Saturday, February 7, 2009

Steps 5- Baby Steps

My 10 Step "I am scared of horses" Recovery Program is based on my personal journey- on both what I did to overcome my fear as well as what, in retrospect, I wish I had done differenly. Up until now all of the steps that we have covered where ones that I took consciously at the time- whereas the steps going forward are based on a few simple principles that I learned through trial and error and am just now able to reflect on and put to words.

Which leads us to....

Step 5: Baby Steps

Do you remember how in Step 4 we defined your comfort zone? Well, now its time to put it to use!

In my case, it was not until the first ten minutes of my clinic with Shaunti last November that I was able to establish any comfort zone at all while I had a horse in hand (on a line or lead rope)...

At the beginning of the clinic I was given a new tool (a carrot stick) and a task (see below) that allowed me to find a narrow little comfort zone wherein I actually feel confident while having a horse on line. The simple task I was given was both easily accomplished and surprisingly effective....

This was an exercise wherein everyone in the clinic was told to draw a hoola hoop size circle in the sand around our feet and then pace off about six paces and draw another large circle about twice the width of your horse and one and a half lengths as long. That looked something like this:

(These drawings are for all of you that were under the mistaken impression that I was some kind of artist!)

We were then told to go and get our horses (there were 10 or 12 of us in this clinic) and when we came back were were suppose to stand in our little circle and, without taking a step out of your own space and by using only your stick or body language- get your horse into his circle. So I fetched Shaunti from his stall (heart racing, legs shakin' and cold sweat on my brow terrified but determined that I could at least get my horse from the stall to the arena.... though secretly wanting to run home and hide my head under the bed...) But I managed to get there and back in one piece .....and afterall I was armed with a shiney new carrot stick and a fancy rope halter!

Anyways, we were told that the trick was to, at the moment your horse stepped foot in that circle, even if it was to pass through it, drop your stick, drop the line (gave it a lot of slack) and go quiet (let your body go limp) ...once he had passed through the circle or outside of the lines, you were to pick back up your stick, your line, and your energy and try to redirect him back to the circle. Once your horse was standing with all fours inside that circle, we were ignore him completely- unless he moved a foot out of their circle.

So we all did our best, some better than others but within 10 minutes every single horse in our clinic was standing within their circle. Some pawed, some called to their buddies and some went to sleep, but not one of them moved from their allotted space. It was like magic. The key was not that they recognized the little circle drawn in the a matter of fact, most of our circles had been smudged beyond recognition by that point, it was that we (I) had stopped moving and stopped exerting even the tiniest bit of pressure on our horses (so long as they stood where we told them to stand)...and as such the horses had learned that there was a magic little sweet spot wherein they could turn us off! Not visa versa!

Until that moment I had no idea how acutely horses read our body energy and actions as pressure. It was nearly impossible for some of us not to nit pick or over correct our horses- to just leave them alone and make our bodies go quiet as we had expected our horses too. What I found was my first tenuous foothold of a comfort zone- on which I hoped to build.

What I also began to notice was how important it was that as soon as we understood the concept of a technique, we were given a task which allowed us to practice using our new tool. Whether you call them drills, patterns or challenges, the central concept remains the same- you need an objective! Both you and your horse need a purpose behind what you are doing so that you can direct your mind and use your tool with a specific objective in mind- whether that be sending him through two barrels or loading him in a trailer...

So what does this have to do with "Baby Steps"... well... the task that I was given was simple, clear, direct, and just outside of my comfort zone. If that first task I was given was to get on our horses and ride them around a barrel pattern, I'd have been lost! If it had been to make your horse walk quietly beside you at a walk, I'd have been lost. As it was I was scared and nervous about the task that I was given but luckily it was just..... just within my gaining that foothold I was able to establish a small comfort zone on which to build. I learned to use that comfort zone as a protective bubble wihin which I felt safe, confident and in control.... a place that I could come back to when things got rough.

Having that bubble gave me the confidence I needed to step out of my comfort zone, maybe one step....a baby step, but a step! order to face the next challenge with the confidence of having my back up bubble standing by just in case. With each challenge I met, my bubble of confidence that it eventually included handling my horse in the arena, sending him through obsticles, walking him to and from the arena , standing in his stall to brush him, etc..

What took me a little while to understand was that I needed to take baby steps, tasks that were well within the reach of my bubble so that if I stepped out and took on a challenge that proved to be too much, if things got out of hand or I felt too threatened, I could quickly and easily step back into my bubble, pick up a tool that I had already mastered, and step back armed and ready with a new game plan....

Which brings us to....

Step 6 and 7... tomorrow!


  1. All I can say is...EXACTLY!!

    I love your writing style. It is so clear and concise.

  2. First of all, I love your!!! Don't worry, we still know that you are an amazing artist. :)

    Second of all, can I second what BEC said???

  3. Baby steps are wonderful!! It's amazing how if much you can get acomplished when you work towars smaller goals geared towards the big goal. I am scared to ride my four year old gelding, so I am now riding my kid's gelding, which is a 20 year old, and then going to send Ozzie to a trainer. Then I might think about getting on him. steps

  4. I just love your 10 step program. It really make you think how to set up your horse and yourself for success.
    Thank-you for riding Sage today, its really nice to go out and just ride the trail with a friend.