Pony ExpressV

FLASH Flooding

By Linda Swyderski

The book “The Revolution In Horsemanship” (by Robert M. Miller, DVM and Rick Lamb) describes the process of flooding on page 109:
[begin excerpt text]
In flooding, we repeatedly expose the horse to a frightening stimulus until it habituates. This means that, not having been injured, the horse finally accepts the stimulus and is soon unaware of it.
An example of flooding is the time-honored Western method of “sacking out” a bronc. The colt is restrained so that it cannot escape. It is then stroked repeatedly and energetically with an empty feed sack, or a blanket, or a slicker. At first terrified, the colt eventually ignores the sack and may even start to enjoy it. […] Flooding pushes the horse past its threshold of tolerance for a particular stimulus and ignites the horse’s natural fear reaction, the desire to run away. For the method to work, the handler must be able to prevent flight and keep the horse from getting into position to use its secondary defense mechanisms, kicking and striking. This can be done with just a halter and lead rope, but it takes considerable skill in controlling the horse’s feet from the ground.  This method works, and it works rapidly. The problem is that it is dangerous, especially for novices, and is only recommended for experts. Unless one is really experienced, it is very easy for the horse or the handler to be seriously injured.”

[end excerpt text]
 . . . or the handler’s husband, for that matter.

After 28 days of sun, we finally had some rain, so I decided to file Sarah’s feet. The last time I did her feet was 17 days earlier, but it seemed very apparent to me that they needed to be done again AND it is always easier to file hoof wall when they are soft AND they are soft when they have been on damp ground (a fact we know all too well – especially those of you whose horses are shod). I have only been filing my own mares' hooves since May so this is still a relatively new skill for me. It took me about 1.5 hours to do all 4 feet. Does that sound like a long time? It sure as heck is! And it was 100% humidity when I was doing it. So, I file one portion of one foot (with that foot on the hoof stand), then I take that foot off the hoof stand, go outside the stall, wipe my face with a rag (because my glasses – which are pretty useless when filing anyway – have slid down my nose), return to stall, put next hoof on hoof stand, file, and repeat. The nice part for Sarah is that she is never asked to keep any foot up for very long. It’s nice for me because it gives my back, arms and hands frequent breaks. I press on and get all four feet done around 4:30pm. It’s darkish outside. Rain comin’. While I am fairly pleased with my work, I would like to run the completed work by my mentor, Marjorie. Marjorie doesn’t live nearby, so I’m thinking I’ll just take photos of the feet and email them to her. Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it. Have taken lots of flash photos of Sarah. No problem.


I go in the house and get my husband and the camera. I explain to my husband that I want a sole photo and then one photo of each side of each hoof. We go to the barn. Sarah is tied on her tie ring in her stall, with rope halter and thick elastic rubber tie, which is what I always use to tie her in the stall (since she figured out how to free herself from the quick-release knot I would tie in her 12’ lead). She has never pulled to the length of that rubber tie. It is very heavy duty. I bought it years ago at an expo especially with Sarah in mind. My other mare ground ties, but Sarah does not.
I pick up Sarah’s foot, review again what I want from my husband. My husband has the camera ready and zooms in. He presses the button, the laser determines the focus. The flash goes off . . .
or, at least as far back as she can go until she reaches a) the end of the rubber tie (which does what its supposed to do – stretches like a rubber band) and b) her butt hits the corner of the stall. Hmmm, that’s interesting.
Sarah is one big quivering ball of nerves. My husband is a slightly smaller ball of nerves. I am thoughtful. “Sorry, dear. Wasn’t expecting that. I’ve taken lots of pictures of her with the flash in this very stall. She never so much as twitched.” He is not assured. Neither is the 1200lb ball of nerves quivering in the corner.
“C’mon now, Miss Sarah, you’re fine. You lived. It’s just a camera with a flash. Done it many times before. Now, stand up here. Gimme that foot again, please.” My husband set up. Laser focus. FLASH.
My husband is done. He ain’t doin’ that again. “Okay, okay, honey, that’s fine. No problem. Just do me a favor. I am going up to the house to wash my hands. Do me a favor and just stand a safe distance away and aim the camera at her feet and just keep taking pictures. Take a picture and delete it. Take another and delete it. Let me get Sarah out of the corner again (quivering mass).”
I nip up to the house and quickly wash up. Back to the barn. My husband is flashing and deleting, flashing and deleting. As I arrive, my husband says, “HERE! YOU do it. I said I would take 20 pictures for you. I’ve already taken far more than that. You call me when you’ve desensitized her to the flash.” He sorta storms off.
I go in the stall. Sarah is now no longer leaping backwards when the flash goes off, but she still flips her head up and quakes each time. So, we press on: flash-QUAKE, delete; flash-QUAKE, delete; flash-QUAKE, delete. Now, there is a slight pause while I delete. The digital camera takes a few seconds to write the image to CD and it takes a few seconds to then delete that image from the CD. At some point in this process, Sarah’s QUAKE became a quiver and a bit later the quiver became a lick-and-chew. After the lick-and-chew (a behavior I rarely see from my left-brained mare), she no longer moved. She didn’t twitch. She didn’t flinch. She cocked a foot and stood like a stone.

Linda and Sarah
Linda and Sarah

Now, I had been moving from foot to foot and from side to side. Just because the right side had adjusted doesn’t mean the left had. Sure enough, the left side was not ready yet. I flashed on the left side until I finally got a lick-and-chew over there. Went back to the right. Right is fine. Back to the left. Left is fine. Went to the house to fetch the husband.
“ARE YOU SURE?” “Yes, she’s fine. C’mon down.”
I pick up the same foot I picked up the first time. My husband took the picture. Sarah stood like a stone. We did each foot in turn. Then, I walked her outside to the courtyard and my husband proceeded to photograph the four sides of each foot. The pictures came out great. Now, I can share them with Marjorie.
Not exactly a training exercise that was anywhere on my radar, but, hey, we had an interesting and unexpected lesson all the same. And, I am reminded of one more tidbit from “The Revolution In Horsemanship” on page 109: “Training horses of any age is not for impatient people.”ffin


About the author:
Linda Swyderski lives on a small hobby farm in southeastern Pennsylvania with husband, two Chessies, two barn cats and two mares: Sarah, ’01 WB/TB, and Magic, ’93 OTTB. Having failed miserably at traditional horsemanship, Linda is now practicing natural horsemanship and more natural horse care. Linda.Swyderski@JUNO.COM