Why should you desensitize your horse to the rope? The answer is obvious for ranch workers and ropers, yet such exercise should not be forgotten by all the others.
For those who like to ride outdoor, it can be quite helpful to have a horse ready to be tied to a rope and pull a log or something in the middle of the path. Basically, the more your horse is desensitized to such stimuli, the safer it is. Moreover, there is one common thing to all horses, all riders, all disciplines: you have to tighten your saddle cinch or girth in order to ride your horse. When dealing with a green horse or starting a colt, desensitizing it to the rope is the first step to accept gently the girth. Eventually you will not end with problem horses moving away when you cinch them up, or trying to bite when you tighten the girth around their belly.
If you start a colt, or try to fix a problem horse, make sure you position yourself by its flank and you hold the lead rope firmly in your left hand. Pulling slightly the rope will tip the horse’s head inside and push the hindquarters away in case it would like to buck.
Pretty soon, your horse will not even flinch when you start to throw the rope. That will be the moment to throw it entirely over its back and pull it gently. I advise you to do the same over the neck, around the hind legs, around the forelegs, etc. This will teach your horse to remain calm in many situations: if the legs are wrapped in wire or tangled in a rope, simply when laying the reins over the neck, etc.
Once this first step of desensitizing is over, you can start the second one: preparing to the girth. Throw the rope over the back of your horse, pick up the end and wrap it loose around its belly. Keep holding the leading rope with your left hand, about 50 cm from the fiador knot so you still have a lever in hand. With your right hand, grab both ends of the rope and seesaw it around the belly until your horse shows a sign of relaxation. Then, repeat the process, tightening your grip. This will teach your horse to stay put when you cinch it up.
At every step of the process, do not forget to switch side. All you taught on one side has to be taught on the other side!
What if my horse keeps moving around?
Most of the time, the problems comes from the horseman or the horsewoman, not from the horse. Make sure you recognize perfectly well the relaxation signs on one hand, and be firm enough to really desensitize the horse on the other hand. Follow the horse when it walks or trots around you, do not give up and keep throwing the rope over its back until it stops and gets relaxed. At the beginning, it can actually takes a few minutes. Sometimes, you could bump the head inside a little bit to break the horse’s motion and “help” it to stop and calm down.
For those who start (break) colts: What if my horse bucks when I tighten the rope?
You may desensitize your horse to the flag a little more under the belly. Eventually, you may have to face that bucking situation anyway, so keep the lead rope in your left hand and pull the head inward to break the bucking position. That will make the horse walk or trot around: hold the rope, get ready to run a little bit and make sure you release pressure as soon as the horse stops! Forget about relaxation at the beginning, remaining still will be the first prize. Stop the exercise for the day and start again the day after, asking a little bit more: a subtle relaxation sign. Pretty soon, your horse will be ready to be cinched up!