Dealing with fear and other negative emotions in the horse/human relationship.

In this blog post we will look at the differences on how to deal with negative emotions in the horse/human relationship. For the purpose of this article, I am describing our negative emotions as either fear, anxiety or anger since they are the main ones I come across when helping people.

I was recently having a session with Sian Jones who is a fully qualified psychotherapist and CBT Therapist based in South East Kent.  She is the person from whom I have been learning about the best way to deal with negative emotions in humans, myself included, as I try to understand the best way forward to help humans who are having trouble connecting with their horse when it’s behaving in a way that they don’t like, or worse, that they are scared of.

Sometimes fear is a good thing to have around horses.  It can keep us from doing something with the horse that we are not equipped or educated to deal with.  In this instance it can protect us from harm.

My goal is to help the student/client overcome and recognise this fear and help them acquire and believe that they have the skills required to cope in any given situation around their horse.

I have learned that usually it is our interpretation of the situation that is the thing we fear and not the situation itself.  In other words, I meet a lot of clients who might say to me ‘What if my horse spooks?’ or ‘what if he runs me over when I’m leading him’ or ‘I’m terrified he will buck me off’ or ‘I’m scared he will bolt off’. You name it, I have heard it and a quick look at the testimonial page of The Horseback Heroine website will verify that this is true.

So what’s the problem here then?

Well from my experience, the main problem lies from the fact that the human hasn’t really understood the basic differences between human instinct and horse instinct. Knowledge of these differences can make ALL the difference and the more I learn from Sian, the more I realise how much there is to learn about how we as humans just let our emotions (usually fear, anxiety and anger) run away with us and dictate how we behave around our horses.

Let’s think of us  humans first…..

What happens when we get emotional around our horse?  Our stress hormone, cortisol goes up as we get ready to fight or run away.  Our heart beats faster.  Our muscles get tense. That fear kicks in and our hands go tight on the rope or reins…I mean REALLY tight…. and we don’t mean to, but we become predatory in our behaviours.  We can’t help it. It’s our INSTINCT !!   We can become muddled in our thinking and it all happens so fast!  If we are riding our horse when this happens we tend to clamp our legs on and go into a foetal position as we hang on tightly to the horse’s head.  So when the horse displays a behaviour that evokes fear in us, he feels this and reacts to our unintentional predatory behaviour by either running away or bucking.   Sometimes they rear, bite and kick too, but this is for different reasons and I’ll come onto that in a later blog post.

So now we have our horse that is behaving in a  problematic way that the human isn’t equipped to deal with and the human emotion gets right in the way of helping the horse in this situation.  That’s not very helpful to either horse or human is it?

I remember one session recently when Sian told me that the worst thing for a person to do when they suffer anxiety about a certain fearful situation is to avoid that situation because the fear becomes massive and so a self perpetuating cycle is set up.  So with their horse, the human creates a belief that they are unable to cope with the ‘what if’s’ and  this is very unhelpful to both horse and human.  This is where I can help you understand why you are having difficulty coping and what you can do to change that.

If we turn our attention to the horse now…..

Remember just now when I told you that Sian said the WORST thing for a human to do in a perceived fearful situation is to avoid it?  Well guess what?  The exact OPPOSITE is true for the horse!  When we get this in our heads, the light bulb goes on and suddenly we are able to really help our horses and not push them ‘over the edge’.

As a prey animal his INSTINCT is completely opposite to ours and his first reaction is to run away and ask questions later.  He can’t help it.  He has been programmed to survive that way for millennia and it’s obviously done the job quite well.  If the human adopts behaviour similar to what the herd leader would do, which is to avoid the fearful situation at first until they are sure there is no danger of being killed and eaten then horse would feel more confident that the human understands his instinctual fears.  It’s as basic as that.

Sometimes it is the human that the horse is afraid of, especially if they adopt predatory behaviour on the horse’s back.  There are certain things we can do to help the horse gain control of his fight or flight instinct and I can show you what these are.  They are very effective and it doesn’t compromise the horse’s dignity.

We, the human, need to accept full responsibility for our emotional state and recognise that we are missing the knowledge required to help our horses. Knowledge dispels fear I have found.  Facing the thing we are fearful of and learning what ‘tools’ we  require to help the horse is the only way forward and I don’t mean gadgets and equipment either.  I mean we need to be equipped with the different strategies for different situations and learn the language and motivating factors that will help us humans overcome that fear. That’s what it means to use Natural Horsemanship.

This stuff is life changing and I can absolutely guarantee that your life with your horse will be transformed for the better if you can take all of the above on board and put it into practise and if you need help, please do ask me to help you!

A relaxed knowledgeable owner makes for a very happy horse! So stayed connected and I will help you!

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