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Emotional control

Since the mane event didn't go so well (he got scared\frustrated with me and bucked me off, which is totally not my horse), I've had to rethink training.

I like the phrase: A safe horse is a quiet horse, but a quiet horse isn't always a safe horse. The second one is Aslan. He can become reactive at the bat of an eye and in a high energy environment, he doesn't know how to come down.

Warwick Schiller told me that horses, even so-called quiet ones, need to learn how to deal with fear and excitement mentally; that is, they have to learn how to calm themselves down during a high tension situation. If the horse has never learned how to deal with these emotions, they escalate and it is too late to help them. Just like no one can tell you to "snap out of it" if you are having a panic attack, the same goes for a horse. They need to learn to control impulses and emotions, before it happens, by being pushed emotionally high and then back down, over and over again. This then generalizes to all sorts of situations. Warwick said that you don't want to put this off until you ride out and a kangaroo jumps out of the bush.

I agreed but I didn't quite know what to do about it. Well it turns out the answer is sensitizing and desensitizing exercises that most clinicians teach. Seems logical but I missed a deeper meaning to the concept. You aren't just dealing with cues and desensitizing to the tools like the whip, you are also training the brain. I know this seems obvious, but I didn't realize how this works on the emotional side of things. I kept thinking you were teaching the horse to listen but not be over-reactive/scared, just because you were putting pressure on them. I didn't see it's value as an emotional exercise.

Aslan tends to be a bit dull, so I spent more time on obtaining responsiveness, and less time on desensitizing. Then when I did do desensitizing, I would make a whole lesson out of it, instead of specifically doing it after he got excited from a sensitizing exercise. And I NOTICED that he was very sensitive to pressure and would tend to overreact. So I tried to not push him to become upset. I remember the first time I asked him to lunge at a trot and he freaked and bucked and got all upset. This was a sign but I didn't know it. Eventually he got over this but any time you put a lot of pressure on him, he showed his worry. He is also opinionated and I haven't always drawn a line in the sand for this, so when emotion is high and I tell him "no", he didn't know how to accept that.

I avoided pushing him that far, because high fear causes learning to stop and the animal just becomes reactive. In which case you are not only giving them a bad experience in the lesson, but they aren't going to learn what you want either. So I was *TRYING* to keep him learning and enjoying. But complete avoidance meant that he never learned how to deal with heavy pressure and heavy fear. I should have kept pushing him in those situations and then desensitizing, until he learned to calm down. THEN go back to learning whatever it was.

This is the stuff no one really mentions until you run into the problem!

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