I am just in from the barn after feeding and turning out my horses. Ricco is my youngest horse and I have been ever so slowly been getting him used to being in the barn alone. As most of you probably already know horses as herd animals have separation anxiety when away from their herd. So my goal for Ricco is to give him the courage and confidence to be alone in the barn for longer periods of time. These kinds of things usually work best if you extend the time just beyond their comfort zone but not go so long as to get them more afraid about being away from the others.
I've been doing the same thing with Boomer, my rescue horse. We are making progress and I can see her being braver. The other side of being brave is for the horse to respect boundaries. You do not want a horse to disregard your personal space. In a herd situation the more dominant horse moves the less dominant horse away so it is important in horse language to do this too every time you are with your horse so they respect you. It doesn't have to be aggressive or real physical but just to be aware of this dynamic and how it speaks to the horse about your role with them.
The funny thing that happens when you get this dynamic worked out with your horse... they respect you and that in turn gives them confidence. When my arab Abby was young I used to take her for walks. She hates to be away from the other horses but we had a good relationship so she would go just about anywhere with me. What I did was take her out just past her comfort zone and then let her hand graze. The next time out this 'boundary' got extended and then her reward for being 'brave' was to graze... which horses find relaxing. :) It also was a nice time for us. She even got to the point where she would drool when she knew we were going on our walks! What can I say... she's a goof! :)
One of the things that happen to me when I spend time with my horses is I find some lesson or association that I can apply to myself.
When Abby was very green broke I was the owner of a boarding stable. I was so busy during the day that my time with her was often after 10:00 PM when the boarders had left and my kids were in bed. I would go out to ride late at night. We had an indoor arena which Abby hated! We had a very large Cover-All building for the indoor arena . During the day it was nice and bright. During the summer it was cool . There were advantages to this style as well as disadvantages. Most of the horses were fine with it except Abby! So my challenge was to ride this very green horse in this environment in which she did not feel comfortable. It really pushed both of us to work out our issues of being brave, being confident and for her to look to me as the leader. The thing of it was though is I did not really feel brave! Or confident! At times I could feel her anxiety to the point I felt her heart pounding when we were faced with a particularly scary 'whatever'. Horses are naturally programed to be on high alert as prey animals so when they are in this state any little thing can seem insurmountable to them. What I learned out of pure survival was to make my muscles relaxed and to breathe when I felt her get like this... just like I could feel her breath and pounding heart she knew when I was tense and tight and ready to jump out of my skin. She felt my reactions to and was affected by it either positively or negatively!
Each ride, each scary shadow or noise we faced really bonded us. I also at the time was facing some obstacles in my own life in which fear and anxiety could take a hold and run. I learned with Abby to separate my thoughts (fear) from my body responses so as not to allow things to spiral downward. I literally and figuratively learned to move forward in spite of fear. We learned to be brave.
As an artist I often meet other artists who want to do more with their art but are held back by their own fear of putting their work 'out there' for others to see and give an opinion on. I can understand this because I can be as touchy about this as anyone but I also often feel my art is almost separate from me.... let me explain. Once I am done with a piece I like to begin to think about the next one ... maybe its from a short attention span : ) but I release it so it doesn't feel as scary to put my work out in the public. I feel kind of done with it and just want to take what I learn to apply to another one. Another thing happens... when I feel stressed painting relaxes me which creates a nice cycle to counteract the anxiety of possibly being critisized or the fear of rejection. Just like with the horse and the relaxed, steady breathing of the rider helps to create a positive experience concentrating on the next piece and not holding on too strongly to the last one an artist can be encouraged to move forward. Of course this can be applied to anything new or different you are wanting to do in the new year. Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about letting go. I learned with each spook or shy my horse did to 'let go' of that fear, not react and move on.
As we look to the new year here's to new beginnings and forward movement! I wish you the best in 2010 as you we all explore new territory and new horizons!
animal and equine artist
pet portraits in oils