Confession: my horse and I have largely had the same routine day in and day out, completely stuck in a rut I didn’t realize.
I had been taking lessons then boarding my horse at Lancaster Equestrian Stables for almost eight years. I felt comfortable there, knew the routines and what to expect. Ferrous was there almost as long as me. When I made the decision to move barns to a smaller, private facility I knew there would be an adjustment period. Perhaps, however, I underestimated just how used to a routine we had been. Change certainly has a way of highlighting things.
Take for example a simple thing like cross ties.
Ferrous was well-behaved on cross ties in the aisle at Lancaster, and tied even better in his stall for grooming and tacking. I took it for granted. Imagine my surprise when after a week at the new barn, getting used to the sights and sounds, I walked him into the enclosed wash stall and he balked when I went to put him on the ties.
I had it in my mind to ride him in the indoor arena for the first time. We’d done groundwork and some hand-walking desensitization as well, so I felt pretty confident backing him.
Except I couldn’t get him to relax enough to be cross tied.
I realized quickly that Ferrous wasn’t used to have a wall behind him during washing or tacking and he felt too enclosed. After his refusal to trailer last week, I sensed a theme of claustrophobia.
I spent a few minutes encouraging him to sniff everything and look around, using his brain instead of reacting. But I didn’t want to force anything immediately. I am all about time and patience. We aren’t in a rush and I want him to have positive experiences. After a few minutes of exploring I took him to the breezeway and asked him to stand quietly using just the lead rope to ask him to stand still for brushing. Then I increased the “pressure” and asked him to stand on the cross ties in front of his new stall.
I didn’t push the tacking. Working with horses has taught me to let go of expectations and work with what he gives me. I asked for enough today. Once he stood quietly for a few minutes I took him back to the paddock.
The next day, I asked a little more from him. And within two days of limited sessions he was tacked, ridden in the indoor, and even hosed down in the wash stall. Did I do anything special? No. I acknowledged what made him nervous and presented it over time, and in short duration, so that he could experience it in a positive way and use his brain rather than his instincts.
The need for these small training sessions showed me just how comfortable we were in our old barn, never trying anything new or stepping outside of our comfort zone. I’m a bit proud of myself for doing something different and changing barns, something which gave me incredible anxiety. I have this feeling that we will improve our desensitization (yes, both of us) and improve in our relationship and training by trying new things.