Friday, April 1, 2022

d.i.y.: desensitizing clinic

Do you have some random crap laying around the barn? And some horses who could use a bit of training or a wake-up day? Well, I did, so I created an arena full of obstacles made from mostly trash and a few dollar store purchases (less than $10). Make your own to torment train your beasts!

people trying things out
Miles was a previous halter horse. They wanted him to be wide-eyed with his head up and fancy, but I sure don't! (That is what the halter pictures look like to me! I'm sure there is much more to it.). I don't think he'd had much desensitizing done, so I've been jumping around like a lunatic on the end of the lead line (now no big deal), laying stuff over and around him, slinging my reins over his head, he's getting pretty used to my antics! 

pinwheel flower is dumb, even when it spins

But I wanted some more structured work at it. So I started digging around in the barn trash and behind the old sheds. Hmmm, strings and bags and hoses and jump standards, I can do something with these! 

bag o' cans is TOO loud

flappy feed bags hang on the fence
I did spend a few dollars at the dollar store (now the $1.25 store!). Pool noodles, pinwheels, and a fabulous unicorn kite. No pictures of the small inflatable fish (think Nemo), but summer supplies will be coming in soon, so I'm thinking more inflatables will make an appearance.

 I had 12+ obstacles. I did not get photos of all of them, but they were:

  • hose with water/puddle
  • cardboard to walk on (this was a tough one for many)
  • tarps to walk on (this too was harder than I thought for some)
  • umbrella open but on ground
  • bag o' cans
  • fence feed sacks
  • hose snakes (pieces of old hose cut into safe lengths)
  • pinwheels
  • twine spiders (baling twine tied together then with a long string you could drag)
  • plastic bag
  • noodle pole
  • noodle walk
  • best of all: unicorn kite

I had a friend show up to help set up, but it was pretty easy. Then I wanted to walk Miles through and show him everything. The item he hated the most: plastic bag. Close second: the feed sack with loud aluminum cans inside. I walked though everything, showed him, gave him time to process, then put him away.

hose snakes
 Some other folks from the stable and next door came over to try it out. It was really interesting to see different horses reactions to the same obstacles. Some did not care, some jumped around, but we kept everyone safe. 

best unicorn kite!

kite gets the side-eye
 About an hour later I went through again with Miles and I think he had been processing some information back in his pasture. He did much better the second time. And has continued to improve! I know we are not encountering a wild pool noodle in the forest (though being by a lake you never know) but it's just making sure his responses are reasonable and he listens to me. It's hard to trust a new person he says (and horse I say!)

pool noodles (on dowels in an old pole)

noodle walk

It was so great for everyone, we all learned something about our horses, and I left all of the items in the arena (in a less-scary plastic bin) for later use. I've used a few every couple days, Miles is getting better and better about the scariest items and now mostly watches me with a look of "You sure are boring, just playing with the same toys over and over again. Can we go eat grass now?" 

Ok, what obstacle would YOUR horse be nervous about? I'm just glad there were no clowns…


  1. That looks like fun - totally want a unicorn kite now! (Just say no to clowns)

  2. A live cat fell out of a tree on a recent trail ride. No humans or horses were hurt in the resulting spook.I'm not sure I even thought to train for that....

  3. Farah hated sheep! A sheep is a carnivore don't you know?

    1. and pigs, they're tough. There is a hiker who packs with an alpaca, haven't run into them yet…

  4. I did a trail challenge once that included pulling a tarp above your head with rope and pulley, then walking UNDER it while navigating a bunch of old tires. Way too scary. Same course had a clothesline covered in flapping sheets to ride under. Also a bit much. We did the tunnel under then ride across a covered bridge though!

    1. Yeah, that's a bit much, but the covered bridge sounds cool!