This is a general definition:
1. to lessen the sensitiveness of.
2. to make indifferent, unaware of.
This is a term that is used a lot in natural horse training. Personally I believe it is over used and gives a distorted impression of what is really happening. Another term that is used frequently is “bomb proofing”, which refers to the same process.
I understand what the clinicians mean when they talk about desensitizing a horse. For example, they want a horse to ignore a fluttering plastic bag instead of spooking and running off. What they are really talking about is modifying the horses’ behaviour.
Horses are naturally very sensitive and perceptive animals. Their very life depends on it. Despite all best efforts you can never be absolutely sure that a horse won`t spook. Given the wrong set of circumstances even the “bomb proof” horse can and will spook.
Chris Cox uses the term “PREPARE” as an alternative to “desensitize” which I believe is more appropriate to what is really desired. This implies that the horse has been taught to respond instead of react.
There is a picture at the end of this section that shows a horse (my horse Kai) who is truly desensitized. In this picture he is recovering from a sedative that was administered by a veterinarian in order to remove a bunch of porcupine quills from his nose. This is not the demeanour anyone wants in their horse. Again I am aware that this is not what clinicians mean by desensitizing.
Horses put things in two categories, things they should run away from and things they should not run away from. Using techniques that clinicians teach, you can teach your horse not to fear a tarp, a trailer or a bit. You can PREPARE them to accept these things as safe.
My horse, Kai, who was 11 years old when I got him, would not trailer load. It was a fight to get him on a trailer and when he came off he was terrified. Using methods that I learned from Richard Winters and Chris Cox, I prepared Kai to accept the trailer. This was accomplished by a procedure of moving closer and staying longer and building his confidence and trust in me. He now loads exactly the way the Chris and Richard demonstrate and he travels without fear.