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Stress Transfer

One of the marks of a good horseman is the ability to be self aware enough to know when a horse's behavior/excitement etc... is coming from the horse, the environment or coming from the energy you are projecting. It is so much easier to blame the horse for the issues or inconsistencies in behavior or being amped up and so much harder to take an introspective approach to make sure you aren't contributing to or causing the problem.


I had a lesson with a student this week that is going through a lot in her personal life right now. PLUS she had a crazy day leading up to the lesson. I rode the horse before she did and I had a fantastic ride. As soon as she got on the horse he just wanted to jig and lope and go fast. He had no ability to settle hardly at all with her on his back. I was so proud of her for recognizing that she had an "electric" stress energy that she was projecting! She was practicing a lot of emotional control and determination to even have her lesson this week. As another human sharing the interaction for an hour with her I only knew she was stressed by what she chose to share with me about what was going on. Which, by the way, as a trainer I super appreciate these confidential conversations that provide me with some context. If I didn't have the context, and she didn't have the self awareness, it would have been hard for me to figure out what was going on between her and her horse that day. To my eye, her tension and stress energy was basically invisible. But that horse knew right away something was wrong and immediately felt like he needed to move his feet and get activated into flight mode himself, mirroring her state.


When we go through traumatic or stressful seasons our nervous systems become dis-regulated. This means that we spend more time in fight, flight or freeze mode than we do in safe/social mode. We may be losing sleep, we may not be eating well or taking care of ourselves, we may feel exhausted, depleted, emotional, numb, untethered, afraid or many other states that signal to our horses that we are not ok. Our horse's nervous systems, as herd animals, are highly tuned to stress signals from animals in their immediate environment, us included. Plus, we amplify this stress communication by climbing on their backs in a dis-regulated state we could accidentally cause all kinds of strange stress behaviors in our horse. It is up to us to have enough self-awareness to know when we don't have the ability that day to give our horse what they need. And we also have to be gracious enough and respectful enough of our horses to acknowledge when they can't give us what we needed emotionally that day either.


On days like this maybe hand grazing your horse, or doing some grooming and just enjoying each others company would be the best thing you could do for both of you. Are you willing to set your goals to the side or be creative about reaching them in order to give yourself some time and space to work though some of the tough times that life is throwing at you? You deserve to cut yourself some slack and allow yourself the extra time and space to heal, recover and rest. You are allowed to have a bad day with lower expectations on yourself. Take all the time you need to breathe, survive and get through it. Your riding goals will still be there for you when you get to feeling better.

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