Many people know that a horse can feel a fly anywhere on their skin. What does the horse do about it? They twitch that one area of skin to kick that bug off. This is a remarkable ability. Try it on yourself. Try twitching a section of arm skin without moving the entire arm- right, so now you understand how sensitive the skin of the horse really is and the amount of specific area control they have of the large surface of their bodies.
If we know horses are sensitive, how do we work with them without hurting them? We need to earn the trust of our horse (s) by putting them in safe environments where they can succeed. This awareness must be at the forefront of your mind - always. On the flip side, you need to also trust your horse. My methods of training heavily rely on building trust.
How do you build trust? Firstly, always be kind to your horse. If your horse is not standing still or not responding to your aids- ask yourself why they're behaving this way. Be observant and aware of your environment; there is probably a reason. Use "soft eyes" (Sally Swift) to perceive the entire situation.Most people blame the horse for being naughty or antsy; however, maybe the bugs are bad and painfully biting their sensitive skin. You have the ability to nullify the bug problem with sprays, creams, netting, etc. You have now gained some trust from the horse. The point is: a horse doesn't react negatively for no reason. We can call this awareness "soft perception". Your, or your trainer's job, is to find the cause and alleviate it. This builds trust and better communication.
Another tool to help build trust is to work on desensitization. You're not really making the horse insensitive, that's why we need a different word to describe this process. It's more along the lines of the horse trusting that you won't hurt them or bully them. Use baby steps with this process so your horse doesn't get overwhelmed. It's best to have an experienced professional to guide you. Remember, you have to learn to trust each other - this does NOT happen after one day. Learning can only occur during "good" stress.
Introduce items like tarps, ribbons, umbrellas, and the like, always in a safe environment. Have someone in a parked car with the window rolled down. Hand walk them up to the "monster". Let them stop where they want to. They are processing the information. Once the horse is comfortable, their curiosity almost always leads them to put their nose in the window. The person in the car can have a treat (in a bucket is good). Then let the person pet the horse- happy spots on the face include between the jowls, the forehead and a gentle hand rubs an eye. So now the horse knows it wasn't a monster (the car or the person) and YOU were the one that helped them understand that.
This trust work is done on the ground and on their backs. Set your horse up for success. Ride on good footing, or don't ask them to canter through bad footing. Bend through corners for better balance. Leave their face alone as much as possible instead of pulling and steering the horse like a truck. Your hands are attached to a highly sensitive mouth, gums, tongue, poll, chin groove, so the hands are only used lightly. After this work, you will start thinking that your horse is reading your mind. The subtle aids go back and forth : you'll feel that your horse is light and responsive. It is wonderful. I hope all riders are able to experience this feeling. You are all capable! Take the time to build the truly beautiful bond between horse and rider. Desensitization is really hyper-sensitivity in the most positive type of understanding. Happy riding.