Thought I was well due a post in this section. Here is an example recent case study that I thought would be useful for those worried about the forthcoming show season, along with some 'easy-to-apply-yourself' exercises.
If you have any questions feel free to ask as always!
HARRY AND SUZANNE – WARM-UP ANXIETIES
Suzanne owned her horse Harry, 9 year old Thoroughbred gelding, for 2 years. After two seasons of routinely bathing, plaiting, loading, later finding herself unable to make Harry settle in the show ring, called upon my behavioural advice.
During my initial consultation with Suzanne, I had found that Harry had been exhibiting a range of flight, freeze and fiddle responses across many contexts even before entering a show setting. He was known to fidget when tied up on the yard, nip himself when tacked-up, spook and nap when out hacking alone.
Evidently, without a secure solid base this horse was already at risk of over-reacting, napping and rearing when asked to perform at a showground.
Using the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) model of behavioural modification horse and owner were given a set of tasks to work positively in a step-by-step manner through. After spending some time to teach Harry to automatically relax when around owner, halter, and tack, on the yard, arena and out hacking, the couple were ready to re-introduce certain elements of the showground to Harry’s daily routine.
After working with other horses in an arena at one time, re-introducing show jumps, trailers, noises, flapping materials in a gradual and positive manner, we began to expose Harry to the show setting, initially just attending to observe with a companion, and so on. With this structured step-by-step routine, using positive reinforcement and a detailed understanding of equine behaviour, Harry’s show nerves were swiftly overcome.
EXERCISES FOR YOU
UNDERSTANDING YOUR MIND - PART 1
For each of the following number patterns, look at the sequence for 5 seconds, cover it up and then try to remember.
Did you find C quite difficult to remember? And did D and E seem practically impossible to get right?
Similar tests have been used by experts to work out how much information the brain can take. We now know that humans can remember a maximum of 7 things at one time; 7 letters, 7 numbers, 7 things to remember when riding foe example .
The problem is that when nervous, we remember less! As our horses are relying on us to communicate/guide, it is really important that we relax.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR MIND - PART 2
(a) Learn to recognise when we are feeling worried
You can do this anywhere, car, home or the stables. As soon as you feel worried, cross or stressed, stop and recognise what you are feeling. You can even work with a friend to keep checking each other.
(b) Work on our breathing patterns to make sure we can control our muscles at these times.
Now that you can recognise these times that you are able to control yourself. So following on from ‘I’m feeling stressed’ stop and take 5-10 really deep breaths.
PREPARE, PLAN and PROBLEM SOLVE
Think back to last show season or when you last tried something new, what problems did you face? Was he/she difficult in the collecting ring? Refuse a jump? Bad to load? Scared of the tanoy noise?
In answering these sorts of questions you can clearly see what you need to practise before going to your next show.
You may need to practise riding with other horses in a warm-up area, courses of jumps, walking past cars, flags or loud noises ... write a list.
This is really brief so if you have any specific problems I would recommend consulting with your vet and local behaviourist. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.
Carlson, N. (1998) Physiology of Behaviour: Sixth Edition, Allyn and Bacon, United States
Katie B Wade is a fully qualified and experienced animal behaviourist, working alongside veterinary clinics, rescue centres, societies, breeders as well as individual owners to assist with various aspects of animal behaviour and training. With professional experience handling, training, breeding and rehabilitating the competition horse, Katie went on to study a degree in Psychology and then on to specialise in Equine Behaviour with The Natural Animal Centre. Katie provides scientifically sound advice to the general public, building a bridge between academic research and practical horse ownership.
Katie B Wade