As I hacked Jack out yesterday it was as if he was seeing things for the first time.
Warmbloods are known for their unpredictability – and when I first had Jack he walked out from home quite happily on his own. But when he met something that unnerved him he went from calm and unphased to reactive and speedy in some direction other than forwards ie. either sideways or backwards.
It now seems to me that he was so disconnected from his senses and feelings that it was only when something built up and startled him that he reacted so violently. And since he hadn’t even noticed his own concern – he didn’t transmit it to me – until we stopped abruptly and span around in the road – or bolted off in another direction. What was often mystifying – was the cause of the ‘spook’.
Yesterday he seemed alive – instead of a zombie. He noticed the sheep in the fields, kids playing football in a field etc etc. He pricked his ears, stopped to have a look and take an interest and then calmly walked on.
Last week I kept thinking this is weird – he’s never been this spooky, in all the time that I’ve had him. This week the penny dropped – he was so caught up in his trance before (dissociated from the world around him) that he just didn’t notice things on a conscious level. Yet his body was registering the distractions on some level and when it was too much for his system to bear he would skoot off.
I began to treat him in the way that I would a 3yr/4yr old (just broken in), with time and patience – to familiarise him with these happenings and events that he’s just woken up to.
What most terrified me about riding Jack when I first bought him was his unpredictability. I’d largely had thoroughbred and Irish horses in the past and in the norm, they told you if they were frightened of something well in advance! This gave me plenty of time to give the horse confidence and reassurance about the object of concern.
With Jack – and what I’m now told to be quote common in Warmbloods, there was little and often NO warning. It was on one of these occasions 2 years ago that Jack spooked, slipped on the road and we both fell on our right shoulder, resulting in shock, sore limbs and in addition a broken collar bone for me. It was this incident which fuelled my desire to start from the beginning again.
It’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey. An animal communicator told me that Jack would teach me all I needed to know, and this has been true. The training that I’ve received during the past few years has given me the tools and techniques, but it’s Jack who has taught me how to apply them – how to balance assertiveness with sensitivity.
I’ve learned how to be calm in my body, give simple, clear, effective aids and to praise the slightest effort. This has resulted in Jack being light, responsive, expressive and yet calm at the same time.
We often don’t give horses the credit for their sensitivity – we’re either too impatient to notice their response to our requests, or we’re giving them two or many more requests at the same time and they become confused. Or we perceive their sensitivity as a threat to our safety.
When we recognise how keen horses are to learn, how hard they try to respond to the cues that we give them, make our requests clear, calm and confident we can enjoy their sensitivity and learn to familiarise them with new situations and frightening events rather than trying to shut down their senses.