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Training Tip of the Week: The best place to desensitize your horse to water.


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.