Riding Cassie 3 – out of the comfort zone

We all have a comfort zone, a place where you are confident, where you know what to expect, a place that makes few demands on your ability to improvise or deal with the unknown or unwanted. Cassie’s comfort zone is of course first and foremost just being out in the field with Minnie. As far as riding is concerned, her comfort zone would be the lane where I used to walk her in hand; down the hill, turn right, walk to the entrance of the forestry, stop, graze for a bit and then turn to go home. If it was up to Cassie, that is where we would ride to and no further. As long as she is in her comfort zone, she can more or less deal with the unexpected because she doesn’t immediately loose her head. She is also less inclined to look for danger; she knows what lies ahead and predictability is reassuring.

The comfort zone is a nice place to be, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere. It’s a stagnant pool when you should flow like a river.

The first time I tried to ride past the forestry entrance, Cassie threw a major fit. I am not confrontational and I never fight a horse, so in a situation like that I don’t try to make Cassie go where she doesn’t want to go. Instead, I just block where she does want to go. Then, when she has calmed down enough to review the situation, I’ll ask her again. Cassie is a smart girl. If I go back the following day she’ll usually go past the scene of the crime without a problem.

I have my own comfort zones in life and I know where they are. My comfort zone with Cassie is less easily defined. After a ride, I do a sort of mental re-run to think about how Cassie went and what I could have done better. It took me a while to realise it, but it finally dawned on me that I was riding Cassie defensively. I was riding her in a way designed to keep her mentally in her comfort zone. Somehow, keeping Cassie calm had become an excuse not to push her. By focusing on containment rather than stimulation I had become a passive rider. Cassie and I were getting stuck in that stagnant pool.

I have ridden quite a few horses for other people. Most of these horses I really liked, but I was riding them for a reason. It didn’t matter if it was fittening work, exercise or schooling, I would let the horse know what I wanted and expect them to work with me, no nonsense. It didn’t matter what their background was, we had a job to do and that is what we did. Riding your own horse is different. Love can get in the way. But when I first got Minnie I took the same approach, I would ride actively, with gentle firmness and it didn’t take long before Minnie and I had a very good partnership going.

Why then didn’t I do the same thing with Cassie? When I got Cassie she was fairly traumatised, which is one of the reasons why I took things so slowly with her. If I ask myself if I would ride Cassie differently if she wasn’t my horse, the answer is yes. I would accept less and push her much harder. Over the past few weeks Cassie has shown that she trusts me and feels safe with me, even when we ride out alone without the company of another horse. We have come through some really tough and scary situations without rearing or bolting. Cassie is ready, it is time to move out of the comfort zone and take a different approach. All I have to do is ride her as if she is not mine.

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4 thoughts on “Riding Cassie 3 – out of the comfort zone

  1. Same as with kids. Only there, the trick is – if only sometimes they would treat you like you weren’t their mum!

    Sounds like you’re ready to move on with Cassie, and also that it was probably right to wait until this moment to push forward – you probably had to really feel that stagnation before finding the way ahead.

  2. I envy your experience with other horses–although I’ve had a few live with us off and on the last six years, my handling experience is still very limited.

    It’s funny that June compares this to parenting. I just read an article about how professors at colleges in the US are calling the incoming freshmen “teacups” because they just can’t handle disappointments and setbacks. It seems that “helicopter parents” are not only trying to make sure their offspring are safe all the time, they’re also working so hard to keep them happy that the kids never really have to struggle.

    Then, when these kids reach their twenties, they feel strangely empty and unfulfilled–even if everything is going well for them.

    Even if we plan on keeping our horses forever, we never know when a trauma in our own lives is going to pop up, and horses live a long time. Even if it’s difficult to expose them to new things, we have a duty to do that for them–if only because we may not always be there to understand and make allowances. My heart broke a little bit when you wrote the sentence about riding her as if she wasn’t yours, because I think with any horse that’s been mishandled striking a balance between growth and reassurance is a particularly difficult task. I’m so glad Cassie has you to work with.

  3. I came to this realization last week- that I’ve been babying Gwen and that it really hasn’t been in either of our best interests to do so. I’ve been ever so careful not to upset her because I’m afraid of getting hurt. Learning to ground drive has been a huge relief for me, I can push her without being in knock-kneed fear that pushing is going to get me busted.

    I read that article that Fetlock is referencing- very interesting. Might have been part of why I started thinking about this…

  4. June, you’re right, Cassie was ready to move on and it was the stagnation that made it clear to me.

    Fetlock, I’d be very interested to read that article you referenced, do you have a link? I have a 17 year old daughter and a 15 year old son, so life is very interesting at the moment. Running out of matches trying to light fires under them!
    I should perhaps have formulated that sentence about riding Cassie as if she isn’t mine a bit differently. I find it so much easier to ride or assess a horse that isn’t mine and work out what they need, it would be good if I could apply that objectivity when I ride Cassie.

    Shannon, I totally know where you’re coming from. Cassie’s first reaction for a long time to any form of pressure was rearing and preventing a rear was always on my mind. Bucking and rearing are very intimidating. All the time I’ve spent with her on the ground has paid off though, she hasn’t once made a serious effort to rear since I started riding her again. I’m going to do more in-hand work with Cassie now to prepare her for more demanding ridden work.

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