Thursday, September 20, 2012

Accepting and Learning v Desensitization

Haironhide, now that's a great on-line name.  I once knew a pair of chaps named that.  Anyway Haironhide wrote and said that his horse doesn't seem to be getting better at accepting obstacles such as trash bags flapping around inside of trash cans or a tire laying on the ground. Haironhide also commented that he had been reading that too much desensitization can be bad for a horse.

I think it is theoretically possible to desensitize a horse too much, but I can't say I've ever seen it,....even something close to it.  While I know of some top hand horse trainers who have said they don't like the term "desensitizing", I think Haironhide hit on a better understanding of what we are trying to do with our horses when he mentioned the word "acceptance".

When you horse get's accepting of something when he previously was showing anxiety or reluctance, then that horse is learning to think rather than just react. I wrote back to Haironhide and said when faced with a scary object and a scary person his back jabbing him in the side with spurs, if a horse is forced to approach or go to or by that scary object, it does not mean he is accepting it.

For all we know that horse may think the rider is pushing him past, then away from the object because it is a danger. But in any event it was not a positive learning experience for that horse. It was surviving as opposed to learning.  One of my many faults that I continue to try to correct is to not be in such a big hurry, and to use a pause to help the horse learn.  And what he is learning is that he can think a situation.  I think this is diferent than becoming desensitized to it.

In the picture above I took Junior up to a pen full of Alpacas who he had never seen up close before.  You can see by his head set and ears forward that he had some concern about these strange looking, long necked creatures.  I asked Junior to step forward and when he was real uncomfortable, I allowed him to stop.  When his body language showed me his concern for these Alpacas was reduced, I asked him forward again.  This only takes a few minutes, if it takes that long.  But if it took longer than that, it's still worth it,..... letting your horse learn that he can figure things out,...learning that he doesn't always have to spook or bolt first then think secondly.        

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