“Want to go on a trail ride with me? The last time I was out, my friend’s horse slid into a ravine and broke her wrist. Bring a helmet, okay? Have you checked your girth lately? They wear out and mine is frayed but it’s fine. I know three horses who have died by lightning strikes, so let’s go early in the day before the weather rolls in. Let’s take your trailer because mine came unhooked and crashed into the ditch. And we should wear something bright. It’s deer hunting season and your buckskin mare is just the right color to get shot.”
Let me ask again. Want to go on a trail ride with me? Just say no. You don’t want to be out on the trail with someone who is a walking disaster encyclopedia. Immersing ourselves in disaster fantasies makes our horses nervous. Not to mention ourselves. Don’t go on the trail ride!
And I do personally know three horses who died by lightning strikes. There was nothing that could have saved them. Call it an act of nature, they were good horses and in a second, they were gone. Controlling the universe is futile. I live in a state with unpredictable weather. I turn my horses out where anything can happen. There is a new colony of Satan-worshipping gophers in the pasture but that isn’t the worst. Every single moment, we face the biggest threat of all. Everyone in the barn gets older by the year, and none of us is getting out of this alive. With all this, plus the stories we hear and all the articles that we read, with the sheer stress of knowing how fragile horses truly are, how do we stand it?
I have tips but I don’t think you need another top-ten list of death threats. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. Most of us have been around for a while, that’s how we got on this merry-go-round, and by now we are pretty good at scaring ourselves. That might be the problem.
We survey the surroundings on any given day and imagine all the horrible, crippling disasters that can happen. We are smart, so then we do research. What we learn does not make it better, but while researching we found several new diseases and freak accidents to watch for. Now we know too much but expecting every unexpected thing is exhausting. It floods us quicker than horses because we overthink effortlessly with our pesky frontal lobe. We want everything to be right, so we question, correlate, compare, and ask for more opinions.
We try to soothe ourselves by being the best at knowing too much.
I’ll call it a human calming signal but it comes with the caveat that calming signals are usually signs of stress. But even over-education doesn’t work because knowledge isn’t the same as confidence. Now we are in a rut of belief in our own failure to know enough. And we are paralyzed there which ends up being a good thing. Remember Molly Ivins’ first rule of holes? When you’re in one stop digging.
Pause. Take a moment right now, stop reading, and inhale. Then say something genuinely nice to yourself. Thank you.
Knowledge is a wonderful thing unless it only makes us more anxious. Educate yourself but intelligence doesn’t calm your horse. Humility is fine and dandy, but not at the cost of your confidence. Kindness is a good idea, but not if you sacrifice your self-esteem. Being a lifelong student is honorable, but when do you finally give yourself a passing grade?
Here’s the million-dollar training tip: The best answer for any situation with a horse is to breathe.
I have said, written, and demonstrated it a million times. It even bores me to say it and most people nod in agreement, proud to proclaim that they don’t breathe enough. We all agree so really, is your mother stopping you? Pretty please, enough of the rut. If overthinking was going to work, it would have ten years ago. From the pile of clever quotes to paint on signs for the bathroom, just this:
Have you noticed that no matter how many times you confirm you’re bad at breathing, it still doesn’t improve? And now I’ve gone and nagged you, harping on the old breathing thing again. It’s as if we are looking for something harder, more expensive, or requiring an advanced degree. If it didn’t matter so much to your horse, I’d give up.
Instead, let’s try a different approach. Our words are so powerful but sometimes we chatter on and don’t even notice what we say, or that we are meditating on drama. Think about that invitation again. Maybe for now you don’t worry about breathing but instead, you teach yourself a mantra. It should be short and have small words. How about “I’m good at this.” Say it all the time. Say it when you don’t believe it because affirmations work. Then smile. It doesn’t have to be genuine, it is just a way to notice your face. If this mantra feels uncomfortable, all the more reason to say it.
So this is already an improvement. You’re saying something that you don’t quite believe and you are making a face. It’s a start and it distracts you from the worry rut. Your body starts to thank you right away. You can tell because something feels different, maybe your shoulder blades. You haven’t forgotten your knowledge and become stupid. You’re multitasking by knowing what you know while putting your brain in a more affirmative place. Say it again: “I’m good at this.”
It’s time to take your show on the road. Go to the barn and stand three or four feet from your horse’s face. Just do it, even if it means you’re on the other side of the fence. In a clear voice with half a smile, “I’m good at this.” while giving him room to think. Now your horse is looking at you in the way he looks at kids. He stretches his neck and shakes his poll about as much as you’re smiling. So you say it again. “I’m good at this.” This time he lets out a short blow. Still fully aware that the world is a scary place, you notice you’ve exhaled.
Oxygen is the fuel that makes everything else work. And your horse just taught you.
I’m training a reactive horse to drive. We’ve been at it a while but it’s all on video. Follow us at Bhim’s Training Diary. Click here.
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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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