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The First Thing To Do When You Are Stressed – A Horse’s Wisdom

Sweetheart Yawning & Breathing Video (Takes a few seconds to load.)
We can learn so much from horses. Horses teach us a very important tool when faced with anxiety.

As you know, my pony, Sweetheart started formal training a couple of months ago (really, it’s me being trained). I’ve learned to look ahead to where I want the pony to go, to be clear and sure in my movements and stand tall and erect, nonverbally signaling to my pony that I’m in charge.

Things have been improving. Much to Sweetheart’s surprise, some of his old tricks to test boundaries with me don’t work anymore. He came up with new tricks, which also didn’t work (at least for long). So slowly, over time, he is learning to trust me more as his leader, and I am growing more confident and becoming a better guide of horses.

Training has included longer and longer grooming times in the wash stall. We’ve come a long way from his first bath when he reared up and escaped by pulling himself free of his halter and stall ties (enjoy his “I do not want a bath!”video at on September 27, 2012). He has learned that being in the wash stall can be quite relaxing and comfortable. When he releases his anxiety, his head will drop a bit, his ears will be neutral and often he sighs or smacks his lips, all signs of acceptance.

In training a pony, it is a good idea to shake the routine up just a bit once in a while, so that he can learn to handle change, even small changes. Just like it isn’t good for people to stay in comfortable ruts, unable to accept change, it isn’t good for horses either. Better to be flexible and be able to master breaks in routine.

So after his last session in the training stall, the trainer decided it would be a good exercise to go the opposite way out of the barn through a different exit. All went well. Sweetheart and I passed the barn owner at the barn door with no incident. She called to me, “Breathe!”

I called back to her, “I didn’t know that was important” and then I took a deep breath. I wasn’t aware I was breathing shallow. How the barn owner figured that out, I don’t know. I know breathing is important. I know when I get anxious, even if I am not fully aware that I’m anxious, that I do tend to hold my breath.

So like Sweetheart who gets scared but then realizes he’s okay, it’s important for each of us, whenever we start feeling tense, to remind ourselves to take a deep breath. Breathing deeply is healthy, filling us with oxygen, fueling our brain.

Take a deep breath when you are tired, when you are feeling a bit off track, when you are chewed out by your boss, or just assigned a project you wish you weren’t. Is a worry attacking your peace of mind? Take a deep breath. Take 10. It is step number one when stress wants to overtake your body.

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