I’ve really struggled with what to write for this week. I don’t have a ton in terms of updates and the bit that I have done, has left me feeling discouraged and unsure of where to go. I toyed with the idea of just saying fuck it and putting this blog on hiatus until I get thing further sorted out. But. What good would that do? I came here to write from my heart and document the journey. And not all journeys are consistently easy, and hearts aren’t made to be kept consistently whole right? I’d love to be able to say that things are always fantastic and that I’m doing great, Cowboy’s doing great and that everything is a completely splendid view of sunshine and rainbows…. but to be 100% honest right now, I’m kind of stuck in a dark, grey cloud and I’m not really positive what to do to shake free.
To cut to the chase, I haven’t had much time to work with Cowboy since my last post. With it being March break, the barn has been super busy between clinics, training during our normal lesson slots, time mix ups and my work schedule. And the couple times I have been able to get him out and working although there have been some positives, his buddy sour freak outs when ANYONE leaves the arena right now are getting worse and THAT is what’s got my head stuck in this cloud. Tuesday, I was supposed to have a lesson but we had to reschedule to Wednesday morning, so I got him out into the arena and doing some ground work. I’ve been working my way through a series of Buck Brannaman clinic DVD’s and have found, thus far, that I’ve actually been doing some of what he’s talking about just perhaps not in his words or exactly in his method. So this being said, I decided to work a bit on a couple things I’ve picked up from the dvds. We did our normal sort of transitions and work on the line, but I also put some more focus on disengaging the hindquarters and then moving onto united circles as well as space and pace while being led. This bit was going great. We were working in the ring with another person working with a young mare and when they weren’t right up in the back corners, I’d take Cowboy over to explore the changes in equipment so that hopefully come Wednesday morning we’d be able to navigate the back end without too much issue. I chatted with my arena mate and listened as they explained what they were working on and why and things were going well. Until they brought the mare to the front of the arena and Cowboy and I stayed in our back corner. They weren’t even leaving the arena – they were just going to get the shavings fork to clean up some manure – and Cowboy started with his high pitched sort of “don’t leave me!” squeak thing he does and he exploded. He tried to bolt on the line, mini rear when I’d attempt to put up and block and stop and send him in the other direction. I eventually got him calmed down and when my arena mate came back over I asked their opinion on what and how to handle it. Thankfully, they at least asked what his background was and I was able to explain all the facts I know. They agreed that some of it is most likely learned behavior, but also spoke a truth that, although presented in a manner intended to be helpful, hurt. He’s behaving in such a manner because there is still distrust and disrespect between us that makes me less important than the company of another horse. They then suggested some ground exercises we can do to help school through it. Push the hindquarters over, drive him forward in a circle or two and then get him to disengage and halt. The idea they presented is that you gain control over the stop of motion rather than continuing to move the feet, at least in that sort of situation. It makes sense… I mean in the saddle in one of those moments my first instinct would be to first regain control by stopping and then putting the feet back into purposeful motion be it right back to work or something such as a “hip over” which is essentially disengaging the hindquarters. See….ground work really does have such a base in everything you do with the horse, which makes it so strange that people tend to overlook it as much as they do. After a bit more work with the mare, they left. Cowboy started to lose his marbles again, but I employed what was suggested and managed to get him to calm and begin to work “normally” again in a couple minutes.
Wednesday we did a ground work lesson, more or less because I threw my back out a bit the day before picking out Cowboy’s stall. I have this spot on my back that ALWAYS seems to be where I have issues if it decides to go out, located on my lower right quadrant, just above my butt. I think its got something to do with my sacrum and what not. None the less, although mild, I didn’t want to push it by riding. Our session started alright, although he was definitely edgy, most likely due to myself being off energy wise. Not only was the day before still fairly fresh in my mind and my emotions were still pretty raw, I had a long couple of days coming up and my lesson was fairly early in the morning (to try to get it done before the arena was booked up – again – from 10 am – 1pm) and I’m no longer as much of a morning person as I had been…. blame it on working midnights haha. We got him working decently, and problem solved through a couple “omg its scary!” issues. Then, Brooke needed to go an check on her feed for a second and the moment she started making her way towards the door, Cowboy again let out this short, high pitched “don’t leave me!!” squeak and exploded again. This is the first time he’s had this issue with just a human leaving. There wasn’t even another horse in the ring with us that left prior to her leaving. Once she was completely out of the arena he blew up even worse. Once Brooke was back we were able to get back down to business and working well, and even ended the session on a complete and total good note.
