Horse? Or rider?
I just returned from California, where I was called in to help a woman who was having problems with her horse. Seems that the horse, (we'll call him Jester), began bucking one day which was totally out of character for him. Then,the next day, decided to 'attack' her by running over her. After that, he escalated to kicking at her biting at her arm. Things were at the point that she wouldn't even enter the corral with him when she called me. Her fear level was extremely high, her anxiety caused her to voice to come out two octaves higher than normal and if the situation didn't change soon, someone was going to get hurt. This is not a beginner horsewoman; she's been riding all her life and has had horses the entire time.
She cried on the phone as we made plans for my flight. "Why is he acting like this?"
Most people blame the horse when things go south and when I hear of issues like this one, I look to the person first to see where their head is at and what they are doing to help the horse feel he is allowed to act in an inappropriate manner. I also look to the horse's physical health to be sure he isn't trying to tell the owner that he is in pain.
Since the owner's fear was so great that she didn't even want to pet him, I began working with her over the phone three days before I arrived at her place. The first thing I had her do was sit down where she could see Jester and watch him for a few minutes and write in a notebook about the incident that scared her the most. (She wrote pages and pages about six or seven incidences; all in great detail.) I asked her to then record her feelings at the time and to not reread what she'd written. I warned that she may have very emotional responses and to write about those as well. Generally, this exercise wrings a person out and I warned her of that possibility and told her to be kind to herself.
The next day, I instructed her to list her negative thoughts about what she'd remembered and written about the day before, then wait a bit and write her expectations with Jester. I asked her to write what she wants from him, what she wants from all of her horses and why she loves and owns horses. What they meant to her, what she hoped to get from them.
The last day, I had her visualize her expectations coming to fruition and to envision all she wanted to do with Jester. One of her expectations was that if something were to happen, he'd take care of her. She expected him to step up and take over the responsibility of keeping them both safe. When he acted up, she felt he betrayed her and she no longer trusted him.
I learned that her mother is dying and is in hospice, her daughter will be leaving for college soon, her marriage is in not-so-great shape and that her whole world felt unstable and uncertain, not just the horse portion of it. We talked about her needs being met and how to translate that into the horse's needs also being met. We discussed how energy, mood, feelings and emotions play a huge role in how our horses interpret us and our expectations. I knew my work was cut out for me by the time that conversation was over!
When I arrived in Santa Barbara, we went to lunch at a place on the beach and watched about twenty dolphins playing, leaping out of the water and swimming. We laughed, drank lemonade and enjoyed a wonderful meal. Then we went to a park and sat with her notebook open so that we could discuss her feelings, thoughts and emotions regarding what she'd written. Turns out she saw Jester as evil and looking like the devil. She didn't like him much at that moment and we discussed the possibility of her selling him. She cried and told me she didn't want to lose her horse and would do whatever it took to fix the problems. So we left the park and went to the barn to see the killer devil horse so I could see if there were any physical or mental issues with him. Would he really try to kill her, or me?
I called him over, put a halter on him and added a stud chain just in case I needed to set the ground rules right at the start. He followed me from the pasture like a meek lamb and we stood together for a moment. The owner had told me that he wouldn't stand in the cross-ties, that he moves constantly and nips at her. I tied him without the stud chain to a post and watched him. He stood perfectly still. As an aside, I hate cross-ties. No point to tying a horse where they can't see what's happening and so I don't use them. I think most horses prefer to watch their surroundings than to be forced to look straight ahead only. Besides, any horse worth his salt can still swing his hindquarters around just fine, so thinking it will hold them still is a little goofy in my opinion.
I checked for soreness in his jaw, neck, withers, back, hocks and stifles. He sank when I applied pressure at his withers and again over his lumbar region. I ran some Reiki to him, pressed on some acupressure points I know and massaged him as I talked to the owner. His head lowered, his eyes softened and, you guessed it, he never budged a muscle.
I led him by first hooking the lead back onto the stud chain and asked him to stop when I did. He kept walking so I snapped the rope once, quickly, softly and with no emotion. The chain rattled and I'm sure he felt a little more pressure over his nose that just the nylon halter would have had, but not enough to alarm him; it just got his attention. He stopped. We repeated this until when I stopped my feet and he did too, with no other cue.
Now it was the owner's turn. I showed her how to lead him without being apprehensive and emphaized that she needed to have calmness and surety radiating from her. The other rule was that she was not allowed to baby-talk or sing to him; which she often did. She had to view him not as her saviour and best friend, but as a horse who needs to have horse rules. She also had to be the leader and the one in charge. Once I was gone, if she was feeling jittery or apprehensive, she was not to work with Jester.
The results were immediate and continued through the week end, with the owne riding Jester and leading him happily about. I recommended that she work with him and play with him every single day for only fifteen minutes. If she could ride him, she was to only ride at a walk and should work on turning, stopping, backing and lateral moves like sidepassing and turning on the haunches.
With such fabulous results, she felt that the stud chain was the key, the answer, the golden wand. But it isn't. Since the stud chain is wrapped around the nose band of the wide, nylon web halter, then snapped below the chin, it exerts literally no pressure unless the handler snaps it or yanks on it. Which she never does. Funny to me how something viewed as a bigger hammer can so easily change a person's perception.
At the end of the week end, I asked if Jester still looked evil or if he resembled the devil incarnate. She smiled and said, "Of course not, he's the best horse in the world."
The change isn't really in the horse, it's all in the owner's perception, energy, expectations and consistency when handling him. Good communication is the key, not the stud chain or any other artificial aid that may be employed.
-- *****PRIVATE one hour riding lesson for $50, (normally $75) with mention of http://www.285Bound.com, must be within 20 miles of Conifer, CO
Tanya Buck was born and raised in Carmel, California, where she grew up on a small ranch. A graduate of UC Davis, she majored in Animal Science with a concentration in Equine Reproduction, and a minor in English.
She is certified through UC Davis as an Equine Breeding Manager, is a certified horse show judge, and a Reiki Master. Currently, Tanya and her husband live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with five horses, four dogs, three cats, a couple of parrots and a bunch of fish.
Besides her passion for horses, Tanya is an avid Scuba diver, an active bicyclist, and loves to hike, snowshoe, read and write. She is currently working on two books, one fiction that needs an agent now, and a creative nonfiction about training horses written from the horse's point of view.
Tanya has been helping to bridge the communication gap between horses and humans for over 35 years.http://www.TanyaBuck.comiLopeAlong@gmail.com