Asperger's and Riding - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 01:07 PM
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I'm an Aspie.

I have been an absolute nightmare for coaches, to the point of breaking down in tears over really nothing much... yelling, talking back, flat out refusing to do whatever... blaming the coach/group/horse/tack when really the problem was me... the list goes on and on. When things were going my way I was the coach's favourite... but when things were not going my way, well, let's just say I was not nice to be around!

I still struggle with my temper, especially the talking back and bursting into tears over "nothing". But I listen better, now. If you yell at me, I shut down instantly [bar the one instructor who somehow had a way of yelling that didn't irritate me], but if you take the time to patiently explain or even show me what it is you want me to do, I'll happily set to doing it.

I learn best through my eyes. The best thing ever for me to do, and I should do it more, is take video of myself and compare it to a rider I want to ride like. What are THEY doing, that I'm not? What can I change? What do I need to work on? My role models are not all professionals, and in fact my current coach is only a couple of years older than me, a VERY nervous rider, and is far from perfect herself... but she gets me, and she gets my horse. She knows a ton more about dressage than I do, which is awesome because that's what I need to work on more than anything else.

I am incredibly imaginative so I find analogies to be a brilliant way of "showing" me how to do something, without actually getting on the horse and exaggerating the aids so I can see what it is you're doing. Some Aspies are no good at that and live in a world where there is no such thing as fiction. Everything they see, hear or read has to be real. So don't mind the lies, in her mind they may be entirely real.

Not only am I an Aspie, I am also teaching someone atm who shows a lot of traits. Including the pathological lying. Sometimes it's wishful - I used to do it too, and for me that was the case - and other times it's because we truly believe what it is we're saying. I still get called a liar, usually because of how I've perceived something differently to someone else.

Watch out for defensiveness. Aspies are perfectionists. We are our own worst critics. If such and such a detail is not perfect, and we don't know, we do want you to gently enlighten us, but PLEASE don't mention it more than just the once per lesson. Quickest way to shut us down, because we get defensive [I have set many a coach offside by saying "I KNOW THAT" or "I'm not STUPID you know!"]. If we DO know, I can't speak for all/most, but for me, it's wisest to keep your mouth shut.

Aspies are very intelligent. We lack social skills, and a lot of us don't cope well with change. We like to know a change is coming before it happens. It's very difficult for me, at least, to admit a problem, because that then means I have to do something about it - which means the dreaded change. But we don't want to be treated like we can't learn, because we CAN. If an Aspie is incapable of learning, then they are either so distressed by their own imperfections that they can't handle the idea of not knowing everything already, or they have something else inhibiting the learning process.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that meltdowns are NOT voluntary. We don't have a choice. Most Aspies don't acknowledge their emotions easily and bottle it all up until all that pressure, all that emotion, has to go somewhere. I will admit, with much reluctance and trepidation, that I have been quite cruel to my mounts on more than one occasion. I hate that about me, and I'm working towards changing it, but please don't get angry at your student if she loses her temper at you or her horse. Put her on a horse or pony that can handle it, before she explodes at you or her mount, and put in place a consequence for inappropriate actions such as this.

I have to get off the horse and go cool down if I get too frustrated. That's the rules. If I lose my temper, I can't get back on.

I now realize an instant before I snap that I'm about to, but unfortunately don't have time to do anything about it. I will continue to grow and learn, and hopefully will learn enough self-control and self-recognition to be able to walk away from a situation before it blows up.

Many Aspies have anxiety and depression secondary to the syndrome, and some have/seem to have bipolar disorder. I am currently on a slippery slope and trying not to let myself fall farther down it into physical self-harm... as opposed to emotional self-harm which is where I'm at now. We need a LOT of emotional support, even if we don't realize/admit it. That's where the horses come in. They give us a warm neck to cry into, and a listening ear that will never judge or try to talk back.

Equine Assisted Therapy is WONDERFUL for people on the spectrum. I will never forget the good EAT has done for the autistic boy who comes now and then to ride my gelding... no professional therapy/intervention, just the horse and us constantly talking to him, asking him questions etc. He has gone from full on non-verbal [he would answer with one word, but volunteered nothing] to conversational, not always appropriate but he tries, and he sings whole songs. He has gone from a boy who had no hope of ever being independent, to a boy who, with continuing support, just might one day.

And me? I would be dead by now without my horses. For me they are a necessity, not a choice. It is a choice to have two [I can get by with one quite happily]... but my GP and psych have told me that no matter what, no matter how much I'm struggling financially, I must never EVER give up horses. I have dogs as well, but it's the horses that I think of when I slide down the slope again... it's the horses that have kept me from ending it all on more than one occasion.

The cruellest thing it is possible to say to an Aspie who has horses is that they should give them up and either not have pets at all, or get a goldfish. Never say that, no matter how angry you are at them, no matter how badly they have just treated their mount. Some Aspies can't come back from that.

