Civilian Desensitization Clinic with the Oxford Mounted Patrol

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By Hayley Baker

The Memphis Area Dressage and Eventing Society (MADES) sponsored a desensitization clinic with the Oxford, Mississippi Mounted Partol, hosted at the Mid-South Dressage Academy in Hernando, Mississippi.

The clinic began at 8:30 Saturday morning, December 9, 2017 with classroom instruction. This included a thorough explanation of equine vision, horses’ states of mind, why horses spook, and how to set them up for success and handle spooky situations. David Misenhelter of the Oxford PD helped participants have a better understanding of why horses do the things they do and react the way they react to particular situations.

The second phase began with an obstacle course. David had all the participants and their horses come into the first arena to walk together in the same order that they would use once they started the obstacles in the second arena. This helped the horses get to know their “herd for the day.” Once they moved into the second arena, David had them negotiate one obstacle at a time until all the horses were comfortable with it. David was very patient with helping each horse and rider through their individual struggles. Before long, all the horses were walking over noisy boards, teeter totters and tarps, through barrels and pool noodles, and under hanging tarps.

After a short lunch break, the sensory portion began. This included lights, sirens, flags, an umbrella, smoke, flares, and a blank gun. Again, they took it one object at a time until all the horses were comfortable, and David adjusted the level of “scary” to meet each horse’s needs. It was so cool to watch the horses go from nervous and unsure to relaxed and confident in each situation!

I spoke to two participants after the clinic, and here’s what they had to say. “My favorite part of this clinic was increasing the bond between me and my mare and solidifying her trust in my leadership.” said Ansley Stanfill.

“My favorite part of this clinic was spending the day with my beautiful mare and seeing her learn and grow! I just felt so proud of how brave she was. Also spending the day with all these dressage weirdos, doing something different,” said Mary Burrows.

I also asked these ladies what their biggest takeaways were. Ansley said, “Learning the differences in horse perception, and that we pamper our dressage horses too much. They can learn to deal with distraction!” Mary said, “When she is spooking at a shadow, I’ll remember that she walked through smoke and fire and trusted me enough to walk on plastic. Also it’s a good idea to use horse psychology to help them feel more comfortable. Also don’t try to do a third level test the day after spending eight hours on her back. The unicorn was so out of gas she could hardly move!” Good word ladies!
At the end of the clinic certificates were given, and the most improved horse and rider were recognized. Most improved horse went to Missy Carlisle’s pony, Picasso. Most improved rider went to Mary Burrows. Overall, this was such a fascinating clinic. I think we all learned a lot about our horses and their brains, and everyone gained lots of confidence.

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