Ok it's been a while again, especially since I wrote a horsey blog, so here we go. I'm just going to recount a little story for you and then give you some of my thoughts on the subject. The story came to mind while I was reading about confidence strategies today.
The other day I was riding a young horse. I've been riding this particular mare for some time now. She was sent away to be 'broken in' after the owner and I had done some basic groundwork to lay a good foundation for her. I've then ridden her weekly to continue her education and build on that foundation in the saddle. She's doing very well and is starting to find a little joy and relaxation on our rides.
We had taken a route that goes along the bottom of the woods, around the end and then back up through the trees to do a loop, before we would then make our way back to her field. On the way up the hill she started to get a little extra 'keen', she pricked her ears forward and I could feel her energy rise. She'd seen or heard something that I hadn't yet.
Knowing her background (except for the two weeks 'breaking in') I knew a lot about what this mare can handle and how she deals with things she is unsure of. I would say I know her reasonably well and I know that I can deal with most anything she is going to do (given the potential situations I could imagine at the time). After a small lift in my adrenaline at her response, I had very quickly bought my 'arousal levels' back down by thinking of a few solutions to scenarios I could bring to mind.
I ducked under some low branches hanging down and as we rounded the next corner I then saw what she had heard. It was two other riders going the other way. No problem, they were going down a track off to our right and we were carrying on to the left on the path they had just been on. I talked to my horse, telling her it's ok that they are going a different way and to keep her concentration on where we were going. Talking to the horse is more to help me keep on track as to what I need to do and I find it works well. I give her a little scratch at the withers and we both carry on as if nothing happened. The riders call out as they see me/hear me 'There's a tree down on that path, you can't get through'. I'm focusing on my own young steed so I quickly thank them for letting me know and carry on to see what the blockage is.
This wasn't because I didn't believe them that a tree was down but because I like to go through the problem solving process with a horse. It's good for them I think, to experience a little waiting, to come across a blockage and realise that their rider will find a solution, and that they may be given a new job to do.
I soon saw the tree they were talking about, it was a long dead tree, the bark stripped from its trunk and very few branches on it. It had indeed fallen across the track, and it was too low to duck under, too tight and too high to jump. However, I quickly scanned the surrounding area, I saw a gap in the trees to my right. Looks good. I assessed the ground as we approached and apart from a few brambles, that looked good too. I decided to go for it, checking the ground as we went to look for any sign of rabbit or Badger holes and a few seconds later we were on the original path again and on our way as planned. No drama. No trouble.
What stood out to me, a few minutes later on my ride and again with a little more understanding today, was the use of the word can't. The rider had taken a completely different path (which curves round and cuts out the end of the woods) because a tree was down. It was very simple to get past it though, as far as I could see. So I wonder, did they have a similar 'adrenaline lift' and were unable to get their own arousal levels down? Did their horses react more strongly to the sound of me and my horse coming? Did they react to the tree? What made them decide to take a new path rather than finding a way round, and why the word can't? They didn't sound stressed or flustered, it sounded like a very matter of fact statement. Maybe they had to make that decision, and tell themselves they could not get by in order to rationalise a fear or other feeling that the tree blockage bought up? Perhaps this was caused by a previous unfortunate incident, that had involved a blocked path and had ended up going wrong....?
Now, please realise here I don't know these riders and I am merely speculating, and musing over the situation. Please don't feel I'm laying out any judgements here. I won't ever know the answers to these questions, but these musings made me think about how often we hear a story, a statement of 'fact' from another rider and just take this on, without question? How often do we hear 'it's windy up there' and we choose to take our ride somewhere else or not to ride? Maybe it's not windy but it's too hot, it's slippy, there's sheep, or cows, it's busy... And so on and so forth, and even if these things have never been a problem before, all of a sudden, it becomes a problem. Maybe it's only a little bit but it makes us think twice, and sets our subconscious mind to finding a problem, a negative scenario. It's ready to protect us from this perceived danger, that we hadn't considered dangerous until now.
Next time you have a similar situation, I'll bet it will be the next time you chat at the yard, really have a good think. How have you processed the information provided to you? Can you consider it with interest, know you are capable of dealing with whatever that perceived problem is, and move on, or does it begin a negative thought pattern and get you rearranging your ride/plans?
If it gives you a negative thought pattern, just notice that the person relaying this information is fine, and their horse is fine, and I'll bet you will be fine too! This should help you to realise what is happening is fear, the perception of danger, not actual danger.
*Disclaimer: please do take note of anything actually dangerous, like a lion loose in the woods. I don't want people running around willy nilly throwing themselves in to truly dangerous situations. But do consider is this perceived dangerous, and so just fear, or actually dangerous?