We don't EXPRESS emotions very well but by god do we FEEL them. As before, I can't speak for EVERY Aspie, because there is such a huge range of traits and any given individual can display a trait to any degree... including always and not at all... but for me, it's actually a case of feeling TOO much, and not being able to cope with or process that level of emotion.

EDIT; whoops! Apologies for the novel... and I doubt it's going to be an easy or even very organised read, my mind is kind of chaotic at the moment.

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post #12 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 01:42 PM
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I think you expressed yourself very eloquently.
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post #13 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 02:14 PM
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You expressed yourself well and gave us all an inside look to someone with Aspies. Something not many of us would ever know as it is a hard thing to express.

I am going to slip up a bit for a minute and let something personal out(I never do this on forums, learned my lesson in a huge way on that). I have BPD, PTSD as well as anxiety and depression and also struggle with LD's, one being dyslexia. It is because of these barriers I have that I am able to do so well with children and people with LD's or other disabilities. I am able to get into their head and understand them a bit better then other people might be able to.

I think its great B.E.P that you were able to open up and talk about this to help others understand it. And I think its great that you are actually able to feel when your about to tip over the edge. You might not be able to stop it yet, but you will learn to. The biggest struggle is sensing when its coming on. Once you get that you can work on helping control how bad it plays out. Its something that has taken me a long time to learn and feel. I still struggle time to time with it as my emotions run very high and drop very quickly.
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post #14 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 02:34 PM
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We don't EXPRESS emotions very well but by god do we FEEL them
YES, yes and, once again - YES!

My movements may be awkward and my face may seem stiff at times, but I feel, as others do, and other aspies I know, do too. What is more, many of us are hypersensitive both to outer triggers (noise, smell, light, color, movement, INFORMATION, and absolutely anything else), but sometimes are unable to show the overload until a meltdown comes. For example, for me, one of the most difficult and fearsome things to do, is to simply cross a bridge during late, rainy autumn evenings. It is dark, but the car lights make bright, fast moving contrasts, which have their own, strange rhythm, the tires and engines are roaring with the ongoing sound of a rainfall, and everything seems to be happening at once with no chance to shut it down. It is so overwhelming that, being caught in it, I sometimes feel as if I could loose all orientation and jump under the traffic... So I avoid bridges in such nights. But people who have seen me in this state of panic, have told that I just look stiff and lifeless, with eyes gazing into nowhere and movements becoming slow and awkwardly mechanic. Yet inside - there is a storm going on...

And the same thing can happen to an aspie during a lesson or a ride, if anything becomes overwhelming or triggers the meltdown. It is very much like with horses who seem to be capable to deal with lots of input and new information, but suddenly they explode, because faint signs of inner brainfreeze have not been noticed in time. If you know how to help such horses - you will be able to help an aspie.
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post #15 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 03:00 PM
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Thanks everyone, I thought it wouldn't flow well because my train of thought is not wanting to stay in one place at the moment. I'm a bit of a mess emotionally and I'm really very easily distracted by my own mind so sometimes I'll be typing and things just slip out. Often out of order, and it's terribly confusing to the people who are trying to make sense of what I've written, but just as confusing for me, if not worse!

I went back and re-read and my post flows better than I thought it did. I still wouldn't get an A if it was being marked as an assignment, but I'm glad to have gotten it out, and I'm glad you can all follow it without getting your heads all in a muddle. Hopefully my thoughts and experiences can help someone somewhere.

Originally Posted by Saranda View Post
It is very much like with horses who seem to be capable to deal with lots of input and new information, but suddenly they explode, because faint signs of inner brainfreeze have not been noticed in time. If you know how to help such horses - you will be able to help an aspie.
I actually have one of such horses - she's not so bad now but when I first got her the explosions came literally out of nowhere. She gave not one single sign. One moment she would be standing calmly, resting a leg, head low... and the next she'd be on two legs almost falling over herself trying to get away.

I realized last night that I disconnect before a meltdown. I cross my arms [and sometimes my legs as well] and stare off into space. That helps for dealing with people, because I can ask for a little while to gather myself... but I'm not the same dealing with horses, my focus is better and I tend never to disconnect from them... so I need to figure out what my preliminary signs are when I'm working with the horses.

As emotional as I am at the moment I guarantee I will explode if I ride/handle either of my guys. I wonder if it might be a worthwhile exercise to go out, knowing that, and concentrate on what I'm feeling... and see if I can pinpoint what happens before I lose control. I can't risk it with Magic, but Monty always forgives me, eventually, so it's worth a shot.

Time for science!
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post #16 of 41 Old 01-29-2013, 11:55 PM
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What wonderful insight you both have given us all! One thing I say to ALL my riders, regardless of personal history etc, is that our horses are ridden a specific way when I give them a lesson. This tends to reduce defensiveness when they know that I don't think what they do is WRONG, just that its not appropriate for our horses since we do our best to keep the training consistent :)
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post #17 of 41 Old 01-30-2013, 03:56 AM
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I have worked with many children on the autism spectrum. I have found that they need to have very strict rules, if they muck up (ie misbehave or hurt the horses) they are off and not to ride again that session. They learn pretty bloody quickly to behave and do as they are told or they do not get to ride.

