(as reported by his regular rider, Lisa Garr)
On July 27, 3 days before our annual SAFE Benefit Horse Show, I decided to go for it and ask if our biggest redhead could go along – even if just to BE at the show, competing or not. Ben was reported to have a lot of anxiety in a show environment the previous summer, even when not participating, to an almost-dangerous degree. But he had come SO FAR in the 10 months we had been working together in his ability to accept new situations calmly and to work through trouble, I really wanted to give him the chance to have a positive experience in a high-energy environment. We got the go-ahead, and we loaded everyone up on Friday afternoon and headed out.
Ben did indeed have a lot of anxiety on that first evening, as horses were constantly being hauled in, excited competitors were everywhere, and trucks and trailers were constantly coming and going. So, Friday evening, several times over, we exited his stall, grabbed our gear, and worked- on the same things we did at home every day. We did a little groundwork at a time, in various locations throughout the (extensive and beautiful) showgrounds, and when he focused on me and worked calmly for a minute, we went back to the stall and he had some hay. We took a walk with all the other SAFE horses to check out the grounds. We did some work. We gave everyone baths. Everyone munched on some grass. We did some work- all with breaks in between.
On Saturday, it was the same idea, but sometimes we were in a show ring for a little while and he was asked to stand still for a bit. If he was too anxious, we went to work for a little while. Then he was asked to stand, walk a little, work a little, and back to the stall. A few times in the morning, in the warm-up ring and even once in a class, he got so worked up he reared (his former go-to escape from mental pressure). “No big deal, big guy, but now to work – if you’re going to move your feet, it needs to be forward, not up.” This utter lack of pressure and reaction between times in his stall, I feel, was great for him. By mid-day Saturday, I could approach his stall and, instead of his head snapping up, eyes wide, ears LOCKED forward, he just looked at me… like, “Oh, hey. We’re going out again? Cool.” WHAT A TRANSFORMATION! We did in-hand obstacle courses, walked (more-or-less) over bridges, through (OK, UP to) cowboy curtains, across tarps, serpentines through cones and trotted over ground poles, all while staying relaxed and willing. Ben even scored HUGE on an in-hand dressage test!
Ben may not have taken home many ribbons, but this guy was without doubt the biggest winner in my book.