Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Sucky Side of Learning

I wanted to write a post that talks about a truth that I've realized about pretty much any hobby that I'm trying to learn more about: Sometimes learning isn't fun at all, even in something I enjoy. Sometimes learning just sucks.

I guess a pre-reveal: no one got hurt in this adventure, so don't worry.

One of the things about handling horses is that they are, for the most part, giant animals. Bodi is an exception- I like to say that even if he kicks me he'll just take out my shins. But Aspen is a large, sometimes timid and spooky horse, especially if I'm also feeling spooked by something. The fear of getting hurt or of him hurting someone else when he's frightened and not thinking clearly is always in the forefront of my mind. As it sort of should be with any large animal. Second is my fear of him injuring himself, since he has tendon issues in his back legs and can become lame if he spins in a tight circle or something and re-injures the tendons.
Handsome but not super sturdy in his back legs.
So I made the perhaps not super fantastic decision to take Aspen out for a walk while people were working on the roof in the pony pasture. In order to get him out past the workers I needed to bring him around the back of the barn, then through the gate to the ring where we would have our walk. I was feeling pretty good about how we had been working together and I'd been able to work with Bodi earlier that day even with the roofing noises. I figured as long as I could get Aspen safely past the back of the barn we would be fine. Later that day I'd be helping out with a children's pony picnic but I had a good hour and a half until that started so I figured we'd have plenty of time to go out, have a 10 minute walk, and get back to the field.

The trip out went fine. Aspen was jumpy when we walked past the roofers but we got past them ok and into the ring. Once in the ring, however, Aspen just kept spooking in circles around me. We'd start off in a straight line, then some noise would come from behind the barn and Aspen would surge forward to the end of the lead rope and then circle me at a fast trot until he could calm back down enough to stop, eyes bugging out of his head, ears perked to the max. Then we'd start walking side by side again for a few steps, then repeat the process.

Aspen is scared of many noises, including people on the rail trail, loud vehicles, and sheep.
Reactions vary from slightly nervous to OMG WTF OMG.

I realized we weren't going to get any sane walking done and decided to just take him back in since that was probably going to take awhile, but then kids started arriving an hour early to the barn. Small kids. Kids who might not listen to me when I yelled at them to stay back and not run up to us. Thankfully the first two were kids I knew well so they listened and their mom was right behind them, but my "Oh crap, someone is going to get hurt" buttons were pressed pretty firmly at this point and Aspen could feel me getting stressed out, which only made him circle more frantically. I managed to drag him by degrees to the farthest corner of the ring away from the roofing noise and the gate so we would be as far out of the way as possible.

Like, this size of small children. Terrifyingly small and breakable.

I tried for a few minutes to do some deep breathing and visualizing us confidently striding back around the barn, but standing still only made me feel a deeper and deeper fear. I was almost relieved that Aspen kept distracting me with tense circling. It at least gave my brain something else to do. I was stuck. I realized we couldn't go anywhere like this. We were going to be stuck in the corner of the ring until there were no small children or roofers between us and where we needed to go. I supposed this wasn't the worst thing- uncomfortable and tense, but not quite as terrifying as getting any closer to the gate, children, or roofers. Then I spotted Barbara and asked for help.

Barbara, of course, was able to drag Aspen back into the field with no problems because she wasn't a panicked mess. Aspen just needed a person who was sure of what was going to happen to get him back safely. I at least had the presence of mind to realize that person was not me. Meanwhile I closed the gate and attempted not to cry in front of several children.

Learning like this is not fun. I already knew that Aspen needed confidence in order to make it back into the field. I just didn't know how to magically make myself into the person that Aspen needed right then. The step I took was suddenly too big. I'm hopeful that someday I'll have the confidence I need to work through something like that. Until then I'm glad I have mentors who can help me out when I get stranded.
I much prefer interacting with Aspen in his calm moments,
like when I'm brushing him in his stall.

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