I know that right now its my focus on this one issue that is causing me to feel so discouraged and clouded, despite how positive and such I’ve been able to keep. Considering its been a consistent issue that has been increasing in severity it’s really starting to just wear me down (on top of all the other slew of personal baggage I’ve mentioned in the last few posts). Right now, I honestly feel like just tossing in the towel and giving up. I won’t, we all know that by now, but I’m hitting a point of frustration with it that’s not good for either of us. The hardest part of it? I know that I’m only compounding the issue and right now we are on a bit of a vicious circle.
See, there is no doubt that we are completely bouncing off of each other in these moments. Not attempting to sound petty or anything, or even really placing blame, but Cowboy “started it” by suddenly cropping this behavior back up and doing it fairly consistently over the month (really, other than being just generally unfocused during our rides this has been the only REAL issue we’ve been having… yay for small wins!). Now, I’m expecting it every time the door opens which then spikes my energy. Then because he’s already anxious and LOOKING for my reaction when my energy spikes, he’s suddenly like “omg! my leader isn’t confident…. there’s something wrong… horsey friend COME BACK!!!!!!!”. Then it goes sideways. And then the cycle goes on. I’m also struggling with the fact that this behavior is also bringing up a lot of fear and anxiety in me again. I know I can ride it and handle it if it does come up, but again its something I would really rather not have to handle AND it brings up bad memories of before. So as much as he doesn’t fully trust me enough to put me before his friends, I don’t trust him enough. I’m getting there, yes, but this is one area that has caused some deep seeded issues with us before and thus he hasn’t fully gained my trust with it. Because of this fear and distrust, I’m also struggling with NOT getting angry at him when it does happen. I’ve came leaps and bounds in dealing with a lot of his behaviours in a very neutral manner, learning and realizing that a lot of them stem from insecurity and that by getting angry and disciplining in the moment, rather than working through things teaches him whatever he’s scared of is SCARIER. So, in taking steps to work towards breaking this cycle right now, I need to first work on not inwardly panicking when someone (be it horse or human) goes to leave the ring. I might have to go back to a step we had to take before where I dismount when someone leaves and either lunge him or just have him stand calmly. Again, all major confidence building starts on the ground and if I can’t calm my nerves from the saddle, I’m better off dealing with that moment on the ground. If I’m able to handle it in the saddle it might be actually halting and letting us both relax as its happening. Regardless, I need to tame my own fight or flight reaction the moment someone goes for that door. That in itself will help the situation. Secondly, I need to remind myself to remain neutral to the situation when it happens. Don’t spike angry energy or ride/handle him too harshly if he does have a moment. He’s reacting out of insecurity and resorting to behaviours that have worked in the past. If I react too strongly it only reinforces that bolting for the other horse/door is what he should be doing. And lastly, I need to keep “chipping away” at it. The only way to problem solve is to keep trying and working at it and eventually either the lessons sink you, you find a new method or tool that works, or the behavior just changes.
Part of what really kind of sent me reeling into feelings of discouragement and horrible rider/handler the last couple of days was the comments in relation to lack of trust and leadership/respect, mixed with hormones and stress. It all worked its way, just so, into my brain and through the positive, constructive barrier I’ve had set up for myself. My self loathing, negative mental health issues cropped up and saw those words as evidence that I’m not succeeding at the goals I’ve been working towards this year. Which really, not the case. We’ve still made huge leaps and bounds and again, in the grand scheme of things, it’s only the middle of March. Having a partnership that had gotten as muddled up as ours had, 2 and 1/2 months really is only a drop in the hat and what we’ve accomplished so far has been huge given that time line. I get frustrated at hearing comments such as “just keep chipping away at it” sometimes because often times I feel as if I AM constantly chipping away at things and sometimes feel like I’m not getting any closer to figuring it out. But, we are. The simple fact that I can now sit and look at the situation and figure out what *I* need to do in order to help solve it is testament to that. And besides, I think the quote goes something like this…. “Nothing good comes easy and what comes easy is never good”. Generally speaking when Cowboy and I hit a bit of a “head” like this, it is normally a spot where we decline a few steps and then launch forward again. So again, without struggle there is no progress. I have to keep faith in that cycle and know that it will pick up again. All negative cycles eventually break, it just depends on how or when you put the work into it. I’ll get through this one and make it through to the other side stronger than before.