A question from two readers: “We suggest you write sometime about the difficulties of having professionals show up and are so impatient with one’s horses. Yesterday an equine chiropractor was so task-oriented, she was so impatient, I thought at one point she might get kicked…” (The horse lost balance in the rush and got a smack on the butt for it,) “For the first time I did not get into that self-blaming mode of oh gee, I can’t even manage my horse. But unable to protect my horse from being rushed along. And I know the person thinks-believes they have right to protect themselves from injury. But they’d be less likely to be kicked or bitten if they would slow and listen. But in some cases, that kind of behavior outweighs any potential benefit in my opinion. Yet, we rely on those folks to help our horses! It’s a conundrum. We were just wondering how you might work with those situations?”
On the surface, it’s easy to just say don’t hire the hurried professional. Find someone else who has better ground habits. Except that I’ve been in this position, and fairly recently. It might be that a trusted professional is no longer available and you are trying someone new. Or the usual professional might be having a bad day. In some areas, there just isn’t much choice and maybe your horse is in need, so you have to find a way to get along. Lots of reasons but in the end, you find yourself watching something unfold that you don’t want to see.
You’re right. Going slow is always a better answer.
On the professional’s side, yes, they do have to protect themselves. It’s always dangerous work when horses are in pain. A vet tech’s first job is to keep the vet safe; equine practitioners of all kinds must know that a horse can respond unpredictably. All pros, even trainers like me, must be constantly aware. Part of the job.
I empathize, if the professional continues without listening to the horse, things will go worse. It can create an anxiety runaway for the horse, or owner, or both. The real question might be how do we deal with those who are handling our horse but might have a training approach very different than ours?
Sure, long-term, find someone else, but in the moment, what? You have the potential to make things worse if you speak up; I’ve seen professionals get defensive and escalate. But if you bite your tongue, it could accelerate anyway. Meanwhile, you are watching your horse’s calming signals rise and wishing the professional would recognize them as well. That means your stress is growing, too.
Breathe. I know I harp on this, but only because it works. For all our talk about breathing in the saddle, the most important time to take deep, slow breaths might be on the ground with vets, farriers, and bodyworkers. Make sure you have some slack in the lead rope. If your horse feels a dead hold, he’ll get claustrophobic and more nervous. Let him hear you exhale.
Keep your eyes unfocused and your belly soft. Breathe in slowly, counting, feeling the air go all the way to the far corners of your lungs. Then release the air through your mouth, just as slowly. Feel your shoulders go soft, as your neck relaxes. Is your jaw tense? Release that. Breathe again. About now your horse is noticing and thinking he might have a choice, so breathe to let him know it will be fine. And again, breathe and notice the tense area in your horse’s body and then relax that part in your own body.
Be more present with your horse, than you are resistant to the professional.
Put your horse first, by staying mentally connected with him. Keep the majority of your mind right there. It takes concentration on our part. We tend to lose focus by telling the story, reciting symptoms, asking the professional questions. Or just watching with growing dread.
Now, as you are reading along, is a good time to decide what line you don’t want a professional to cross. Decide in an unemotional moment where you would stop things for the sake of your horse. Understand that he is likely to feel discomfort and stress whenever he gets a vet call. That a farrier picking up his feet is a balance question that he is going to need to think about.
What is the line between being expedient and rushing and using force?
I know sometimes a sharp word can get a horse’s attention, but if someone takes a whack, that’s different. If they shove the horse or punish him for something out of the horse’s control, that isn’t okay with me. Beyond that, it’s about intention. A light-hearted pro might say a harsh word and be fine, but if I sense growing anger or frustration, that’s a different thing. Know ahead of time what’s okay with you and what isn’t.
The breathing has slowed your panic by now. Good job for not taking all the blame and shame when it started. Remember that this isn’t about you. You may well curse the professional to the clear blue sky later, but right now, it’s about your horse. You don’t have to acquiesce, and you don’t have to get mad. Find a middle path.
If things haven’t gone too far, you might be able to divert things before they get to the point of no return. Breathing might slow things down for the pro, just like it has you and your horse. If not, you might say, “Are you okay? You seem a bit rushed today,” or something equally soft but a bit like a wake-up call. We’re all human. We don’t always notice what we do.
If it’s too late and the line has been crossed, well, you’re a consumer and you have choices. Breathe, make a clear statement, without blaming, for the benefit of your horse. Use “I” statements and keep your voice relaxed. Say something like, “Thank you, please step away. I’d like you to stop now, and I’ll be happy to pay you for your time.”
If it’s gone that far, debating groundwork and training approaches with a professional is probably not going to be productive. Sorry.
The is so much polarity everywhere these days and the horse world as well. The lines are drawn with knives and everyone expects the worst extremes, brutality or a total lack of control. In the past, I might have ranted about it but upping the anxiety doesn’t help.
Putting your horse above your emotions is always the best plan.