Sunday, June 22, 2014

A New Approach

Or maybe a new hypothesis. Or a new experiment. Or a new theory.

Either way, I'm going to try a new approach to tackling Q and her spookiness on trail and other interactions.

My problem with this horse, and let's face it, my human problem with any aspect of life is letting my emotions rule. In fact, I've been beating myself up internally about this issue for months. I've been fretting about how I just can't seem to get along with this little mare as I did that first year with her. I worry and I fret, and now I need to just DO something about it for good. Giving up is the easy way out; I don't like giving up and Q deserves for me to give all I can.

Photo by Dom
But, I'm only human. I feel that much of our lives are spent tackling the challenge that is controlling our emotions in situations that revoke a "fight" or "flight" response. And while situations with Q that frustrate me don't often elevate so high on that scale of "fight" or "flight", the repetition associated with some of the behaviors is increasing my level of frustration to such a level that I cannot keep it hidden. And she knows that. Damn horses, they know our emotions better than we do!

In my new approach, I'm going to strive even harder to stay calm and check my emotions at the door when I work with Q. I need to dial back my tendency to fly into agitation and re-form it to be encouragement.

This mare loves praise. She thrives off a calm atmosphere with a lot of praise. My error has been thinking that 2 years into owning her and working with her, she would have moved onward and be able to handle things without SO MUCH praise and SUCH a calm atmosphere. She hasn't moved on. In fact, as things seem to happen so often in life, we've taken a couple steps backwards.

I need to break down everything I ask this mare to do down into smaller steps. I need to praise the smallest efforts constantly. I need to bolster her confidence in herself and my confidence in her abilities. The trouble is being certain to recognize all of the small steps in all of our daily routines. I know I need to break things into smaller steps and work from there, but I'm not great at being able to recognize the small steps.

Despite that difficulty, I need to try. Practice makes perfect. Break down the small steps. Praise. Praise. Praise. It's not fair of me to be so hard on my animals all the time. (Where hard is a relative term as I'm not very hard compared to many.) I need to appreciate their every tiny try to do what I am requesting and I need to praise for it. Q just needs this MORE than the others if I'm to get anywhere with her.

If I can train myself to do this, to be calmer and to recognize and praise all the small things, my relationship with this little mare will improve. Additionally, the results of our rides and exercise sessions together will improve. We won't be arguing over the small, petty things. One tiny step at a time, we'll build into more confidence. Or at least that is my hope.

And, as all behavioral challenges with my horses result, I'm certain that this practice of staying calm and finding smaller steps to tackle and praise will help my relationships/interactions with people, will improve results in my endeavors, and will improve future implications in many realms of my non-horse life.

To supplement all of this behavioral change in my training pursuits with this mare, I'm also going to alter how we train. For the next several weeks, out goes the jumping cross training. Out go other riding pursuits. All of it gone in favor of time on the trail. Miles upon miles and hours upon hours on the trail. We'll go fast. We'll go slow. We may only go out for one mile or two before we're done. But we're going out on the trail.

She's going to get to see the trees and the rocks and the grass and the sun's rays dancing off of all of it. Again and again and again and again. Her small efforts will be praised. Praised and praised. And hopefully, with time and miles, she's going to approach the "monsters" with less spooking. Hopefully we'll get back to where she gives things the stink eye, slows her gait a bit, and a provides slightly excessive wide berth around the offending object. No more horizontal teleportation and slamming on the brakes. least, that is the hope.

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