Of Horse

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The Emotion of Transition
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The Emotion of Transition

What does “transition” really mean? Well, Webster’s Dictionary defines transition as follows: A) passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another. B) a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.

In short, transition equates to change. In regards to our horses, we should take time to weigh the emotional challenges we and our horses experience when we engage in transitions.

Recently I have relocated from the Sierra Foothills of California to the Catskill region of New York. My horse went with me. During the period of transition, we had a short one month stay with friends in preparation for the big move across the country. I left a property on which I and my horse cohabitated, where I could see him every day and tend to his training and maintenance needs, to him being over an hour away from where I could only see him a couple of times each week. The horse had to find his place in the herd of five other horses and then make the seven-day haul across the country to do it all over again! To say there was emotional “angst” for both of us could be considered an understatement.

So how did my horse and I deal with the emotion of transition is this scenario? Well, it came down to consistency. I did what I could to keep his diet and his training consistent. I spent lots of time simply connecting with him and make every experience as positive as I could. I considered the spectrum of emotions known to exist in horses and made sure that kindness was at the top of my program “to do”  list. I made sure I did not try to teach new things during this period of time and worked on refining what we both knew. My expectation of performance was also consistent given the situation. It was all about maintaining a balance. Once the “big move” was over we began to get back into a routine, still being consistent, and taking our time to build back up to what we had before the transition. Horses are adaptable to be sure but they also have an emotional spectrum that we, as their custodians and partners, need to recognize and listen to in order to give them the support they need in those times of major change in their lives and ours.

Now think about how the emotional triggers impact your horse when you are changing gaits or attempting to teach a new thing. Being prey animals, their first instinct is to survive the experience. Change equates to fright which then leads to flight or fright. Our task as the linear thinking partner is to use our empathy and ask for the changes with kindness, expecting the best while planning for the worst. When the horse fails to meet our request as we would like we have to step back and think about how we are making that request, in what context we are making the request and how that request is going to be a benefit to both horse and human. Yes, that sounds very “new age” but it is our patience, empathy, and consistency of thought, word, energy, and action that helps the horse feel “safe” in those times of transition, whether it be moving across country and attempting a new maneuver.

Consider your horse in all things. Consider the potential emotional reaction to changes. Support your horse through these changes with consistency, kindness, and fairness. Be a leader who leads by example and you can traverse the emotional spectrum of transition, no matter what its scope!

Thanks for reading!

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  1. jst4horses
    This is a beautiful and much needed article. Horses are so much more than most people give them credit for. I have written articles, this year to be books, about horses and how badly most people treat them. It is SO uplifting to hear someone say, consider the horse, and yourself. I spent almost thirty years every single day with horses in both professional training and retraining, and equine therapy work. Due to cancer I missed ten days, my older son took me to the stable first as I left the hospital against medical advice, I did NOT want to lie around a few more weeks, and then in a nursing home. I knew I would heal better with my horses. I got to the stable, my horses, who as most horses who are cared for by their owner do, usually demand their food............instead they lined up at their paddock gates, and poked me, and loved me and made sure they thought I was going to make it. THEN they demanded food. I borrowed my older sons van, and had the feed store load hay bales and bags of supplements and pellets in. I took a lot of small grocery bags, and one at a time (I was not allowed to carry anything due to the surgery all the way from my chest to my hip area leaving a huge healing scar area, and muscles that had been cut to heal) I carried a flake of hay and a bag of supplements and pellets down for each horse and fed them. Often a friend brought her teenage and smaller sons to help me. What a blessing and healing experience. YES, please think of your horse. We often took care of horses for people who for one reason or another needed help, our high risk youth, veterans and first responders helped as volunteers so we did not have to charge, and we gave fundraisers to get the feed to do this.........old persons, other cancer patients, etc, came to visit their horses and one day either joined up with our work and came and volunteered WITH their horses to help others heal, or took their horses home.................many of those horses would have just been sold off, to who knows where, or even some of the older ones to slaughter if we had not offered that to as many as we could. Thank this author for this amazing article.

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