Think about a guy; let's name him Frank. Frank, you see, has always been the quiet, thoughtful sort. He is a people-pleaser and appreciates good company, but he prefers to sit and quietly read or watch t.v. in the evenings. Frank is an introvert. As a young professional, he graduated college early and was immediately thrown into the high-speed life of big city journalism. It's not that he had a profound love of writing, but familial expectations and a show of promise decided his course in life. Months, then years, pass. Every time his bosses throws yet another task or deadline his way, Frank quietly takes it on, quelling the growing tsunami of stress slowly growing inside of him. One evening at dinner with his parents, between the bottled tension and the ceaseless inane banter at the table, Frank can no longer handle it. He explodes, ranting and raving over the demands of a job he doesn't care about, the constant battle and race to be the fastest, the smartest, and simply, the best at his job. At this moment, Frank's father stands from the table, looks him dead in the eye, and loudly admonishes him for being unappreciative for the opportunities he has been provided and immature and inappropriate in his reaction. He threatens Frank's livelihood and scolds him until Frank obediently cowers back in his seat. As time goes on, Frank's outbursts become more frequent and severe, and he sinks further and further inside of his shell...
Can you empathize with Frank and feel the uncertainty, the desperation, and the fear?
Now follow me back to the original intent of this post. Frank is Kasa. Before I delve into the whys and hows, please note that the owner I purchased him from is fantastic. She is very sensitive to her horses' needs and puts the horse first. Kasa retired absolutely sound, and she could have gotten a lot more money out of him if she had chosen to sell him to another trainer. I know nothing of his owners before her, and my dramatic intro was simply to give you a glimpse of what's under Kasa's hood after an incredible 45 races.
Kasa 02/29/16 - still working on that weight gain!
Kasa is a classic introvert. These types of horses have various types of ammo hidden under their calm facades. In fact, I've met several lesson horses like this, the kind you want to stay asleep and in their world because they rock at their jobs in that spot. Example A: as I worked with Kasa at the tire on that fateful Sunday (see my first post), I described his demeanor after a while as clocked-out or distracted. He is so sucked inside of himself that it takes fairly large energy to get him out. That day, it was the rope, and when he came out, it was with a kick.
In some ways, horses are simple creatures. Their thoughts, for example, are tied to their feet. If you want to control their feet, you first have to arrest their thoughts. For some, simply a noise gets their attention; for others, a little bit "bigger" body language. For Kasa, who has made his wall out of reinforced steel, touch will sometimes work. In hindsight, I can see the kick for what it was. I woke him up, and he came bursting out. And I reacted poorly. Because I was hurt, I took the lead in my left hand and got REALLY big with him to send him flying backwards. I only used the rope and my presence to get him out of my space, but I confirmed to him that it is bad for him to leave his shell. He wasn't being aggressive; he was reacting to something I did, and therefore it was wrong for me to punish him.
After the incident, I called up my friend/mentor/therapist Suzy Fitzsimmons, who helped me come to this realization. She also suggested that I use a flag connected to a long whip instead of just my hand or the rope. We've been experimenting with the flag (duct-taped to my cast) with wonderful results. The flag, which I can wave or touch safely out of reach, keeps his attention focused on me. Instead of zombie-horse, the nervous thoroughbred packed away inside is learning to come out and deal with life. He gets praised for thinking, for starting to lift a foot in the right direction, for expressing himself, and for breathing (the most important piece!), as long as he is with me, or a mile away or buried inside. He is beginning to understand that the outside world can be a warm, loving place. And he is with me in taking his first steps towards being a confident and aware partner for the tasks ahead.