Sunday, January 8, 2012

Regaining Confidence

Although my accident with Pie was almost 7 months ago, I'm still feeling the effects.  My confidence still isn't back to where it was, and I've been mulling over what that's all about.  Part of it, I think, is that, at age 57, I came face to face with mortality. When I had my kick-in-the jaw back in 2009 with Dawn, that made me realize that horses are big and that they can actually hurt you badly (I'm still having dental work done to deal with the effects) - don't ask me why but in all my many years of working with horses that had never really been something I was worried about.  It took me a while to get over that - it was months before I was comfortable handling Dawn's feet (although I did it every day) and a while before she and I could work well together.  Then when I came off Pie and was seriously injured and ended up in the hospital, that was a whole additional level of awareness of how badly you can be hurt working with horses.  My concussion was so serious that for the first couple of days I was in the hospital, no one knew if I would recover or have permanent brain damage - and this was despite the fact I was wearing a helmet - which ended up with a 4-inch crack in it.  (By the way, this isn't an argument against wearing a helmet - they can't protect you from everything - but if I hadn't been wearing a helmet, I would probably be dead or a vegetable - wear one every time - there are no excuses.)  Every time I ride now, I'm aware in a subconscious sense that at any time, no matter my level of skill, I could die or be permanently injured. This was never part of my awareness until now, and it's difficult to integrate with my self-image (deserved or not) as a competent rider and handler of horses.

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There are definate effects of this new "awareness", that I have to deal with and in some cases work around, in order to get back to working comfortably with horses.

One of my goals this year with my horses is to be persistant within each work session, making sure that I don't quit until the change I'm looking for starts to come through - that way the horse has something to take forward until next time (it's always fascinated me how much horses learn between work sessions - it's clear that they're consciously or unconsciously mulling things from one session to the next).  If the horse never reaches a point where he or she has "got it", at least in part, it's hard for links in the chain of learning to be built.  I also have to be sure not to avoid particular things just because they may be difficult for the horse, and have to be willing to let the horse try out wrong solutions until the horse himself comes up with the right solution - this is much more valuable than simply telling the horse what to do.  It's not the easiest thing to do, however, as I know from my ground work with Drifter - taking the horse outside his comfort zone (but not too far) and making sure holes in training are filled in sometimes results in some pretty ugly stuff until the horse figures things out and finds the place where comfort is available - that softness must always be continuously on offer.  There's a tendency (certainly true for me) to want to avoid struggles and stress, or just to get in there and "fix" things by demanding/telling the horse the answer - I think quite often we fuss too much rather than let the horse have the time and space to figure things out.  I think, however, that horses learn to find the solution and the security that there will be a place where things are OK partly through our giving them this space to do so, and this increases their confidence in us.

And then there's the struggle to regain my own confidence, particularly with Pie on the trail, and also with my ability to deal with Drifter's histrionics.  For me, this also involves taking myself outside my comfort zone, so that I can have the resolution of my anxiety level coming down again, and again - every time I get that relief it reinforces my confidence.  So I'm trying to set myself up with specific challenges that stretch the boundaries of my confidence, while building in some factors that will promote success - just like with my horses.  With Drifter, I'm getting some quality coaching from my daughter - who's got an exceptional eye for what's going on in the interaction between horse and rider/handler - so that Drifter and I can both progress together and find soft spots together.  With Pie, my anxiety is higher on the trail, so I'm got my husband going on walks with us - Pie appreciates his company at points where I get nervous and might make him nervous - barking dogs, fast-moving bicycles or children, minor spooks - so that I can calm down and give him confidence again.  Every time my anxiety spikes and I calm back down is a reward that reinforces my confidence - I want as many of those as I can get on each ride.  Today we were out for almost an hour, and both ended better than we started.

Slow progress, but we have to start somewhere and every step forward is important . . .

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