Monday, 24 September 2012

The Rhythm of the Course

The common denominator shared by hunter courses and competitive trail courses is that each have a prescribed distance between obstacles which determines the rhythm in which the course should be ridden. Courses based on a 12 ft stride for hunters and a 6 ft lope for the western trail competitor each call for an easy quiet ride. Unless….the rider gets ahead of the rhythm.

I judged a trail competitor recently who came into the multi pole lopeover obstacle at a forward 7 foot lope. As the horse began to hit some poles he got nervous. Although the logical response would seem to be to shorten the stride and slow the rhythm down to fit in the designated space, the logical response for a prey animal is to speed up and get the ordeal over with as quickly as possible! The more that horse hit poles, the higher his adrenaline level rose and faster his feet went. When horses are in flight response they don’t think logically. As a matter of fact, neither do we riders.

The pair loped over two extra poles that weren’t included in the course before regrouping at the trot for the next obstacle.

This made me think of how the obstacles in daily life come at a prescribed rhythm, but when we fret about what lies ahead we get ahead of ourselves and make it worse. When I rehearse a problem, I actually experience it more than once – I live it over and over. I multiply the stress by worrying about what might happen. And I might even create problems that were never meant to be included in my day at all by forcing a solution rather than “sleeping on it” in hopes of a solution when my adrenaline level lowers.

Jesus Christ had plenty to worry about – with the gift of foreknowledge He knew the death plans against Him would succeed. Yet He told His followers “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”. When I consider God as the course designer I remind myself that He sees the beginning and the end and has allowed the obstacles to come up in my life at just the right rhythm.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Equine Behaviour Term of the Week: Flight response

Flight response: A horse’s instinct as a prey animal, to flee from perceived danger.

Dr Andrew Mclean says “A structure deep inside the brain called the amygdala, sorts out stimuli as to whether they are fearful or not. Fearful stimuli receive special recognition by the brain in terms of remembering - unlike other information, once learned fearful responses are not forgotten. You can layer new responses on top, so they become less easily retrieved, but forever after, fearful responses need careful training to keep the lid on them.”

A horse doesn’t get a 2nd chance in nature to make a judgment error – when a threat is perceived he flees to a safe distance and checks things out from there. Thus, while most skills are learned by trial and error, it only takes one trial for him to learn something through fear.

“The flight response is extremely variable. It's like a dimmer switch on a light - it can be fully on or partly on. The flight response shows up in various behavioral ways too. For example, bolting, bucking, rearing, shying, tension, running, hurrying, jogging, rushing,” says Mclean.

Mild to maximum expressions, flight is self-generating -the faster a horse’s legs, go, the more afraid he becomes. That’s why, when afraid, a horse will run right into a fence!

So…it makes you think about the idea of letting a horse “get it out of his system” on a lunge line or chase him in a round pen until he focusses on the handler. If practice makes perfect, what does practicing a fearful situation do?

On a human level, what about rehearsing our fears and fretting over problems? More thoughts on this next post!

photo credit: <a href="">milos milosevic</a> via <a href="">photo pin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Stressed out: Humans & Horses Part 2

Can riders transfer stress to their horses? A study presented at the International Equitation Science Symposium several years ago confirms it…

53 pairs of horses and riders were tested (each of the 26 horses at least twice with a different rider). Riders were also asked to rate different aspects of their riding skills on a scale from 1-10, for instance their nervousness and harmony (quality of communication) between themselves and the horse. The riders were asked to ride a course that included the following situations: 
1) Riding walk as a control situation. 

2) The rider was made nervous by telling him/her falsely to expect the horse to be startled by a water-jet. 

3) Both rider and horse were surprised by an experimenter unexpectedly opening and closing an umbrella.

The heart rate of the horses was each of these situations.

The results showed that heart rate of horses tended to be higher when only the rider or when both rider and horse were nervous compared to the control situation. The horse’s heart rate during all experimental situations were lower when the riders rated the horse’s responsiveness as good and when the riders had more experience.

These findings indicate that more trained riders and those more in harmony with the horse are at lower risk of inducing nervousness in the horse that can potentially lead to dangerous fear reactions in the horse. The conclusion of this study is that there is a transmission of nervousness from the rider to the horse but that this risk is smaller if the rider is trained and in harmony with the horse.