Horse-Training Methods for Desensitization

Help your horse get used to being touched around his ears, eyes and mouth with these horse-training tips.

From AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship”

Make life easier for both you and your horse by desensitizing his head and surrounding areas. Journal photo

The head is a very delicate area, and many horses show confidence problems when touched here.

By desensitizing this zone, you will make life considerably easier for you and your horse. You will be able to treat his eyes, administer worming paste, and have him examined by the dentist without any problems. Grooming the mane or clipping the poll and ears will not result in a head-butt, and you will be able to bridle the horse without him becoming defensive.

Once you can stroke all parts of his head, ears, eyes and mouth, you will be able to deal with him much more easily.

Ears: With the horse’s head lowered, run your hand slowly along his neck toward the ears. Then withdraw your hand just before he reacts.

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Eyes: To pass your hand across his eyes, start from an area where he accepts your touch. Using a circular movement, gradually approach his eye, taking care to withdraw your hand before he reacts and moving it to an area where he appreciates being touched.

Mouth: To touch his mouth, you must start by touching his lips. Gradually insert your finger into his mouth in the gap between his teeth where the bit lies. Bear in mind that you should reward absence of reaction with relaxation and that you must patiently persist if the horse reacts. Make sure the horse has understood that as soon as he accepts something which is in principle unpleasant, it will stop. If he knows he can find your “off switch,” he will accept you more easily.

Horsemanship Concepts

Errors to Avoid

  • Do not let the horse think that the best way to avoid this situation is to raise his head, behave defensively or be generally uncooperative.

  • Do not reward reaction by stopping at the wrong moment.

  • Do not become fixated on a little problem. It will only get worse.

Simple, consistent training can lead to confident, reliable horses. Find more training exercises to help improve your horse’s trust in AQHA’s FREE Barn-Aisle Exercises ebook.

Tip for Success

  • “Expose but don’t overexpose.”

  • The horse needs your confidence to find his own.

  • Remember that perfection is the result of many small improvements.

  • Don’t provoke a fight.

  • You must be constantly aware of your position and protect your vulnerable areas.

Stay Safe and Comfortable

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