good horsemanship clinic would include ways to get a horse used to objects, but it would be better to teach people how to control the feet and not see how many scary objects we can pile on a horse and drag to prove just how "desensitized" They are. Or is it tuned out?
PS Copper helped me get a calf roped in that freshly churned corn field. He had to be real aware of so many things at once to get that job done. Mission accomplished.