How to Desensitize A Horse To Any Scary Object

Desensitizing is one of those things that can be way underdone or way overdone.

Neither of those options is good.

It would be impossible to desensitize a horse to every single object they may possibly encounter, but you CAN use exposure to certain objects as a lesson to build lifelong confidence and courage into the horse.

Desensitizing should never be done in a hurry.

That will only make a horse REACTIVE instead of THOUGHTFUL.

No matter what object it is that the horse views as a big scary monster, you must introduce it to him broken down into VERY small steps.

To begin desensitizing to any scary object, stand about 5 feet (or 20 feet if necessary) in front of the horse.

If he starts walking backwards, go with him until you see a SLIGHT CHANGE (he quits walking backwards, slows down, lowers his head).

At that EXACT MOMENT, retreat the scary object to release ALL pressure.

If he starts RUNNING backwards, you’re putting too much pressure on him. Back up.

If he handles the scary object at 5 feet away, move closer.

If he goes backwards again, GO WITH HIM not increasing OR decreasing the pressure of the scary object or distance until you see a change.

As soon as you see the change…stop.

Your TIMING in when you release the pressure will tell the horse that they did the right thing by being a little more acceptant of the scary object.

You are teaching them the habit of bravery/confidence.

And by the way, during all this, if his attention gets diverted away from you, immediately get it back.

You can’t teach a horse something if he’s not paying attention.

Want a step-by-step simplified flowchart on how to do all this? Download one here:

After a while the horse will figure out that the way to get rid of the pressure is not to AVOID but to ACCEPT the scary monster.

If you can get the horse to ‘chase’ the scary object that goes a long way towards building his confidence.

Lead your horse forward, and let him chase the object away.

Doing that a few times will also help change his thinking.

Be sure to always quit before he’s too bothered.

If he’s freaking out, you’re not working at his current level.

You would need to back off a little and more GRADUALLY increase the pressure.

Break it down into levels he can handle and understand, then expect him to handle a little more each time.

When you see that BIG change (relaxes, licks his lips, puts his head down) then is when you do a COMPLETE RETREAT — put away the scary object and just walk him around a little.

When you do move closer, or begin touching him with the scary object, it’s okay if he’s a little bothered. HANG IN THERE and WAIT for that change.

If you don’t hang in there, you’re teaching him that avoidance is the answer.

He needs to understand that acceptance is the answer.

After your horse gets comfortable with you touching one part of his body, move to another part.

Oh and one more final (yet critical) tip…

Never, Never, Never sneak up on the horse.

Slow or “creepy” movement can remind a horse of a predator.

Always move deliberately, honestly, and with purpose.

And make sure you desensitize both the right and left sides. That’s important.

About The Author

Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship. For the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. He was often in situations where he either had to figure out how to help the horse understand, or it could easily turn into a life or death situation. Carson now travels the country putting on training clinics teaching people the fundamentals of Horsemanship. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.