Along for the ride: How Much Worry Can Your Horse Handle?

by Robyn Schiller

Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, business woman and nationally competitive rider.

People, like horses, are different in how much worry they can handle.  Warwick and I are total opposites just as some of our horses.  I’m the worry wart – I can worry about just about anything and I do.  To this day, I am still surprised when we are in an airplane and actually land.  I’m so invested in the worry that the plane will crash, that I feel physical relief when the tires touch down.  And then there is Warwick; asleep before we take off, waking up when they are putting the brakes and reverse thrusters on. I had someone tell me once (yes, it was a therapist) that because I worry and usually nothing comes of it, that this is just the way that I roll now.  It’s justifiable to worry because if I worry then nothing bad happens.  Of course, that actually just makes me worry when I don’t worry – if that makes any sense at all.

Anyway, a good way that Warwick explains worry and how much a horse can handle is through a story he calls 13 rabbits.

“I was at a clinic and had a participant say to me, “My horse is completely stupid!”  When I asked why, she said:

‘Well, I went for a ride on my horse the other day and a rabbit jumped out of the grass and it didn’t really bother my horse.  I rode a little farther and another rabbit jumped out of the grass and he looked at it but he didn’t appear bothered.  A little while later, another rabbit jumped out of the grass and again it didn’t bother him.  After about an hour, there must have been a total of 12 rabbits that had jumped out of the bushes and he really didn’t get too excited about them.  THEN!  The 13th rabbit jumped out of the bushes and when it did, my horse exploded!  He freaked out, bucked me off and ran home! He’d seen 12 rabbits already that day, so, he must just be stupid!’

After reassuring the person that her horse was not stupid, Warwick explained it to her this way: What happened was that when the horse saw the 1st rabbit, it caused a little bit of worry and the horse held onto that worry.  When he saw the 2nd rabbit, it caused a little bit more worry and he held on to that as well and so on and so forth.  After the 12th rabbit, the horse had accumulated a lot of worry.  Once that 13th rabbit came out, the horse could handle no more worry and the horse freaked out.  So, this horse could not handle more than 12 rabbits worth of worry!

Our job as horse owners is to help our horses get rid of the worry that the first rabbit causes.  In other words, we want them to be “rabbit free.” We can’t let the rabbits build up.  We do this through the principle of Don’t Go to Bed Angry.   When the horse gets a little anxious or worried, we take the time to get them back to (mentally and physically) relaxed.  By keeping the rabbits from accumulating, you are effectively taking care of any behavior that will result from anxiety or worry.  Warwick believes that most of the horse behaviors that we need to “fix” are caused from Anxiety.  We will have a whole lesson on this principle in our new online course that will be coming out in 2018 and there are tons of videos on the subscription that can teach you how to have a rabbit free horse.

I’ll talk more about anxiety (since it is probably my biggest hurdle) in my next blog called CBT on a plane!

Thanks for reading.