Several years ago, when I first got back into horses after a seven-year haitus, I had a problem. Almost nothing I remembered from a youth spent in stables full of domestic horses applied to my seven, wild Barbs that, according to someone I used to respect, "almost nobody can train."
The Arabian I bought to help ease my transition turned out to be not the well-started trail horse I'd been promised, but an extremely emotional greenie whose mind had been fried by hasty training. Instead of having a horse to ride while I figured out the Barbs, I had another problem.
So, I did what I usually do when I encounter problems: I researched. My logic was that if I could understand how my horses perceived and understood their world, I'd be able to figure out how to lead them through it. I devoured scores of websites and books on the subject. My favorite, which I re-read at least once a year, is Lucy Rees' The Horse's Mind. A second favorite, more focused on actual training techniques, is Building Your Dream Horse, by Charles Wilhelm.
All that reading went a long way toward preparing me to train. What it couldn't cure, however, was my physical response to the occasional crises that are bound to occur when you're working with ungentled or, especially, green horses. I remember several times, early in Aaruba's trail experience, when I slid gratefully from the saddle, post crisis, with numb hands and quadriceps turned to water.
Over the miles, I became increasingly adept at the kind of forced relaxation that a person can require of her body despite racing mind and pounding heart. That skill proved useful, but it wasn't enough. Horses are too sensitive to our thoughts and emotions to be tricked by good acting. So what was I to do? I figured I had two choices: Get over it, or take up knitting.
I hate knitting.
One of my best friends is a fighter. Not only is he highly trained in the martial arts, but he's lived through the kind of encounters most of us only see in movies. Recently, we got to talking about adrenaline's impact on the body and mind. "The cure for drowning in the adrenaline flood," he said, "is desensitization through graduated exposure."
I thought about that conversation today while Consolation and I were out on her fourth training ride of the season. Our trek featured the usual array of temper tantrums, teleport spooks, and coltish enthusiasm. We also had an attempted bolt.
Go ahead and say I have control issues, but I don't like being on a bolting horse. It's dangerous. It's scary. On it's surface, of course, it's not that big a deal. The horse is only running. It'll stop. All I have to do is stay aboard ...unless we encounter traffic, barbed wire, slick footing... It's the contengencies that scare me.
Anyway, today's monster was a sneezing calf. Consolation shot forward like a bar of soap in hot bathwater. I caught her in three strides, with low hands and molassas voice, and had resumed a pleasant trot before I realized that I'd hardly felt the burst of electricity across my chest. It had been there; I recognized its aftertaste. But it hadn't impacted my ability to deal with the situation.
I guess my friend was right when he said, "with additional experiences, [adrenaline's] effect diminishes, which is to say, you learn to compensate for it." Huh. All those miles astride Aaruba really have changed me as a rider. It's one of the many gifts for which I thank him.
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