Horse Training – Handling, Gentling, Desensitization, Sacking Out, Flooding
I’m asking this question for my two little PMU girls to get them started on the right tract. They are both 17 months now. They seem to learn quickly and I would prefer them to learn the correct way to behave and accept things being done to them. Thanking you in advance, Mary
Here is an excerpt from my book How to Think Like a Horse which should get you started.
Habituation One of the very first training principles you use when you work with a horse is habituation. Related terms (listed in order from mild to extreme) are gentling, sacking out/ desensitization and flooding.
Flooding – an intense, overwhelming form of habituation
Habituation introduces a horse to a particular person, procedure or object in order to gain the horse’s acceptance without fear.
Gentling is touching a horse on every part of his body and getting him used to being groomed all over. Although a horse naturally loves to be rubbed on his forehead and neck, he must learn to accept and appreciate grooming elsewhere, especially in his ticklish and sensitive areas.
Sacking out a horse with blankets and slickers is a way of gradually decreasing his apprehensions concerning the sight or sound of an object or of the object touching him. By repeated careful exposure to a certain stimulus, a horse’s response can be diminished. Sacking out is a form systematic desensitization where a mild stimulus is introduced at a low level, rest periods are given, and the stimulus is gradually increased. With sacking out, if your end goal is to shake a noisy sheet of plastic over a horse’s back and hit him with it, you would start with rubbing him with a soft cotton blanket and gradually work up to the plastic over a period of days or weeks.
Flooding is exposure to full intensity stimulus while restraining the animal until the animal stops reacting. With the above example, you would fully restrain the horse and then come at him from all side with sheets of plastic, waving them wildly. Not only does this hold risk of injury to all parties but it is an inhumane and unnecessary means to an end.
I prefer my horses to be sacked out for safety but not totally desensitized, brain dead or robotic. When I am riding in the mountains, I want them to bring their instincts along. If I had removed all reflexes with aggressive flooding, it would be like riding a stuffed horse. I take care of my horses and when we are riding I expect my horses to take care of me, but it would be difficult for them to react to danger if they had been sacked to oblivion.
A beneficial use of desensitization (repeated stimulation to diminish the response) is evident when your veterinarian gives your horse an injection. Often the vet will tap the injection site a few times with the back of his hand to stimulate the initial nerve firing before he inserts the needle. Thus prepared, a horse often doesn’t react to the needle because his skin has been desensitized. A similar deadening occurs when you pick up a fold of skin and hold it for a few seconds before you insert a needle. The area around the site of injection has become dull to pain and the horse barely feels the needle go in.
Best of luck,