Nerves in Horses and People

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Hi, it’s Barb.

I was thinking about this challenge of ‘nerves’ that’s a tough one.

And if you think you’re the only one, believe me, you’re not. It’s a challenge most of us have.

And I was thinking about it in the context of our horses. They get nervous, too.

I thought it would be fun to see the similarities… and the differences… between our horse’s nerves and ours, one solution that works for both, and who’s ultimately in charge of getting the situation back in the calmness column.

So, imagine you’re at a show or a clinic, or someplace away from home.

You pull up to feed, and your horse is pacing about in the stall. He’s worked up. He nickers with his head up.

But when he sees you, he feels comforted… and the hay and grain take his mind off of whatever was bugging him, too.

Fast forward to saddling time. He’s still fidgety and super distracted. He’s kind of a pain to saddle, really.

Now you’re in the warm-up arena. He is looking around like crazy. It feels like his feet are three feet off the ground.

You get the picture.

And on top of that, you were nervous and excited to begin with… just being there.

So now both of you are in the same boat. Somehow that doesn’t feel like the ideal situation!

Now, I want to step back for a moment and talk about the reasons why horses get nervous, and the reasons why people get nervous.

Horses typically fret about something that scared them in the recent past, like a loud bang that came from nowhere. Or, they fret about the present. Examples of that would be separation from their buddy or blowing flags in an arena or the wind. Obviously, those are just a few possible reasons.

So, their anxiety is about a not too distant past or the present.

By contrast, we humans get nervous because of our thoughts about the future. Will I ride well? Is my horse good enough to be here? Am I a good enough rider to be here? What if I make a fool of myself? I don’t feel ready… and on. What if I forget the pattern? What does so and so think of me?

So the horse’s anxiety is typically about something in the present. The rider is in the future and a projection of a poor outcome.

I have a solution for both you and your horse.

Bring your attention and your horse’s attention back to the present moment in ways that consciously relax both of you.

And here’s the key. It begins with us, the rider because we have to be in a calm state to bring our horse back to that place.

We are the leader. Without our calm and clear guidance, the horse has no way to bring his focus back. Plus, if we don’t get grounded, we will only escalate our horse’s anxiety. That’s no good.

How do you bring your attention and your horse’s attention back to the moment in ways that relax you?

First of all, that’s planned and practiced at home before you get to your event, so you have a game plan for how to handle it.

It’s not that you’re sure you’ll be nervous or your horse will lose it, but just in case you’ve got it covered.

Some ideas for you would be rhythmic breathing and a planned repetitive script spoken as a mantra, like, “Stay cool, Barb. Stay cool.” Notice that both the breathing and speaking to yourself are in a rhythm.

What would a plan for your horse look like?

Well, of course, that depends but walking in small circles with flexing, or some rhythmic exercise, like alternating changes in the speed of gaits are a couple of ideas.

Of course, in this podcast, I’m just brushing over the top of the surface of ideas.

But a key takeaway is for you to practice relaxation exercises for both you and your horse at home so you can use them in situations away from home.

And the most important idea of all is for you to practice ways to calm yourself, that really works because your horse needs you.

That’s what I have for you today.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

My webinar training series on a systematic approach to shining in the show pen begins tomorrow. I hope to see you there.

Know you’re the best. Leave a comment—Bye-bye for now.

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4 Comments on Podcast:
Nerves in Horses and People

  1. Arlene Kelemen on Sun, 28th Feb 2021 10:31 am
  2. Oh my gosh! You’ve described me and my four year old’s problem for the past three weeks. She’d become distracted and looky, and even bolted on the longe line which is totally out of character. She’d even started to pin her ears and bit the air as I cinched up. She was having a huge issue with spooking at a willow tree in the cutting pen whenever the wind blew. And its always blowing here. After lots of introspection, I decided to take some steps backwards. Day one, we only longed, getting closer and closer as she relaxed. No reaction to her reactions, just mostly trotting. I’d bring her in and we’d practice our ranch halter near the waving green monster. Day two, a quick warm up in the cutting pen with a friend, but then a long ride out in the 200 acres that surrounds the ranch. No reactions to her lookiness other than redirection. After the trail ride, back to the cutting pen, but only to practice different ways to open and close the gates. Day three, a long warm up in the cutting pen at a walk and trot, then a bit of practice on rollbacks including under the undulating monster. And finally, we loped quietly and calmly in the cutting pen, followed by a quiet walk outside, alone. All through this week, I practiced the calmness exercises and breathing. It took three days, but I have my sweet mare back. Thanks Barb.

  3. Pam Smith on Sun, 28th Feb 2021 2:18 pm
  4. Great reminders. Thanks Barb
    Showing unseasoned horses is always a challenge so my stress relief for my horse is lots of relaxed walking. I’m so excited about showing my mare this year (first year for her). She is so level headed, not much bothers her but…she has started to hyperventilate when we go in the arena to work the mechanical cow. So I exercise her in there, then put up the cow. I then walk her away from it (sometimes I’ll take her out of the arena then walk back in) That seems to do the trick. So walking and reassuring her it’s ok. as for me I concentrate on my breathing, thinking only about each breath. If I’m still nervous I have a breathing exercise- deep breath in through my nose (4 seconds). Hold that breath for 7 seconds then blow that breath out through my mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 3 or 4 times. And yes after all these years I still get nervous but knowing how to deal with it is the key.

  5. gina Milhet on Sun, 28th Feb 2021 5:40 pm
  6. so me yesterday a friend said to me relax breath in and out. I get nervous and create the same energy in my Horse thanks

  7. Jana Stevens on Tue, 2nd Mar 2021 7:21 am
  8. Im coming back to competition after a long lay off and have been trying to practice what I learned from your Mental Toughness cd I bought years ago. That cd helped me alot with the problem I was having then and I know the methods you talk about will help me again and anyone having issues now. Thanks Barbra.

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