A Good Grounding
Part 12: Sacking-Out
Please read and heed Rules of Engagement before trying this exercise.
The object of this exercise is to bring your horse to the point where you can rub him all over his body, including his belly, legs, and face, with a soft object of your choice. A towel is a great tool to start with.
Stand next to your horse at his shoulder, with the lead running through your hand nearest his head. With the towel in your other hand, rub it on his back, withers and neck. Remember to use passive body language. If he stands quietly, take the towel away and praise him. Let him rest a few seconds, then repeat. When you are satisfied with his response, move on to his rump and down his legs. Rub the towel all over him, including his belly, face, and head. Always take the towel away when he relaxes. If at any time he becomes troubled by what you are doing, he may begin to move away. This is fine; don't try to stop him —just move with him, keeping his head turned toward you with gentle bumps to the lead line. Don't take the towel away until he relaxes.
Once you can rub him all over with the towel while he stands quietly, move on to flapping it softly onto him, again beginning with his top line. When he can stand quietly for this, stand back a few feet and toss it gently at him, again beginning with his back as your target, moving on from there until you can actually throw it over his head. Remember to stay relaxed yourself, and to move calmly with him if he tries to avoid you and the towel. Retreat when he stops moving his feet and relaxes.
Switch back and forth from one side of the horse to the other as you work so that he becomes equally desensitized on both sides. You will find that you need to spend more time on one side than on the other to accomplish this.
Once your horse is comfortable with the towel you can move on to other objects: plastic grocery bags, rain slickers, plastic tarps, jackets, horse blankets, saddle pads, caution tape, grain bags, cellophane, even a scary-ole bag with empty clanking soda cans in it. Use your imagination (but, of course, limit the objects to things which won't hurt him). Just remember to stay calm and don't rush your horse. Take your time, and give him plenty of rest breaks.