Horsey Therapist

Sunday, July 09, 2006

More about responsiveness

A friend asked:

Could you say more about the unresponsive horse. Do you mean that when we keep askng without getting a response, there is a build up and the horse gets cranky? What about the so called shut down horse? He's unresponsive but not cranky?

I responded:

More about the unresponsive horse... Yes, when we keep asking without getting 100% of a response, the horse gets cranky. Good question about the shut down horse. I'd say the shut down horse moves from being unresponsive to overreactive when they come back to the present from wherever they've been. We talked a lot about horses (and sometimes people! ) being in la la land. Elsewhere. Spaced out. Dissociated. Half asleep. It can be a habit for us and for horses, a first place to go to when nothing is asked. Like falling in the hole at the stop sort of? We ask for a stop and then both horse and I disappear from our relationship, from our energy, from our readiness to do the next thing. Horse falls into la la land, but he/she wouldn't if I didn't also because if I'm present, I'll be asking my horse to be present with me.

From my clinic notes:

Stuckness and lack of interest, unresponsiveness -- hard to separate them. If a horse is attentive enough, probably will be trying to respond. Some horses will fool you into thinking they're attentive but they're shut down. Part of being stuck is lack of understanding and part of it is inattention. Harry was working on getting someone's horse responsive. WHEN the horse GOT responsive, his attention was there. If a horse is kinda stuck even if he doesn't know, he should be exploring. If he's hunting, give him time. When they're stuck -- have quit searching -- get him unstuck and he'll start searching.

Does that help? I had a major AHA moment about 'get the change NOW' -- in other words: do what I could to get a horse present and responsive NOW and then go about whatever business I had planned -- forward, stop, back, stepping over the hindquarters, whatever. I heard Harry numerous times say something about being intolerant of the horse being unresponsive.

It made sense and gosh I've heard him say this numerous times, especially as it relates to me running into trouble on the trail -- letting Rusty lolligag about instead of asking him to be present and making an effort to be with me and to be going someplace together. Because when I expect that and get that from him, 1) I can feel when he's sucking back or going into la la land and can do something to get him responsive again, and 2) if he's in la la land, so am I, and I'm going to miss the moment when he comes BACK from la la land and out on the trail it's not pretty when that happens! So request that he be present with me and then give him a place to go. In dressage I think it's called riding the line.

Related is another piece from my notes from the same day:

It's the feelings the horse brought to the situation that scare the horse more than some random object out in the arena. If you get the responsiveness worked out, there won't be spooking.

The shut down horse is unresponsive. When asked to be responsive, we will likely see crankiness or perhaps fear. Crankiness because something new is being asked (be present with me and responsive, put some effort into what we're doing); fear because perhaps the shut down state was a response to fear more than boredom, and when a fearful shut down horse comes back to life, all their unresolved fear comes back with them. Many of us do not actively welcome the horse's fearfulness.

We have benefited from having our horses shut down, until we don't benefit any more. Our horses do what we teach them to do, give as much as we expect them to give. Whatever is going on for the horse, we have the opportunity to be focused on helping him feel better, now. And he'll feel better when he's alert and responsive and putting an effort into responding to our requests. And it's not too much to ask of ourselves or our horses, in my not so humble opinion.


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