Friday, January 18, 2019

Oak update: consulting the tarot

I have been going back to read the posts I wrote about Oak from 2016 and 2017. I was able to restart him under saddle in less than a year. I felt pretty darn good about that. But obviously I missed some stuff because he never really got rid of his tenseness. Now after a hiatus it feels like we are back to day one again, but this time it feels like we are not moving forward at all.

Because of his explosive reactions to people just climbing on him bareback we decided to bring it back to just getting him to accept human touch. We have approached this by trying to desensitize him to our touch, pressure, movement and weight all over his body.

We quickly learned that just draping ourselves on his back or hugging his neck was too much pressure. He mostly freezes --- stops breathing, tenses all his muscles, and his eyes get either hard or wide.... If you let that build he will explode. It's really hard to predict when he will pop when which pretty common of horses that go into an introverted state. He is especially distrusts feet. He gives them this weird look when he can see my leg/foot over him. Its like a mix of I want run from it and attack it. Its not a nice look.

The plan for the last three months has been to have my trainer work with him once a week and me as many times as I can, on accepting and relaxing. This entails standing on the mounting block and draping various body parts over him  until we see some sort of release of tension (blinking, licking and chewing, breathing normally). Then we take a break, release him, give him scratches and praise him. Then repeat....

We have progressed I guess. He give us a lot more indications that he is processing at least (licking and chewing and yawning) but instead of becoming more relaxed he stays static, so I am wondering if he has actually learned we release for these behaviors, so he does them but not out of any real relaxation. Can a horse even do that? I am not sure.  Either way it feels like we are stalled at putting our full weight on him sitting down. Anytime we do that he tenses, sucks back, and starts looking for an exit strategy. It is not something I feel comfortable sitting on. In all honesty I often start shaking from the stress and tension of his stress and tension. It does not help that I am doing some extreme hip openers while I wait from a sign from him that I can release. I have been calling it extreme yoga. More like high stakes yoga. Relax or get flung through the air on a terrified hobbit pony.

I also do weird stuff to him like drape polo wraps around him to change things up...
So that's where we are at. I can sit on him bareback but I feel like I may die and he tries to leave after 30 seconds. Yay?

He has been my primary focus since October and I am starting to feel a bit stagnant. What I am trying to practice is its the journey over the destination but its hard when the journey is just slapping against this giant barrier.

Ok now for the tarot part...this is where it gets a bit woo. My significant other went to a poker night and I was left by myself, so I decided to pull out my horse themed tarot deck (there was wine involved). I am a woman of science I swear!

I try to keep an open mind, but I'm also aware of the fact that a deck of cards probably does not have the ability to predict the future. I have always liked tarot cards though because of the art, and when a friend gave me this beautiful set of horse specific cards how could I say no? I decided to do a reading for each horse for funsies.

The process:  I am totally oversimplifying but you draw 5 cards.  card 1 is your central issue, card 2 is the most conscious and obvious thing about the situation (can also mean your default). Card 3 what's on the horizon, card 4 refers to a subconscious factor or overall mood, and card 5 is what's happening at the deeper unconscious level.

Here is Oak's "reading"

Card 1: Fear aggression, competition and moving beyond survival. I could see that our central issue could be moving beyond survival mode. So point one goes to magic cards.

Card 2: Physical collection, balance and agility. The description mentions honoring the horse's efforts and not asking the horse for too much physical effort wise. I am not really sure how to interpret this one as the most obvious thing about our situation. I am not really asking him to physically exert himself right now. Maybe it means he is reacting to us throwing off his balance? Not sure...

Card 3: Knowledge that defies logic, exploring what society suppresses and treasure in hidden darkness. So this is what's on my  horizon? Oh geeze. Another quote: "learning to ride the energy of what can't be explained involves courage, creativity, and well-honed instincts." So I can't explain Oak (true story) and I need to develop more courage, creativity, and well-honed instincts to ride him? I would agree with that. Not sure how to go about all that honing of my instincts though....

Card 4: I pulled the vigilance card for my "subconscious factor or overall mood." It stands for anxiety associated with change and fear or vulnerability. I think Oak is very vigilant so this card is fitting.

Card 5: For my final card I got the lightening horse which represents a flash of inspiration, a glimpse of the next level, and manifested possibility. This is what is supposedly happening at a deeper conscious level. So it is saying he/we are getting glimpses of the next level,  so it just looks like we are going nowhere? Got it.


  1. I don't remember all you've done with Oak but I was wondering if you longe him. It might help him get some energy out before you try the mounting block. It could help form a bond of trust with him while you're both listening to each other.I don't mean chasing him around I'm talking about doing a controlled walk, trot and possibly canter. Also, when I had so much trouble with Dusty at the mounting block I watched some videos on clicker training and that could be something to try too. Horses like to get it right and get a treat for doing it right. I never tried it but it could work.

    I like your tarot card reading! There always seem to be some truth in what they say.

    1. You are so right about lunging helping them get some nervous energy out and he has made real progress in the lunging department. I sometimes do lunge him or do some sort of in hand work beforehand. I have not really noticed a real difference in acceptance though. I started off using clicker with the mounting block and it got him to stand at the mounting block (he would not even approach at first). But as we progressed he seemed to be bottling his emotions up to get the treat so we have taken them away for now so he can work through his feelings without being so hiper focused on food.

  2. I like the idea of clicker training and/or treating at the mounting block. It sounds like a spot of real tension for him.

  3. I used clicker for a while with him at the mounting block, but it seemed like the conflict of wanting food and his fear of me getting on were causing more tension then helping. I better clicker trainer would have had better success I think. Oak was just getting over stimulated.