Clinic Countdown

The difference between fear and anxiety

Rocky smilingJust yesterday, I posted a long update about my strategies for working through the anxieties that trailering has stirred up for me.  Today, Parelli posted some video snippets from sports psychologist Dr. Jenny Susser’s talk at the Summit that address this exact topic.

“Confidence comes from preparation and focus…. Fear is a response to an actual threat…. Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat.” ~ Dr. Jenny Susser, speaking at the Parelli Summit 2014

One life lesson that I’m learning from this trailering journey is that I already know how to help myself through the scary stuff, and it’s exactly that: preparation and focus. I can use my information-saturation method, my “pick up the dish and do it” technique, and the deep breathing and all those other strategies to get myself through it. Thus, I’m not afraid of the anxiety itself. (With me it’s mostly anxiety; I cope pretty well with things that are actually happening and only melt down later when I’m swamped by the what-could-have-happened.)

What I call “doing the dishes” is the practice of loving the task in front of you. – Byron Katie, There Is Just One Thing To Do

I do admit to working on the patience part. I mean really, I know I’m going to get through the anxiety and come out the other side a conscientious, able, and calm trailer-er, so why can’t I just skip all the process and get right to that point? Heh. But I am practicing being as patient with myself as I would be with everyone else in the world, so that’s also a good life lesson. “Skipping the process” works when you need to get somewhere fast so you take the car instead of walk, but some things can only be walked to, whether it’s the top of Yosemite Falls or the other side of anxiety.

This very process is about learning a process — I’m about 80% of the way from anxious to calm, and my destination is to learn a process that will get us 100% of the way from home to the clinic and back again. Believe me, if I could skip the trailering and simply teleport Rocky to the clinic, I would! (Now watch me discover unexpected deep-rooted anxiety about teleportation.)

g-qJason: What? What was that?
Alex: Uh, nothing.
Jason: I heard some squealing or something.
Gwen: Oh, no. Everything’s fine.
Teb: But the animal is inside out.
(all humans in the Conveyor room glare at Teb)
Jason: I heard that! It turned inside out?
Teb: (not moving despite being covered in Ludicrous Gibs) And it exploded.

Last night I did a little art therapy with my digital drawing-and-painting app (Paper by FiftyThree) and had a wonderful time festooning Rocky’s trailer with fall colors.

Rocky in festooned trailer

I used all six tools — pencil, fountain pen, marker, pen, watercolor, and eraser — and custom-mixed all of my colors. While I’m sure the product would be better if I had a more advanced iPad so I could get the more advanced stylus and thus more precision in my work, I do not think the process would be improved upon no matter how whizzbang the tech. Real-life art supplies are too messy to use casually in bed, but my finger, a 10-cent stylus from China, and the touch screen made for a wonderfully tactile and soothing couple of hours. At the end of which I was actually looking forward to my next chance to haul Rocky somewhere.

Like Anne of Green Gables, I learned long ago that with great imaginative power comes great responsibility. You must manage yourself so that you don’t react negatively to your imagination (paralysis) but rather respond in positive ways (creativity, delight, interest). Otherwise you’ll drive yourself and all of your loved ones crazy, which doesn’t leave you much time for horses.

Anne never forgot that walk. Bitterly did she repent the license she had given to her imagination. The goblins of her fancy lurked in every shadow about her, reaching out their cold, fleshless hands to grasp the terrified small girl who had called them into being. A white strip of birch bark blowing up from the hollow over the brown floor of the grove made her heart stand still. The long-drawn wail of two old boughs rubbing against each other brought out the perspiration in beads on her forehead. The swoop of bats in the darkness over her was as the wings of unearthly creatures. When she reached Mr. William Bell’s field she fled across it as if pursued by an army of white things, and arrived at the Barry kitchen door so out of breath that she could hardly gasp out her request for the apron pattern. Diana was away so that she had no excuse to linger. The dreadful return journey had to be faced. Anne went back over it with shut eyes, preferring to take the risk of dashing her brains out among the boughs to that of seeing a white thing. When she finally stumbled over the log bridge she drew one long shivering breath of relief.

“Well, so nothing caught you?” said Marilla unsympathetically.

“Oh, Mar–Marilla,” chattered Anne, “I’ll b-b-be contt-tented with c-c-commonplace places after this.”

~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Categories: Clinic Countdown, Reflections | 1 Comment

Transforming fear into data, one word at a time

Two weeks left until the clinic, and the prior and proper preparation continues.

Hello, world

Hands-on horsemanship

I’ve been working on building up my endurance, refining my body language, and doing “level 1 with excellence.” I’m not trying to teach Rocky anything new, but am trying to bring my awareness into my body to do what we already know how to do, at a higher level of quality. This has been the Missing Piece for me and it feels really good now to start to feel the change when I get the right energy, the right refinement.

Hauling, or, the nature of fear

It’s the learning-to-haul part that’s been an amazing experience — an enlightening education about the nature of fear. I had no idea I would be so afraid of, well, everything.

The Trailer

First my fears centered about the trailer. Every squeak, bump, lurch, wrong direction of the jack, wiggle, and jiggle had my heart in my throat. What solved this was transforming fear into data: I’ve been obsessed with learning about trailers.

