Jasmine's Story - Desensitizing the spooky horse


We've been getting a lot of questions pertaining to Jazz's history. "What's her story?" The answer is: "We don't know". We had her vet checked and she is healthy. The rest is still a mystery.

Metro had a heck of a story, that's what was so fascinating about him turning to art when he could no longer do what other horses do. But we really don't know much about Jazz's life before she came into our family. The best that we can figure is that she had 4 owners before us. She came from Arizona, so she is adapted to the desert climate, and she has also had some reining training. If you accidentally put your foot in the wrong place, she is going to stop on a dime and back up, sending you flying over her head if you are not ready.

But when you start to work with a horse, their story starts to tell itself. Just the way they react to certain situations will tell you a lot about a horse's history. We found out that she has not really led a pampered life, she has never been fed a treat by hand. She would not take a peppermint or a carrot, she just didn't know how to. We finally got her to start taking carrots only after she watched the other horses around her taking carrots from our hand.

She is relatively young and scared of everything. She is only 4 years old and hasn't been exposed to a lot. So everything is new and scary to her right now.

We are firm believers that you have to scare your horse to teach them to be calm. But there is a right way to do it. Horse's have been taught by their mothers to run away from danger. So if you are riding your horse, and a plastic bag blows across your path (the flapping plastic bag is a horse's worse nightmare). You may soon find that you don't have a horse under you anymore. ( Here I am finding a starting point. How close I can get with the plastic bag.)

Most people will hide the plastic bag and take it away when your horse gets scared. Wrong!!! That is just reinforcing the instinct to run. To teach you horse to be calm you have to keep flapping the bag until your horse stops running. They may drag you all over the arena at the end of a lead rope, but eventually they will stop and relax. That is when you take away the bag. You also don't want to overwhelm your horse or "Flood" them. You have to find a starting point to where they start to show a little discomfort. That may be 20 or 40 feet away. When they relax, you reward them by taking it away and then move in a little closer next time. Approach and retreat. This teaches them that the correct response is not run away, but to relax when they are faced with something scary. It may take some time, but soon you will be able to rub the bag all over them. (Watch how Jazz pulls away when the bag gets up around her left ear. But I keep the pressure there until she relaxes, only then will I move it to a different part of her body. Approach and retreat.)

So Wendy and I are constantly looking for scary objects that we can expose our horses to. We find that building a horses confidence is one of the most satisfying parts of horse ownership.


  • Donna

    Btw you are doing what I see many very good humane horse trainers do. Approach and retreat. So important for your and the horse’s safety!

  • Donna

    Have you used the garden horse yet? My mare thought it was a very big wiggly snake on the ground……….until she didnt

  • Ron

    Paula, what we are doing is NOT flooding. Flooding would be if we tied plastic bags to her halter or legs and turned her loose until she ran herself to death figuring out that she could never get away from it. We would never do that! Flooding is rejected because it is dangerous scares the hell out of a horse. What we are doing is approach and retreat. Find a starting point, it may be twenty feet away, but keep exposing her until she relaxes. Then reward her by taking it away. She is given a choice to either react or remain calm. Flooding they are given no choice.

  • Paula

    This technique also is known by another name…flooding. It is across the board rejected as a training tool in the veterinary world.

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