Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Little Things and Fearing the Fear of Fear

Horse training is all about baby steps...
The title is not a typo.  It's just a reflection of how convoluted my brain becomes when I try to approach an old problem with the same old eyes.

The little things...baby steps....  
Last week I spent a sunny hour or so with Dakota, my oddly murky App.  This is a horse who will march down the road amidst honking cars and fuming school buses then lose his mind when the SO's metal detector beeps about another piece of buried aluminum siding.  But for the most part, he's a good horse and fun to hang out with.  So off we went for another post-winter muscle-up in the ring followed by a lazy walk around the hayfield and down the driveway to commune with the neighbors.  

All was well until the neighbor kid fired up the Big Allis tractor in the field with the beef cows.  
Now, 'Kota knows that tractor well.  He sort-of knows the cows, though the population changes every year.  As long as they smell like cows, they're the same in his book.  But the cows don't know the tractor.  So when that muffler-free engine roared into life, they spun and backed up....and so did Dakota.  He followed with a bit of a ballet on tip-toe though no respectable spooking or shying or dumpage of my sad butt.  After a few seconds of heavy breathing (mostly mine) we settled down, the kid apologized, and I dismounted and led my horse not to the tractor (like I said, he knows the tractor) but to the cows.  We stood across the narrow road first until he decided he needed a nose-to-nose confab.  "What was wrong with that tractor?"  He snorted.  They snuffled.  Everyone discussed the muffler issue.  I dangled my fingers over the wire fence, and the cows backed up a step, which delighted Dakota.  "Do that again!"  I did.  They did.  He smiled.

The natural temptation was to just head back to the barn, but I figured we hadn't had a teachable moment in a while, so we walked fifty feet away, then went back to the cows from the other direction--different eye; different cows.  The third visit was head-on.   THEN we went back to the barn, but not for turnout, only to find the mounting block so I could remount without looking like an idiot jumping on one foot to reach the stirrup, and down the driveway we rode again without incident.
I tell this part of the story in explanation of the next part, where I sat in my lawn chair with my iced tea ('Kota loves to share a diet iced tea with me) and with Dakota loose on the lawn beside me... not grazing, not moving around, just standing next to me.  He's never done that before.  I've never listened to him so well before.  We both had a happy day and thanked each other profusely, I with shared iced tea, and he with his whiskers against my upper arm till I chased him away to eat his well-earned grass.

Little things.  Baby steps.  Don't overlook them; they're priceless!
Fear of Fear
Which brings us to Zip.

Have you ever been so afraid that you were afraid of your own fear?  Did you sooooo not want to feel the fear that you simply opted out of the experience?  That's where I was with Zip yesterday.  
Zip doesn't buck, kick, bite, or run me down.  He doesn't jerk the line, pull the reins, or steal my diet lemonade (his preferred libation).  It's not that kind of fear.  I don't fear for my life and limb.  I fear for my spirit.  He's got a problem.  He had a locked rib.  He's had chiropractic and every kind of retraining to make him forget the pain (and my refusal to believe it wasn't stubbornness) and move on with his life.  But he has steadfastly held onto that rib and his belief that it would hurt forever.

Four months of awful winter with no indoor was the most time he's had off ever, and my own fear that our new season would start where the old one left off just fed on itself...and fed....and fed, until I was paralyzed.  Silly, right?  Still, there it was.  Zip, the Grand.  Zip, the Magnificent. Zip, the Impaired.  I didn't want to hear the Horse Study Team's report that he was still as learning disabled as he had been before.  Zip had been my favorite ride prior to his little trailering incident and the three years of chaos that followed.  He's still amazing in his own right, but riding him has become a chore.  Will he make it past 20 minutes today?  Can we get through a tight turn without his trying to remove the girth with his hind leg?  Will he walk at all, or are we going to stand at the mounting block, my legs flapping and his stock-still?
Little things.  Baby steps.  

My instinct was to use the wind (or the color of the footing, or the phase of the moon) as an excuse to blow off his day in the rotation, but waiting in line at Shop Rite, the afternoon with Dakota came back to me.  Home again and renewed (sure it can happen at Shop Rite!), I opted for an intermediate step.  Last week we longed, and we did so with great flair and perfect cadence...and no saddle.  This time we'd just add the saddle.
I'm not going out on a limb here to say everything is right in Zip's world again, but his desire to remove the girth was not in evidence.  There was a bit of a bucking spree when the wind caught the English saddle's flaps and started the whole apparatus bouncing and smacking, stirrups flying off their hooks, but we settled.  And we trotted, and we cantered, and we talked about how we can stand the noise and irritation of all that flapping if we focus on the job at hand....and we did.  

I haven't seen that big Paint in such a good mood in probably two years!  He got his lemonade and I got hugs, and we hung out on the lawn without so much as a whinny for our friends.  And suddenly the little thing was a Really Big Thing for both of us, and the fear of fear just slipped away for now.  

Doesn't get much bigger than that.  

1 comment:

Crowzma said...

Listening. Huge. Zip. Priceless. :)