Meltdown by the minnies - Mastery Horsemanship
Meltdown by the minnies

Meltdown by the minnies

October 26, 2021 9 Comments

Have you ever seen what a horse does when a new horse shows up for the first time in visual range? How about when a miniature horse shows up for the first time around your big horses?

I'll just put it like this... When you're riding your horse and a miniature horse comes running up to say hello, it's no picnic. It's more like a garage sale with everything on the table. Everything can go flying at any minute. If you're lucky, you stay on top, if you're smart, you get off before the sail catches wind, just as you see the mini approaching. 

Small animals set horses off the first time they encounter each other. It's partly because most horses don't have any exposure to smaller animals and once they get over it, all is well. None the less, those first few moments can be hectic. You know what I'm talking about if you have mini horses in your neighborhood. 

Recently, a friend gave me the idea to write about this particular phenomenon and graciously gave me the title "meltdown by the minnies" because her horse did exactly that. Most of us horse lovers have been around long enough to see our horses meltdown before us. Horses are emotional animals. They feel everything and probably are more sensitive to it all than we are, because their very life depends on it. There is however, a state of mind that can occur that puzzles many horse owners. It's that state of mind I'd like to discuss.

When a horse looses all awareness of his or her leader and can only focus on the present danger, I call this "right brain blindness." The right hemisphere of the horse dictates most instinctive choices the horse makes, from fight, to flight, to freeze. The left brain dictates most conscious awareness choices, such as noticing the gate is two posts to the left and making the choice to move over and walk through it calmly instead of frantically pacing, unaware the gate is mere feet away. When a horse goes "right brain blind," it means they can only see the hazard or the problem, and cannot see the leader or the solution. The story of melting down by the minnies is exactly that. The little horses arrived, the big horse went into survival mode and failed to see the leader's instructions to calm down. After twenty minutes and a full, sweat soaked coat, the big horse finally started breathing again and life each day after that became more manageable around the miniature horses.

The pointed question remaining is this: Should you stay and help the horse through the meltdown, safely on the ground, or should you leave and avoid the meltdown, looking for some other way to introduce the two equine cousins?

The answer is simple. If you're comfortable managing a meltdown, you should definitely stay. Keep your big horse from escalating by setting clear do's and don'ts and being firm about your personal space. Don't allow him to cross that imaginary line where he can't see you and he can only see the mini. This may cause him to jump on top of you. Be in sight. Keep your horse behind or beside you, not in front for moments like this. Get off if you're riding, unless you know the escalation to bucking or rearing or scooting sideways won't occur. And stay until you get some breath back in those lungs, both for you and your horse. You don't have to find a Zen state, you just have to improve from "right brain blind less" to a manageable controlled state. Then you can come back day after day to improve on the confidence.

On the flip side. If you're not comfortable handling the meltdown. Retreat to a safe place and introduce everything much more slowly for your own safety. If you're a good leader, both techniques work. If you're a mean leader, your horse won't love you no matter how you treat the situation. If you're a wimpy leader, your horse won't respect you no matter how you treat the situation. So my advice is to be the best leader you can be by setting boundaries and standards for communication under stress. That can all start in a smaller, simpler, safer fashion back in the comfort of your safe home environment. You can ask a friend to add some uncomfortable stimulus and work toward teaching your horse to forget about it and communicate with you "the leader" instead. Over time, you'll see you can guide your horse in stressful situations and when you get to those big scary situations, you can be the leader your horse deserves. Kind, firm, rewarding, clear, present, and thoughtful. 

Just in case you think you're alone with your horses problems, please remember you are not alone. We all, even the elite trainers, have communication breakdowns and moments where the horse looses track of the leader. But in those moments we can learn to be confident that all will end well. You can learn that confidence too. 

Comment below. The more comments I get the more I know I'm reaching the finer points needed in our horse world. Thanks for reading.

Don Jessop

PS. Do you ever go to the bathroom? Buy my new book set, It's a great bathroom reader.

"Inspiration and Leadership for Horse Lovers."

 



9 Responses

Erica
Erica

October 29, 2021

Great advice! I like how you adjusted the solution to fit the person and horse.

Kathy
Kathy

October 28, 2021

That very thing happened with Ruti the first few months I had him. He had never spooked at anything before until at the end of a trail ride, the mini came charging. Scared the heck out of Ruti and I had no idea that this was a “thing” that big horses are afraid of!

Lyla R Spencer
Lyla R Spencer

October 27, 2021

I love this article, as usual!! I do have minnies and my horse is use to them but try a donkey that’s another story. I love Lisa’s insight thank you for sharing. I have been trying to do the same and put my horse in unusual situations first on the ground before I ever put my seat in the saddle, it may take longer but it is safer that way. I see so many riders not preparing there horses on the ground before they ride and end up getting seriously hurt. No need to remind them because they don’t want to hear it, after all they say “But I want to ride my horse!!” ugh!! We all have our way of training but some of the ways are just plain backwards!! Thank you Don for being such a wonderful trainer!!

Lisa
Lisa

October 27, 2021

Great insight. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Speaking of mini meltdowns, try a mini pulling a cart! Been there!
You mentioned in your post about prepare ahead of time in preparation for a meltdown at home. This is the key a statement.
Why do people learn CPR? So they can save a life in an emergency situation. That is the same reason I practice at home with ground work and exposing my horse to new and different things. That way I have the tools to help my horse through a sticky situation and hopefully save me from a wreak.
I don’t just practice these exercises at home but I seek these situation out when I am away from home. I recently travel out of state to camp and ride my horse in the beautiful Big South Fork National Recreational Park in Tennessee. My horse is now in unfamiliar surrounds which heighten his awareness of everything. There is an obstacle course next to a round pen where someone is working there horse with lots of energy. Most people would steer clear right? Nope not me, I saw this as an opportunity to test my horse’s connection with me. Could I get him to work through one of the obstacles while this outside stimulus was happening right next to him. At first he was focus on the energy coming from the round pen and was not focus at all on me or what I was asking of him. I continued to ask him to do exercises that were familiar to him, ones that we had practiced at home. This made him relax and gave him confidence in what I was asking of him so he was able to quite his mind and focus on me. We end up going through the obstacle quietly and calmly as if nothing else was going on.

Teri
Teri

October 27, 2021

Next, you should try Pigs!!!! Now that’s a real rodeo!!!

Leslie
Leslie

October 27, 2021

I’ve had this problem with chickens too. Now I have a mini and chickens and no problems. Lol. Until I run into a llama or a moose! Thanks for this.

Laina
Laina

October 27, 2021

Minis are probably an anomaly to horses. (Maybe there is a lesson there.) As an aside, at a demo I attended, there were a number of horses at liberty in the arena and two minis were introduced. One of the minis looked like a small version of one of the paint horses. The horse spotted the mini and immediately went after it in a very aggressive manner. Luckily, people intervened and it was not hurt. Maybe it was coincidental ,but still interesting that he/she chose his/her mini-me to go for.

Kait DeBoer Ahlin
Kait DeBoer Ahlin

October 27, 2021

Yes! As soon as I read the title I knew exactly what you were talking about. Thankfully last time a mini “monster” came running at my horse I was on the ground, because my horse did indeed lose her mind for a solid 20 minutes:)

Jeannine
Jeannine

October 27, 2021

Very good advice and explanation. “But in those moments we can learn to be confident that all will end well. You can learn that confidence too.” This is the area I struggle in.

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