Monday, June 9, 2014

Blessi Rides Through Fire for Me

Blessi and I went to a police horse training clinic a few months ago. We experienced sirens, flares, barking police dog, fire, car washes, smoke bombs, etc. A friend brought her Extreme Farms mare and neither Icelandic had any problems with the obstacles. The only problem was dodging other horses freaking out at the obstacles. 

The clinician explained that horses do not have an innate fear of flames but they react to our feelings and fears. (The instructor meant just the flames.  Since he was using a gasoline fire, there was no noise or smoke or even smell that I could tell. Horses can easily be sensitive to any of those.  The flames were very limited--always set on a long, narrow pour.)
 
Smoke is an interesting obstacle.  Because of the way the horse's vision work, they cannot see through light, patchy smoke like we can.  To them it is an impenetrable wall.   The horse really has to trust the rider when walking through smoke. 

I also would not advise riding through any fire except a gasoline fire set by an expert who knows what he or she is doing.  The instructor explained that it was dangerous to walk through the unlit gasoline since if unlit gasoline gets on the hoof it may or may not catch fire later when walking through flames.  However, the controlled gasoline flame does not ignite the horse feathers and tail.  

Even though I had seen that this was true both in reality and in videos,  I went into an existential crisis as I was riding Blessi toward the flames for the first time.  (Note you have to ride through the fire for the first time, not along side of it.)  The conversation between the rational and irrational sides of my mind went something like this:  "Blessi's going to catch on fire!!!  No, he's not.  We're going up in a puff of flames!  You've saw the horses last year walk through a gasoline fire and not one horse hair got singed.  Doesn't matter!  Blessi has longer hair.  He's Icelandic!  "   

Blessi was very willing.  He was relaxed and his ears were forward.  He was calm and riding on a loose rein even though we were weaving through other horses backing up almost at a trot in random directions.  By the time  we were within 5 feet of the flames, I was staring down at the fire quite convinced that we were going to be a sacrifice to the Norse god of riders doing stupid things.  Blessi started to slow down.  However, I remembered the Chris Cox clinic and what he said about fear and riding position.  I made sure that I was in a centered riding position, cleared my mind of all negativity, and gazed straight ahead in a state of zen calmness.  And Blessi walked calmly through the flames. Good boy Blessi!!!!

The connection between riding position and helping a horse past obstacles is amazing.  When I am frightened, my hands can pull my reins up to my ears, I lean forward, my feet may actually go behind the girth in almost a canter depart position--no wonder the horse gets confused.  Good riders seem to maintain that same balanced position and only make minimal corrections.  Fear makes us over-correct which makes a bad situation worse. 
I don't think some of the other horses got that memo--based on the number of horses we had to avoid to even approach the fire. I have attempted to attach a photo of me and Blessi riding through fire.

Every time I go to one of these clinic, it reinforces my personal choice of riding an Icelandic horse.

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