The 27 members of the Jackson Hole Police Citizens' Mounted Unit (CMU), volunteers patrol downtown streets and special events. They train their horses to accept the noises, crowds, and movements of the town. While trail riding in the rugged mountains nearby, they've noticed their horses are calmer and almost "bombproof" on the trail.
You can incorporate CMU's elements into your own training program. For ground rules, training basics, and a step-by-step technique, see The Trail Rider, April '09. Here are bonus photos showing more training obstacles, plus a how-to video.
Important: Before you begin any type of desensitization training, understand the following ground rules:
Watch your pace. Expose your horse only to what he can handle; never push him beyond his limits. Proceed at a pace that helps him succeed.
Never train alone. Make sure someone is around, even if it's a neighbor watching from afar.
Use your horse's sense of smell. When approaching a new obstacle, you'll notice that your horse may pause for a sniff. This isn't a delay tactic or a refusal; it's part of the acceptance process. Smelling an object indicates that he's willing to consider dealing with it. After he seems satisfied, ask him to continue forward across or through the obstacle.
Introduce from the ground. When first introducing your horse to any obstacle, do so from the ground until he seems comfortable. If it takes him 45 minutes to simply place one foot on or toward an obstacle, fine. Help him win. Be confident and firm, but never force or overpressure him. Pressuring him would cause him to associate tension with the obstacle.
Always be safe. If you ever feel in danger, dismount. Note that some exercises and disciplines should be taught only by a professional mounted patrol trainer.