Plastic Bags and Whips, Oh My!

Hi there! Is your horse afraid of plastic bags? I’ve never come across a plastic bag with Cash to be honest, but usually he isn’t overly sensitive to things. I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that he has been a little more jumpy than usual in the barn. We have finally overcome spooking and overreacting on the trails, and it never used to be an issue in the barn. I thought it was odd at first, but kind of ignored it. The other day, I reached over the stall wall and brushed grain off the wood it was caught on and into the feeder. Cash whacked his head in his hurry to back up! This wasn’t his first incident of spazzing out, but it was the one that made me decide to do some desensitizing. 

Before this incident, I once turned on the fan that was near his stall while he was eating. Another time I tossed a piece of apple into the feeder, also while he was eating. Both times he almost fell over from jumping back so fast! I have no idea what has gotten into him. At 24, I didn’t think he needed work with desensitization, but the holes in his training are starting to show themselves slowly. It seems like each time we accomplish one thing, another training disparity arises. However, this is just a part of buying a horse that has been trained and ridden by multiple people for many years before me. 

In the past, I have desensitized Cash to whips by wildly swinging them about. He is unphased by that. But…tie a plastic bag to the end and it becomes the most terrifying object in the world! I never would have guessed his reaction to the plastic bag tied to the whip to be so drastic. 

“Hi, my name is Cash. Yes, I weigh 1100lbs. And yes…I’m afraid of a plastic bag.”

-my horse

I spent a minute or so realizing how afraid he was of the bag/whip combo, and then untied the bag. I started over with just the plastic bag. I made sure to crinkle it loudly while moving towards him and then retreating. After around 10-15 minutes I was able to rub and flap the plastic bag against him. I tied it to the whip and tried again. Cash was absolutely not having it! For a while I held the very end of his lead rope while stomping around and smacking the bag/whip all about. I made sure to always walk away from him. Slowly, he began to follow me, coming closer to it each time. If he back away, I ignored him and continued on. I’m sure I looked absolutely ridiculous! But, after another 10 minutes or so, he would allow the object to be a little closer on him. He still would not let it touch him, though. 

At one point, I decided to try out The Method from Clinton Anderson. I’ve learned from watching many of his videos that it’s important to keep a horse’s feet moving. This allows the horse’s focus to remain on you, rather than the “scary” object. I laid the bag/whip on the ground and made Cash walk and trot circles around it. I asked him to change directions frequently, making him come so close he was almost stepping on it. After just a few minutes he would stand directly beside it and sniff the bag. Considering he wouldn’t even come to the same side of the corral as the bag/whip before, I thought The Method was a huge success! 

Next, I untied the bag again and proceeded to stomp around the pen and swing just the whip everywhere. Cash didn’t blink as I swung it all around and over his head. Then I grabbed just the plastic bag and rubbed it all over him again. Once I did each object separately, I re-tied the bag for a third try. They say the third times the charm…and it was! I was able to gently rub the bag/whip all over him. Then I swung it in big circles on each side of his body and over his head. 

Overall, the entire process took almost an hour. But, I was super happy with his progress! By the end he was no longer running away from the “scary” object. I think it definitely helped that I did not force Cash to be near the plastic bag. Sure, I could have chased him with it until he stopped, but that doesn’t build a trust! Instead, I allowed him to get closer and retreat when he became uncomfortable. 

If you’re unsure how your horse handles plastic bags, I highly suggest you find out! I’m lucky Cash and I never encountered littered plastic bags crinkling in the wind on our rides. It was much better to find out in a controlled environment where I could help him work through his fear. 

What have you had to desensitize your horses too? I would love to hear about your experiences! Plus, it may give me a few ideas of things to work on with Cash next!

3 thoughts on “Plastic Bags and Whips, Oh My!

  1. I like to expose my horses to all sorts of things which is one of the reasons I like to incorporate obstacle work during my rides. If I can encourage their curiosity about novel objects, it seems to over-ride their fear response eventually. One of the professionals I really admire in this regard is Madison Shambaugh, otherwise known at Mustang Maddie. She offers paid courses but also has a free You Tube channel called The Compassionate Cowgirl Show at that explains a lot of her theories and methods for increasing confidence in horses. I’d love to learn from her in a clinic one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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