Retreating when the horse is moving his feet.
If the horse gets frightened by the water and starts to move away from it, it is important to keep the hose in the same position until he stands still and relaxes. Signs of relaxing are licking his lips, lowering his head and neck, blinking his eyes, cocking a hind leg, taking a deep breath or standing still for 15 seconds without moving his feet. As soon as the horse’s feet stop moving and he shows a sign of relaxing, retreat by taking the water away and rubbing him with your hand.
Letting the horse run over you or push you around.
When a horse gets frightened, it’s common for him to want to push into you. If your horse does that, use your hand holding the lead rope to whack him away. Use a “tap, tap, whack” rhythm with your hand to apply pressure to the horse’s jaw or neck. Do what you have to do to get the job done. It is very important not to let him move your feet. Remember, the more you move out of your horse’s space, the pushier and more disrespectful he will get.
Moving your feet too much.
If the horse starts to move around at any time during the teaching process, move with him, but try to move your feet as little as possible. For instance, if the horse runs around in a circle, try to pivot and keep your belly button facing his hindquarters. If you have to walk and drift with the horse, that’s fine. Follow him wherever he goes, keeping two eyes tipped toward you and continue spraying the water in the same manner until he stops moving and he relaxes.
Not keeping the horse’s head tipped toward you.
It’s very important to keep bumping the horse’s head toward you with the halter and lead rope to get two eyes on you. Remember, you can run faster than any horse that’s looking at you. You can run faster than a horse can run backwards and you can run faster than a horse can run sideways, as long as he is giving you two eyes. When you let the horse’s head and neck turn away from you, it gives him the opportunity to turn and kick you or run off and drag the lead rope out of your hand.
Retreating too early.
If the horse’s feet are moving, you can’t afford to take the pressure away. Most people stop spraying the water when the horse is still moving his feet. This is actually sensitizing the horse to pressure, not desensitizing him to pressure. Remember, the horse has to do two things before you stop spraying the water: 1) he has to keep his feet still, and 2) he has to show a sign of relaxing or stand still for at least 15 seconds. If he shows a sign of relaxing, but his feet are still moving it doesn’t count.
Being inconsistent with the body parts.
Remember to start desensitizing the horse to water in the airspace around him first. Then start spraying it on his topline: withers and back, hindquarters and neck. Then introduce the water to the horse’s back legs and then his front legs. And finally, turn the water pressure down and introduce the water to his face. It’s the easiest for the horse to understand what is expected of him if you introduce water to him in this way.
Moving on to the next body part too quickly.
If you find a part of the horse’s body that he doesn’t like the water touching, stay in that area until you’ve made an improvement. Don’t move on to another body part if the previous one is still jumpy or spooky toward the water. By skipping around too much you won’t be able to get the horse to accept water consistently. Moving on to the face too quickly. Make sure you have completely desensitized the horse’s entire body, on both sides, to the water before you even attempt to introduce it to his face. The face is one of the most sensitive areas on the horse’s body, and a lot of horses will get very defensive about water being run over their face if they aren’t properly introduced to it. It may take you two or three sessions before you can begin to introduce water to the horse’s face.
Trying to make the horse stand still.
Remember, you’re not trying to make the horse stop moving his feet. You are trying to set up a situation where he wants to stop moving his feet by himself. The more you try to make him stop moving his feet, the more trapped and claustrophobic he will feel, which in turn will make him want to keep moving his feet.
Not finding a starting point.
Start the exercise by desensitizing the airspace around the horse first. How far you have to initially start spraying the water away from his body depends on the horse. If he is really scared of the water, you might have to start 8 feet away from him. If he’s not scared of the water, you’ll be able to start spraying the ground 4 feet away from him. Do what you have to do to get the horse to understand that the water won’t hurt him. Remember, always find a starting point.
Not standing at a 45-degree angle.
Most people don’t see the importance of this step until they get hurt. If you stand in front of the horse and try to spray the water on him, he could get frightened and strike out, rear up or run over the top of you. If you stand too far back, he may react and get frightened and kick at the water, and unfortunately, kick you instead. Please learn from my pain and not your own. Never assume a horse is safe. Always make him prove it to you.
Not enough repetition and consistency.
Remember, consistency is your greatest ally. Inconsistency is your greatest enemy. Horses learn from repetition. Don’t race through the steps. Take your time and spend several days in a row working on the exercise. And remember, the more thorough you are on each side, the quicker the horse will learn.
Horse gets frightened and moves his feet.
Keep his head tipped toward you and continue to spray the same area on the horse’s body with the water until he stands still and relaxes. If the horse doesn’t show any of the signs of relaxing, but stands still for 15 seconds, you can retreat at that time.
Horse tries to run into you.
If the horse becomes pushy and disrespectful, use your hand closest to him to drive him away. Don’t try to push him away from you because you will lose. Tap or whack him away on his jaw with rhythm to make him feel uncomfortable for pushing into you. Do it as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary.
Horse backs up.
If he backs up, just go with him and stay in position, keeping the water in the same area on his body. If he isn’t giving you two eyes, bump on the halter and lead rope to get his head tipped toward you. Remember, you can outrun any horse that’s looking at you. It doesn’t matter how far he runs backwards, just stay with him. He can’t back up forever. He will try to get you to think he can, but you know better. This is why it’s helpful to practice desensitizing him to water in a confined space like a roundpen, which will give him room to move his feet but won’t let him go very far.
Horse runs in circles.
Discourage the horse from running around you by bumping on the halter and lead rope with rhythm toward his withers. This will cause the horse to look at you and disengage his hindquarters. You can’t stop him from running around, but you can make him feel very uncomfortable for doing it. Every time he tries to run, bump his head back toward you. At the same time, continue to spray the water. Never retreat with the water until the horse stands still and shows a sign of relaxing.
Horse runs sideways.
Just drift with him while bumping his head toward you to give you two eyes. At the same time, continue to spray him with the water in the exact same spot so he doesn’t escape the pressure. When he eventually stands still and relaxes, retreat and rub him. Horse kicks at the water when it touches his back legs. Just ignore this behavior and keep spraying the water on his back legs. If you take the water away when he kicks, you’ll be teaching him that kicking is the right answer. Once he realizes that: 1) the water won’t hurt him, and 2) he can’t get rid of the water by kicking, he will eventually stop kicking by himself and relax. Spanking him every time he kicks will only cause him to be more defensive.
The horse just won’t stand still.
If the horse won’t stand still, try doing a groundwork exercise like Lunging for Respect Stage Two to get him back to using the thinking side of his brain. The more you make his feet move forwards, backwards, left and right, the more he’ll start to use the thinking side of his brain. When the horse is using the thinking side of his brain, he’ll be in the right frame of mind to stand still and accept the water. Then you can come back to desensitizing with the water and you should get a much better result.
Practice this exercise at the end of a training session.
If you practice this exercise at the end of a training session, the horse will be in the right frame of mind to accept the water and ready to stand still and relax. He’ll probably also be sweaty, and when you run the water over his body, it’ll feel good to him.