I read something on a post the other day about a horse routinely being given a herbal calmer 30- 40 minutes before riding, which I’ll admit never sits well with me. There are similar discussions that I am having with people all the time who have been advised on comparable lines to take a supplement of some sort or something similar to deal with what is presenting- be that anxiety, worry, overwhelm- to help them navigate something that they are finding challenging. The reason that it makes me uneasy is not because of the supplements per se, but the attachment to this approach being the solution and as a consequence, the causative underlying issues are never really addressed. For the sake of example, let’s work with anxiety.
If I am routinely relying on something- be that a supplement, equipment or a fixed routine- to create a calmer or more relaxed horse or rider, I can be fairly certain that there is a deeper issue that is not being looked at. If we think of anxiety being the overcurrent, or the behavior that is presenting, then the undercurrent to that is a dysregulated nervous system and a horse or human being placed in a situation where their stresses outweigh their resources.
How do I know if it’s addressing the causative issue? I know because when I remove it, there is an improvement. For instance, if a herbal calmer helped the undercurrent of the issue, then it stands to reason that when I removed it, there would be an improvement in the initial underlying challenge.
If a noseband strap actually helped my horse accept and carry the bit happily, when I removed it, there should be an improvement. A real aid is exactly that; it aids and assists the resolution of what caused the initial concern and discomfort and moves horse and rider towards a better feeling place.
The questions to ask are then:
Is what I am doing supportive to myself or my horse? Sometimes, yes- if it’s understood as an acute measure that doesn’t cause additional harm and the work to address the underlying issues is being tended to.
Is what I’m doing masking the issue? I would say, are you reliant on it? Does it remove the personal agency of either horse and/or rider? If the idea of *not* having it fills you with hot sweats, then we might have an issue.
Thinking in terms of overcurrents and undercurrents is useful. Does what’s presenting have a deeper issue? And if so, how can we dive under the surface to make sure that’s the place we are really working from?