Training Diaries: Containment

Spring is (maybe?) here after false spring and third winter have passed and as such the outdoor sand ring was ready to play in! Our first sunny and warm day yet this year and so play we did.

The intention Odys and I ended up working with this afternoon was “containment”.

As it was the second time for us working outdoors since last year, I expected some fresh horse shenanigans. After a quiet groom session and tacking up with lunge gear we headed out to the ring.

Our first obstacle was the fact that we had a friend in the ring, another horse being lunged. Odys considers himself the all mighty gelding on the property, and a friend sometimes equals a friend to be conquered when we’re in fresh environments. So we began…

Walking a small circle was the tolerance level for focus to start. Gradually I experimented with some transitions to trot, quickly coming back to a walk once focus seemed to be losing to trying to get friend’s attention. There were some dragon snorts involved here, but eventually we were working at a quality trot. Until…

Horrors.. the friend, who was now an alliance, completed their workout and began leaving the arena. This is how we felt about that abandonment.

And so we returned to a small circle until the strong feelings could be contained once again.

The theme of containment stood out for me today across my work with Odys and my coaching sessions. The first ride outdoors for many, the first sunny day. Stepping out of our physical contained area of the indoor arena and into the wide open. Building the skill of intentional containment within the horse-person dynamic was an asset to be mined.

Containment today was finding ways to work within Odys’s tolerance zone for focus and relaxation. Fresh air, a bigger, wider environment and strong herd instincts are challenges not faced in the same way indoors. Being okay with progressing and regressing within this tolerance zone is what allowed us to end in a good, present place within 45minutes.

Containment in essence emotional and energetic regulation. I was doing my best to serve as an anchor point, guiding the size of the container for Odys depending on where he was present with me. Present meant focused on my cues and relatively relaxed. Within whatever container we had available to us, transitions between and within gaits were my tests for focus and presence. I also spent time intentionally watching Odys’s movement and expression for tension or release, each respectively signifying the tolerance levels at hand.

Of specific note, to me, is that containment isn’t suppression or avoidance. It is simply an evolving space where expression cued and guided how connection was achieved. It requires an understanding of the nervous system based theory of windows of tolerance, and the patience to work within that tolerance threshold relative to the environment at hand. Some of Odys’s reasons for being outside his threshold perhaps didn’t make sense to a human’s logic- but at the end of the day what matters was where we could find presence or curiosity, engagement and where we couldn’t. Working outside that state of engagement is wasted time and energy, whereas working within it and creating space / containment for that process only enhances efficiency.

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