Yesterday, as I was saddling my horses, I started to think that anxiety is a little different than fear. Anxiety can be this nagging--something's wrong, but I don't know what--kind of feeling. Fear seems more focused on an actual thing to be feared. And, it struck me, all of my horse training has gravitated to an overwhelming desire that my horses be as anxiety-free as possible. I even prefer acute fear to smoldering anxiety. You can get past a fear, but anxiety cuts paths through the brain that are hard to fill back up.
Because of that, some horses will only get so far beyond anxiety, and that's okay.
Cowboy is a phenomenal trail horse, but he's insecure around large groups of horses. I've decided he doesn't need to be around large groups of horses. He's 22, and I'm not changing his basic personality. He had a ton of training when he was young, but something didn't go right. Maybe it's because he's an orphan foal. Not sure. But, in any case, he can be an anxious horse. I love Cowboy deeply, and we have had a wonderful journey together--despite his anxiety. Who knows, maybe I love him more for it. I know how hard he has to work to get past it.
I want all my horses to get as far as they can get, but not to push them over that fine line of too much.
In my desire to keep Beautiful Girl anxiety-free, I know I didn't take her far enough, but I'm making up for it now with the help of a trainer I trust. It took me a long time to find that trainer. On the bright side, Beautiful has had all good experiences and is full of trust. Leah got a late start, too, probably for the same reason, but she is also full of trust.
Yesterday, I rode Cowboy and Leah to the next door barn. Our neighbors baled hay on our fields, so we cut the fences in between our properties. Generally speaking, I prefer to ride away from home--more trails and less barn sour. Since I'd never ridden Leah from home, I didn't know what to expect.
She was rock solid. She alerted a few times, like in the picture at the top, but it was normal new place, new thing stuff.
Cowboy, on the other hand, took a lot of reassuring, so we did things he likes to do--run, play, and eat. When we got to the neighbor's barn, he was worried about the other horses, so I dismounted and walked him through the grounds.
That is a big change for me.
My thinking used to be--push them through their fears. Now, I sometimes just get off. I don't care. It's easy to get back on. I wish I'd done that with Cowboy years ago, but ah, well, I did my best with what I had at the time. And, sometimes, your best bet is to stay in the saddle.
Today, we'll do the same thing as yesterday. Positive repetition is the cure for anxiety.
The jumping class was fun. Leah will never be a good jumper, but she was a trooper. I took the class because I wanted her to work on foot placement and my own seat to help her get that proper placement. At one point, she tried to put her foot between the jump poles and knocked them off their post. Rebecca told me to praise the heck out of her. I did. She said the last thing you want to do is make her think she did something wrong and develop anxiety about the jump. We circled back around and she walked over the poles perfectly, without a nick--and without anxiety.
Rebecca promotes a "THIS IS FUN!" mentality in her students--and she wants us to do the same for our horses. "So, you knocked down a pole...so what!?! Poles can be picked back up. Thank you for trying so hard. Good girl. I love you!"
Tonight, we have our bi-weekly trail clinic. I'm going to ride Leah to the clinic from home. Yay! And, since she will have already done it twice--she'll be anxiety-free. I'd call that perfect.