Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Riding Through the Scary Tunnels with Buddies

Sometimes, everything in you says "DANGER"!  That's instinct, and it's a good thing to heed.  Like this tunnel, for example: graffiti, the smell of urine, the tincture of heated rail from the train that passes every hour or so above, the sometimes present noise of arrows at the archery range it feeds into....and the darkness.  Scary Danger!

Last year, the only way I could get Cowboy through this tunnel was to back him up until he was partially in, then turn him around and ride the rest of the way through.  Tricky!  We all had a good laugh about that one.  But you do what you have to do, and then reward them on the other side.

As we've all been talking about lately on this blog, fear is a good thing.  It shows a smart horse.  But elevated anxiety in our horses can also be dangerous for us as riders. That said, we decided to spend some time going back and forth through the scary tunnel in various ways.  We let the ones who were nervous (which were all but one) follow, and then, as they became more comfortable, take the lead, as we passed through back and forth as many times as it took to get them all to OK.

That's what you want in trail buddies, because it's what makes the adventure enjoyable for horses and riders and keeps everyone in the group safe.

Many years ago now, I made a bunch of horse friends online and we all met up and became flesh and blood friends.  Our friendship revolves around our shared love of horses. We have the same philosophy, even if we get to it different ways.  Mostly, we have support for each other as horsewomen.

I wouldn't go through the scary tunnels without this group, so I'm not much different than Cowboy. Call me "Smart", because "graffiti, the smell of urine...and darkness" really do point to danger when riding alone.  

We're buddies and our horses are buddies, and we all rely on each other to get through the scary places.

Who are your riding buddies?  What scary tunnels have they helped you pass through?

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?