Wild horses are extraordinarily sensitive to everything in their environment - they have to be, in order to survive in the wild. We don't want to take that away from them. We do, however, need to help them deal with this sensitivity in a positive and safe way.

Ginny Freeman working with Sapphire, an abused horse.
Ginny is desensitizing her to the touch of a rope - teaching her that not all human contact is hurtful.

Be sure to read this Fugly Horse Article of Use of Flags, and De-Sensitization

It is not safe for either you or your horse if it is afraid of every little thing, if it flinches or shies every time a blade of grass tickles its tummy, or the stirrups on the saddle flap against the horse's sides. You also want to make sure that it can handle wind-blown debris on the trail, etc.

Lesley Neuman working with wild horses at BLM adoptions

This training is called de-sensitization. "Sacking Out" is a traditional form of concentrated desensitization. "Sacking Out" simply means touching the horse all over (with your hand, with a rope, with a feed sack, whatever) until it can accept this without anxiety.

In the gentling process, we start desensitization way before we get close enough to touch the horse with our hands! We want to make sure the horse can handle all kinds of feels, as well as  movements, before we let him close to us. We want to make sure that his intentions toward us are good, and that he is relaxed and comfortable being close to us. To do this we have to get him used to being touched all over his body. We start this from afar, using a rope and/or a lunge whip or bamboo pole.

A WORD ABOUT FOOD TREATS & WILD HORSES: Food treats can help interest wild horses in human contact. But even though a wild horse takes food from your hand, do not think for a minute that it is gentled - or safe! It is still wild, and encouraging it to be bold enough to come up and eat out of your hand, without the training to go with it, is not very safe. Stay on your side of the fence. Wild horses who eat out of your hand are still wild horses! 
Just the weight and feel of a halter on its head is causing this wild horse considerable anxiety. Trainer Bryan Neubert, shown here at the 2001 National Wild Horse & Burro Show, is working slowly, calmly, and at a safe distance, to help the horse gradually increase his comfort zoneRopes, bamboo poles, and leafy fronds are common tools to use on a new wild horse, to help desensitize it to human contact.
Reaching out to this colt with a soft bamboo frond allows touching at a safe distance, and helps to desensitize him to human movements. The horse sees the fronds as an extension of the human's arm.
The "BAMBOO POLE" Method of gentling was developed by John Sharp of Oregon. It allows the human to reach out and touch the horse (or burro!) from a safe distance, and in any size or shape of enclosure. You can even do it by reaching through from the other side of the fence. John's grand-daughter, Kitty Lauman, continues to develop this technique.
Sharon Lamm of LRTC uses the bamboo pole method to desensitize three wild burros to human contact. This burro is starting to see that human touching can feel pretty good. Sharon "saws" the pole gently back and forth over the burro's back, imitating normal equine grooming.

The Bamboo Pole method uses a progressive sequence to gradually develop trust in the horse. Start making contact with the horse by resting the pole on the withers or topline, and rubbing the horse in a circular motion. Do not progress to other parts of the body until that horse is comfortable and accepting of being poled on the topline. Next move to the lower back, then the rump, then the upper hind legs. Then go to the shoulder and sides. The front of the chest and the lower legs are last.

Here's Mike giving baby Pine Nut Pony a rub down to decrease his jumpiness around the hindquarters. This was necessary i order to start handling his hind feet, as well as to increase his general comfort level being handled by people.













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