Building the foundation
Breeze is our veteran horse being restarted after a long period of inactivity. She has spent a long time just lazing in fields with her buddies.
Unfortunately, for the last couple of years she has been battling with COPD/RAO. It got so bad that at one point she had neutrophils measured at 75%, a level that had the potential to end her life.
Thankfully, with a lot of effort we were able to bring it under control and this year she was given a one hundred percent all clear from the veterinary practice.
Our aim now is to rebuild her physical and mental fitness as a foundation for getting back into the advanced stuff she used to do.
Liberty exercises, and later, in-hand classical type dressage activities, will help us achieve our goals.
Breeze has always enjoyed liberty games and work, but she is quite demanding of your leadership and emotional fitness.
As an intelligent horse, Breeze tends to switch off quickly if she is made to endure relentless repetition or purposeless activity.
Breeze’s attitude to liberty is no exception. If you are not sensitive to her perceptions she will simply abandon what you are asking, reject your leadership, and do her own thing until you earn the right for another attempt at it.
Fighting to dominate Breeze is pointless. Not just because it is hard work, but also because the end result is lackluster and resentful.
It can be demanding but Breeze is a great teacher ensuring that you remember leadership is about inspiring the follower not dominating them.
While interacting with Breeze we have to be mindful that her early handling experiences unintentionally cultivated more drive than draw.
After her long-layoff we don’t to regenerate that in-balance and re-establish previously corrected patterns of behaviour.
With this in mind, we don’t want to do a lot of driving and ‘allowing’ back in. Instead, we do everything we can to maintain ourselves as the place of comfort and security at all times, and not something to be kept away from until we feel gracious enough to extend a controlled welcome.
As a result, our first session with Breeze is very tactile and acknowledging every step towards what we want, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
We want to re-ignite Breeze’s interest in learning and stretching herself - and in testing, experimenting and searching for the answers to questions that we set up for her.
The session isn’t particularly pre-planned, we respond to what we see and feel, incrementally building rapport and communication.
Breeze was aware of a lot of the cues and exercises from her past history but that was double-edged.
Her long layoff from any sort of interactive stimulation made her initially unresponsive. Plus her concentration span was limited – she was quite switched off in much the same way as people can get.
This meant Breeze would be with us and then in the next moment would have to explode into letting off steam charging around the arena kicking and bucking.
But when not chased or criticised for her behaviour, she would simply bring her emotions down and come trotting back to us to pick up where we left off.
In a short space of time she was following our feel, concentrating on our intent, and enjoying playing stick with me around obstacles.
By the end of the session Breeze was enjoying the stimulation of the physical and mental agility.
It had also had an ongoing positive effect on her general mood and behaviour, awakening her interest in things again whilst also making her more cooperative and aware.
The plan will be to continue building her fitness as we introduce new activities at liberty, in-hand, and when ready, riding.