Stress is something that effects every thing in the world and beyond. It is impossible to avoid. Stress comes in many forms, physical pressure, assumed pressure, emotional tension, situations, expectations and many more. A psychologist will tell you there are 3 types or groups. Acute, Episodic Acute, and Chronic stress. And great detail can be put into each classification. But for the purpose of this Blog, I just want to talk about things to look for so we can better understand there effects on our Horsemanship.
We will more easily see stress in the horses we work with before we recognize it in ourselves. It goes unnoticed in ourselves all to often. Symptoms of stress can be things like, mood changes, sickness, elevated heart rate, muscle tension or stiffness, poor circulation, depression, and Anxiety to name a few. We often miss the signs because the cause of the stress has us otherwise engaged in the problem instead of its cure. Being aware of our thoughts and feelings can help us recognize it. We can't make a change if we don't see what is really happening.
I will start by talking about recognizing stress in our horses first. This will help us later to turn the attention back onto ourselves so we can understand it better. A horse shows signs of stress frequently. You will see it in their posture and attitude first, more than likely. Inhibition and Anxiety are caused by stress and this is very noticeable when it is present in a horse. Specially if it's severe. If it's mild you may notice some movement, maybe some muscle tension or stiffness, high headed and alert, tail up or swishing, or a change in breathing. The more severe it is the more movement you will see. They start to become fixated on an idea, most often that will be getting away or what the rest of the herd is up to, but if it is real severe they may challenge you or hurt themselves to get away.
If you have worked with horses enough, then you know that the more a horse is stressed, the less they understand. The same is true that the less a horse understands the more they are stressed.When they get like this, they are not even interested in trying. They become one track minded. We do the same thing when we are stressed as well. While working with a stressful horse we become their Psychologist. We have to go back to a place where the stress is manageable. Most times we can not remove it completely but we can help them work through it if we start in a place they can handle. We offer them options and when they find them, some of the stress gets relieved. It gets relieved through understanding. The pressures of stress cause them, (and us) to feel trapped or helpless, even hopeless at times. Learning there are options gives hope. figuring out these options gives understanding and power over the stresses.
Now for us the stresses in our lives are much more complicated. We carry stresses around for decades sometimes. These stresses effect all areas of our lives. Stresses from childhood can stay with us and effect us till retirement if we don't recognize it and get a handle on it. As I mentioned above, the stresses most often go unnoticed because it keeps us fixated on the cause and not the cure. Everybody has their own stresses in life and I could write a whole book on this topic. But I really just want to shine a light on it for those of us who may not have been lucky enough to see it for what it really is and are living with it un-managed.
I guess the best way to do this is to write about a personal experience. I really don't know where to start because I know my stress begins in my childhood. I always struggled to try and fit in. Never really feeling accepted. I had friends and was good at many things. That did get me some attention. But I was not very popular. I really had no desire to be popular either. I found the popular crowd for the most part, very childish. Saying things about others to knock them down and raise themselves up. Not for me. But it did leave me feeling like an outcast. Even though I knew I could do so much. School was easy for me, I always had good grades. Maybe because it wasn't a social event for me. I was really good at sports which you would think would make me popular. But for many I saw my talent in sports made them feel less about their own skills. Many of them feeling the need to try and discredit me as a person so they don't look bad as an athlete. I never really understood what was really going on as a child but I knew I didn't like it so I stopped playing sports even though I loved it and was good at it. In a way I'm glad I did, in other ways not so much. But because I stopped activities like that in 8th grade, I started studying up on things like Understanding human behavior and my interest in horses. I never knew the 2 would go so good together. I learned at a young age that all the stuff I was experiencing was typical and an understanding of what was really going on. It gave me some relief, but the stresses still follow me around even today. Even though I know all of that was not directly related to me. They were just dealing with and responding to their own stresses which did directly effect me. I have learned to forgive the people in my past and any here in the present because of my understanding. But seeing it all around me happening to so many people it is still stressful to me.Though now I am more equipped to deal with it.
Another example I can give that shows how stress can effect communication. More recent in my life, In August of 2014 I broke my ankle. Being self employed with an overhead that I needed to cover, being out of commission for even just a couple weeks is difficult never mind not being up to full capacity for 6 to 8 months. Between the financial stresses, the worry of how good and fast I would heal, not being able to do things for myself and relying on others, not being able to be a positive part of other peoples lives, and maybe more that I just haven't recognized. I was really slipping into a depression. A few people really stepped up and helped and for them I am truly great full. But being a person who would rather give than to receive, it was very stressful for me to know that my problem became their problem. I had no way to compensate them. All I could do was say thank you. Falling behind financially (to a point in which I still have not fully recovered) I attempted to do a demonstration 6 months after my ankle brake. There were many stresses involved with myself and the horse in this Demo. Even though I felt I was being scammed by the horses owner, which turned out later to be true, I felt a strong need to do this Demo for many reasons. I felt like I needed to show people that I am healed and ready to work again so people would start coming for help again. My financial situation depended on it. I really needed to feel needed at that point after needing others so much for the last 6 months. Also the fact that I wasn't able to work the way I would've normally worked because it was winter, even though we had a heated arena, It was so cold out side that the ground froze and lifted at the front door to where it wouldn't open. Because of this and the fact that people had to come in through the barn, I set up a round pen in the arena so people could come and go through the arena. I would've normally worked this horse loose in the arena and not in such a confined area. There were a lot of stresses involved for the horse as well. She was 6 years old and not even weaned from her mom. Still nursing in fact. She had never been worked with and never had left the place where she was born. So you could imagine how stressful being in an indoor arena, fenced in a 45 foot round pen out of site of her mom, with people all around would be to her. What that horse needed in that situation was to be worked in a typical round pen fashion. Being as I don't care to work like that and I would rather have had her loose in the arena, letting her get as far away from everyone as possible and work at building her confidence to come be with me. I didn't see what the horse really needed. I wanted so bad to show my method of working and didn't pay enough attention to the stresses of the situation. Her stress on top of my stress made it so that there was pretty much no communication. I was never able to show what I intended to that day. The good thing is I learned a very valuable lesson in planning and compassion. I kept the horse for a week and worked with her the way she needed me to and made great progress before I brought her home. Unfortunately I didn't get to show it in the Demo. But this is a great example of how stress can effect communication and how easy it is to go unnoticed at the time. It really made a mess of things that day. A mistake I am sad to have made, but grateful for what it has taught me.
It really is important to manage our stress on a daily basis. It is difficult but truly necessary. Stress blocks out the truth sometimes. It causes inhibition and anxiety. That worry doesn't allow us to see what is really there. Unfortunately life is becoming more and more stressful. More of the truth is being lost every day. Because of how each and every one of us deal with stress, we end up passing our stress on to someone else. When it changes hands like that it gets changed into something different. Blinding us all into our own little reality. Its no wonder everyone is arguing, taking sides and getting offended. And unfortunately again it creates more stress. Interfering with our communications. Through Faith, Hope and Understanding we can wash away our worries and fears. ISAIAH 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
Thanks for reading