Desensitizing and Sensitizing

What is a "signal" or "cue"?

This is anything that puts pressure on the horse. It's a stimulus. It does not have to be physical, id your horse can respond without you ever touching him. It can be applied by eye contact, body movement or physical pressure(hand, lead, whip etc.)

What is Desensitizing?

This is done by continually applying a stimulus until all response is eliminated. Every time you repeatedly apply this you are desentizing. This can be you hand patting him somewhere, brushing him on the legs, tack on, etc. What has been taught is that when you touch him with any of these things no response should be given due to desentizing.

How do you properly Desensitize a horse?

1. Create a stimulus.

2. Wait for NO response.

3. Release the stimulus and praise horse.

4. Wait 2-3 seconds and start at #1 again.

Important points when Desensitizing:

When creating the stimulus you MUST continue with that one stimulus until no response is given by the horse. If you do this inconsistiently you will be sensitizing him which is the cause of bad habits. He will think that the action he was taking is the correct one. But your goal was no action or response.

What is Sensitizing?

When you continually apply a stimulus until you get a response you are sensitizing your horse. If done correctly he will respond when asked 100% of the time. Bad haibts can be taught unknowingly here too, so be careful.

How do you properly Sensitize a horse to a specific cue?
1. Create a stimulus.

2. Wait for the correct response.

3. Immediately release the stimulus.

4. Wait 2-3 seconds and start at #1 again.

Important points when Sensitizing:

As before you MUST coninue with the stimulus you started with until you are given the correct response. If you remove it before the correct response you are desensitizing him and he will think he doesn't have to respond to that stimulus.

Why do these methods work well on every horse and how are bad habits formed?

Horses use these same methods in the herd. Bad habits are formed when the rider confuses the two.

By using the proper methods your horse will become responsive to every cue you give him. When a stimulus is applied all the horse wants is for you to release it. There are different thoughts on using treats as a form of reward for correct behavior. I alternate with treats and praise.

The Patience Game This ties in with the above...

It is every horseowners dream to have there horse be more responsive to your cues, not ignoring your cues when you know he can feel it and he knows it but is simply ignoring and/or refusing to obey as you know he can. This is called The Patience Game. All horses have played this game with us, some more than others. He thinks if he ignores the cue or pretends it's not there you will give up and release the pressure, thus rewarding his action. YOU MUST NOT GIVE IN!!! THe horse must be taught that he will never win at this game. And if you, as a rider, allow him to win it is one of the biggest mistkes you can make.

If you release the cue pressure before the horse does as asked you have taught him that your cue means do nothing. If you wait it out and continue to apply the cue until the desired result is met, he will soon learn that he will not win and the result will be a much more responsive horse.

Don't give up or YOU will lose the game! Each time you lose this game, training your horse becomes even harder.


When to apply a cue.
You need to apply the cues at the approprate time. You must pay close attention to each stride, learn the timing and placement of each footfall in each gait before you can effectively apply cues.

What is a cue?

A cue is the stimulus you give your horse to makea change or to preform a certain act. You can give cues physically or by using body language.

Examples: - Physical: You physically touch your horse's girth area and he moves to the side, or you physically touch his cannon bone and he picks up his foot.

- Body Language: You move toward, or point to, a spot on your horse and he responds accordingly as if you actually touched him. Body language is the main key when training a horse "at liberty".

When to apply cues effectively:

A cue should be given just a split second before the leg leaves the ground and is lifted into the air. Once in the air, the horse can change the movement and direction of the leg with ease.

What happens when you don't apply a cue effectively?

If you give your horse a cue at an inappropriate time he may wait a stride and then preform the cue. Bucking, hopping, jumping sideways are some things a horse may do in order to get that leg into the air to make the change. You want the cues to be rhythmical and balanced. We also want our horse to be very responsive and make the change immediately when asked.