Where I live, Garbage collection service is provided weekly, and recycling bins are collected every second week. The most recent collection day emptied both general waste and the recycling bin and so we had 2 wheelie bins to bring back from the curb side this week.
I took a horse to bring the bins in. Those things make a wheeling noise and the gravel make another, plus the horse would have to tolerate me pulling this unfamiliar object behind me. This is what is generally called a desensitisation exercise for the horse. The idea is to expose a horse to an experience where they are expected to feel unsettled with, and eventually minimise the sensitivity against those things they otherwise instinctively try to flee from.
I don’t call this desensitisation however. To me, this is just a horse getting used to me, the weirdest human he gets to put up with. I know that there is no one method that works for every horse, but this attitude/ approach seem to, so far, have worked on different horses. I first become a friend with the horse, and we then go and do things together. If it so happened that there is some ‘scary’ experience along the way, I don’t need to tell them that I set it up for training. For any time I spend with a horse, any horse, I am consistent in keeping them as happy and comfortable as possible; I demand that they understand this as the first thing when I initially work to become their friend. And eventually, one of those days, we may face a real life situation where something unexpected would happen out of my plan, like a very large and sudden noise or something appearing around a corner, and the horse and I could be placed together in a potentially very dangerous situation. And this time, my heart jump anticipating things to go wrong because I did not set that up and I know how a horse could react to situations like that, while the horse would stay with me, bothered but not frightened, with a look on their face “will you stop? Why can’t you just keep quiet and eat glass?”
So, for today, I took a horse along for company. I asked the horse to walk along while I pulled those wheelie bins one at a time. My horse initially went to take side step to avoid this situation but then settled to my side. He did not walk beside me though. He looked at me with one eye as if to say he did not want to be close to somebody who was engaged in this not-so-graceful activity. This horse tends to walk closer to me when he is not certain about something, so I could tell that he was not worried about the experience. So he kept a relative distance even though he was kept on a lead rope, and he only came back to my side after I put the bins away. I am pleased with that. I like how he maintained the capacity to decide what to do in an unusual situation. This’s is exactly what I am aiming for.
Desensitisation, though it is good to know the terminology, feels too mechanic to me. It feels as though I am doing something to the horse to transform them into something more convenient to the humans. I believe that horses are as intelligent as us, they just don’t deal with politics and profits; that’s about all we are different, so I prefer if the communication was mutual. I rely on them to think for themselves, help me when I need help, and I strive not to use a horse for a purpose but rather we do things together doing what the horse showed interest. They say that every horse is good for something. If we could let them go in a direction they wanted to go, I just wonder how much easier the life might be for all of us.