Desensitization (DS) is a popular topic in horse training social media circles. But as the wise Inigo Montoya once said. ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means, TikTok-ers.’
As presented on social media, desensitization often involves exposing the horse to a feared stimulus at such an intensity that the horse displays obvious escape or avoidance behaviors. This approach appears to get desired results, as the horse often eventually stops responding. But is this really desensitization, or is something else at play in these highly popular video clips?
This presentation will look at several facets of desensitization and behavior modification work with horses:
-some of the historical figures – unwitting children and animals, and scientists – who were key to the development of what we call desensitization today
-what desensitization is, where and when it is commonly used in horse training and behavior modification, and why it may be advantageous to stick to approaches that more closely mirror the behavioral science version, and not the TikTok version
-how to identify aspects of a feared stimulus that could be problematic, how to craft an Exposure Ladder for your desensitization work, and how to determine what might be best for a given situation: straight up desensitization? desensitization with old-school counterconditioning? or maybe a little ‘operant counterconditioning’ with a twist?
The presentation will also look at how to assess arousal levels and affective states and think about them in ‘Zones’ when using desensitization. This will help you better find balance between Comfort Zone and Caution Zone, and work with horses at Appropriate Zone, achieving better results while still minimizing fallout.
Finally, we will look at examples of how desensitization, and its favorite behavior modification cousin, counterconditioning, can be used to change unwanted emotions such as fear and anxiety. Along the way, the speaker will share tips and tricks she’s learned to help you and your horses stay in Green Zone, avoid Manure Has Hit the Fan Zone and stay safer throughout the DS/CC process.