Today I put my husband’s shirt on my horse.

by Melinda Folse (formerly Melinda Folse Kaitcer)

No, I’m not kidding. Following both Clinton Anderson’s advice to “get creative with your desensitizing tools”  and the old cowboy trick of tying stuff on your saddle to “get the buck out,” I decided to see if I could help my jumpy, side-sensitive horse, Trace, work through his over-reactiveness to things touching his sides.

Now, here’s the kicker, if you’ll pardon the expression. Because Trace is so jumpy I’ve already done a tremendous amount of desensitizing with him from the ground. In fact, he expects nothing less from me. Using Clinton’s “Approach and Retreat” technique, I’ve jabbed, flapped, poked, slapped, rattled, and waved enough to make myself a laughing stock of my entire barn. And for the most part, it’s been worth it. However, when the strings hanging from the back of my favorite two saddles touch his sides, he STILL goes off like a rodeo bronc.

So this was my newest idea. Taking my cue from Clinton Anderson’s advice to “get creative with your desensitizing tools,” I chose my husbands long sleeved shirt to help desensitize my jumpy horse to things (like saddle strings) that tickle his sides and make him buck.

Trainer Denise Barrows was game to help me with this experiment, and as soon as I manage to get it posted,  you can see how it “unfolded” on YouTube. You’ll see me working with him at first, then trainer Denise Barrows takes over to apply a little more experienced pressure. Notice how she increases pressure by pushing him, then releases the pressure by letting him take a rest, then starts again. Developing this kind of “feel” of when to increase and when to release pressure with horses is an art form, I’ve decided. (And I do think it also applies to teenagers.)

Seeing the shirt collar standing up against the back of the cantle, Denise remarked that it looked like the headless horseman was sliding down off Trace’s butt. (Clinton always says that the more you try to scare your horse, the calmer he will get . . . what could be scarier than this?)

The idea was to start small, with the shirt tightly rolled, doing basic groundwork and moving slowly into lunging, walk, trot and canter. We thought that as he became OK with it, we’d let more and more of the shirt hang out of the roll until the whole shirt was draped over his back end.

You know what they say about best laid plans. Trace had other ideas about how this exercise should “unfold,” and after two or three good kick-ups on the lunge line, the shirt somehow came unrolled on its own.  I’m still not sure whose column gets the win for this one  . . . watch the video and cast your vote! What was your most creative desensitizing tool?

Send me your “creative desensitizing” videos (camera phones welcome!) My favorite wins a free Saddle Up Your Midlife Horses! T-shirt!


Saddle Up! Your Midlife Horse is Waiting!

To create your own trail map to find the resources you need, solid horsekeeping advice from the experts I found on my own journey, stories of all kinds of women and their horses finding what they need on the midlife trail, and plenty of ridiculous anecdotes just like this one from me, order your copy of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses today!

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses by Melinda Folse (formerly Melinda Folse Kaitcer)

And once you read the book, be sure to check back here often. I’m in the process of creating a community just for those of us finding our midlife thrill on the back (or by the side) of a horse. Come! Join the fun, laughter, camaraderie and joy only midlife horses can bring. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (please send your videos–even camera phone!– and I’ll post them!) and Flickr (send photos of you with your horse!). I’ve built this community for us all to share, commiserate, celebrate and, to the greatest extent possible, laugh our butts off in the pure joy only midlife horses can bring. Y’all come!

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