Working with the reasons behind aggression to strangers…
When we experience pain there will be an association that goes with that pain. It could be a wasp landing on us and we anticipate a sting because we were stung once before. We slipped down a few carpeted steps once and hurt our back, so now we are careful on stairs, particularly ones that are the same steepness and covered with carpet. We remember the pain of the previous fall, so we tense up with the anticipation that the same thing could happen again, not only on the stairs we fell down but on any stairs covered with carpet, then all stairs of that type, then all stairs of any kind, then ladders, etc etc. You can sense from these words alone how the original feeling has spiralled and is creating reactions that are unnecessary.
This happens to animals too. Risada anticipates pain every time she sees a human being approaching her with purpose. She has been doing this with my farrier for many years and he is so gentle and careful and nice to her. The reason she still does this to him is because it is only now that I have found a way of acknowledging her feeling, getting her to accept the feeling is her own, and then later on, we may get to a place of releasing the feeling.
I will put a little bit of context here without judgement. All of these events happened and are past. They bought me and Risada to where we are now, sharing our experiences and learning how to help others who have similar problems.
Risada came to me when she was six years old. She had been living in a big herd. When I met her I asked about her feet and the owners double tied her in a barn so I could pick them up. She just pushed on the ropes getting herself worked up so I asked them to put her back in the field immediately. I took her on. This was my first horse and somewhere we connected deeply. She was quite a challenge for an inexperienced 45 year old.
The first farrier I found twitched her. She was shoed them and she really resented it and would not stand still. So he twitched her. I didn’t even know what was happening at the time except she was not happy and that made me feel awful. I sent him on his way never to come back. I found out about it and vowed never again on my animals. We also moved to barefoot trimming and I found my lovely trimmer who has been with me ever since through thick and thin with all my horses.
Then it was the dentists turn. She would not co-operate and he grabbed the rope off me and whipped her back side with the end of it. She then tried to kick him (understandable). He was frightened and so was she, and so was I. I now sedate her when necessary for the dentist.
Vaccinations then became impossible. She would see a man coming towards her and run for it. If she couldn’t run she would bite, rear, and kick as necessary. When we did manage to vaccinate her she then had a reaction to the vaccines so we stopped that to.
The fourth hurdle was riding. I wanted to ride her but she obviously felt my uncertainty and a level of fear I suppose as I had seen how she behaved when in a corner. I didn’t want that happening when I was on her. I put a bit on her. I got someone in to help me and they were quite controlling and heavy handed and Risada fought them quite a bit, but eventually gave in. I did ride her fairly often and (after she broke her halter and bit and I had to ride her home in just a head collar) bitless. After the experience of being ‘trained to compliancy’ she decided that any human (male or female) coming towards her with any sense of purpose was something to defend herself against. This started to include me to until she got me to a point where I said to myself that I wasn’t going to ride her again.
So, all of those experiences slowly and surely created a bigger and bigger anticipation feeling within her that she reacted to with more and more fear aggression.
The Trust technique is helping me work with her to find a level of peace with me doing things, and with others having a purpose around her, and we are starting to get small little results.
She had an abscess this last week which inflamed her lower leg. Usually I let abscesses follow their own course, but because the pastern and fetlock was inflamed I called the vet in case there was infection. My intuition was right. The abscess had popped through the previous night at the coronary band but the leg was inflamed with probably some infection as well.
The vet that came was the same vet that had tried to sedate her last time we had the dentist over. He had been new to me then and I think he hoped that he would never have to come back as she had evaded three attempts at sedation and run straight through a fence. I could feel his anxiety as he looked at her through the fence. So I put myself completely in the present moment, totally peaceful and not thinking. A feeling I have shared with Risada before and went in and asked her if I could touch her leg, which she let me do, and then went into the PM with her. The vet saw that we were at peace and came up to her. She turned to bite him and started to walk away.
The difference this time, what the Trust Technique has taught me , is that I stayed with Risada and didn’t worry about the vet. I told her it was okay. I walked around a bit. When she stopped I went peaceful with her (showing her that we could be at peace with this strange man in the field wanting to do something) and she then allowed the vet to check her over. He found the abscess hole and massaged her leg gently to check for inflammation and heat and made his diagnosis. I stayed peaceful with her until he finished not really listening or engaging with him. I could have the chat later.
Once he finished I came out of the present moment and told her how brave she was giving her lots of praise and a feeling of pride, and thanking her. The vet unfortunately thought this was his cue to tell her thank you and went to pat her on the neck, and she turned and nearly got him with a bite (poor man). We are not there yet. I told her that was okay much to the vets confusion and brought her thinking levels back down, praised her again and then went back out with the vet.
There was no consideration of control here. All I was asking Risada for was trust and co-operation. Trust first : know that the vet and I only want to help and trust that feeling. Co-operation second : please let him do what he needs to do peacefully. We got there. It was the first time of using this process with Risada and somebody else (although we are working it out with the farrier to now slowly).
We are on the first step to changing her reaction to people, by changing her reaction to that feeling that people with purpose bring up in her. If she responds peacefully then the pain will always be limited or nothing, because all she has to do is respond to the pain by telling us it hurts. Not react to the anticipation of pain which is an anxiety about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen.
I didn’t video the vet visit obviously, but this little video shows Querida and Risada demonstrating ‘accepting a feeling’. I am in the present, a place of non-thinking. I regard them when they move out of the present. Lots of flies cause movement and, also, I was surprised that Risada came and joined in, as she has pain from her abscess. Pain is not peaceful but peace can release pain. She knows that – she is a horse. Only humans haven’t figured out that peace of mind releases pain. It is not easy but it is possible in little steps.
The acceptance is when they lick their lips – licking and chewing. Yawning tends to be release but we didn’t get that far in this session (I struggled with getting peaceful with flies too). They did come down a couple of levels in their thinking though and that is always perfect.