Romeo paints No. 19

Original art painted by a horse.

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The Diary of DaVinci
© 2006-2007 by Cheryl Ward

Installment 9: Object Training
August 16, 2007

Watch the video for Installment 9

DaVinci's emotional progress has surpassed my expectations. He's become the talker of the herd. The door opens, he nickers. I appear in the pasture, he nickers. If he's walked off grazing, and then hears me talk to a neighbor, he nickers. When he's attempting a new skill, like pivoting his hind quarters around his 20 inch square block, I can hear him nicker softly the moment he's trying his hardest. His emotions are right on the surface.

I have a new appreciation for the expression, "He wears his heart on his sleeve." At times I wonder if he has a genetic predisposition to nervousness, but I do see him relax more and more each day. His muscles lose their tension and he can breathe easily. With all of his progress, however, I'm still daunted a bit as to how far we need to go to help him have an easier time living with people.

He still dislikes anything "done" to him. I'm so in tune with him when he's happy that seeing him uncomfortable when I approach him with a grooming tool makes me really want to get to the bottom of his thoughts. I've worked a bit with desensitizing him, but it really puts me in the position to have to make a withdrawal from him, and I don't like the look on his face. Eventually he'll begin to tolerate what's happening, but I want more than toleration or worn-down acceptance. There is such a difference between when he wants to do something and when he's made to do something.

Unresolved Psycho-emotional Trauma
I found an article written about how significantly traumatic events affect people. The article, "Applied Psycho-Neural Psychology," by Dietrich Klinghardt, M.D., Ph.D. puts it like this:

"All events in life are accurately recorded by the subconscious. ... A memory can be complete and resolved or it can be unresolved. Unresolved memories can belong to one of two different categories: present or suppressed.

In the first category, the memory is always present, to different degrees, disturbing, haunting, relentless and painful. It keeps the person from being present in the moment. These patients are often highly dysfunctional. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder belongs into this category. This condition is known as "Unresolved Psycho-Emotional Trauma." Significantly traumatic circumstances, usually in late childhood or young adulthood, are the cause of this condition.

In the second category, the memory is suppressed into the subconscious. The patient is not aware of all the details of the original event and of the psycho-emotional impact it had and still has. These people are often fairly functional in life but have specific areas of dysfunction. Applied Psycho-Neurobiology is a practical process of having a dialogue with the subconscious mind (emphasis mine) with the intention to uncover the unresolved psycho-emotional conflict. Understanding the limiting beliefs that were formed may resolve the psycho-emotional conflicts and replace them with freeing beliefs."

Can I Dialogue with DaVinci's Subconscious Mind?
I feel that DaVinci is chock full of unresolved memories. Although he's a horse, he still obviously exhibits limiting beliefs. He believes an object in my hand is a potential threat. I can't go back through hypnosis or any other method to understand how his beliefs became so limiting, but I think I can help him at least replace those fearful beliefs with freeing ones.

I want to see if I can create a new memory for him. I try an experiment with a carrot, "an object in my hand." I let him take a bite and then I softly place the carrot on his neck. We repeat this a few times, but the tension in his body tells me he isn't okay with it. I can tie him and do this over and over until he finally succumbs to dealing with it, (desensitization) but I feel that would create a learned helplessness. So far I've been able to accomplish everything with him unhaltered and untied. I don't want him to feel trapped by me. Eventually he'll learn to tie, but I want it to be at his pace. So although the carrot is something he loves, he doesn't love it enough to let it touch his body. There's no question he has some deep-seated, unresolved issue about being touched.

DaVinci's First Audience
A playgroup of moms and their preschool-aged children arrive to have story time with Romeo and Juliet at our house. The group arrives with strollers and lively children. All three of our horses and the neighbor's five horses begin running at the sight of the oncoming stroller brigade. I guess from the horse's perspective, strollers are monsters on wheels with squealing creatures inside. The guests sit behind a fence under a canopy tent. I bring Romeo and Juliet out to say hi, make a few silly faces and paint.

