Horsey Therapist

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Conversation about pressure

A friend wrote (as I understand it) about discovering some value in starting her rides without pressuring herself or her horse, then she could feel the right time to ask for something that might be perceived as pressure by the horse. She is hoping she can keep this awareness and this practice...

My response to her:

Yes, please keep this, and keep writing about it. I need reminders, too. Just as it is for the horses, it is an effort for us to keep our newer, better habits functioning instead of carelessly letting former habits and reactivity take over...

To quote my friend, Harry Whitney, again, "So they're started, so they go."

My understanding of that is that the foundation put into a horse is what the horse resorts to under stress/pressure. So if a horse has a foundation built on trust and understanding (lucky horse!), under stress that horse will look to be understanding from a fairly calm spot inside himself. If the foundation includes pressure and uncertainty and fear, then when the fan gets hit by you know what, that horse will lose access to what he's learned and react with fear and anxiety, and that too often looks like a wreck!

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talk about times when the chemical get coursing through our bodies, and how adrenaline affects us (I'll generalize to all mammals) and how cortisol affects us. When cortisol gets activated, our old brain kicks in and we are feeling and acting on survival mode regardless of our best ideas. Only when the chemicals change inside us can we again access our front brain where the executive decisions are usually made.

To paraphrase another friend, it's like learning a second language. The foundation is the first language, the later learned is the second language. When stressed out, one can remember and use the primary language, but not the second language. This example was given to me when I was trying to understand why my dear RNB could communicate so well at times and so poorly at times. Communicating consciously is a second language to him. I began to recognize and then acknowledge or question the pressure/stress he was experiencing when communication got rough, instead of reacting with disappointment, loss, and fear -- "hey where did that wonderful man go?" Same deal with the horses. If they are in a reactive mode, they can't speak the new language they've been learning. Nor do they deserve anything more than understanding and patience and guidance to be safe.

It's such an interesting journey to be mindful or watching ourselves as we do things -- what am I feeling, what am I thinking, what is behind that little snippy thing I said (to horse or human)... Allowing the 'no pressure' zone is like settling into a meditative state, and that is where I can find/hear/listen/sense the what and when of action steps to take. True in all areas of my life.

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