My 2 Mares were stars on Trail today! - Page 237 - The Horse Forum
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post #2361 of 2474 Old 05-18-2019, 06:56 PM Thread Starter
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Back from Day 1 of the clinic. Last weekend was about creating a calm connection with our horses; this weekend was about managing anxiety, stress, and fear in the rider. It was a fairly different group of people than last weekend, probably not surprisingly. We did spend a fair bit of time this morning sharing our stories and reasons for being there. Some people had had fairly serious wrecks landing them in the intensive care unit, and others were carrying more generalized anxiety from their lives to the barn. I shared my story about Fizz’s fall on the ice, my general control freak nature, and the challenges of always riding alone and how that can spiral downhill.

I’d summarize the main point of this weekend as using “mindfulness” or “mind/body awareness” as tools for defusing anxiety. The rational thinking statistician in me admittedly has a hard time with this sort of thing, and I have to admit that I’ve had some bad experiences with “mindfulness” workshops for educators in the recent past. It can feel so fake and pseudo “spiritual” to me that I get turned off. However, I have to say this really wasn’t like that. The clinician is a therapist, but I didn’t feel like she was trying to use cheezy techniques on us. Instead, she just posed a lot of questions to us about how connected we were to our bodies, how we could recognize tension and respond to it, when we felt those proverbial butterflies in your stomach, when your jaw clenched, etc.

Connected to that, we spent a lot of time on the human energy scale to match the horse energy scale from last weekend. The concepts were very similar: yellow is more lethargic and checked out; green is calm and open to learning; red can be toying with a healthy push out of the comfort zone but move pretty quickly into OMG I’M FREAKING OUT AND THEREFORE THESE TOOLS DON’T WORK. I did ask about Fizz’s forward/sideways experience last weekend (specifically, the level of energy involved)- the explanation was that with Fizz being sort of zoned out (a 3 out of 10), Lindsey’s intention was for her demeanor staying around a 4/5 out of 10. With a very lethargic horse, you’re trying to invite them into green with you- if you ramped your energy way up, it’s almost like a startle to your senses in a way that immediately puts you on alert (thus taking away your openness to thinking/learning), whereas a more measured request to yes, wake up, but do it in a calm, relaxed way is a better choice.

Our afternoon was all mounted, and our goal was to try activities in the arena that would take us from our green into a dance with high green/low red at number 6/7 on the 10 point scale. We all had a person on the ground who was there to check in with us about how we felt in terms of energy, and what energy level we got from our horse. We were intended to push ourselves to do something or some set of things that would take us from the calm, easygoing level 4 into something a little more “up” and then figure out what strategies we could use to stay in the activity but manage our bodies back to that calm level 4. I picked maneuvering around other horses moving at varying speeds. I generally feel anxious in a crowded arena having to ride trot/canter and not knowing what other horses will do, so that’s what we did. Fizz definitely woke up when we started that, which was good, because it revealed my natural tendency to want to grab onto her and hold. Intellectually I know that doesn’t help…but my body doesn’t cooperate

I got some good coaching on more intentional breathing (exhaling, exhaling, exhaling) and doing a “body check” from the saddle- literally moving from feet to calves to knees to thighs to stomach to wrists to elbows to shoulders to neck to jaw- and consciously identifying whether or not there was tension there. Fizz was so tuned in that I simply had to start at releasing tension in my feet and getting heavier there, and she’d stop almost immediately. That was kind of wild. Shows you how much tension I’m carrying around! There was another cool exercise done, which some of the riders who had had serious accidents worked through successfully when mounting, which was called “The Five Senses”- again, focused on breathing and connecting in with your body, and asks you to identify 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste, and say each thing out loud.

In the course of our mounted time, Fizz and I got to do some neat obstacles- never had been through a tarp curtain before but she never even looked at it as we walked and trotted through it


One thing that struck me on my drive home is that the word “nervous” was never used, and I want to ask about why. I think I’d tend to define myself more as a “nervous” vs. “anxious” rider, and while I guess that doesn’t really make any difference whatsoever in terms of what my body is doing while on the horse, it struck me as interesting and I want to ask about it.

