Take A Moment
It's been a long day. You were late to work, spilled coffee on the carpet, your dog kept you up last night throwing up all over the place, your boss dropped a pile of paperwork on your already overflowing desk, traffic was awful, and your cousin has decided TODAY she needs you to dig through that old box of family photos to find THE PERFECT picture for your other cousin's surprise birthday party guest book. Fan-flippin-tastic. #eyetwitch ... Thank GOD you get to go to the barn today and spend time with your horse! Except... Now your horse wont stand still to be groomed, is dragging you at the end of the lead rope, and is in general pushing your every button. You snap... And it's not pretty. Dang it. #nowcrying You know EXACTLY why your horse didn't want to be groomed; the vet had diagnosed her with ulcers a couple days ago and told you that was a symptom. You know EXACTLY why she was pulling at the end of the lead-rope; her past owners had unintentionally taught her that pulling would take her to the green grass and you hadn't been very consistent in reinforcing staying with you. So naturally, leading past green grass was just asking for a fail. You KNOW better. You should have done better. So WHY did you snap? It wasn't the horse's fault. It's because of trigger stacking, and coping with chronic or extended stress. Over the day (and night) a long list of stressors impacted you in one way or another, causing a build up of emotions until you could no longer cope. You went from "keeping it together" to "losing it" in a split second, finally snapping as your tolerance hit its absolute maximum. And unfortunately, your poor horse was the victim.
It's important to recognize that we too are subject to the results of stress, trigger stacking, and have certain thresholds for our emotional composure. Sometimes the result is an outburst of rage, sometimes it's breaking down in sadness, sometimes it's an anxiety attack... the way with which you respond really depends on you as an individual as well as the source of the trigger stacking.
But either way, when we have had a rough day, and are "on edge", we might want to consider the context with which we interact with our horses. Practicing new or challenging behaviors is not going to be ideal during these times. And if you're particularly susceptible to "going over threshold" in a way that is harmful to your relationship with your horse, you might consider avoiding directly interacting with your horse without a safe guard (protected contact, or an accountability partner/trainer present). Days like these days are perfect for spending time just relaxing with our horses without having a training plan or goals in mind, letting their presence be our therapy.
We have to realize this is happening to us though. We have to be present enough to recognize our own emotional state and not to blame the horse for our own problems. Perhaps this will mean you need to spend a few minutes in your car, thinking and "feeling" out where you're at today, before heading to go visit your horse. There's no shame in taking a moment to pause, reflect, and get a feel for where you are mentally and emotionally. In fact, this is a major step towards improved and skillful horsemanship.. knowing yourself... the horseman/horsewoman, and how YOU impact your horse on a daily basis.