In this video I talk the importance of being able to regulate my emotions and nervous system when I am around horses. Horses are incredibly in tuned with our emotions and nervous systems, especially ‘red’ horses that are more sensitive and reactive. It’s hard to teach and expect your horse to be regulated in their nervous system and to be in control of their emotions if we aren’t able to do this in our own body and emotions. I feel this is such an important aspect of good leadership with horses. Andrea L. Bell explains “Self-regulation of biological creatures (such as you and me) occurs on many different levels. For example, someone who has good emotional self-regulation has the ability to keep their emotions in check. They have a flexible range of emotional and behavioral responses that are well matched to the demands of their environment. Thanks to neuroplasticity, the adaptability of our nervous systems, humans are fortunately able to improve their emotional self-regulation over time”.
It has taken me years to be aware of and develop these skills when I am working with horses. I am now self-regulated most of the time I am around horses but there are still some occasions when I am outside my comfort zone or operating outside my ‘window of tolerance’ and I have to stop and check in with what’s going on in my body and my emotions. Every tiny thing I do with my body position, my body posture, my movements, my energy and my emotional state has such a HUGE impression on him. From the moment I walked in the round pen the first day I started communicating with him. I am using the most subtle forms of ‘pressure and release’ through my body and energy and most importantly I adjust this at just the right time while reading all his thresholds. This is how I develop a language and communication with him. All these subtle and refined communication skills is what helps him build so much trust and confidence in me in the coming days. I try and avoid ‘stimulus stacking’ when working with horses. I tune in and read how much stimuli I can put on each individual horse and work them in their own individual ‘window of tolerance’ and then allow them time and space to come down and process the stimulus.
When I work with horses I am constantly reading what they are thinking and how they are feeling. I never want them to go into flight mode (run, bolt, buck, explode), freeze mode (shut down) or fight mode (defensive behaviour; ear pinning, biting, tail swishing, striking, rearing). A horse may display any of these above ‘displaced’ behaviour but it’s not normal the last thing that caused the displaced behaviour, it was just the last straw from the buildup of all the stimulus stacking. Stimulus stacking can be caused from: applying too much pressure, not releasing the pressure at the right time, not allowing enough time for the horse to let down and relax in between or just inconsistent communication cues that lead to frustration, confusion, anxiety and stress in a horse. Megan Simpson explains it well “trigger stacking is the buildup of multiple stressors or stimulus that occur at the same time, or close together, resulting in the horse’s fight or flight response being activated. The resulting behaviour can be expressed as bucking, bolting, rearing, kicking, or biting, for example, or a combination of unwanted behaviours.
The horse however is simply expressing itself in a way completely appropriate to how they are feeling” Towards the end of the video I am able to touch his neck with a lot more rhythmic movement in my stick because I desensitized him to another level through my ‘bad dancing’ (bigger rhythmic movements) at a distance. He is the type of horse that doesn’t want to move his feet a lot, he has a high startle response but has more of a tendency to freeze (shut down) if he was put under too much pressure (at the moment it wouldn’t take much). I believe he would go into fight mode rather than flight mode. I feel he would develop a lot of defensive displaced behaviours such as pinning his ears, screwing up his muzzle, swishing his tail, snaking his neck and/or biting if I was to go too fast or put too much pressure on him. At the end of the session I was able to rub on him more and then I wanted to leave him while he was relaxed and interested in me and then he wanted to follow me towards the gate which was really nice.