Violet’s Story, Part 2 “rebuilding from the pieces”

Violet came for her second lesson a week later.   On this day, we spent a good long time sitting together on my couch talking and working on some relaxation techniques.  We started with deep breathing.  I showed her how to breathe deep into her diaphragm by placing her hand on her tummy.  We practiced together until she could really get her hand moving from her belly.  Next, we talked about her fear of mounting.  I asked her to give her fear a rating from 0, (no fear), to 10, (paralysis).  Violet rated her fear as a 9 on this day.  Next we did an exercise I learned from Karen Zorn called quantum entrainment, (, which develops awareness and relaxation.  Violet acknowledged her fear, then put it away, putting all her awareness into first her right hand, then her left hand, and finally both hands.  At the end of the exercise, she rated her fear as a 5 or 6.  I affirmed her progress.   After this exercise, we talked about how we desensitize horses by introducing new objects in a slow, methodical, and calm way.  If the horse shows fear, we continue to reintroduce the stimulus, (example: a plastic bag) until the horse accepts it without reaction. We allow the horse to see it, smell it, and then we begin to rub it on different parts of the horse’s body, moving from the least sensitive areas to the most sensitive areas.  I told Violet that we were going to use this technique to desensitize her fear of mounting.

Violet was ready to start.  We went out to the pasture to find Monarch, and Violet led him into the arena for grooming, tacking, and mounting.  I wanted her to be as independent with Monarch as possible for this early groundwork, so I only assisted her in the saddling and bridling.  Violet picked his hooves, brushed, and fastened buckles.

As Monarch was readied, I reassured Violet that we would take mounting in baby steps; in fact she wouldn’t even mount at first.  All she needed to do was to be close to Monarch, then touch him, the rein, and the stirrup.  Violet stood on the mounting block, as I brought Monarch into position.  I could see that her fear had returned to an 8 or 9.  With Monarch standing close to her, Violet practiced her deep breathing with her hand on her belly. He remained quiet and reassuring as she petted him, then took a hold of his mane and the reins. Finally, she touched the stirrup with her left toe.  “That’s fine; now let go, stand, and breathe.”

“This time, you still won’t get on; you will only put your foot in the stirrup and stand.  First breathe deeply, now grab his mane and the rein.  Now let me guide your foot in the stirrup.  And now, just stand there with your foot in the stirrup.  Don’t swing your leg over.  Keep practicing your deep breathing.  Okay, now take your foot out of the stirrup and lay on his back.  Feel how relaxed he is.  Feel how much he likes you.  And now quietly slide down with your feet back on the ground.  And breathe……and slide…….and stand.  What number is your fear now?”

Violet responded with a 5.  “Ready to do it again?  Step on the mounting block,  breathe, pet him, grab mane, foot in the stirrup, and stand.  Breathe, lay on his back, and slide back down.”

We repeated this a few more times, and she was ready to mount.  “Practice your deep breathing, grab mane, foot in the stirrup, stand, and breathe.  Now slowly swing your leg over the saddle and lightly sit on his back.  Very good; keep practicing your deep breathing.  Can you feel him relaxing and breathing too?  Okay, swing your leg back over, take your feet out of the stirrups, and slide back to the ground.”

We practiced this many times, breathing, foot in the stirrup, swinging the leg, settling gently in the saddle, feeling the quiet, relaxed horse, and then dismounting.  I could see the tension relax from Violet’s eyes, her face, and the quality of her movements.  I asked her what number her fear was.  She replied a 3, a very positive time to stop for the day.  I reminded her to journal about her experiences this day.


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