As mentioned in another thread I had a teenage girl with Aspergers who was convinced she was the bees knees. She was very difficult to work with and would not listen to instruction at all as she thought she knew it all. The way to get through to her was to ask her to try my way, just give it a try and see how it goes, as that worked she continued to listen to me - until she got to the point where she wanted to do more that she was capable of. This is when we had major issues and she was instructed to go elsewhere if she was not going to ride in a safe and sensible manner.

I have had other students with aspergers who responded very well to simple basic instructions. Yep, there were a couple of tantrums when things didnt go well but they did not abuse my horses as they know that is not on. I do have to keep an eye on the aspie volunteers and redirect them when they want to do something that is unsafe. (I get the "oh but I know how to do it!" all the time, I say, yes thats nice but this is what I want you to do now instead, I'd choose something I know they were capable of). I never gave out personal details and did not encourage personal interaction outside of riding so I cannot help you with the boundries issue.

Aspergers is no excuse to be an a**ehole. If the behaviour is inappropriate - tell them! They need to be responsible for their actions as much as the next person. People who *****foot around are not doing any them any favours for their future.
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post #18 of 41 Old 01-30-2013, 04:30 AM
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Aspergers is no excuse to be an a**ehole.
It's not?! Aw, shucks!

If the behaviour is inappropriate - tell them! They need to be responsible for their actions as much as the next person.
Agree to this fully, though. And absolutely nothing is an excuse to hurt a horse. Although I know what spontaneous rage is, it HAS to be put under control and, on a bad day, one shouldn't even come close to horses until he's calmed down.
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I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow to the shadow of my horse.
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post #19 of 41 Old 02-20-2013, 03:26 PM
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Read Temple Grandin's books for specific help. She has Asperger's, and devoted her career to animals.

My kid sister has Asperger's (I probably do as well, about 5 members of my family have it), and she's a natural on horseback. She is the kind to be under-reactive to most senses. Your student is probably over-reactive. Do take the reins away, and have her work to get a good seat. I mean a very good seat. Solid seat. No deviation from excellent position throughout all gaits and transitions. People with ASD have problems with new things and changes of routine. She will only understand something if you give a specific example, 5 different ways. If you want her to keep her hands a certain way, take 5 photos at different angles of her doing it correctly. A camera is going to be your life saver. People with Asperger's and Autism tend to be very visual thinkers. They have trouble generalizing things, so your student might make a turn correctly over one course, not the next if the set ups are any different. Pay close, close attention to the steps that make up an action. You would do well to have her make the hand motions when she doesn't have reins in her hands.

You absolutely can't stand for any outbursts she has. Don't use the word "No", but tell her "You must not __(action she did)___" and tell her the right way to do it, every time. If she gets angry, have her take a break by herself for a moment; you don't want her to be shouting or stomping, you want her to cry instead. Crying is not destructive like angry behavior is, really emphasize that to her. The lunge line will work nicely, as the circular movement will re-balance her system. Watch what speed works for her. Too fast makes ASD people upset, too slow does nothing for them.
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post #20 of 41 Old 02-20-2013, 08:19 PM
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My older sister has Aspergers and she took horse lessons for a long time. A lot of people have made very good points, and in my experience I would have to agree a lot of them. Just something to build on that has already been mentioned; Aspergers isn't an excuse. My sister has no respect for me because she is allowed to do whatever because she has autism. No person strives off of a structureless life, and she used to have lots of structure but as she has gotten older it has mostly gone away.

We had a wonderful trainer, who was very nice and she learned lots from, but my sister was still very hard on my mare who she took lessons on. Not that this much responsibility for this woman lies in your hands, but having schedules and structure to even just lessons can really help a person. My sister used to be pleasant to talk to, but now I cannot bear to have a conversation with her as she is completely disrespectful and will do things because she knows there are no consequences for her actions. Their have to be rights and wrongs, and they have to be clear. My sister got mad at my mare, and would take her frustration out because it had to be the horse's fault, not her's. No one told her anything despite her pulling enough with just a snaffle to put sores in that mare's mouth. After a while I had to step in of simple fear of my mare's toungue getting sliced.

My sister is about the same age as the woman you mentioned, and I am speaking more so in the point of view of a family member than anything. Sorry if I vented a bit, but it is a topic that is a bit hard on me. My sister was, and is, aloud to do as she pleases no matter how much it hurts other people and animals, so I hate to see all of the things that matter chucked out the window. But with all of these suggestions and your experience, it will still be a challenge, but you'll be a better person for it. I definitely wish I had someone to teach my sister like that, but at this point there is nothing I can do, and no one is willing to change. But, none the less, good luck to you. :)

Last edited by ButtInTheDirt; 02-20-2013 at 08:23 PM.
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