Friday, April 21, 2017

21st April, 2017 Where Were We?

I promised to reproduce my general notes on here and will get to the next set fairly soon. They are all about desensitisation and the three basic methods you can use to get your horse used to anything new and novel. Like all of the horsemanship I do, there are extremists on both sides of me - some that say that there should never be any need for desensitisation, it's all about the relationship, or even that it can damage a horse because it amounts to flooding, and those that might think that a horse should be inured to any stimulus. As always there can be a happy medium. Desensitisation is a means to an end but the end never justifies the means; as with any other piece of horsemanship it needs to be done ethically, logically, systematically, and consistently. Desensitisation techniques can help to enhance the relationship between a horse and a handler as the horse learns how to deal with fear and that his handler is looking out for him; moreover it makes the horse safer when taken out in public where there is a duty of care to those around you.

Training at home can help to make a horse safer on the roads: the engine is running
The sport of Horse Agility has really taken off in this country and abroad, giving horses something else to do which can be even more useful when they are young or too old, small or nervous, to be ridden. People can take part it in it as a sport in it's own right, or as part of the stepping stones towards creating a horse that is an all rounder, loads well, hacks out nicely, and isn't perturbed by shows, and other activities. What can seem like tricks, standing a horse on a plinth for example, is a great introduction to trailer loading. Being able to cope with things that flap, helps a horse to be safer out on the road where a bag on the verge, or a pheasant, may suddenly fly up.

It isn't compulsory to wear a fireman's uniform when training your horse (although it might help)
Just like any horse sport though, there are different methods of preparing a horse for a Horse Agility event, whether it be competition or playing at home. These can range from traditional horsemanship, through Parelli, Intelligent Horsemanship, and clicker. The important thing is that there should be some underlying method and training philosophy. For me, a combination of IH and clicker works really well and it is those desensitisation techniques that I will be talking about in more detail when I am short of a blog or two.

If this handler wasn't careful, in this case moving the umbrella away from the horse he could terrify it with the brolly during the initial stages of training; that's not the idea.
As I never tire of saying, however, there are only two letters difference between desensitisation and sensitisation and that's why it is important to think about technique, as well as the safety aspects of what you are doing. Get it wrong and the horse learns something entirely different from what you intended, especially if he gets hurt or frightened in the process. Accordingly, choose your instructor well and check they have qualifications, experience, and, if you are going to their premises, the right facilities and insurance in place; several horses working together without adequate supervision can lead to chaos. In order to run Horse Agility events, especially competitions, an instructor does have to have insurance and to be a Horse Agility Accredited Trainer. Membership of the Horse Agility Club is not the same!

This kind of obstacle needs to be introduced without the bottom section to begin with, or even to walk the horse over just the piping on the floor.
Of course Horse Agility has become a shorthand way of people saying that they are doing bombproofing or spook-busting or desensitising their horse to new and novel things, in which case they don't need an instructor at all, as long as they know what they are doing and think things through. Not being a competitive person at all I am quite happy just setting things up at home and there's a lot to be said for invading your local tat shop, or asking for permission to take things out of a skip. People could have a very nice time just going round to each other's for an afternoon and trying out each other's obstacles.

Closely supervised we use 'horse agility' obstacles to train the fire officers how to gain trust and control with a horse in an emergency.