Our homework tonight is to pick a song that we want to ride to tomorrow, something that makes us feel happy and upbeat. I’m still thinking through it, but leaning towards this one.
I actually didn’t know the name of this song until I had to write it down to add to the group play list (I’ve just been listening to this album a lot lately), but when I saw it was called “Tired of Fighting,” that nearly made me cry. It just sort of hit me that I have been so in my own head for the past many months that I’ve got myself tied up in knots and am not having much fun riding. Most of it is being tired of fighting with myself, but that also manifests into these little fights with Fizz. So, I think it is a symbolically as well as musically good pick for tomorrow!

Here’s to a good day 2 and more happy rides!
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post #2362 of 2474 Old 05-19-2019, 12:54 AM
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That is great!
I like how she's having you practice going just a little out of your comfort zone rather than trying to make you do something that makes you very uncomfortable. It seems like this is similar to horses with separation anxiety, I've seen that if they can work through things in small stages, they do much better than if we just force them away from their safety net cold turkey.

It seems like this way your body can learn to deal with a little anxiety but not be overwhelmed, so you can learn to get where you want in smaller steps. Plus you're practicing the right physical and mental responses.
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post #2363 of 2474 Old 05-19-2019, 06:55 AM
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Wow, I must say that I am a bit envious. I wish I had had the opportunity to go to a clinic like this during my recovery. In fact, there are still a few issues I am working through now.

Nervous vs. anxiety. Yes, I have often contemplated the difference. In my case, though, I do tend to see how my problem is more anxiety. I suppose it is because I am not nervous to canter (for example) on a new horse, because I enjoy cantering. However, my brain seems to irrationally anticipate potential problems (what if he does this/that), making me anxious. So, I think "nervous" would be a general state, whereas "anxious" would be in anticipation of a negative outcome. And then, your "rational-thinking statistician" self should analyze the frequency of positive vs negative outcomes and realize that your anxious reaction is, in fact, irrational. Well, that's what I try to tell myself anyway!
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post #2364 of 2474 Old 05-19-2019, 11:15 AM
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Ya go a couple weeks without reading a journal, and then when you do, it is almost intimidating to see how much you've missed!

When I have more time, I'll work my way thru the posts and videos. Read a number of them but haven't watched any videos yet. I'm trying to work with Bandit going out alone, but this is the coldest & wettest spring we've had in the 15 years I've lived here (and yes, those are relative terms!). Combine that with my wife traveling some with friends, and going out alone into the desert with Bandit, knowing 911 would be my only resource to call, and knowing no one will know to look for me if things go bad...and it has been a hard spring for riding. BTW - You couldn't pay me to ride on ice or real mud!

Yesterday reminded me of how vastly more SANE Bandit is than Mia. And I've been riding Bandit, not Mia, for 4 years now. But sometimes it is like having a flashback, and Bandit is being sane while my stomach ties itself in knots.

In my defense, Bandit out alone sometimes ties himself in knots too. When he gets nervous, he gets bouncy and snakey, twisting and turning and I feel like I'm trying to ride an eel. Then that "Oh ____" feeling kicks in! Paved roads remain a problem. I've taken to walking Bandit the 0.3 miles to the dirt road. Bandit isn't likely to lose his footing on dirt. On pavement? Not so certain! And going down with a horse on top of me, particularly on paved road, scares me.

In terms of releasing tension in MY body, what works best is slouching. It is darn near impossible to achieve a good slouch while tensing. If I concentrate on achieving a good slouch, my body relaxes more than if I try to relax individual parts of my body. I'm glad I have a horn at times like those. One hand on the horn & one on the reins with my legs deep around my horse and at least I feel I can stay on and still make inputs regardless of what he is doing. As long as he doesn't fall or spin us into cactus.

For us, I think it comes down to slowly building confidence in each other. SLOWLY expanding each other's comfort zone - him learning I have enough good judgment to keep us both safe in scary spots, and me learning to trust him not to overreact.

