In the Saddle: Putting in the groundwork

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I've been doing some groundwork with my young horse, Sully, this week. He's still a yearling at the moment so I've been working on more desensitisation work.

Desensitising, or "de-spooking" a horse, teaches the horse not to panic when exposed to certain objects or experiences. Inexperienced or young horses need to be desensitised before they can be ridden, but even mature horses are often spooked by plastic bags, bouncing rubber balls, or loud traffic sounds.

As Sully is only a baby still, this is a great way to prepare him for ridden work later in his life. My mare, April, is an absolute star on the roads, much of her calmness lays with her previous owners who did a fantastic job of her groundwork before starting her ridden career.

According to a Danish study, doing some at-home preparations could aid horses in staying calm when faced with new or potentially frightening objects. The team at Aarhus University in Denmark examined if "habituation" to new or frightening objects during training could help horses respond to novel objects in a more relaxed manner. The upshot, after working with 30 horses split into a control group and a test group was that it did work.

After reviewing the results, the research team found that the test horses "reacted significantly less towards objects which were previously part of the complex object," than did the control horses. Additionally, the team noted the test horses reacted more calmly when the objects were placed in different locations and when new objects were added. There was no increase in heart rate either. Which showed the horse were a lot more chilled.

This week I've been showing Sully plastic and making lots of rustling noises with it. He's been a real star and really isn't phased about the whole thing. I'll keep you updated as we continue his ground work preparation this year.