top of page
  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

Pet Peeves? The term 'desensitize'

Horse Training.jpg

First of all, what is a "peeve" and why would someone make it a pet anyways? Thank goodness for Google! But right away I learn that "peeve" is a verb first. Synonyms include to; irritate, annoy, vex, anger, exasperate, irk, gall, pique, nettle, put out, get on someone's nerves, try someone's patience and the picturesque, ruffle someone's feathers!

The term "pet peeve" was used around the beginning of the 20th century and means "a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly annoying to themselves- to a greater degree than others may find it.

Having double checked the definition, I am now sure that I have a couple of "pet peeves". And the definition is right on, because it's very possible that this one is unique to me, but here goes!

Pet Peeve #1! The misuse of the term "desensitzing" when referring to horse training! When I had my sister, Sharon, take a look at this post for me, she jumped right in and pointed out that if you look at the definition of the word "desensitize" (back to Google-andia again), you'll find the following (see below) and that by a loose interpretation all trainers do desensitize. But if I wanted to debate with her, (and that's not uncommon... we are, after all, sisters!) during the normal course of training a horse we're not dealing with shock or distress from cruely or actual phobia or neurosis.

When training a horse to be a safe riding horse and good equine citizen, we have to take their natural responses to stimuli and temper them into responses that fit into our world view.

Your job as the alpha (boss, herd leader...whatever term you like) is to take the concerns of your horse and tell him the appropriate course of action. Your job as a trainer is evaluate the horses base line personality, teach the language with which you'll deliver the answers he needs, (hopefully) practice the responses until they are a muscle memory and then- as far as I'm concerned- you're ready to begin riding in "real world" situations.

Horse Training.jpg

Note! If you look closely at the pictures above, you'll see that I do have a chain on this guy! And he's doing very well with "flag day". I should present this as a video to make the point that I don't leave it to his imagination as to what he's supposed to be doing. I am constantly saying "whoa"!

Horses-like all creatures- have "senses" for a reason. These senses are what keep them alive! Throughout their evolution in the wild, the horses that reacted and ran first, fastest and furthest are the ones that survived to breed on! Their descendents are the horses we ride today-and the instincts are still all there. The horses we ride today are not that far from removed from the creatures that managed to survive quite well without humans, thank you very much.

Sharon, who-more than anyone else-has experienced my training, had this to say. "I don’t find any particular objection to the term based on these definitions. I think your point is that that “freeing” from a phobia or “making less sensitive” (in people or in horses) does not happen simply through exposure to it; the exposure needs to be built on a foundation of understanding, communication, trust, etc.

Here's hoping that people who are "desensitizing" their horses (especially smart horses) are going about it the right way. Like Inigo Montoya says in the Princess Bride.....

Next time..."Running the Gaunlet"....

To receive an email notice when new posts are published, just let me know at

bottom of page