One big white dog. That's all it took. As many of my readers know, dogs and horses don't always get along. In fact insurance companies prohibit dogs on the premise during clinics. But we also know that dogs can be harmless and don't intend to create the chaos that can happen organically. So this isn't a dog blaming article at all. This is a story about recovery and how to tackle it.
Patty and her friends walked causally back to the horse trailers parked neatly in the South Florida, red ant hill ridden, parking lot. Their horses, after a long and beautiful ride, were carrying their passengers with ease and relaxation until suddenly, a flash of white bounding energy came billowing toward them like a Montana snow storm racing down the mountains. The white bundle of fur was a bowling ball of a dog, destined to knock over the train of four legged bowling pins walking along the fence. He succeeded!
The horses leapt, bolted, scattered, and evacuated the area leaving broken people and broken bones in their wake. This story is not much different than many other stories containing excited horses and outside stimulants beyond our control. Sometimes it's a bear on the trail, a car passing you on the road too fast, a tree falling in the forest, a horse getting too excited near your horse, the flash of a plastic bag, or even an unexpected bee sting that causes the negative reactions. Whatever it is, at the end, if we fall, it becomes like a crime scene. Like all crime scenes, people are hurt, physically and emotionally and healing is required. At some point in the future, after trying to recover from concussions, and broken limbs, and PTSD, there lingers a deep desire to return to the scene and regain some dignity and confidence. Nobody wants to go back for fun, but many of us want to go back to unlock our barriers to progress.
If you do go back to the scene of the crime to regain your trust and rebuild on the relationship you used to have with your horse, it's important to know a few things. Read closely, it may mean the difference between success and progress toward your dreams or total failure and falling further back into the pitfalls and pain.
Let me explain what that means and why it's so important to come as the leader and not the follower. Years ago I returned to my own crime scene, a place I'd fallen from my horse and injured my confidence. When I arrived I gave my leadership to the horse. I didn't mean to, it just happened. I literally gave my horse a long lead rope and let him explore. Let him tell me if everything was okay here or not. I thought that if I coddled my horse and leaned on his confidence, maybe he'd tell me it's okay and everything will be fine.
But the opposite happened. My lack of leadership gave the horse no direction. My elevated heart rate gave the horse anxiety, and my general, follower mentality led us both into disarray, distraction, and nervousness. My horse began calling out for other horses. I began to pet him, coddle him. Then he nearly stepped on my toes. I jumped back and that made him jump. Soon, with a feeling of utter failure, I left the scene and retreated to a safer place. You might have already guessed the reality of my situation. I made things worse, not better. It's all because I didn't keep my leadership. I relied on a prey animal to tell me if the world was safe. It took many more years before I returned again, only this time... I was the leader and my horse felt that leadership instantly. Even in moments of uncertainty, I clearly stood out as in control and willing to do simple things well. Like standing in one place until our heart rates calmed down.
Winning or losing most games has very little to do with the score. It has to do with time limits. If we're playing football and the clock runs out, whoever had more points wins. If you're returning to a crime scene to get closure and the time runs out before you have a chance to get your closure, you don't win. But if there was no time limit, no clock, nowhere else to be, you can outlast the heightened emotions and end on a great note. So before you go, just plan on being there as long as it takes. Reserve half a day or more to be there, undisturbed by your calendar or the needs of others. Grieving and recovering takes time. Give yourself that gift. No pressure, no timelines, just passive persistence in the proper position, with an unwillingness to give up until you start to feel calm again.
Check your breathing, is it normal? Check your heartrate, is it normal? If it's not, even if you survived, you should stay a little longer. There is value in coming back in short bursts time after time and allowing the repetition of coming back to calm your nerves, but if you want to really tackle it, you wont leave until you're starting to breath normal again. The body sends signals to the brain about the outside world and how safe it truly is. Many times, people quit too soon. They feel an inkling of success and jump in the truck and drive away, hoping to end on a good note, praying they can get out of there before something bad happens again. That emotion isn't resolution or closure. It's just more anxiety. Breathe into it, stay a little longer. Weather the ups and downs and leave when you're feeling truly safe.
If it's a horse related accident. Come back without your horse a few times. Then when you bring your horse, don't ride. Then when you ride, don't do everything you always do. Then one day, everything will feel normal again and you'll have the closure you deserve. Even before you come back you can start smaller still. You can close your eyes and imagine calmly sitting near the scene of the crime eating your favorite food. You can visualize your success before you start and even during the whole process, all the way up to the end, where you regain your full confidence and ride off into the sunset like the crazy awesome horse person you are.
I believe you can do anything. I want you to hold some of that optimism too. Get out there, make peace with your world. I'd love to hear your comments below.
Sincerely, Don Jessop, your crazy horse loving friend.