Monday, May 4, 2015

A Sensitive, Neurotic Horse May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered

 Humans need to avoid stereotyping equine personalities into “good” or “bad.” “It's important to realize that, just like in people, there is no perfect personality type," she said. "For example, a neurotic horse will be more prone to stress and will be more likely to spook, which may be difficult to work with. On the other hand, their sensitivity means that they are incredibly responsive and can thus appear 'in tune' with their handler. If you're a good, calm handler, you can get amazing results by putting this to good use. "Researchers Develop Subjective Equine Personality Test", Christa Lese'-Lasserre,MA, June 13, 2013

What an inspiring quote to start the day out with, at least for all of us with super-sensitive-borderline-neurotic horses that we LOVE.  And, thanks for all your stories and wisdom last week regarding the post, "Equine Anxieties, From a Psychiatric Perspective."   All were GREAT food for thought.

The things I took from that human/horse panic attack connection were:

1. Control some physiological parameter.
2. Use a top down approach and get them thinking.
3. Do not pressure them forward, but get them to relax and not run away.
4. Help them experience the feared situation as a pleasant situation.

I'm not going to put this on the list, but I do think it's great insight.  My husband said that a panic attack feels truly horrible, and people who have them feel like they're going to die.  Eventually, their anxiety comes from the fear of the panic attack itself.  I imagine it's similar for horses.  Horses have phenomenal fear memory and can remember a scary place for a long time (maybe years later) even if there was nothing there to fear.  What is that except fear of fear?

Kerry Thomas, the "Horse Detective" in the last post, wrote a paper on Equine PTSD.  In it, he said:
(Concerning an Arabian Show) From a psychological standpoint, I saw these otherwise beautiful horses being brought into the arena much like a pin-ball being sprung forth, injected if you will into a game of psychological chaos.
(Concerning training mind and then body)  Physical change is necessitated by environmental conditions and stimuli.  Mental interpretations of these happen prior to the physical response.  This is why in training the horse; we must train the mind ahead of the body, if we wish to have the most efficiency from that body. 

On the trail, you're usually riding with a group, and have pressure to keep going--get across the water, get past the ravens in the trees, get past (insert anything here that scares your horse), that's why it's so important to have trail partners who think like you do and are able to adapt the ride to help the horses. It might take extra time to let them think about things and develop curiosity and courage, but it has to be done if you have an eye for the long term.  I so regret the times I didn't do that--didn't have enough confidence in my own instincts and didn't have enough courage to listen to my horse.  It's not about the ride, getting from point A to point Z, it's about the partnership along the way as you encounter A, B, C, D.....Z.

I'm very picky about my riding partners.   How about you? 


12 comments:

  1. I don't give a hoot WHO (heh heh) I am riding with - I am the one riding my horse, I am the one he looks to for reassurance, I am the one who will have to deal with the consequences if I take shortcuts or ignore my horse's (perfectly valid even if just to him) concerns.
    So, if someone wants to ride on without me, please do just go. Because riding partners may come & go, but I've been riding this horse for 8 years & I intend on riding him until one or the other of us is done for good. To me, his comfort will come before yours every time.
    Any good riding partner I've ever had has had a similar mentality, or we don't ride together for long. JMHO. :-)

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    1. So, it sounds like you are picky about riding partners, but you've been blessed to have some good ones. I do, too, but I have been on group rides where one or more did leave without us and further panicked the horses--or took off running without telling us, etc. I guess I've had the misfortune to have seen it all...which makes me deeply appreciative of my riding group.

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    2. BTW, I like your attitude.

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  2. Interesting. Regarding "help them experience the feared situation as a pleasant situation", I find that something often happens outside of my control to further traumatize the horse. For instance, I was letting my horse graze next to some construction equipment that worried her when a dust devil appeared on the horizon and headed straight toward us. This thing must have been close to tornado proportions, because the noise was terrifying. I was thinking, "Really? I'm trying to do a good thing for my horse and Mother Nature has to throw a wrench in it?" I didn't want either of us to get pelted with debris, but I also didn't want to run away from the construction equipment, so I casually walked off leading her. Fortunately, the tunnel turned and missed us, but that happens so often to me. It's weird. A couple of years ago my horse trainer finally got Gabbrielle to walk across a tarp, and wouldn't you know it -- a big wind blew the tarp up from behind her and she thought it was attacking her, so she spooked and dumped the trainer. I guess I need an indoor arena to have more control over my environment.