I have read The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, plus the owner’s manuals for Brenderup, Featherlite, and EquiSpirit trailers. I’ve researched lightweight trailers to see if anyone is filling the gap left by Brenderup closing its U.S. operations. (Featherlite and EquiSpirit both have models in the 2100- to 2400-lb range, but I’ve yet to find a 1550- to 1750-lb option.)

I watched the EquiSpirit videos about their trailers, learning in the process what the various features are for and why you’d want them or not. I’ve even learned about hitches, for chrissakes! And I took the trailer into the local Featherlite dealer for its annual inspection and maintenance service. Finally, I got two experts to verify that the clunking I worried about is just from the hitch ball mount, which is annoying but not a safety issue.

I bought a set of cheerful yellow trailer chocks to replace the firewood I’d been using. After all this information saturation — what Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, called “flooding” when he’s talking about imprint training a foal — I barely worry about the trailer at all. I feel like I’m part of the horse-hauling world, and that if Anything Happens, it will be because Sometimes Things Happen, and not because I did not prepare, practice, or pay attention.

The Horse

My second set of fears focused on Rocky. Our first four years together were so full of injuries, lameness, and sore feet — and even in the past two years of relative soundness, he has hurt himself in the most ingenious ways — that I have been experiencing high levels of anxiety about him coming to harm in the trailer. Would he slip, fall, get stuck under or over dividers or breast bar or butt bar? Would he panic at seeing vehicles coming up behind him? Or, if I close the top panel so he can’t see behind him, would he panic in the trailer from claustrophobia?

Probably none of those things, but as we all know, the answer to every question about horses is, “it depends.”

There’s no rational reason for the extremity or the vivid nightmare imagery of my fears, but knowing that doesn’t make the fear go away. This level of fear is unusual for me and it has given me a deeper understanding of how much compassion and patience I can call upon the next time Rocky is afraid of something. Or, for that matter, the next time a friend or colleague is nervous about something that I have no fear about, like public speaking.

Seeing how Rocky is no longer terrified of the burn pile or its tarp, and how he’s also working toward a positive response to stepping on his rope to replace the panicked opposition reflex pull-back, reminds me that while this fear may be now, I’m not doomed to feel it for all the future nows.
Rope malfunction

The day at the rodeo grounds when he didn’t want to load up again, and slipped off the ramp and bonked himself and cut his fetlock, began to loom larger in my imagination than it actually was when it happened. It took two lessons with Erin and four days in a row of feeding him his breakfast in the trailer — and seeing him load himself at liberty the last two times, and unload perfectly straight — for me to be able to let go of the most extreme of these worries.

Again, saturating myself with data has reduced the fears from almost paralyzing to some tension and some discomfort. I’ve learned about how horses keep their balance in a trailer, how to ensure they have enough ventilation and why, where to put the hay and feed, how much water to bring and why, and so forth.

I learned the astonishing news that a long trailer ride is considered to be 5 to 10 hours — apparently the 3ish hours to Atwood Ranch is a relatively short haul! I’ve practiced wrapping his legs with polo wraps (he never got used to shipping boots) and ordered a second set of bell boots to protect the hind coronet bands.

And I’m practicing positive visualization, replacing dire fear spasms with wonderful images of Rocky traveling along the freeway in state, enjoying the scenery and the speed and his onboard meal.

Curiosity replaces fear

The Truck

I also had two days of worrying about the truck not being strong enough to keep the trailer upright and safe with Rocky in it. That went away when a) I read that my truck weighs 4,000 pounds, b) I made a spreadsheet that lists all the weight ratings and adds up our load and calculates the margin between actual and maximums, and c) I stood on the tailgate and the whole truck bounced just as much as it does if Rocky stomps around inside the trailer. I also had the oil changed so all the fluids and tires are topped off, and the cracked windshield replaced.

Oddly, I don’t have fears around having River in the trailer. I’ve decided to practice hauling with her, so I get experience without overdoing it for Rocky. Erin follows a 1-in-4 traveling-to-relaxing ratio — meaning that for every trip they take, the horses are loaded 3 times without going anywhere, so they stay relaxed about the trailer. If I do the same that still gives me four practice runs with Rocky before the clinic, if I feed him breakfast in there every day.

On the trail

The trailer as a teaching tool

We spend a lot of time with trailer loading in Parelli, and for good reason. It’s an awesome tool for exposing the holes in your relationship and foundation, which helps you figure out what to prioritize in your ongoing horsemanship practice. But we don’t talk much about the actual hauling part. It seems to me that most people just load up and go, and everyone reaches their destination just fine, most of the time.

I’ve used all the strategies I can think of to help myself through this. I’ve used friendly game, breathing, accepting and making room for fear without letting it take up more space than it needs, approach and retreat (move closer, stay longer), talking with experienced horse people who trailer, and reading reading reading.

I am one of those people who can learn to do a practical skill, at least in rudimentary levels, by reading about it enough times. And for me, the more information I pack into my head, the more confidence I have when I actually do the task. (For others, all this data could make it worse, filling their heads with what-ifs that they wouldn’t have invented on their own!)

I have a strong belief that the way to help protect your loved ones from drowning is to teach them to swim, not to avoid the water. This 6-week intensive in fear management has been an incredible learning experience — to the point where the clinic now seems like a reward for all this effort, rather than the inspiration or the cause!


Categories: Clinic Countdown | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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