Written by: Matthew Brendal
I usually divide horses into two categories when I train them, sensitive and dull. The sensitive horse is the one in which everything seems to bother him. Nothing much ever seems to concern the dull horse. What I just described is a horse that is psychologically sensitive vice being physiology sensitive. I will cover sensitive areas a horse in moment. First I want you to understand that a horse has many sensitive areas because of the natural emotional concern to protect his body’s vital areas.
Let’s look at the front of the horse. The head is a very sensitive part that we come in contact with on a routine basis. I believe the mouth is probably the most sensitive body part on the horse. The tongue is very soft and has virtually no protection. The lips, gums and teeth are also provided with very little protection. Yet we place cold hard steel in their mouths just about every time we ride them. Okay let’s pause here for a fundamental horsemanship time out. Bits are not designed as punishment tools. Bits, no matter how big or small are designed to communicate with the horse like a 19th century romance poet, eloquently.
The eyes on a horse protrude out of the side of their head. This can cause problems putting on and taking off halters and bridles. The ears are also a body part that can be easily hurt.
The lower legs on a horse have very little muscle tissue. Lower legs mostly have just a thin skin covering bone. That is why you may see horses that are loaded into a trailer sometimes and they have their legs wrapped. The fetlock is an area that is very susceptible to injury from stress or violent impact. The weight of the entire horse is sometimes focused on one leg during periods when the horse is moving.
The withers, when covered with an ill fitted saddle can easily become sensitive and sore. The white spots of hair (old saddle sores) sometimes located on withers are signs of riding a horse extensively with a poorly fitted saddle. The back is also sensitive if prolonging excess weight is carried. The rule of thumb for the load weight, saddle and rider, should never exceed 20% of the horse’s total body weight.
The flanks are very sensitive on most horses. The flank area covers the hind gut and there is very little protection from attack by a predator. Many horses just tighten that area when touched. Some horse may try to kick at you. Before I pick up an unfamiliar horse’s hind leg, I gently touch the flank area. If the horse twitches and tries to protect that area I know I may get kicked attempting to pick up his leg. I gently massage that area until the horse relaxes, and then I attempt to pick up the leg. My gently rubbing is just my respectful way of asking the horse if it is alright to pick up that leg.
The reproductive organs are very sensitive and may require cleaning from time to time. It is important not to introduce infection when breeding or during health maintenance. Any procedure involving reproductive should be done very carefully.
In summary a horse is a very sensitive animal on most days, both mentally and physically. But a horse must also be trained to accept the touch of the owners and handlers in all the sensitive areas. It is our responsibility never to abuse that privilege. We must watch our tool and equipment use so that it does irritate or injure any sensitive areas on the horse. Our training techniques need to be sound, firm, yet never injure. Fundamental Horsemanship is TLC = Trust, Leadership & Communication.