2018 Series 4

Recovery from Stress and Trauma

Week 5: Releasing the effects of stress and trauma part 2

In hand finn.jpeg

September 3 - 9, 2018

course content for week 5:

Going back to work post trauma

Welcome to week 5!

Introduction to week 5

I hope by now you already understand that any behavior a horse exhibits is their way of communicating with us. Behavior gives us clues about things going on with a horse and depending on how behavior is handled throughout the course of a horse’s life they are more or less receptive to my ideas during the process of rehabilitation. The thing is, as we look at the multitude of ways horses might be stressed or traumatized by the demands of life with humans, there is often a common denominator that started the snowball rolling.


Because horses are prey animals designed to prioritize coordination of movement, we might consider it a survival instinct or strategy to mask subtle signs of lameness. The slow, gimpy herd member is the one the predator is most likely to get, after all. Training methods that put the human in the role of dominant herd member or predator only serve to reinforce this strategy, causing many a horse to pretend they are fine when they are not. Under these circumstances it is all too easy for a horse to feel mild to moderate pain and still work through it. They do not believe they have a choice. Acute or intense pain overrides their ability to control their emotions leading to many reactions often considered ‘training issues’. Violent head tossing, rearing, bucking, and bolting are just a few examples of the kinds of reaction a horse might have if that sharp point on the rear molar gouges them when you ask them to turn or collect, for example.

This is why I so strongly emphasize listening to our horse’s feedback. When a horse is willing to let me know they are struggling I have an opportunity to respond by discovering what is bothering them rather than pushing them to comply regardless. It is a challenge because even when we know in our gut something is off it may be difficult to discover exactly what that something is. When I worked with a vet we had countless calls where an owner felt their horse was slightly off. But a sub-clinical lameness is not easy for most vets to identify. In those cases the owner was most often told to continue to ride the horse until they were lame enough the vet could see it. Imagine, a horse doing something so subtle to let you know they are uncomfortable, and the advice given is to keep working them through that discomfort until it gets worse? How do you think that horse might feel about this plan? How might such a plan impact their behavior and their willingness to express themselves in future?

Ultimately my goal is to help you develop your skills to the degree you can identify and work with those sub-clinical expressions of pain or discomfort so they resolve before becoming full-blown lameness issues. If we can identify and resolve the movement pattern or inflammatory process or misalignment that is causing the problem, we can prevent trauma and instill hope in our horses that we actually do listen well enough they never have to act out. So that is my ultimate hope – prevention.

Course Content for Week 5:

going back to work post trauma

Main video for the week:

This is the fourth session I’ve done with Tasani. This time her nervous system activation was gone and she was receptive to beginning the exercises that will strengthen her enough that her body might be able to handle deeper work or hold an adjustment to her pelvis.

We also talked a bit about beginning to get her comfortable about having her hind legs handled.

November 16 live chat:

Topic covered:

What do we do when there are traumatic events going on in the world that impact us? Do we work with our horses or leave them alone when we are feeling a bit overwhelmed by life?

November 18 live chat:

Topics Covered:

  • Front legs as propulsion

  • Madalyn Ward visit

  • Summary of how I work with releasing trauma.

September 20 Live Chat:

Topics covered:

  • Feedback loops within the body and between horse and human.

  • How diet factors into stress and trauma.

And I talk about all these things in light of the sessions we did with Madalyn Ward with my horses.

And last but not least how the unknown can cause fear in horse or human.

This week I'm sharing a session with a new client (the horse, not the human). This was a mare who does not like having her hind feet picked up so they've been unable to trim her hind feet. We were exploring what might be the cause of her resistance. It might be some trauma related to having her feet worked on in the past or it might be something physical/structural in her hind quarters. This mare ended up being a fabulous example of how we can begin to address the physical once the emotional components are resolved. Her person did a great job of building trust with this mare or I never would have been able to do what I did in one session.

And here is the third session I did with Tasani. It was quite interesting!

video demonstrations:

For this week I've made a list of videos that you've already seen that are useful examples of ways to work with the mental and emotional aspects of trauma recovery as well as ways to minimize stress during training and other interactions with our horses.

Working with careful visual observation in combination with resonance, or tracking what I feel, are key components of the early stages of working with horses who suffer mental or emotional effects of chronic stress or trauma.

supportive materials:

It’s not a bad idea to go review the content for Session 2 - all of the things discussed in that session are the things I use to start getting a traumatized horse moving again. Here are the videos reviewing the figure 8 as an assessment tool, palpation and working with postural reflexes.

The video below is from last year, but I think it’s worth looking at because I was coaching my working student on how to do the figure eight and work with postural reflexes so you get to see someone who’s never done it before. Justine and Rivaldo do a great job.