I am lucky enough to own a chestnut mare(!) named Lottie who has just recovered from various foot problems, all of which confounded a variety of vets and farriers. After 18 months of seeing my poor horse remain lame, I decided to take her shoes off and see what nature could do for her. Finally, after a further 6 months, she became sound only to present with a shoulder problem! Now, this week, we’re back riding, just hacking for the moment, but the elation I feel is palpable! Having not hacked in about 4 years (we’ve been on yards where it wasn’t possible), I wondered how Lottie would cope with all the known hazards of tractors, trailers, sheep and wheelie bins, as well as the unknown hazards that seem to crop up. I decided to start as I mean to go on, using techniques to relax me and therefore relax Lottie. Easier said than done with a very headstrong mare who hates to be separated from her friends.
I often ask riders who blame their horses, “What were you thinking and feeling when your horse did X?” Obviously, there are horses who very much have minds of their own and misbehave with even professional riders; there are partnerships that are far from harmonious. There are also very real and frightening situations where a horse can be forgiven for misdemenours. But given an unhelpful behaviour in our horse, we should also question what we were thinking, feeling and conveying to this prey/herd animal at the same time.
To give Lottie the best possible chance to be happy and calm on her hack, it was important for me to be the same, if not more so. I decided that as soon as we left the comfort of the driveway, I’d use hypnotic language to maintain a positive, calm and assertive state in myself and communicate this to Lottie. I probably sounded more than a little mad, clip-clopping down the lane, using slow, calming language and hypnosis phrases.
It worked until we had to pass a dead badger laying at the side of the road. Lottie has smelt it well before I could see it, but she had carried on walking, if a little more slowly and requiring me to squeeze her to keep her going forward. As we neared the dead badger, she stopped and started to walk backwards – not ideal with ditches on either side of the lane. I couldn’t afford to lose my calm, confident state: that would ruin everything we’d been working on. I allowed her to come to a halt. (Being aggressive does not work with her, she becomes more anxious and runs backwards or spins, she has no self preservation and would back into a ditch without a second thought.) I allowed her to stand still whilst I spoke to her, using the language of hypnosis, stroked her neck and rubbed her poll. I turned her to face the onward journey, gave her a moment, asked her walk on and she did! She wasn’t overjoyed walking past the rotting animal – neither was I! – but she did it and without any histrionics!
If you’d like to try a little hypnosis calming (don’t worry, you’re won’t go into a trance!), the types of phrases you can use are (said in a lower, slower voice than usual):
- You know you can choose to be calm right now or in a few seconds’ time, don’t you?
- That’s right (you can just repeat this if you forget the others!)
- And calming down, right now, anyone can do it…..easily and effortlessly now, that’s right
- Breathing deeply, breathing into your pelvis, breathing into your lower back, with each breath feeling more and more calm and confident (you can also breathe in time to the horse’s footfall, see if you can build it up to breathe in for all 4 feet to move, then out for all 4 feet move)
Let me know how you get on! If you’d like to discuss use of hypnotherapy in riding or, if you’re within a 50 mile radius of Leek, Staffs., UK, then I’m happy to visit your yard and talk you through your mounted/unmounted mental preparation, keeping you calm and confident!