Day 2: Managing energy and emotions

I was really tired today. It was all I could do to drag myself out the door, but when the sun came out in the afternoon I convinced myself I’d feel better for the exercise and sunshine. Before heading out I did a brief long distance check in with Rio. It was harder to connect today, I think largely because I was so tired but I persisted.

My sense is that he was good with what we did yesterday and definitely game for more. I told him I was debating about whether or not to come out and see him because I was so tired and felt he was fine either way. Then I asked him if he was game to begin exploring the bit and bridle today, realizing I’m moving things along at a fairly good clip, considering he hasn’t done anything with me in almost two years. But I’m curious how efficiently we can move along when I utilize all of my tools - without tipping into an agenda and accepting what he’s ready/not ready for.

He tells me, clearly, I’m game to try but I have some trepidation again. Similarly to yesterday he shows me how he feels in his body when he thinks about the bit. It was a sensation I’m hard pressed to describe. There was a sense of hollowness deep within the thoracic inlet, it’s like the idea of the bit shuts his heart down (this makes sense in light of what I know of his history and how he was when he came to me, so much internal emotion he was completely unable/unwilling to express). Then the sensation shifted to focus around the sterno-hyoid muscle, the jaw, TMJ, mandible, throat all go on lock down. We sit with these sensations and I flat out ask him if he wants to continue to work with the bit to release all this old stuff and he indicates he would like to do that.

As an aside, I find that most horses would prefer to be free of these old traumas rather than simply live with them for the rest of their lives.

We both acknowledge the fear inherent in the hanging onto the bit for dear life - for both horse and human. I get the sense he does not prefer to have pressure on his nose so ultimately he’d likely be happier with a bit. Maybe we’ll end up exploring a neck ring, who knows!

Not long after the distance check in I head out with a handful of equipment so that I’m prepared for whatever he decides he’s up for. Optimistic - surcingle, long lines and bridle.

I decded to just approach with the bridle first, no halter, so he was free to express himself. Where yesterday he walked right up and put his head in the halter, today he walked off, radiating anxiety. I let him go, stood and breathed, holding the bridle and acknowledging his feelings of trepidation. We circled round each other for a while. Sometimes he’d approach and tentatively look at the bridle. He even touched it with his nose once but if I lifted it for him to take it in his mouth he would leave. All sorts of sensations moved through my body, most focused around the throat and jaw. At one point I felt a huge lump in my throat, so big it hurt. That sensation of choked back tears. I have no idea if I was feeling my own stuff, his, or a combination of both but it was intense and lasted for what felt like a very long time. I simply walked around and breathed until it dissipated. Rio seemed to let go of some tension but wandered off to find things to nibble on.

Meanwhile Rivaldo (Rio’s paddock mate) came over and seemed keen to assist. I got the feeling he wanted me to put the bridle on him so I did. He took it readily and followed me around at liberty with the reins over his neck. Rio watched and i explained this was all I expected of him initially. When I took the bridle off Rivaldo Rio followed me around while I carried the bridle. Good enough for today. I put the bridle aside and grabbed the halter.

Rio marched right to the gate, put his head in the halter and seemed keen to go out with me again. This time we stayed in his turnout area. He was following my feel nicely today (following my lead) and even followed my energy up into a trot. We jogged around for a bit then I’d slow down and he’d slow with me, stop and he’d stop. So light and effortless. This is so different from what I’ve had with him before. We both got winded quickly so took lots of rest breaks to catch our breath.

As we continued on in this vein of asking him to bring his energy up, he leapt across the ditch and launched into a buck and bolt. I went with him and let the rope run through my hands, caching a little here and there to see if he could come back to me and he did. After that he got worried. I suspect he’s been punished for that kind of behavior before and all his old worried energy flooded to the surface. The neighbor horses came running across the pasture and he did his high headed, high pitched whinny, standing at attention.

He came back to me easily but as we headed more or less in the direction of his paddock he was clearly losing his cool. He whinnied several times and tried to bolt once more. So glad I was in a good position or he would have kicked me on his way by. He was still with me but barely so I asked him to move into a bit of a shoulder fore to take his energy and use it in a good direction. He was very game to do that so we worked a pattern of shoulder fore, then I’d release the lead and let him walk in a circle til he rebalanced then we’d go straight again. If he rushed or got too amped we’d go into shoulder fore and then a circle and then a halt that was initiated from tone in my core - so light his halts were!

Before long he was walking beside me and able to listen and follow my lead all the way back to the paddock.

I turned him loose and did some body work - shoulders and pecs (big release on right shoulder) - reached around and snapped something in the left side of his neck or withers. Worked on releasing tension in his belly, his low back, then did his diaphragm. I could feel an unwinding that went all the way to the mediastinum (I think that’s what it’s called, have to look that up again) the tissue band that surrounds the heart and connects the heart to the diaphragm and lungs. So interesting to keep getting taken to that area today. He walked off when that was done.