Saturday, November 30, 2019

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are how our mind lies to us.  Our brain gives us inaccurate information that reinforces negative thinking and emotions.  We all experience them to a greater or lesser extent.  They make us feel bad about ourselves, the world around us and life in general.  They can ruin relationships, cause emotional chaos and scare a person so bad that they are afraid to ride their horse.

This is where my sister, Ellen, found herself.

Anyone who has been reading this for a while already knows that Ellen is a very experienced and talented rider, and she has a very quiet, safe horse.  Dante is wonderful.  Part of Ellen sees that and part of her struggles with the reality that Dante is awesome.

There are different types of cognitive distortions, but I won't list them all.  I will just tell you about the ones that we have run into personally.

Ellen is a master of what is called "filtering."  That is where your brain filters out all the good aspects of something and only dwells on the bad aspects--exaggerating them out of proportion.  For instance, we can have a wonderful ride, but Dante rushed across the river on the way home.  Ellen has trouble processing the wonderful ride, and all she thinks about is how Dante raced across the river--even though he only walked fast.  It colors her whole memory, and when she comes out the next day,  crossing the river is a terrifying experience.

Ellen is a master at this one, too.  If Dante rushed across the river once, he is going to rush across it every single time.  It will never get better, either.  If he does do well, it is a fluke.  He will still rush the next time.

Of course, anyone who had been reading about our adventures know that we are constantly training our horses--and they keep getting better.  It doesn't matter that they are 13 years old.  Old horses do learn new tricks.  We don't have to be afraid of something happening forever.  We just need to find a way to teach them to act in a safer manner.

She even latches on to things that Cole does and overgeneralizes that all horses will do the same thing.  The one corner of the trail that Cole is the most likely to take off running is called "Cole Burst Corner."  Knowing that Cole might burst there, she feels like all horses--most particularly Dante--will burst there, too.

There are other ways she has overgeneralized over the years.  Every now and then, Ranger would stumble and fall.  Once he stumbled in a particular spot, she would never trot him there, again.  That was long before Dante joined our lives, so you can see that she has been struggling with this for a long time. 

Also called catastrophizing, it is when a person predicts the worst possible thing will happen.  If Dante rushes across the river, he will fall and get washed down to Lake Erie.  Well that might be a little extreme, but the mind isn't always rational when it does things like this.  Of course, if the river is only a foot deep--no one will get washed down to Lake Erie.  Most horses won't fall if they rush--and Dante can learn to not rush.  And Ellen is capable of teaching him not to rush--we can't forget that part of it.

All of these things get in the way of Ellen enjoying her trail rides--the thing she enjoys more than anything else in the world. 

Cognitive distortions cause suffering!  Unnecessary suffering!

Some will argue that riding horses is a dangerous sport, and her feelings are justified.  Sure, the danger is there, but we need to have a realistic view of the danger.  Otherwise, we suffer too much.

Think of a wild horse.  They have to be alert--there is danger everywhere.  They must run from everything.  Any noise could be a horse-eating monster.  Sounds plausible, but is it really?  If a horse ran from every single noise, they would become exhausted, have no time to eat and would die.  Horses have to learn that sometimes it is just an acorn falling from the tree or a squirrel skittering around.  They need to learn to adjust their reactions to the actual risk; the best that they can.  An acorn might make them jump, but to take off at a mad gallop because it is a life-threatening situation?  That isn't such a good idea.

If a horse can learn, so can a human.  And sometimes, a human can help a horse to learn when they do overreact--as Dante was with airplanes.  Nobody says it is easy, though.  Ellen has come far, and I will write about the things she has done to help herself in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about cognitive distortions, here is a website that will help.  It is very interesting how our minds can lie to us--and make us miserable.  There are many other types that I didn't include because they aren't relevant to what Ellen is going through.

Friday, November 29, 2019



Bus Stop

Bus Stop

Ellen had to work on Thanksgiving, so Dante was all mine.  I got back from a wonderful ride with Kevin and Shari and turned my attention to Dante.  Knowing I wanted to get home to make an apple pie to bring to the feast I was going to, I didn't think I had enough time to make riding worthwhile.  I decided to take him out on a walk.

Immediately upon taking him out of the barn, he looked straight down to the end of the driveway.  That is when I remembered his favorite game, Bus Stop.

Years ago, when I was desensitizing him for traffic, I invented the game of Bus Stop.  I would lead him down the driveway and stand him there.  Whenever a car would come down the street, I would ask him to put his head down and click and treat him for standing quietly. 

It took a bit for him to relax with the game, but soon he understood it.  Each day that we played Bus Stop, we would get closer to the street.  Eventually, we would stand by a huge boulder at the end of the driveway.  Dante learned to love this boulder.  That was his Bus Stop.

The cars would come from the left and from the right.  I would turn his body so that they would approach from the front and from the back.  Each time, he would get him click and treat.  On really productive days, someone would pull their car in the driveway or a really scary vehicle would go by.

Dante is so good with traffic these days, there is no reason to play Bus Stop, but he still loves the game.

On Thanksgiving, as we stood at the end up the driveway, he was holding his head very still with his nose pointed to the ground.  He was begging for a treat by showing me how good could stand with his head down.  That wasn't good enough for me.  He had to wait for a car.  When a car approached, I pointed to the ground, he lowered his head even more and got his click.  Then we would wait for the next car--and there were a lot of them.  Traffic was heavy, and Dante was happy.

He certainly didn't need to play Bus Stop to further his education, but he was so happy to play it.  It was time well spent.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Update on Ranger

Update on Ranger

As Ranger approaches his thirtieth birthday, (we think), we are happy to report he is doing very well for his age.  Of course, he is retired, but he is as happy in his retirement as I am.  He goes on his walks with us every day.  You should see how excited he gets--or I should say; hear how excited he gets.  It could be because he gets a treat when we put his halter on, but he is still excited.

He still walks at a good speed, and when I feel ambitious, I will jog next to him so he could trot.

His appetite, which was a big problem over the summer, has rebounded.  He eats everything he can, with the exception of any hay that it too fine or too rough.  He has the teeth of a thirty-year-old, after all.  He polishes up his grain and wolfs down his hay cubes.  He has been fussy about eating in the past recent summers, and we were very pleased when his appetite came back; just as it had in the past.

Now that he is eating well, we are sure he is getting his Cushings medicine.  The results?  He has the best winter coat this year.  He probably was having issues with his hormones all along, though up until this spring, he shedded out like a normal horse.  Last year's coat was thick and rough.  This year, he has a thick coat--he always got one--but it is smooth and shimmery--and not as thick as it has been.  Shedding him out in the spring will not be quite the task that it was in the past.

Another thing we have noticed since he has been on his medication is that he doesn't seem to get as stressed as he was.  He still gets upset if Starry leaves him, but if he is just over in the spare stall for stall cleaning or loose in the indoor arena, he is dealing with it.  When Starry goes in the park, we give him a babysitter.  It is Dante unless Dante is going in the park, too.  Then we get Freckles--the other old guy in the barn.  They seem to be forming a friendship of sorts.  Ranger really loves to bully other horses, and I think that Freckles was put off by him in the beginning.  Now, he tends to play along with him.

And yes, Ranger is as cantankerous as ever--trying to bite at whatever horse he can reach, demanding his door be opened and insisting on being fed promptly.  He has always been the boss of the barn, and he reminds us every day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Friday, November 8, 2019

Friday, November 1, 2019