It’s important that we are giving them the understanding of how to keep a relaxed physiology with the ability to reduce tension if they feel it. So firstly, the awareness: ‘do I have tension coming into my body?’ And then, ‘how do I get rid of that tension, so I don’t start to worry about the situation… what physical action can the horse take to make himself feel better?’
We’re able to do this through basic ground patterns. We’re giving the horse a feeling of connection, a good order of movement. Developing that in your horses is, in the beginning, a very good starting place, to develop confidence and the belief that he can manage himself.
Horses that are becoming insecure out in the field, I go to them and go through these patterns that we’ve already practised. When they are calling out for other horses, you can be the one that helps them to manage themselves; you become the mentor. It’s not about going in and saying, ‘Good boy, good boy, be calm’. It’s about being the mentor and explaining what’s going on in their physiology and what they can do and change in the way they move and connect with themselves to get their shit together again!
It is the same if the horse is anxious in the stable, such as when a horse leaves, and your horse gets in a panic. I go into the stable or I take the horse to our working place, and I go through these patterns where I have a space to allow the horse to get to a relaxed state.
We don’t want to be letting the horse go through these motions, and then at some stage feeling the release of the other horse coming back and him thinking, ‘Oh, thank God. I screamed and panicked and jumped up against the bars and paced up and down because I thought he was never coming back. And now I have the feeling that he comes back after that action’. So in this case, taking the horse out or being in with the horse until it gets to a relaxed state is important. In this stable scenario, sometimes I do take the horse away, then I bring the other horses back first – and when the panicked horse reaches a relaxed state, he returns. This is breaking the pattern; you don’t want to build a pattern of anxiety that grows every time the horse is separated from another.
It’s also then about the basic interactions with other horses, not keeping them isolated… I do this in the beginning with the young horses in the arena, working them together, working them free together so that they learn the social behaviours and the interactions and that they don’t have to cling to another horse to feel that security.
Developing these skills allows your horse to be very comfortable within his own skin, and then he’s not in an insecure state where he has to look for a source of security outside of himself. This is the self-management skill, which we give constantly through our TRT program.