Which is tough because once in a while, he DOES overreact! He never loses his mind, unlike Mia. But he sometimes gets very emotional, and that brings back memories I'd rather not have.

Wish I could offer advice, but all I can really do is say I know how it feels to have a good ride going and then get tense, or to go out and start to mount up and have things twist inside you. Of course, I have two horses who really are rock solid on the trail, and I choose to ride the third horse...

In Bandit's defense, there have been a number of times I've tensed up and he is like, "Dude, relax! I've got it!" And then I'm going, "Slouch! Slouch! Achieve Slouchdom!"
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post #2365 of 2474 Old 05-20-2019, 12:35 PM Thread Starter
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I'm going to come back to respond to people's posts, but wanted to finish my update, as yesterday was pretty incredible. In the morning, we started with some exercises to identify what we carry around with us causing anxiety. I was able to share about my internal script which is constantly telling me I'm never going to be good enough...my riding isn't good enough to ride in front of other people, or not good enough to not mess up my horse, or not good enough to even have the horses at home vs. boarding. I don't usually share in front of strangers like that, so it was a bit cathartic.

The afternoon activity was mounted, we each got 15 minutes in the ring to do an exercise that was really designed to let go of control. Some people rode brideless; for some people, just getting on and trotting was huge; and then a few of us (me included) were on the lunge with no reins so we could really get coached through working on softening our bodies without micromanaging the horse. I went towards the end of the day, and I found my tension growing and growing as I watched other people riding. All of that script from up above^^ was on a repeating loop through my head. But the sort of neat thing was that we were asked to stand up in front of the group before our ride and share where our energy scale rating was. Since my energy was dancing up there near red, I could just turn to the group and say that I was scared, but that I was going to trust Fizz and trainer M and Asa, the instructor, and just see what happened. I pretty desperately wanted to get on and just have fun, w/t/c around like it wasn't a big deal, and just enjoy the ride in a supportive environment.
Fizz was right there with me as I was baring my soul


When I first got on, I wasn't allowed to ride until I got my energy back to green. So, we did the "body song" and then the "five senses" exercises, and they really did help. From there, we did an easy warmup just so I could shake out some of the tension before we got going.

And then we were off, no hands...








There were still some scary moments


But I was pleased watching the videos to see that I wasn't curled up in a fetal position the whole time I was cantering, which is often what I feel like I am doing!


It was scary to just be out there in front of everyone and just trust myself and Fizz that we would be fine, but we were!






I have some video of my ride that I need to cut down a bit and I will post. I am still on a bit of a high from the weekend and it will be fun to watch the video!

Fizz came home last night. She trailered great, even in the middle of a thunderstorm, so I also got a lot of confidence just from her handling traveling so well.

Reunited and it feels so good...


Here's an explanation of the horse and human energy scale...from the horse's mouth rather than mine It is an hour long video so that may or may not be something you're interested in investing your time in.
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post #2366 of 2474 Old 05-20-2019, 02:05 PM
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Congratulations! In the one picture your smile says it all! I think we are all self conscious about how we look riding a horse, bike, walking along a busy street. But you did it!!
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post #2367 of 2474 Old 05-21-2019, 05:44 AM
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@egrogan , YOU AIRPLANED!!!

"Airplaning" is what we used to call cantering with arms out when I was a kid. I haven't done it since I was in my early 20's.

But you? You're a rockstar! YOU AIRPLANED!!!
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post #2368 of 2474 Old 05-21-2019, 09:28 AM
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Look at you go! That is fantastic!!!! You look so happy too, the smile on your face says it all. Yay for you and Fizz!!! Don't ever doubt yourself.
So happy for you!!!!!
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Ride more, worry less.
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post #2369 of 2474 Old 05-21-2019, 11:07 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms View Post
In my defense, Bandit out alone sometimes ties himself in knots too. When he gets nervous, he gets bouncy and snakey, twisting and turning and I feel like I'm trying to ride an eel. Then that "Oh ____" feeling kicks in! Paved roads remain a problem. I've taken to walking Bandit the 0.3 miles to the dirt road. Bandit isn't likely to lose his footing on dirt. On pavement? Not so certain! And going down with a horse on top of me, particularly on paved road, scares me....

