OK so as I said in part one of this series, a key part of my nerves about all this is the fact that I don't feel I have had the time to get him out and about to the extent that I would have liked, in preparation for Equidays. That said, any person's definition of the appropriate degree of preparedness for any situation is going to be different from the next person, and I do tend to be a worrier / over-preparer. So to me, we are feeling very under-prepared.
However, I have had this horse his whole life, and taken him to numerous ribbon days and in-hand shows as a youngster. When I broke my arm I sent him away to be started under saddle by Ben Longwell so he spent a few months in a busy working "ranch" type environment. And during that time, Ben actually took him to Equidays 2015 to be the green horse in his "First 50 rides" demo series. So actually Hokey might argue that it's ME that hasn't been out and about enough - he has spent more time in the demo pens than I have.
All that aside, he has never been the "easiest" of horses in new environments (or even his home environment, half the time!). So I need to do what I can in the time I have to help us be successful.
Here's the plan:
And here's the results so far. I took him to the indoor arena on the weekend for some familiarisation. Basically, it looked like this. Hmmmm yeah not ideal.
To be fair, this happened mostly because I brought Cadence along and she was outside neighing to him. In hindsight, I should have kept his leadrope on and kept the rate of reinforcement super high. I probably should have brought her inside too, for a while at least. I thought maybe it might help him to have a run and let some of the adrenaline jiggles out, but it was clearly the wrong decision. He did come back to me numerous times, and gave me some focused work, but he was far more over threshold than I expected and the whole experience didn't exactly inspire me with confidence. However, there's nowhere from there but up I guess!
I've taken him out twice this week and he's been MUCH better. I am a little more optimistic now than I was after Sunday's episode. The second time I took him to the RDA arena (Wednesday) he was focused and connected with me almost the entire time, and when he did run back to the gate he turned and came back to me almost immediately.
This is us having a liberty play in the arena after my lesson with Cadence on Tuesday. He's never been to this arena before. He struggled a little with his park, but was totally connected and responsive the whole time. I'm keeping my rate of reinforcement a lot higher than usual of course, and not asking for anything hugely difficult.
More about him next time.
There's this amazing TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, called "How to make stress your friend". She basically talks about how our perceptions of stress are far more influential than we realise and that by viewing stress responses as a positive and helpful thing we may actually change the physiological and mental impact of that stress. Basically, when our hearts are pounding and we break out in a sweat, we often see these things as a sign that we're not coping well with the situation. Kelly argues that we should change our view, to see these as signs that, for example, our body is preparing us for the situation and making sure there's plenty of oxygen getting to our brains: "This is my body, helping me rise to this challenge".
Coincidentally, a friend sent me this talk by Mel Robbins today, the central message being that the state within our bodies of fear vs excitement is exactly the same. We just need to tell our brains we're excited rather than scared.
So when I head on into that Equidays arena, I'm going to try to remember that I'm excited (not scared). My heart is pounding in order to give me strength and energy. I will also focus as much as possible on being calm and connected in the moment with my little dude and supporting him through this. After all, this is my silly little game and he didn't ask to be part of it.
"Chasing meaning is better for you than trying to avoid disappointment. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life, and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows."
If you haven't heard, I've been invited to be a clinician at Equidays, New Zealand's biggest equestrian festival. This is pretty huge for me, and I'm super pumped to bring positive reinforcement training to Equidays in a really practical and accessible way. My goal is to show the audience that this is something they can (and should!) all implement to some degree into their training programmes, no matter their chosen discipline or level of experience.
But wait! There's more. On the last night of Equidays there is a new night show, called Equidays Top Talent. So the OTHER thing that's happened, is that Hokey Pokey and I have been selected as one of the finalists to perform on the night. This involves a performance in the indoor arena, in front of grandstands full of people, complete with lights and music. ("Woooah nelly!" thinks me, while lying awake at 3am. This is waaay outside my comfort zone!) I am by nature a teacher, not a performer. However, I have discovered that I harbour a deeply stubborn streak that makes an appearance when I'm scared of something, insists that I won't give in and makes me dig my heels in and do it anyway. Who knew. But yeah, suffice to say this is not a small thing for me. So as there's little to be gained by putting on a show of confident nonchalance, I will be blogging about the process between now and then. That will hopefully help me to work through my feelings and also might provide some interesting reading or learning for you guys.
As I break through my comfort zones ("stretching" is for sissies! (just kidding)) I am, according to the wonderful Jane Pike from Confident Rider, "a Neural Highway Ninja". Who am I to disagree with that?! She says, "Basically, all those neural networks in your body are connecting up new pathways, joining the dots together and building both your mental and physical muscles in ways that will allow you to get out there and repeat the same task much more ease-fully in the future. You getting out there and actually doing it- not thinking about it, talking about it, or drinking coffee about it- is the only way that you are going to make this happen. The only way." (Yes ma'am).
The main reason I'm nervous is that this is all rather last minute and I have not had the chance to prepare Hokey by getting him out and about much. He has hardly been in an indoor arena before, let alone a huge enclosed arena at night with packed grandstands, lighting and sound systems! So I am not really abiding by the clicker trainers mantra of "set them up for success", by any stretch.