Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Addressing Fear - Part II

Previous posts in this series:
Addressing Fear - Part I

When I was a child, I was fairly fearless around horses. My family vacationed at a cabin in the mountains next to a pasture full of horses. I'd climb under the fence and play games like tag and hide-n-seek with them. My brother used to call me "Dr. Doolittle" because I talked to the animals and they seemed to understand.

However, when I went to an Arabian horse farm to look at buying my first horse at the age of 33, I was on guard. The breeder put a beautiful bay 4-year-old gelding in the cross-ties and was showing me how to groom the horse when her husband fired up the tractor. The horse spooked and threw its body around, trying to break out of the cross-ties. I jumped into a stall, just missing getting knocked down by the horse's swinging hind-end. My reaction convinced the horse that he really did have something to fear, so he began rearing and thrashing even harder. The breeder got him under control and continued her demonstration of grooming. I was visibly shaking after that and told the breeder that particular horse was too nervous for me. I'm a nervous person and that doesn't mix well with a nervous horse.

I ended up buying Bombay as a yearling, which was probably not the best choice for a first-time horse owner. First-time horse owners need well-trained, thoroughly experienced geldings. I was aware of that, but I had fallen in love with a yearling colt, and everyone knows that when you are in love, no one can convince you of the faults of the object of your affection.

Before our barn was built, I would walk Bombay across the street from where I was boarding him to my lot filled with weeds and let him run wild. I wanted to get Bombay used to our property before I brought him over permanently once the barn was built. Each time I brought him over, the next-door neighbor would call me over to the fence to talk. Bombay would get rambunctious and gallop back and forth along the fence line charging at me. I jumped out of the way, which was a mistake. I should have kept my longe whip with me and cracked it at him each time he came near me.

When I lead him between my field and his boarding stable, a neighbor's dog often approached us to greet us. Bombay always panicked and jumped into me, sometimes stepping on my feet. This made me tense whenever I had to lead him somewhere. I was on pins and needles worrying about him jumping into me with one of his tremendous spooks. I now know that I should have carried a riding crop and smacked his shoulder with it as soon as he crowded me. You have to teach a horse to keep a respectable distance right away. It's for your own protection. Horses are a lot bigger than people. A smack from a riding crop will cause just a little sting to the horse, but a hoof on a foot can break bones.

Each time I walked my horse along the street outside of fences, I feared not being able to hold him. He was a dynamo and wanted to prance everywhere he went. I attached a long line to his halter out of fear that a lead rope was too short. My logic was that the long line was long enough that I could regain my grip on some section of it while he is running off. I now know that was a mistake. A long line is long enough to get me or the horse's legs tangled in it. If your horse runs off, you don't want him dragging anything behind him. It's better to use a lead rope and give it a tug to keep his attention on you if he looks like he's going to bolt. If the horse does get away from you, he will usually run back to what he considers home. If not, you can try to herd him back to where you want him, or wait until he settles into eating some grass and catch him.

When Bombay was old enough to ride, his trainer tried to encourage me to ride him for the first time, but I kept chickening out. I'd look at this huge horse whose head was straight up in the air, nostrils snorting, tail arched in excitement, and I'd tell her I wasn't ready. She'd sigh and climb aboard him herself and make him do his paces around the pen while I watched. I'm sure if he were an old, half-asleep stable horse, I would not have hesitated to ride him, but the spirit and beauty of this young Arabian gave me the impression that he was about to explode and fly off into the sunset, leaping fences as he goes. I didn't think I could keep up with him.

It did seem ridiculous that I bought this horse as a yearling, paid for all his board, feed, veterinary work, and farrier work for three years (not to mention a truck, horse trailer, barn, and fencing) and when the time came to ride him, I couldn't do it. Something deep down in the core of me was terrified, while the rest of me could not wait to place a foot in the stirrup. The fear in me won until my husband offered to hold Bombay with a lead rope and lead us around at a walk. He slowly weaned me off of his presence by releasing us, but staying close by, and then just sticking around to help me mount, and eventually letting me do it all myself.

I don't remember much about those first times I rode him, but I do remember our wreck vividly, which I will describe in Addressing Fear - Part III. Having a fear of horses is healthy and logical, but there are ways to deal with horses that help you increase your confidence around them. It comes down to educating yourself and your horse, setting boundaries so that your horse knows what you expect of him. Once you are on the same page, you can be more comfortable together.


Rising Rainbow said...

Boy do I get buying a first horse that is not suited to a beginner, but if I could go back I wouldn't do it differently.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Oh boy, do I know about getting more leary. A few years ago I got to spend the night in the hospital after a lady I helped with a TB mare and colt let the mare go before I got the colt let go. Momma double barreled me in the side-broke 3 ribs in the back and 3 or 4 in the front(one was completely broke off-I could feel it moving around-Yuck). I was lucky that she didn't break my leg but I have a permanent dent in the thigh muscle now. Lovely-I have one saddlebag-LOL.
I never thought that I would ever be nervous around horses-but I find myself a lot more jumpy around loose horses than I ever used to be. I find myself demanding even more respect and space from my horses.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rising - I wouldn't do it differently either. Though I made a lot of mistakes in raising Bombay, it must have been a good experience, because I went out and bought myself another yearling when there were plenty of older, wiser horses out there to choose from.

Browneyed - I don't blame you for demanding more respect and space after and incident like that. I've been pushing my horses back more aggressively because they start kicking at each other in anticipation feeding time, and their antics got too close to me one day. Now as soon as I see them pinning their ears back at each other, I make them scatter.