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Humpty Dumpty falls apart

When the body and the mind don't think the same way, who puts you back together again?

When Kitty was still new to humans, we had an interesting moment where her body and her mind didn't agree.

April Alert feeling safe physically and mentally

She was about a month away from her first touches by human hands. She was still unsure about what people had to offer as far as improvements to her life.

I had spent time with her, getting her used to my presence. She was comfortable with me around. Relaxed, eating, playing. She allowed for me to touch her. She didn't shrink away when I reached for her. We'd been slowly working on that for a while.

We were buddies.

And yet, we got to a point where I could touch her but she would jump. Her whole body would flinch and her skin would shudder - but she wouldn't leave!

She would see me raising my hand towards her: I made a point of not surprising her, asking for permission, giving her a chance to object or move. She'd pay no attention to me, just kept on chewing and gazing, relaxed, occasionally glancing at me. She was at liberty, I had nothing holding her. When she flinched, I remember looking at her in surprise, expecting a sign of tension and instead being met with a soft eye glancing back at me as she stood there. If she could have shrugged she would have.

It took me a while to realize that although her mind was comfortable with me and my antics, her body was still wild. It was still programmed to react to physical contact. This reaction was the remnant of a highly tuned defense mechanism that was no longer hooked up to the main frame. Her nervous system was still triggered as it was meant to be, even though the signal was no longer valid for the brain.

The fact that they were two separate reactions was mind boggling to me.

I ended up touching her over and over that day, petting her randomly and repeatedly. The twitching eventually faded away. She never seemed to mind. A few days later we did have a mega 'scritch' session that might have helped reset her nerves. 2 of us were hitting every itchy spot she would allow us to touch. We must have rubbed on her for at least 30 minutes straight. Again she was free to leave but seemed to be sold on the idea that people were a good idea, if nothing else for our uncanny ability to reach all the spots.

The combination of prolonged touching and the satisfaction she drew from it must have contributed to reprogramming her natural reactions. It never came up again.

I imagine that left unchecked this physical reaction could have caused a feedback loop making her revert to being anxious. The body would have pushed back on the mind and overwritten the willingness to be touched.

How many horses have an unchecked nervous reaction?

I watched Pippa Callanan work with dressage horses at a clinic. One of the first things she did was a check in with the horses response to a basic contact on its mouth. The horses i got to see go through this exercise were surprisingly uncomfortable with a soft relaxed contact. They would squirm, push in or try to evade her hands.

Is this a reason why some horses who have trauma will sometimes lash out unexpectedly when they seem to be trusting and calm? The body hasn't caught up to the mind?

We talk about desensitizing a horse to triggers.

This only makes sense if you have won over the horse's mind. Once the horse knows it is safe, it can still have an autonomic reaction to a stimulation. Overwriting that physical reaction becomes necessary to get the horse to be thoroughly at ease.

Some people can do this very quickly. It takes excellent timing and sensitivity to the horse's cues.

Done right it's like magic.

If the mind isn't feeling safe, you're just shaping behavior in a rather rough way. It can be a fine line.

We don't talk about our own nervous systems and the ghosts that lurk there.

We also have triggers that were created somewhere along the line that still fire off in spite of us. We aren't always aware of them. Mentally we've learned to ignore them for a long time. But our bodies still respond. Hormones spike and the reptilian brain fires. There is a build up of discomfort and we over-react or under-react to people and things that come up.

Long term we suffer the consequences: depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor attention and poor memory ... and we might shrug wondering how this happened.

I know my nervous system gets easily overloaded in crowds.

I enjoy big gatherings of like minded people. I love going to horse clinics. My nervous system -not so much. I have to pace myself or I will feel the repercussions later. My attention span goes out the window, I feel anxious and down on myself for no reason. I have to give myself a chance to tune back in to my body and find my sense of safety. I know a lot of us feel the same way. It kinda comes with the introvert package - low tolerance to over stimulation.

When I was in software engineering, a world famous for its introverts, it was not uncommon for someone to bow out of an event because their 'social coin' was spent. I wish that was a common thing for people to say "I need a break to sooth my nervous system, I'll be back then".

I guess some people learn to do this gracefully, discreetly dipping out to a quiet place for a moment. Many of us just power through and end up responding disproportionately to things: snapping at someone or getting really quiet and zoning out.

Spending time with my horse always puts me back on track. She demands my emotional balance. I can't be too harsh or too easy on her. I have to stay present mentally. I have to stay aware of my own body and hers. But something about getting in sync with her makes it a soothing experience that leaves me feeling whole again.

What do you do to get your body and mind back together again?

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