Many people are convinced that more desensitizing is the key to a safe horse that doesn’t spook, get scared, or runoff, but when people ask me how to desensitize a horse, here’s what I say…”When a horse is spooky, it’s because they’re lacking confidence.”

For example, let’s say that I was driving through downtown Atlanta with my friend Robert in the passenger seat. Now I’d never been to Atlanta before, but Robert has assured me that he’s been hundreds of times and he knows exactly where to go, what exit to take, etc. I’m aware that there are bad parts of the city, and I definitely don’t want to be in a situation where I’d wind up there or end up lost and not knowing where to go.

I take Robert at his word and trust he’s got it covered. (Just stick with me here. I promise I’m going to explain how to desensitize a horse). But, as we start going, I quickly learn that Robert doesn’t really know the area as good as he said he did.

I start missing my exits, end up in the wrong lanes, and nearly get plowed by a tractor trailer. And after an hour or so we end up in a really bad part of town. I’m obviously stressed beyond measure by this point because My hands are clenched to the steering wheel, and I’m looking around all nervous (spooky).

I finally have to tell Robert to quit talking and figure this out on my own because everything Robert is telling me to do is getting us into worse situations. And at this point, I feel like I can keep us protected more than Robert can.

Now Let’s Flip The Switch

Let’s say Robert really did know the area and he’s the world’s best tour guide. I would get more relaxed the longer I rode with Robert. I’d have one hand on the steering and maybe a soda in the other. I’d just be cruising and relaxing with my seat tilted back.

So Here’s The Moral Of The Story

I’ve been driving my whole life. I’m not afraid of semi trucks, stop signs, traffic, exits, etc. I didn’t need more exposure to that environment to become ok with it. What I needed was clear leadership.

That’s The Difference (And How You Truly Desensitize A Horse)

That’s why when people ask me, “how to desensitize a horse?” I try to get them to see the bigger picture. To Create A Horse That Doesn’t Spook Easy, You Need To Become A Great Leader.

Ok, so how do you become a great leader?

Clearly and consistently communicate what you want your horse to do. Proper timing ensures clear communication. Your horse won’t get distracted and bothered by all these other elements if he’s focused on you and what you’re asking him to do.

And he can trust that you have his best interest at heart and you’re doing what’s best for him. Simply put, you have to keep his mind occupied. When you’re riding your horse, you should always be giving him something to do, even if you’re just leisurely riding down the trail

Let Me Give You An Example

I was doing a clinic once, and there was a horse who would absolutely come unglued every time he got close to this banner that hung on the fence. So instead trying to desensitize the horse to the banner, we gave the horse something better to do than focus on that scary banner. Every time he’d get a little close to it, I’d turn him left and make him trot off.

Then I did it again, and again. After a while the horse learned that the banner was not a big deal. He became desensitized to it. But not because I was making him stand there and increasing his exposure. It was because I was giving him something else to focus on.

Horses are very much one-minded. They can only think about one thing at once. And if they’re not thinking about you and what you’re asking, you’re going to eventually get in a wreck.

Now Let’s Actually Talk About How To Desensitize A Horse.

I made a video a while back showing the process and I’m putting it right here for you to watch.

I’d also highly recommend getting my desensitizing flowchart as it lays out step-by-step what you should do to desensitize a horse to anything.

Generally, you present a horse with an object and you keep presenting it until he’s not afraid. Half of the time that’s true. It’s as simple as that. You just start exposing your horse to something, and they get into where they don’t really care about it anymore.

But here’s the thing. That’s not going to cut it with a lot of horses. Why? Inconsistency. Just because you desensitize your horse to something one day, doesn’t mean he’s going to stay desensitized to it. The results are often times not long lasting. Your horse may be fine this week or next, but then on week 3 he may act like he’s never seen the object you’re desensitizing him to.

Being a leader is the best way to desensitize a horse. It’s a “cure all” if you will. Instead of having to desensitize your horse to everything they could possible ever get scared of (can you imagine how big and funny of a list this would be?), you nip it all in the bud and cover everything by being clear on what you want him to do, and being a confident leader.


Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.