Do you ever get that feeling like you’re just missing something? Maybe it’s right in front of your face and you just can’t see it? Yeah, me too. Since Duke got here in July, and even before that, my goal with him has been to get us to a (real) show, under saddle, IN A SUIT, all up in front of the public and NOT embarrass ourselves. We have hit roadblock after roadblock (he had an abscess that took forever to heal, I had surgery that put me off for 6 weeks, WINTER, mud, etc). It’s so easy to become frustrated and sit back and say we’ve gotten no where. The wheels of progress turn so slow, and the winds of change are barely blowing.
However, I cannot in all honesty say we have not made any progress. While the progress sitting in the saddle isn’t as noticeable as I wish it were, and we still have quite a way to go to be ready to hit the show ring, there are other areas where the level of progression is much more noticeable. On the ground, he is a different horse. I can put a brush to his face without him running backwards. I can put a blanket on without him running sideways. I can work around him without fear his teeth will take a chunk out of me when I’m not paying attention. I can use a mounting block. He still hates anything being sprayed on him, but we are working on it. He might squat a little but he no longe3r becomes a crash test dummy who would slam himself into anything around just to try and get away.
I have never dealt with such an incredibly sensitive horse in my life. So, what do you do when you have a horse that is so (over) reactive to literally every move you make? You just don’t react. You keep going. You take it slow, but you make it a point to continue on. Don’t panic when they panic, just keep going like nothing is happening. It’s just not your turn to have a meltdown. And it probably never will be.
I can’t say this is the way to go with ALL horses, but with Duke it has proven to work. After MONTHS of flailing my hands around his face, dropping things on purpose, kicking things all around him, touching him with any oddball thing I may be walking through the barn with (a broom, a rake, a pitchfork, a feed bag, a shavings bag, a giant rolling magnet, you get the point) he finally just stands and looks at me like I’m the most ridiculous human on earth with most things. He doesn’t shake in fear, he doesn’t run backwards or sideways or anything else. If I happen to drop something next to him, I don’t have to worry he might take me out on the way to getting the hell out of there, or that he will break the crossties trying to escape his fate. He stands there, 98% of the time. None of us are perfect, I’ll take 98%.
I go by the rule that if you spook at it, you get to wear it or be by it or look at it so you can realize it isn’t scary. It may take a few days of seeing it, being touched by it, etc. Some people might think this is cruel, and to those people I ask: how else are you desensitizing your horses? How are they supposed to understand something isn’t going to hurt them if they aren’t exposed to it? If they are not physically shown there is no harm to come from being “brushed” with a broom or “ridden” by a bag? Or whatever else. Please. Enlighten me. I’m always open to new ideas. Everyone has good ones, and I’m ready to hear them. However, this is what is working so far on my extremely sensitive guy, and he’s no worse for wear. Until a better alternative is offered up or discovered, I will stay the course with this. Do I annoy him? Probably. Is he safer to work around (and even ride) because of it? Absolutely. Does Fizz look at me like I’m a horrible human for “torturing” his brother? Nope. Been there done that is probably laughing from the other side of the divider.
Anyway, just because you can’t see progress every single day doesn’t mean progress isn’t getting made. When you feel you’re in a rut, take a look back at where you were a month ago, 6 months ago, a year ago. Don’t focus on today, yesterday, and the frustrations you may feel in each moment. Don’t look at your end goal and think about how far you have to go still. It can make it seem hopeless, believe me, I get it. Instead, focus on where you came from, where you are, and where you want to be. Adjust along the way if necessary. Look at the big picture. See the whole forest (all the little hurdles you’re jumping on the way), not just one tree (your end goal). It’s OK to trip. It’s OK to stand still and evaluate. It’s OK to proceed with caution. As long as you’re not going backwards, you’re doing all right.