    I actually prefer to ride alone because I feel comfortable knowing that I can make all the decisions. I've had some riding partners try to push me to do things I knew my horse wasn't ready for, and I never wanted to ride with them again. It's good to have someone challenge you and your horse, but in reasonable increments.

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    1. You raise a good point--there are times we're not going to be able to make the feared spot pleasurable, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes, you just have to know when to leave. Cowboy isn't very reactive, he's more situationally challenged--new water, for example. He crosses most water, but "new" water will make him balk/refuse. He also doesn't like "despooking clinics" apparently, but he doesn't get very upset about things that happen on the trail--which has always seemed like a huge contradiction to me.

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  3. "This is why, when training the horse; we must train the mind ahead of the body, if we wish to have the most efficiency from that body". That is IT in a nutshell! At least for me. I say it like "having the horse feel mentally good about everything being asked of him". Fear impedes learning, so we have to realize we're working with a mind, and when the mind is relaxed and willing, the body just follows on through...Ray Hunt used to say that "we're working with the mind, through the body and into the feet", to get a desired response from the horse when we ask. We really aren't teaching them anything they don't already know how to do with those bodies.
    As far as being picky about who I ride with? Oh yes, I'm picky. I want people who have respect for their horses, and respect for their fellow riders, don't have an agenda or time frame to stick by, and want to enjoy the journey with their equine partners and friends. If not for enjoyment, then why would we ride? I want my horse to enjoy him/herself too! Most of the time, it's just my hubby and me, but some times we'll ride with a few others. Bottom line is that everyone involved must have mutual respect for every single heartbeat out there. I like Mrs. Shoes attitude too - hell no! she's not picky! :)

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    1. Bravo! Well said. I LOVE Ray Hunt. Anytime you want to stop by my blog and quote Ray Hunt, you have an open invitation.

      It's all about the mind, isn't it? When we have agendas or time-tables, things always go to hell in a hand-basket.

      All I should be thinking when I'm out working with my horses is MIND, MIND, MIND.

      Mrs. Shoes doesn't mince words on the topic of trail etiquette, and as you said, "everyone involved must have mutual respect for every single heartbeat out there." Anyone stopping by the blog who may be getting a feel for riding in groups, I hope they take courage from everything you've all said here.

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  4. I really love sensitive, high-strung horses - Dawn and Red both fit that bill. They can be difficult in some ways - very reactive - but the counter to that is that if you're in sync with them they'll read your every thought and feeling and you can really dance as one.

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    1. Kate, you're not alone in that respect. My friends have echoed a similar preference, but in different words. Sensitivity in a horse leads to a wonderfully fulfilling partnership. It also makes us more sensitive horsemen/women--a win-win.

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  5. Interesting- working with Delia's mind is exactly what I was doing yesterday. I feel that if you don't have a connection with their mind, you might as well get off and walk. That's a lot of power under the saddle, and if you don't have the mind, you can't direct the feet- and if you can't direct the feet, you can't stay safe.
    I too am picky about who I ride with- over the years most of my riding has been by myself, but as I get older I want that safety net of having a trail riding partner. We have a really good group of sensible people in the local riding club, and I hope to hit the trails with them this year.

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    1. It sounds like you have Delia's mind now--she's doing great. It's fun watching you work with her.

      I rode by myself years ago, but when I moved to Spokane, I didn't feel as safe on some of the remote trails--you never know who you'll run into, so I started riding with a group. We all have similar schedules and philosophies about horses, so it's a good fit. I'll look forward to reading about your adventures with Delia on the trail!

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  6. I agree with everyone else here. You need to connect with the mind before you can have a relationship with any horse. I don't mind the more sensitive reactive horse and I've had a few. They seem to be more in tune with their humans and more inquisitive and curious about their surroundings. Of course, sometimes you had better stick like glue to the saddle or get left behind.

    I don't do much trail riding because there are not that many trails around here. We mainly ride around the property or do arena work ( I know that sounds boring to all the trail riders but it is what it is). I've been on trails rides where some people thought it was fun to just gallop off and leave you behind. I wouldn't ride with people who don't respect another riders/horses ability to cope with different situations that may arise by thoughtlessness on their part.

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.