Respect and Desensitisation

In
Catching and Ground Lessons
category
on
November 15, 2017

  I  recently watched a video of a trainer trying to handle a horse’s legs.  The horse was seven years old and kicked quite badly when anyone  attempted to pick up his hind legs. The trainer was obviously frightened  of being kicked, so he flapped a rope around the horse’s legs to  “desensitise him”. Though the horse kicked and kicked at the rope, the  trainer kept throwing it at the horse’s legs until the horse was  sweating and distressed. The trainer said that the horse kicked because  he “lacked respect”. 

     Next, the trainer tried to lift  the horse’s legs and guess what? The horse kicked even harder.  Seems  the ‘desensitising’ with the rope didn’t work. The trainer became  frustrated and reverted to jerking relentlessly on the severe headstall  that the horse was wearing. This of course forced the horse to run  backwards and to panic even more. “He’s gotta learn to respect me” the  trainer said, and he kept forcing the horse backwards around the yard.  Jerk, jerk, jerk. It went on and on.

 Unfortunately  this approach is widespread. Many trainers use a flag, rope or even an  artificial hand to handle a horse’s legs. Some say that hosing a horse’s  legs will ‘desensitise’ him. Trainers say this is much safer for the  handler because the horse can’t kick you.

There’s  no excuse ever for using a rope, flag, hose or artificial anything when  you handle any horse’s legs. Just because you’re scared of being kicked  or you don’t have the skills to handle a horse’s legs doesn’t give you  the right to further frighten an already frightened horse. When a horse  is worried about having his legs handled, using a flag, rope or hose  will positively terrify him. God gave you two hands. That’s all you need  to handle any horse’s legs.

Handling a two-year-old mare's legs for the first time.

 There’s also no excuse for using severe headstalls with knots here and knots there, designed to inflict pressure and pain on a horse. A plain leather headstall and a cotton lead rope is all you ever need

Another video showed a young horse bucking with the saddle. The trainer’s solution to this problem was to chase the horse in a round yard until the horse was sweating and distressed. Next, the trainer flanked roped the horse and chased him around some more. The horse bucked around with the flank rope and was obviously frightened and distressed, but the trainer didn’t care.

“I’m desensitising him so he’ll accept the saddle” was the trainer’s excuse. When the trainer finally saddled the horse, he legged a young girl up into the saddle. (That’s about the only smart thing he did. After all, if you know a horse is going to buck, don’t get up there yourself.) You don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to know what happened next. Yes – the horse bucked around with the girl on his back.

When are these people going to join the dots? All the ‘gaining of respect’ and ‘desensitisation’ doesn’t work. The horses in these videos still kicked and bucked.

 Whenever some trainers feel scared of being kicked or bucked off, they resort to excessive pressure and punishment. They blame the horse and they justify being cruel by saying “this horse lacks respect” or “it’s okay, I’m desensitising him”.

There’s a best-selling horse book that states “horses are cowards”. I totally disagree. Horses aren’t cowards. Some horses deserve a medal for bravery for putting up with being roped, flagged, bucked out and chased backwards relentlessly.  It’s the bullies who use the terms ‘respect’ and ‘desensitisation’ to justify the use of excessive pressure and punishment who are the real cowards.

This foal has been handled without being 'desensitised' or 'gaining respect'.

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