39. Do Zebras get Ulcers?

39 – “Do Zebras Get Ulcers?”

Alexandra Kurland might invite us to challenge ourselves with the question, “Are you a chunker or a splitter”, which I interpret as meaning, do you chunk things down into bite-sized pieces or do you split and tease things apart?    

Alex is, amongst other things, “The Empress of Splitting”; seeing, exploring and refining the smallest, finest details.  

Interactions and learnings with our horses are better taken in bite-sized chunks rather than in one whole piece and I was a pretty good chunker, but Lola taught me the benefits of being a splitter.  

She lived her life close to her threshold for stress, there was no tolerance in the system for anything more than surviving and the smallest thing could tip her over the edge and induce panic.

Robert M. Sapolski “Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers” is a great handbook for those wanting to discover some strategies for dealing with the stresses in our own lives, apparently, it’s not stress that kills us or makes us ill, it’s our response to stress….  

(Incidentally, zebras don’t get ulcers in the wild, where they live with the stress of having to resource food and water and escape from predators, but a proportion do if they removed from their natural environment and held in captivity, provided with food and water and protected from predators – please read the book, it might just change your life and your horse’s.)  

While I do what I can to protect my horses from stress in reality I cannot protect them or anyone I love from the stresses that exist in day-to-day life.  (For Lola this included; the hunt meeting locally, anyone hacking, the bin-van or any other large vehicle passing the yard, local shoots and bird-scarers, moving to a different paddock, windy days, tress or bushes that moved, the arrival and departure of the horseboxes and trailers belonging to visiting clients or anyone watching her sessions in the arena.)  However, I can help them to learn how to cope with those stresses better by having a lower base-line level of anxiety so that they are not constantly existing on the tipping point like Lola was.

First and foremost I had to find out what Lola found reinforcing so that I could use those things to reward her and grow her confidence.  

Initially is was food, soon scratching and petting her favourite places too, then it evolved into an over-dependence on close physical proximity to me.  

If should could be near me she was ok, which helped a lot in our in-hand and ridden relationship but sometimes it was as if she had flash-backs and she would temporarily forget that I was there and panic until she remembered.  

For a while I found this flattering and it helped to grow our bond deeper and, while I do not want that bond lessened I did want her to be relaxed when I was not very close by as well.  

I have constructed a life which means I get to spend a lot of time with my horses, but mostly I am not with them, they are in a paddock in the company of other horses and ponies, and they need to be happy with that too.  

Apologies if this appears morbid, but if something were to happen to me that meant that I could not be there for her it’s important to me that she have enough self-assurance that she could be responsibly and happily rehomed should I die.  

Now, I’m not planning on that happening anytime soon – but who knows? and I do get reassurance from knowing that my family and my horses love me, I’m sure they’d all grieve, but I have set things up so that I am confident that they would be ok without me.  For Lola a lot of this confidence grew from the interactions that she had with clients, some of which were directly with her but of equal, if not more importance she is surrounded by people who are lovely to their horses and to one another.  

Filly could not appear to care-less what is going on with other horses and people but to horses like Mac and Lola it matters a lot.  Thank you all.

Next time, "When a Cue is not a Cue" published 22nd June.

For those searching online for more “instructional” resources than offered in these blogs please make use of my video downloads www.ashenec.co.uk

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