Respect and Desensitisation
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 three 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 his respect'.
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