Horsey Therapist

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Want an aprés spook calm-down cue?

Let me know when you find one that is spook proof!

I guess I'm looking at BEING in an ongoing calm-down state in all aspects of my life and my horsemanship. As much as I can be that and can bring that to my horse time, unmounted and mounted, it's been helping me have more awareness, more calm proactive directing of the horse's mind, and more confidence shared between me and the horse.

So I can't help with an aprés spook cue. I could chat about helping a horse look to us for guidance when something frightens it. And having that trust be a core element in the relationship, not just something I want to count on in certain circumstances. We can pair anything we want with a calm state as far as I can tell, by classical conditioning. I'm not sure though that we can count on a conditioned response when the adrenaline kicks in. I am certain we cannot count on much of anything when the cortisol kicks in. Like with us humans, the horse's thinking mind doesn't operate at that point.

So awareness of subtle changes in the horse become important for noticing that first instant of adrenaline, of the horse questioning something in the environment. That is one benefit of developing our awareness. Then ask the horse to get with us mentally again by doing something he knows how to do, like back up, turn, walk, trot, canter, gallop... We can work on having an understanding of direction and speed when life is calm(er) and (hopefully more) predictable like in the arena. I practice these in the arena and outside the arena, the whole ride, not just when something startles my horse. I want my presence and my asking for a little of this or a little of that to be an acceptable way of life with my horses.

I discovered today that as well as Sofia listens in the arena, we leave the arena to go to the barn -- something I usually do leading her not riding her -- and her mind went strongly to the barn even though I was still riding her. A big hole in our understanding, and I'm glad I found it today, and helped her let go of the barn thought and check in with me to see what I had in mind for us.

I will share that I'm one of those folks who rode a lot as a kid. That did seem to help me have a good feel for riding and sticking with some athletic horse moves, but it did not give me the skills and sensitivity I value learning and using today. I've come by these the normal old fashioned hard way -- get in trouble with a horse, want something better, seek something better, start learning something better, practice, practice, practice, make a kazillion mistakes, seek more of something better, practice, practice, practice. And so on.

I'd be riding a bicycle if I weren't so keen on figuring out relationships. Some of those extreme bicycle trails might be as hair raising as a ride on an insecure horse!

I had a choice when I realized I had bought a horse who was less trained than I knew how to deal with -- sell her and try again, or find out how to help her so I could enjoy the rides I had in mind when I bought her. It's a risky decision to learn about horses with a horse who needs more than we know how to give, but the rewards are awesome. And yes, I've come off a lot over the years of learning with that particular horse. Never her fault, always mine.

I think I'll go ride her this afternoon.


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