CFN – This Column of “Spirits in Unity” is being published by CFN for the community of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry.
In one of my previous columns I wrote about A Christmas Story. Some of my readers were kind enough to tell me that they enjoyed reading it, but one of my young proteges told me that she had read the story in my column and hoped I would write some more stories.
As you get older and have experienced more of life, those little things that happen to us along life’s journey become more precious. With the passage of time, I sometimes wonder if all of our memories are really reflections of what really happened or are embellished to some extent by our fantasies. Nevertheless they seem real enough and it is comforting when someone like my young student wants to hear them. So my young student, here is another story just for you.
The Scottie Dog
Even though both my parents were both brought up on farms in their youth with the usual animals about, they never indulged their children to have pets when we were growing up, unless you count one goldfish in a glass bowl. Frequent visits to the farms of several uncle’s and aunts only wetted my longing for an animal of my own. Of course you know what animal I longed for the most, a horse of course. But you have already read that story.
When we moved to our Marlborough St. home in Cornwall, most of my playmates had their puppies and I too longed to have one as well, but my parents would not hear of it. And when they decided on a course of action, that was it, case closed. That didn’t stop my wishing and hoping though. And I kept hoping, but it never arrived except for that one Christmas when a Scottie dog appeared under the tree.
As I think back now, I look upon that Scottie Dog as some kind of a cruel joke played on me. My Dad had a penchant for practical jokes and enjoyed putting one over on me whenever he could, but at the time I took it quite seriously. At the age of 5 my fantasies for a collie, like Lassie, became transferred to that Scottie Dog.
He was, I suppose, by stuffed dog standards, the weirdest looking animal you could imagine. Instead of fur he was covered in a patchwork of pieces of plaid cloth. He didn’t even have a tail. I often wonder where my parents got that dog? Nevertheless he became a Collie in my fantasies and we went everywhere together as I pulled him along on his leash. Then one day my playmates told me they were going to take their pups for a walk and would I like to come along. When they arrived at my house, they asked me to come along and I told them I didn’t have a real dog, just Scottie. They told me to bring him along and guess what, I did. Oh, Yes, I was naïve enough to display my fantasy in public. No sooner had I joined them than they started to laugh and tease me for my weird looking pup. I remember being so humiliated that I ran back into the house with Scottie. As I looked out the window, I could see them amusing themselves at my expense.
I continued to drag my poor Scottie around for some time, but always in secret so as not to be further humiliated. He began to show signs of wear as the bottoms of his feet wore off and the stuffing starting coming out. I tried desperately to repair him myself, but he kept deteriorating. Then one day, he just disappeared and I searched for days trying to find him. I never asked my parents if they had seen him. I suppose my mom had disposed of him. To me that was my first experience of loss, as it took me awhile to get over him. But remember, I was still hoping for that horse, so I had something to look forward to. Even to this day I can picture that dog in my mind as clear as any photograph. Funny how some things stick with you after all these years.
Perhaps there was some valuable lessons learned from that Scottie Dog. Perhaps it taught me to be more sensitive to other people’s dreams and aspirations. Have you ever had anyone make fun of your dreams? You just hang on to your dreams for dreams become hope and hope can inspire vision and vision can lead to action and the ultimate realization of your dreams.
Well, back to emotional fitness and this week’s topic: Exposure
The limits of emotional fitness are tested as soon as you take your horse, or yourself for that matter, out of his familiar environment. A lot of the time it happens suddenly and the horse has no preparation. Here are some ways to help him improve his confidence in new surroundings.
Make Changes in his Environment
Horses are highly perceptive to danger, people, places, changes and things. Introduce new objects to him as much as possible. Move things around in his environment. By getting him used to lots of little changes he’ll become progressively less concerned about any changes.
The Touch Pattern
Encourage him to touch things with his nose, then his feet for varying lengths of time. The longer you ask him to stay at an object, the more confident he needs to be and the better your communication with him needs to be also.
Send him towards objects at increasingly greater speeds. This will teach him to think faster and will build emotional fitness.
Take Him to New Places
Think about taking your horse to some new places, firstly close to his home ground and then to totally new environments.
The key to managing his emotional state is in you being prepared. Play with him prior to asking him to approach a new situation or object. Get his mind focused on you and the task you are asking him to perform rather than worrying about his safety.
The Controlled Catastrophe
Have someone introduce a stimulus such as running around with a tarp waving in the air behind them or making some kind of noise. Of course it may bother your horse, but will it bother the handler more? Remember if your focus is distracted, your horse loses his leader. Act as if nothing else exists except you and he and pretty soon you will see how your horse will respond.
Recently Joel Haslam and the Regional Contact Team visited our facility for a video taping. While here 14 students, each with a horse was asked to play with their horse in the arena, first on line, then at liberty and when they felt comfortable to get on their horse and ride bareback. Each handler focused on their herd of two and became the horse’s leader so that each horse focused only on their handler. Eventually most students were riding bareback without any reaction between horses.
To see the video clip, tune in to CJOH TV News on Sunday, January 27 at 6 PM or at 11:30 PM. You can also catch it by searching ‘Regional Contact’ on the website.
Whether you are just a horse lover, have dreams of owning a horse someday, or already have one, I hope these columns will give you some insight into the true nature of these magnificent creatures. I hope you will find them both informative and inspirational.
Be part of your horse’s dreams, not his nightmares.
May all your dreams come true,
Garry “Horsetalker” Meek