My horse Dee is a very kind soul. He’s one of those horses that you could easily underestimate or put in a compromising position simply because of his good naturedness. He’s also naturally “people-ey” and likes nothing more than to be part of the action.
Along with all of that, however, he’s very sensitive and I’ve got better at observing the subtle signs of discomfort that he shows, especially under saddle. His big one when you get on is to be very interested in everything that is happening outside of the arena. It’s not a big deal in that you could “push” your way through it and still get stuff done (even nice stuff), but I find that approach to not only be dissatisfying but ultimately, problematic.
What he’s communicating is a degree of not-ok-ness and the way he’s dealing with that is to dissociate; to not be fully present to what’s going on in heart, mind and body.
If you think about how stress- specifically traumatic stress- is created, it’s by situations where the circumstances have been too much, occurred too soon or been too fast for the system to be able to process at the time. The integration and the healing then comes by working in the opposite fashion; slowing it down, staying connected to your environment and being in conscious relationship to yourself while you do so.
In many instances, in both horse and human, we are only sensitised to two main points (and if we are lucky, one or two others); they are, I’m ok, and I’m really not ok. We have lost the capacity for nuance, for recognizing the trajectory between those two polarities, and as a consequence miss out on the opportunity to rest in the settling, to ground and to centre before the experience becomes bigger than our bodies.
Your subtle signs of discomfort, like Dee’s could also be distraction. Looking at your phone. Turning away. Fiddling with your hair.
It could be a habitual gesture of some sort; stretching, cracking your neck, wringing your hands.
All of these are your systems way of communicating to you that you are starting to get full up.
Starting to become aware of these means you have the opportunity to return to yourself and do whatever is needed to take a moment and resource yourself to increase your capacity to deal with what’s at hand.