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What do People Mean When They Talk About a "Bombproof Horse"?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A bombproof horse is a horse which has been exposed to a wide variety of situations and sensory stimuli, making the horse much calmer as a result. By introducing horses to new and potentially scary things in a controlled situation, trainers and riders can teach their horses that these situations are nothing to worry about, making their horses more confident and safer to ride. Bombproofing techniques are used extensively with police horses, along with race horses, horses which will be shown, and children's horses. Ideally, all horses should be bombproofed for safety.

Bombproofing is also known as desensitization or sacking out. The goal is to slowly and gently introduce a horse to things which might frighten it, without actually frightening the horse. During the process, it is important to remember that horses are hardwired to be afraid of unfamiliar items, with centuries of evolution telling them to flee from unknown or mystifying objects. A bombproof horse will be able to approach a variety of situations with confidence, making riders, other people, and the horse much safer.

The bombproofing process starts with either restraining a horse in cross ties, or turning the horse loose in a small, enclosed ring. Each session lasts for no more than 20 minutes, with the introduction of only a handful of items. Generally, when training a horse, people think about situations and objects the horse might encounter. Some common bombproofing tools include: tarps, umbrellas, hoses, bells, sticks, watering cans, things with strong odors, and distinctive sounds. Police horses will also be trained to be calm around crowds, while racehorses may be trained with a mockup of a starting gate.

In the case of a physical object, the trainer approaches the horse from the side with the item in hand, moving slowly and confidently. If the horse expresses unease or nervousness, the trainer speaks in a low, reassuring voice and retreats until the horse calms down again. It may take several tries to bring the object up to the horse, at which point the horse should be allowed to smell and see it. Next, the object is rubbed over the horse's body, showing the animal that there is nothing to fear. Sometimes it helps to bring out a buddy who is already accustomed to the item to demonstrate that the object is harmless. Horses are trained to handle unusual sounds and smells through a slow ratcheting up of exposure, in much the same way that they learn that individual items are harmless.

It can take months to train a bombproof horse, and bombproofing may be combined with other training, as the horse learns ground manners and eventually comes to accept a rider. Most horse trainers agree that working slowly and gently is the key, rather than hurrying the horse along. Although the process may become frustrating, the benefits of a bombproof horse are well worth the effort, as the horse will be able to confidently handle unusual situations, and a bombproof horse will also command a higher price when it is sold, if this is a concern.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a "bombproof" horse?

A "bombproof" horse refers to an equine that is exceptionally calm and unflappable, even in stressful or unexpected situations. These horses do not easily spook and maintain a steady demeanor, making them ideal for beginners, therapeutic riding programs, or law enforcement use. Their reliability is a result of both innate temperament and extensive training.

How is a bombproof horse trained?

Bombproof horses are trained through consistent, patient exposure to a variety of stimuli and situations. This includes loud noises, sudden movements, and unfamiliar environments. Training emphasizes positive reinforcement and desensitization, allowing the horse to become accustomed to potential stressors without developing fear or anxiety, thus ensuring a calm and dependable response.

Are certain breeds more likely to be bombproof?

While any breed can produce a bombproof horse, some breeds are renowned for their calm dispositions. For instance, draft breeds like the Percheron or Clydesdale are often praised for their even temperaments. However, individual personality and training are the most significant factors in a horse's bombproof nature, rather than breed alone.

Can any horse become bombproof with training?

Not all horses can become bombproof, as temperament plays a crucial role. While training can significantly improve a horse's reactions and behavior, horses with naturally nervous or skittish dispositions may never become fully bombproof. It's a combination of the right training and the horse's inherent personality that determines the outcome.

Why are bombproof horses valuable?

Bombproof horses are highly valued for their reliability and safety, especially in situations that could be dangerous or unpredictable. They are sought after by novice riders, therapeutic riding centers, and professionals who require a trustworthy mount, such as police officers or trail guides. Their steady nature makes them a dependable choice for a wide range of equestrian activities.

How can you tell if a horse is truly bombproof?

To determine if a horse is truly bombproof, observe its reactions to unexpected stimuli under various circumstances. A bombproof horse should remain calm and not startle easily when faced with loud noises, sudden movements, or unfamiliar objects. It's also important to note the horse's behavior over time, as consistency is key to a genuinely bombproof temperament.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By peasy — On Feb 23, 2011

My daughter used to take horse back riding lessons and the horses were bombproofed for a lot of things. One thing I wonder though, can this form of training work with snakes and horses? I know this is a big issue with horses, they are really afraid of them. When I was younger I went trail riding on a horse that was supposed to be very child friendly and bombproofed, but when confronted with a simple garter snake on the trail, he freaked out.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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