Horses are a great medium for human learning. We could use art, time, people, animals, or anything to enroll you in the metaphorical journey of life. Today the medium is our equine friend.
Imagine loading a horse into a trailer attached to your truck, then traveling to another destination. The loading part, believe it or not, is the most traumatic for horses. The idea of being stuck in a metal cage on wheels that's just larger than your own body causes the feeling of claustrophobia.
Many people who own horses get it wrong. They assume the horse is afraid of the trailer and do all kinds of tricks to entice the horse to be less fearful. They use tactics like feeding in the trailer or abusively scaring the horse into the trailer making being outside undesirable and inside, safe. But it rarely works. The horse is still reactive and even dangerous when closed into a small space.
It "sounds" like fear of the trailer, but it's not. It's fear of small spaces.
Listen to this...
When I was a child, maybe eight years old, my dad brought home a large cardboard tube from some job earlier in the week. It was probably built to contain a rolled up carpet, or something like that. Now, it was our plaything. My older brothers, at one point, encouraged me to crawl inside and through it. I assumed it was possible because, "why would they lead me astray?" If you have older brothers you're probably laughing at my naivity about now.
Well... guess what happened? I got stuck. And worse, I panicked! I literally started screaming and fighting to free myself. I could NOT move! I was trapped inside a tiny space with no resources to free myself. Fight, flight, or freeze, kicked in and I chose fight. Luckily, my oldest brother noticed my altered state and grabbed the tube, with me still inside, and gave it the Heimlich maneuver, delivering me in a crumbled mass to the floor below.
Now here's the irony in the story. I was never afraid in the tube. I wasn't even afraid of the inside of the tube. It remained in our house for days and days and we all played with until it broke down. I reached in many time even put my head in. So, the truth is, it's not fear of the object that bothers a claustrophobic person or animal. It's fear of being "stuck" that's traumatic. The same goes for the horse entering the trailer. Knowing that is gold. It's knowledge that gives you new tools for solving the dilemma of transitioning from the outside to the inside of a tight space.
The most important tool is mobility. With a horse, if you close them in, they often fight their way back out. If you're lucky you can get the door closed before they crash through you to the safety of the great outdoors. NOT recommended. I never promote shutting the door behind a claustrophobic person or animal.
Mobility, or the ability to move, is the key to developing trust in that tight space.
For a horse, that means, let them come out immediately after going in. Let them turn around. Let them back up. Let them move. Move-abilty. Mobility. That's the key!
When a horse believes they can still move, they begin to believe they don't need to move anymore and they settle in that space.
It takes a little longer to get them to stay in the trailer but... if done right, it takes away the fear of tight spaces.
If you can move, you can survive. In the beginning, macro movements are necessary. In the end, all you need is tiny movements.
I've never met a horse this didn't work with. Even traumatized horses, ones who've experience abuse or some kind or accident related to the trailer, respond positively to this idea. Use mobility to undo claustrophobia.
Take me back to the cardboard tube. Now what would make me go back in there? Not food, don't give me a meal in there. I don't need to eat to feel good, although you're on the right track of positive association, but I need something else. I need to trust I can move. Don't beat me for not being in there. Then I will associate really negative feeling about the tube... and you. Instead, invite me to believe I can move at the threshold of the entrance. Show me how I can still control my limbs and I can retreat whenever I need. Don't lock me in. Don't trap me. Let me feel like a winner for trying, not for being perfect.
Believe it or not, if done right, I would willingly climb back in that tube and trust I had control to exit if I needed to. The in/out yo-yo game would lend me trust that would grow each time I moved. I would believe I wasn't stuck. And with that belief. I could do anything, even that thing that scares me most.
Able to move. Mobility. Use it. Use it for yourself too. When you feel trapped by life or circumstances. Move. Prove to yourself you can. Start with breathing. It's subtle and easy. Easy place to get a win.
Thanks for reading. It's because of you, I continue to write.
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With Mastery Horsemanship
I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.
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