For us, I think it comes down to slowly building confidence in each other. SLOWLY expanding each other's comfort zone - him learning I have enough good judgment to keep us both safe in scary spots, and me learning to trust him not to overreact.

Which is tough because once in a while, he DOES overreact! He never loses his mind, unlike Mia. But he sometimes gets very emotional, and that brings back memories I'd rather not have.
I totally relate to all you've shared here. It's the unpredictability of a horse that looks like a school horse sometimes and other times is jumping into ditches with reckless abandon. Add in physical challenges- cactus for you, ice for us (or in summer, barbed wire hiding under grass on the side of the road) and it makes your body react with tension.

Quote:
In Bandit's defense, there have been a number of times I've tensed up and he is like, "Dude, relax! I've got it!" And then I'm going, "Slouch! Slouch! Achieve Slouchdom!"
Isn't it amazing how relieved they get when you finally relax?! I love that audible sigh they give- nothing like direct, clear feedback! I don't find slouching works great for me as it seems to make me curl up and tip forward rather than down, but I have found that thinking "heavy feet" pulls everything deep down in the saddle and makes me stop perching forward.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gottatrot View Post
That is great!
I like how she's having you practice going just a little out of your comfort zone rather than trying to make you do something that makes you very uncomfortable. It seems like this is similar to horses with separation anxiety, I've seen that if they can work through things in small stages, they do much better than if we just force them away from their safety net cold turkey.

It seems like this way your body can learn to deal with a little anxiety but not be overwhelmed, so you can learn to get where you want in smaller steps. Plus you're practicing the right physical and mental responses.
Yes, exactly. They call it "boomeranging" which is sort of like approach/retreat- you go towards the worrying thing, you double back to bring the anxiety down, then when you're back to calm relaxation, go closer, then back, etc. Also works to get farther away from for one of my biggest problems, which is the buddy sour issue at our house- when there's a horse screaming like a crazy thing in the pasture and Fizz is too focused on that, I have to start the boomerang away to get her thinking again and focusing on me rather than the screaming.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spanish Rider View Post
@egrogan , YOU AIRPLANED!!!

"Airplaning" is what we used to call cantering with arms out when I was a kid. I haven't done it since I was in my early 20's.

But you? You're a rockstar! YOU AIRPLANED!!!
Haha, that's great. Thanks for the encouragement (and thanks @carshon and @PoptartShop for your nice words too!). Spanish Rider, by the way, I did ask on Sunday if there was an intentional decision not to use the word "nervous" but to use "anxiety" instead, but actually, the answer was no. They sort of hang out together.

***************

Yesterday afternoon the rain finally stopped for a bit, so even though it was muggy and buggy I thought it would be a good idea to get on and ride while the positive vibes were still fresh. It would be easy to focus on all the things that didn't go as well as I wanted them to, but I'm trying to reframe that and instead focus on the things that were better than they would have been before last week. First of all, she is pretty easy to redirect when she's thinking about getting nervous- we did a few calm connections exercises when she started to tense up alone in the barn, and that worked pretty well. She is now standing like a rockstar for mounting- the positive reinforcement work at the mounting block certainly succeeded in that respect. I had no planting of feet and refusing to move forward. We went down the road a little bit, and I think we probably could have gone a little farther than we did, but I was looking for an easy win so I just sort of left it at that.


It did not help that the black flies were out in swarms and someone was acting like they were dying when they touched her nose


So, it was a short ride, but it was a ride! Heading to NYC for a few days for work right now, but I am looking forward to the long weekend.
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post #2370 of 2474 Old 05-22-2019, 06:52 AM Thread Starter
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Finally found good enough WiFi to post the videos.

Quick warm-up

Hands-free!
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