Then it's DaVinci's turn. I lead him up to the group by asking him to follow his target stick. I lower the target to about knee height, which is his cue to lift his legs and fling them out in front of him. He doesn't notice the cue. He's too scared and distracted by the crowd. He prefers to stay a safe distance away. But as soon as I ask him to stand on his pedestal which is closer to the guests, his focus returns. Then he steps off the pedestal and I hand him a brush. When he begins painting, it's as if he forgets all about the people and is thrilled to be painting.

Painting is an activity where he is the one that gets to do something, rather than having something done to him. I see something that's going to be crucial to his recovery—the use of objects. I knew it all along but never fully realized its impact until today.

Object Training
DaVinci seems to delight in his ability to climb and maneuver on his pedestal as well as hold and manipulate objects such as balls or paint brushes. It seems like when an object is present he almost "forgets" that he's supposed to be afraid. For now I'm calling this approach Object Training.

The process of manipulating objects also brings him closer to what horses are designed to do—use their whole body for survival, their mouths, hooves, legs, teeth, etc. When working with objects, it mirrors the kinds of things they'd have to do to during their daily quest for food. For DaVinci, it's redefining his world from being a victim to having a dialogue with me.

Horses Speak "Objects"
A foal targets its mom (a very large object). When he reaches her, he gets a reward—he gets to suckle. By targeting mom he gets something he wants, food. If this is a wild foal, the herd replaces mom as an even larger target as the foal matures. The growing horse targets the herd for safety and survival.

I watch my horses in the pasture and sometimes see them manipulating branches, logs and tree branches. They want something to eat. Allowing DaVinci to target and manipulate objects with his mouth and hooves to earn a food reward is something very near and dear to his heart. Perhaps this is the way he was designed. The more I work with him according to that design, the more he seems to be able to reprogram his fearful thoughts into confident ones.

I start working with him and his ball (watch the video for Installment 9). I ask him to pick it up and hand it to me. I stand near his side and gently toss the ball so it lands in front of him. I ask him to pick it up and bend his neck around to give it back to me, like a carrot stretch.

Then I stand closer to his left side, place the ball over his back with my arm hovering over him and ask him to take the ball as it gently touches his right side. He reaches around and takes the ball from my hand. This amazes me. The ball is resting on his side. The ball is touching him. I'm able to do with the ball what I couldn't do with the carrot. In my mind it's because he can manipulate the ball. He then lets me drape my arm on his back with the ball in my hand. Two points for me. I have my arm and an object touching his back.

I have a feeling he's been ridden before, so I want to see what happens when I take the position to get on his back. I place two hands on his back as if I'm going to hop on bareback. He's fine. I begin to jump up and down, totally expecting him to bolt, but he just stands there. He even wraps his neck around me as if to say hi. Then I lift my foot as if I'm putting it in a stirrup And he's off...

A Ball on the Foot is worth Two in the Saddle
My foot is a major trigger. I uncover another limiting belief for him. I wouldn't doubt he's been kicked in the ribs a time or two. So I set about to reprogram what my foot means. I stand with one foot on the ground and the other a high as I can lift it and ask him to target my foot. At first he snorts and backs up. I think he's never seen a human do the Fighting Crane before. I pray that the neighbors are watching TV or I'll hear "So, you're teaching your horse karate now?"

I repeat the request to target my foot but this time I put the ball on my foot. Sure enough, DaVinci's much happier targeting the ball even though it's joined by my scary foot three feet in the air. I joke with Sam that the first time I get on his back I'll have to secure a ball to the top of each of my boots. Quite the opposite of spurs and much more colorful.

"The Object" Objective
Each step I take with DaVinci, whether there's a ball on my foot or not, shows me that beliefs are just that, beliefs. If he believes a mane comb will makes him feel better, it will. If he believes it will hurt him, he'll struggle and pull away, taking clumps of mane with him, thus confirming his beliefs.

He makes me see that my job is to help him create as many memories as possible that make him feel better. Object training makes this process more attainable than I ever imagined. Now I'm curious to see how the use of objects will transfer to all aspects of my horsemanship with DaVinci.

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© 2004-2007 Cheryl Ward & Sam Sharnik
Last updated January 10, 2009