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The Purpose of Desensitisation in Horse Training Part 2

This is the second part of the purpose of desensitisation in horse training article. In part 2, I describe the 2 different types of desensitisation, progressive and flooding, and explain which one to use when…

Read the first part of this article here.


The 2 Types of desensitisation


Progressive desensitisation is when you use approach and retreat to gradually desensitise a horse to something. It involves finding the horses thresholds for reacting and gradually taking them beyond it. By temporarily going past the horses thresholds and then going back to where the horse is more comfortable the horses thresholds gradually dissolve and the horses level of comfort and tolerance for the scary stimulus becomes greater. The key with progressive desensitisation is to only stop the stimulus when the horse shows signs of relaxing and getting calmer.



Flooding is a more aggressive form of desensitisation that involves flooding a horse with the scary stimulus and stopping the stimulus when the horse starts to relax. When done correctly the horse will stop overreacting and become calm and unaffected by the stimulus.


Finding the right approach for desensitising your horse

Finding the right approach to desensitising your horse can be tricky and often times we lack the knowledge, feel and timing to be able to correctly desensitise our horse in a way that builds the horses understanding and confidence.

Using the progressive approach to desensitising is more appropriate when you want to gauge a horse’s level of reactiveness to a stimulus. By slowly and progressively building the intensity of the scary stimulus you can get a sense of how much they can tolerate without losing it and going into full blown flight mode. If you were to use flooding on a highly sensitive, scared horse it would overwhelm the horses nervous system and cause it to go into flight mode, which can be dangerous for you as the owner. Using progressive desensitisation on a highly sensitive, scared horse allows you to find the horses threshold for tolerating a scary stimulus and gradually take the horse beyond that threshold, until the horse is no longer scared of that stimulus.

Flooding can sometimes be a very effective method for horses that can’t manage their panic button. If you have laid the foundation with progressive desensitisation, then you can use flooding to teach a horse not to panic when something scary happens suddenly. For example, if you were using flooding with a plastic bag to desensitise your horse you would go from nothing to flapping the plastic bag as fast as you can until your horse showed signs of relaxing and calming down. Then when your horse started to relax you would stop flapping the plastic bag and allow your horse time to think. Then you would repeat the process until your horse is able to remain calm and relaxed when you suddenly flap the plastic bag.

Both Progressive and flooding have their place in the training process and by having a better understanding how they work you can find the right approach for your horse.


Don’t forget we have a Fun Horse Day coming up soon, during which I will give a talk and a demonstration on finding out what makes your horse tick and how to get a deeper understanding and connection with your horse. Book today and save...

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