We’re in the 90 day territory of Bear’s long 120-day rehab.
How time flies.
What was daunting three months ago has become a routine; a new rhythm which, a month from now, will change again as we embark on the next phase of his healing journey. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, he’s been such a good boy about recent his limited lifestyle. But then … it wasn’t spring.
Yes, spring has sprung and with it the vagaries of temperament it brings.
Last weekend Bear’s “girlfriend,” Heidi, returned from her two-month stint in Florida. That was exciting enough, but add to that the fact she was also in full season and well the boys, notwithstanding they’re all geldings, were all pretty excited. Especially my darling cooped up Bear.
He was a regular Romeo ~ my normally well-behaved boy reeling with spring fever.
I would say happily, but he really wasn’t. When we went outside for his walk, Heidi galloped all the way across the paddock screaming for him. Naturally, this had Bear all excited ~ on his toes, head in the air, ears pricked, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging. He voiced his own ear-piercing screams in response. And I’m standing at the other end of the lead line wondering what the heck I’m going to do to calm my love-starved boy down.
First of all, I couldn’t allow him to exacerbate his healing injury and secondly, I didn’t want to get trampled. Somehow I had to get his focus back on me and away from the femme fatale. The first thing to do was to get him walking again and indoors. This required assertiveness without aggression, and total presence of mind.
Once indoors he came back to me fairly quickly, but was still on his toes. Normally, I would turn him loose in the arena to work out his anxiety on his own, however with his injury this was not an option. So, while he continued screaming for Heidi and acting like the proverbial hormonal teenage boy we returned to bare bone basics, hearkening back to exercises I’d learned while studying natural horsemanship with Chris Irwin. We spent a half hour doing in-hand work at the walk.
Since he was obviously stuck in a disturbing energy the only thing to do was to get him focused on moving out of it by going forward. As he was intent upon walking circles around me I let him lead the way, keeping a firm connection in-hand and calmly guiding those circles all over the arena. I remained conscious of my breathing and encouraged him to come down from his exhilarated state by audibly exhaling slowly so he could connect with my own calm energy. I talked gently to him and gave him praise whenever I recognized a noticeable shift.
With the dressage whip, which is a neutral instrument until we put our own energy into it, I gently tapped him on the shoulder or in the belly area when he absently crowded my space. I needed to reconnect him to the idea of safe boundaries and being present, with me. There was no drama involved. Elevating my own energy was not going to calm Bear down. I simply needed de-escalate his exhilaration by channelling his overwrought energy into an underwhelming task.
By the time we’d walked 15, or so, forward, 10 metre circles all around the arena his energy had already de-escalated. To finish and ensure we were completely on side with one another, we did one of my favourite awareness exercises. I call it “Eyes on Me.”
We stand facing each other about six feet, or so, apart. (Usually we can do this with him untethered but in light of his injury I kept him on a loose line). I keep him at that distance (creating a boundary) by simply pointing the dressage whip at his shoulder or tapping him gently on the knees when he wants to move closer. I need him to respect the boundary I’ve created for both our sakes.
The idea is to get him to keep his eyes on me. When his mind drifts or his attention is distracted by something which causes him to turn his head away, I regain his attention by shifting my body weight in the opposite direction to invite his attention back into the connected space we share. After a few minutes of this he’s generally licking and chewing and yawning, demonstrating to me that he’s fully back in his body and in my presence, and feeling good about it. We can stand there for 15 minutes and enjoy the most peaceful communion just being in the moment together. It’s amazing.
This was done to good affect on Sunday, and I was pleased. It just proved to me again that positively channelling excess energy in a constructive way can help to offset anxieties that can quickly overwhelm. I used to do this a lot with Bear when he was younger. It’s a gentle way to help desensitize the anxious horse when ice is falling off the roof, or a storm is rolling in the distance. Soon they learn to trust that the safest place is with their human companion … and isn’t that what we want?
Personally, this exercise has taught me that when I’m feeling anxious it’s helpful to distract myself with something that grounds me again. Listening to soothing music, reading a good book, or simply hanging out with Bear usually does the trick.
When we returned to the barn Bear was feeling mellow yellow. I was so glad to have had the presence of mind and skill behind me to guide Bear through a potentially volatile situation, without getting either of us more worked up or hurt.
After a thorough grooming, he returned to his new digs (yes, he now has a room with a view across the aisle from his old stall) and I spoiled him with treats. He’d earned it.
When I left to go home Bear was contentedly munching on hay … oh yes, and dreaming up his latest sonnet which, of course, his alter ego, Shakespeare, later summoned me to transcribe.
What can I say? I’m a pushover for a writing assignment …
With spring upon the air there is no doubt
The wistful thoughts that populate my mind.
Yet dwell upon them not lest I should pout,
Forgetting gentle deeds of those so kind.
Tis stuck indoors I’ve been these many weeks
And cabin fever’s cramped my usual style,
Still, liberty toward me slowly creeps
And renders ‘pon long face a welcome smile.
For lately in the warm delight of day
When mother’s love hath led me in the sun,
I feast upon fresh shoots and wisps of hay
Reminding me this journey’s almost done.
For winter hath released its icy hold
And once again spring’s warmth I feel, not cold.
Nurture what you love …
©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015