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