Lightbulb Moments

Sometimes, when working with an animal (especially a smart animal), you can literally SEE the moment something “clicks”. Image had one of those moments today, and it was the best thing ever.

Saturday was lather, rinse, repeat in terms of what we did. I had an anxious, unhappy horse at the end of my lines. He started out a little bit on edge, so we worked on lunging a bit just to get his brain a little more focused. I am still emphasizing “slow and steady” with him, and probably always will be. He has gotten much, much better at walking when I give the command. This is fabulous, not only because he “gets” it…but because turning him in tiny circles around me makes me dizzy!

Shortly after, I hooked up the long lines and spent about a half an hour walking a few paces and stopping for about five minutes until he calmed down just a fraction. Thankfully, nothing he does is dangerous or out of control — just panicky and fidgety for a horse that is otherwise quiet and composed. I am no longer convinced his issues are directly related to the bit, because even with the side pull, he throws his head down and forward to escape any pressure, real or imagined, at the halt. He is constantly chewing with his mouth, with or without a bit in there, which looks to me like it’s anxiety related. The only time he does either of these things is when I’m behind him and he’s on the lines.

I called it a day after I got a semi-quiet halt for thirty seconds, and brought him back inside. He snuffled my hair and heaved a massive sigh when I came back into his eye line, and all the tension left his body. He REALLY does not like it when he can’t see me, and I’m asking him to do things. Ground work where he can have at least one eye and one ear on me at all times? No problem. However, if I go into his blind spot and start asking things of him, it’s cause for panic. Nothing really gets him to settle except for me stepping back into his field of vision. It’s a difficult situation, because I don’t like to get him so worked up that he quits thinking, but I also don’t want to perpetuate the issue.

I spent the car ride home lost in thought. Now, his past after the last five years, is mostly unknown. God only knows what he went through. It’s not really worth speculating on at this point, because there isn’t anything I can do about it. The only thing I can do, is try and fix his future. However, at my normal round of psychiatric appointments this past week, my psychiatrist, who is very sweet and doesn’t know a thing about horses, said something that made me realize that my initial instincts weren’t too far off. When I told her, in layman’s terms, how Image was acting, she nodded thoughtfully and replied with: “You know, he sounds like he has PTSD and a secondary anxiety disorder. Have you spoken to his doctor about putting him on Prozac?”

She was 100% serious, which made me feel a bit bad, because I may or may not have burst into laughter. I gently explained that horses don’t work the same way as people (or dogs, as dogs can be prescribed the anti-depressant) and that horses had their own versions of anti-anxiety medications that can be bought “over the counter”, so to speak. Anyway, it made me think back to when I first started talking to B last year. I may not have a psychology degree, but my various experiences have made it pretty easy to put a name to a set of symptoms. Pony PTSD was the first thing I thought when B described Image’s reactions to things. After working with him for the past two months (has it only been two months!?), I’d still call it that. It may sound silly, but it helps me understand how to work with him, and how to work through his issues. It’s no secret that my past was bumpy, and it’s left me with some emotional baggage that I have to fight against every day. I was diagnosed with PTSD five or six years ago, and have yet to rid myself of the label. I may never fully “recover”. That’s something I’m going to have to learn how to live with. When it comes to Image, there may be things in his brain that simply can’t be rewired at this point in time. There may always be things that “trigger” his panic button. It’s kind of a scary thought, to be honest.

I can’t focus on that part of it, though. If that’s all I saw, then this journey would have never started. So, this morning, having thought all of this through last night, I trekked up to the barn. Image met me at the gate and stood like a stone for a quick once over in the barn so I could saddle him up. I’ve been working him lately with my saddle on, mostly because I’d like him to get used to the concept of the saddle on his back, and I can run the lines through the stirrups to keep them from hitting the ground.

The ring was much squishier than it has been in awhile today, so I was able to lunge a bit and work on some flexing before hooking the lines up. I positioned myself behind him, and clucked him forward.

I was prepared for his usual head up, tense, power walking. I got about five strides of that, and all of a sudden…it just clicked. Something changed. Maybe he finally realized that the voice behind him was mine, and that there was no way I was going to hurt him. I don’t know what fell into place, but it did. We got five or six good, CALM laps around the ring in each direction. Each lap was peppered with halts, which were mostly quiet except for his anxious chewing habit. There was no dancing back and forth, no attempts to rush back into a walk. Just solid halts and an easygoing forward pace. He wasn’t completely relaxed, but there definitely wasn’t the “oh my good God what is going to happen to me” air about him.

I nearly cried.

I didn’t push it much more than that. We got back to the front of the ring, and as I went to move to his head, he moved off around me. Oops. When I go to unclip the lines, I keep hold of both lines as I walk up to his head, keeping the outside line draped over his back. He usually stands stock still, but for whatever reason, he moved off away from me. I reined him in a circle, and nearly burst into tears again. There was only slight pressure on the lines from me, but it was just enough for him to step into the most perfect little four beat rack I’ve ever seen him do. I pushed him forward a bit (“punishment” for walking off without being asked to), and asked him to stop. He did, and I was able to get the lines off of him without an issue.

I spent the next hour buffing and pampering him. I probably got about 10 pounds of hair off of him, which makes me happy. I’m so excited to see him all slicked out! I also bit the bullet and did something I had been meaning to do for awhile — checked his sheath. Ew. Sheath cleaning is probably my least favorite thing about owning a gelding. I donned a rubber glove and poked around in there a bit. Glad I did, because he was due. A little Excalibur (warmed up in my hands, poor guy!) and some water later, and he’s mostly clean in there. Nothing like having someone walk into the barn while you’re wrist deep in your gelding’s sheath! He didn’t protest…actually, I’m pretty sure I saw him pointing and wiggling his lip a few times. Sigh. GP liked having his sheath cleaned too. I think I’d rather have a horse that puts up a bit of a fight…makes me feel a little less gross when I’m done. Hah!

“Hello. I’m adorable. :D”

Cookies plz. Kthx.

Today was awesome and I am so proud of him. I don’t expect he’ll give me this same performance from here on out, but I feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction now! This week will be interesting, as I am house sitting up north and will be able to see him Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if I skip out on one of the Easter gatherings I’ve been invited to)…and I won’t have to drive an hour home. Woo!

In unrelated news, my camera lens has gone to the Big Camera Bag in the Sky 😦 I’ll be limited to cell phone pictures for awhile. Excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep over this particular bit of information.

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