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Clinton Anderson: De-Spook, De-Stress, Desensitize Your Horse

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By Clinton Anderson with J. Forsberg Meyer
Photos by Kevin McGowan

Do you want a horse that's calm, focused, responsive and obedient? Of course you do; everyone does. With this lesson, you'll begin to learn the essential groundwork that will teach your horse to be that way for you--consistently. The exercises I'll present in this slideshow are the same ones I use to start colts, reform bad actors, and keep nice, broke horses nice and broke.

They're also what my student Renee Humphries uses to keep her Appaloosa gelding, Sammy, safe and fun to be around. Sammy is a perfect example of why you must be consistent in your groundwork. When you are, your horse remains consistently good for you. When you slack off, so does he.

Groundwork works because it sets you up as your horse's leader, teaching him to trust and respect you. It also activates the thinking (as opposed to the reacting) part of his brain. My groundwork includes both sensitizing (where you train your horse to move away from pressure) and desensitizing (where you teach him to relax and accept pressure calmly).

Renee will demonstrate how she keeps Sammy desensitized to her training aids--her lead rope and training stick--by rubbing and/or flinging them over his body and slapping the stick on the ground.

I'll explain what's happening at each step, and Renee will share her insights, as well.

To Get the Most from this Lesson:

  • Outfit your horse in a rope halter with a 14-foot lead. I prefer my own halters, which have extra knots on the noseband for improved responsiveness, but any stiff rope halter will do.
  • Grab your training stick. If you don't have one, make one using a sturdy, 4-foot-long stick with a 6-foot-long detachable rope string. Or, use a dressage whip.
  • Work with your horse several times a week--ideally on consecutive days to speed his learning--in an enclosed area with safe fencing and good footing. Remain calm and patient at all times, and work both sides equally.

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