Yesterday I hauled Ace and our new horse Greg to the arena. It was barrel practice night, and this was the first time going for all three of us.
Ace has been really learning to let go of his anxiety and fears during rope nights with my hubby's help, so I personally hadn’t ridden him the last few times he was hauled. On the drive, I mentally prepared myself to be a relaxed and confident leader for Ace while listening to a podcast. (The Journey On Podcast with Warwick Schiller interviewing Jane Pike)
This podcast really explained things in a way I had never thought of before, and it helped a lot! I want to share a few of those with you now summarized in my words.
My body and mind are amazing. It created defence mechanisms to protect myself during stressful/scary/traumatizing situations when I literally couldn’t process it. I am thankful my body has this ability -- but I am now aware it's time to release these defence methods as they are no longer serving me.
When I feel anxiety, stress or fear, it's like internal energy becoming bigger than my body that I cannot hold it in anymore. I am learning to tune into what my body is telling me and respond before my emotions become bigger than my body, creating a fight/flight/freeze. This is my body trying to protect myself from danger - which again is a beautiful thing! Accepting that nothing is wrong with me is extremely important.
When I start to feel anxious, an easy method to help refocus my brain is to move my body: wiggle my toes in my boots, tap my thumb against each fingertip. Yesterday I also became aware of how I wanted my body to feel to Ace while riding. I envisioned my body being connected to him through my seat and thighs, like in Avatar minus the ponytail hehe. I wanted to feel soft, relaxed, gentle and curious about his own movements. This helped me ride so much softer I was shocked!
Every single thing I learned about myself is exactly the same for my horse. When Ace reacts anxiously or fearfully, this is his natural response to keep him safe and protected. I don’t want this to disappear, or if a bear ever came for a visit, then he would be in trouble! I want to show him he can trust me and that I’ll keep him safe.
His anxiety can feel so big it's pouring out of his body, putting him into fight/flight/freeze; it is up to me to recognize when his cup of anxiety is getting too high and help him empty it before it overwhelms him.
Asking him for simple body movements can help him come back inside his body, getting his mind off his stress, but it's important to keep things very simple and basic, so it doesn’t become an additional stress source.
There is nothing wrong with feeling fear or anxiety or stress, for either you or your horse! This is an instinct meant to keep us safe from harm. Learning to accept this is the first step to understanding and moving past our fears. Invite your fear to sit at a table beside yourself; what would you say to it? Invite your horse's fear to sit at your table; what would you tell it? Loving ourselves through these feelings is so important.
Thank you, Jane, for the amazing reminder.