An icy paddock means no self-exercise for my four-hooved child sporting steel shoes on a slippery surface. He may as well be ice skating which, frankly, I don’t even want to think about.
And ice plunging in thunderous chunks from the roof of the indoor arena while my baby is struggling to hold himself together? Well, the sky may as well be falling.
Yesterday I arrived at the barn ready to ride. I was feeling good following a weekend of low energy and exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue has, in the short term, severely cramped my active life style and I live day to day, making very few plans and getting lots of rest. Because I felt well yesterday and it was so beautiful and sunny after a weekend of snow and below zero, I was looking forward to spending some time in the saddle.
It was our usual routine … I fetched Bear from his paddock, groomed him, tacked him up, put on my helmet and headed to the arena for some play time. In the aisle outside the arena we stopped briefly so I could make a final adjustment to Bear’s bridle. That’s when I heard it … the unmistakable crash, bang, wallop of ice plummeting from the roof — the warning to re-think my strategy
And I knew there was no way to work around it. Bear had heard the crashing too. His ears pricked earnestly toward the arena door; his eyes bulging like painted brown ping pong balls and his nostrils fluttering with worry told me his focus was not on me and wouldn’t be until this stress had been addressed.
Just like that my plan to ride was shattered much like the ice crashing from the roof under the mid-day sun.
So, we went to Plan ‘B.”
I removed Bear’s tack, left it on the saddle tree and lead Bear, all on his toes and worried, into the arena. I could see by his expression that the only way to get by the fear was to go through it, so I unhooked the lead shank from his halter and let him rip.
Bear tore around that 200ft x 70ft arena like he was being chased by the devil himself.
Letting him loose and watching him shake his demons is awe-inspiring. Sometimes my heart feels like it’s jumping and skipping in time with his arhythmic shenanigans as he bucks and snorts and reels and chases around me sometimes at such a velocity I almost can’t watch. And when the ice clunks down along the outside of the walls and crashes to the ground you’d think, given his leaping over-reaction, that the sky was indeed falling.
Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin, with whom I worked for a while, says horses, because of their prey nature, are “victims waiting to happen.” This is evident to me every time I see, and feel, my horse spook at nothing. It’s almost as if he’s looking for something to worry about. So imagine his animation when he supposes there is something (a chunk of ice) crouching in the shadows waiting to pounce upon him.
I’ve learned to let Bear get things out of his system in his own way and time. It took about 10 minutes for him to come to terms with his ice demons. He finally stopped about 20 feet away from me, puffing and blowing out what remained of his anxiety, and lowered his head to signal he was done having a hissy fit. But I wasn’t so sure, and since we had the time I decided to test his new head space.
I walked to him and gave him a pat on the neck. His sides were heaving from his exertion but his eye was soft, telling me he was feeling just fine. I turned and he followed me, of his own free will, to the centre of the arena where we stopped. I rewarded him with a sugar cube and then walked another five feet in front before turning to face him again. Bear was relaxed, his head low, floppy ears twitching to the sound of my voice. My “victim” had become a quiet, confident horse.
Or had he?
We stood quietly for a while. Whenever his gaze wandered I brought him back to me simply by shifting, ever-so slightly, my body language. When he took a step toward me, I asked him to step back. This continued for about 10 minutes until he paid me the ultimate compliment — a great, big, fat yawn. This didn’t mean he was bored. Far from it. In fact, he was totally relaxed and engaged in my presence, which is as it should be.
Then the test for which I’d been waiting.
“Crash … bang … rumble, rumble … crash … ker-plunk … boom!
Directly behind him outside and as loud as any of the others we’d witnessed a sheet of ice crashed from the roof.
And Bear did … nothing. Okay, he flinched, a little, but his attention remained on me; he didn’t move. He trusted me enough to stay connected to me during an episode which 20 minutes earlier would have sent him reeling. And I didn’t have to do anything but be there with him. He figured it out all on his own and I had the pleasure of participating in his process.
This is one of my favourite things about being with Bear — together we work through our individual and collective demons, building trust on the ground and in the saddle.
I probably could have ridden Bear after that, but decided not to bother. We’d already succeeded and were feeling good about it. Instead we went back to his stall where he was fussed over and spoiled with carrots … the perfect way to end our visit.
Today is overcast so with any luck the ice, whatever’s left of it, will hold, the sky will not fall and Bear and I will enjoy saddle play.
Of course, there’s always Plan “B.”
Nurture what you love …
Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012