Four men, 18 Mustangs, six months and 3,000 miles: From Mexico to Canada, the deepest backcountry in the American West. Here are their stories.
Desensitizing a mustang takes time, a long time. Even after 30 days of professional training with TIP trainers Jerry Jones and Lanny Leach the horses were very wary. They’d let you pick up their legs and move around them, but they were still in flight mode and they didn’t like (still don’t) our presence. They’ll tolerate us but given a choice they’d probably prefer never to see us again.
Having a desensitized animal during a pack trip in the back country cannot be more important. When things go wrong in the wild they usually go really wrong and having a horse that you’re not comfortable around only makes matters worse.
I like to start the desensitizing process with something small, like a flag. Most horses don’t mind having a flag on their withers, but when you begin dropping it down to their feet or lower belly they’ll get squeamish or strike out. I work real slow going from the withers to the belly and when he horse “gets squirly” I’ll take the flag back to the withers where they’re comfortable with it. I’ll go back to the squeamish spot slowly and with enough repetitions they’ll accept a flag as a nonthreatening object. Eventually, you need to work all over the horse with the flag, feet, below the tail, hind groin, essentially, everywhere.
I wait until the horse is comfortable with the flag before moving on to more scary objects. Other horsemen, many much better than I, go to bigger objects faster because if your horse accepts a tarp it will surely take a flag. I’ll follow the same steps as with the flag but with increasingly scarier objects such as a rope, then a slicker, then a tarp. The ultimate goal is to have my horse relaxed with any type of object on any part of its body. This is a goal that takes time with mustangs, but is achievable.
I like to do this exercise at the beginning of the training session and at the end. It’s a lot easier to desensitize a horse when its winded than when its fresh. If you can take a fresh horse and start throwing tarps over its head while it stands, then your horse is pretty desensitized. This will serve you well when out on the trail, your slicker comes off one side of your saddle strings and dangles on the side of your horse. If your horse is desensitized, its no big deal to have the tarp flapping. If your horse blows up and runs you off a cliff, then you’ll wish you spent more time getting him used to objects.
Desensitizing a trail horse to different objects is one of, if not the, most important things to do for the safety of yourself and your stock.
For more information on the Unbranded trip, visit unbrandedthefilm.com.