There we were, Patxi and I, moseying along the obstacle course, trying to decide what to do first. We fiddled with this, we fiddled with that; another participant commented on what a good, calm boy he was. I replied that it had taken quite a bit of time to get him like that, and that I was proud of him.
I should have known better than to take so many compliments without spitting. Why spit, you ask? Well, we Greeks believe that too much energy (good or bad) directed right at us, can actually do us harm. To avoid it, we carry around “matakia” (little eyes—to ward off the evil eye) and we spit! Well, I didn’t have the former and didn’t do the latter.
Not even a minute later, Patxi and I decided to walk through a huge tent that was made from a tarp tied to a metal canopy frame that was set in huge planters. The tarp was not shredded, but had a few holes, and in the middle of the tent dangled two curtains—one of pool floaties, the other of tinsel. As the wind changed direction, the tent would billow upwards and then slam down with a “whomp!”
The other two horses of mine had walked through it calmly after a little bit of coaxing (we also took with us some tinsel every time!). So, I had no idea that anything bad might happen.
As I walked into the tent, Patxi suddenly exited to the right. I felt him leave, and because I was in front of a pole, I let go of the lead rope so we wouldn’t tear down the tent. Yeah, well.
Looks like my saddle horn went through a hole in the tarp, and Patxi inadvertently took the entire contraption with him. In two steps he pushed into warp speed and disappeared around the barn. I was left, mouth agape, tinsel in hand.
Thank GOD no kid was around or other human or even any other property to be taken out by the bolting horse dragging a metal tent…to everyone’s relief, the tent ripped off the saddle within 25 yards, and Patxi ran back to the trailer, unscathed. The only damage was to the frame of the canopy, and, for that, I contributed to the farm for its replacement. Phew!
see the video here!
I can laugh at the video now, but, boy it could have been a major disaster!
Patxi and I returned to the course, because I didn’t want him to leave holding onto that awful experience and the feelings of terror it had brought up. My reaction to the dramatic event and how to help Patxi is based on what I would have done decades ago if my toddler were to be clobbered by a wave in Crete in the summer and gasp for air while spluttering and crying. I’d want my baby to show his feelings, and I’d be empathetic, quietly loving, and hold him while he vented them.
But, I’d also know that it was up to me to help move my child out of this new mindset and fear so he wouldn’t keep a negative perception of the Aegean sea and then miss out on so much joy, awe, and beauty in his life that swimming, snorkeling, boating, and diving in it could give! So, once the tears dried, there we were again, playing in the sea after perhaps some reticence on the part of the toddler and some humorous, firm cajoling from me; I would be extra careful to let my child have a positive experience by playing games, making jokes, and getting out of the sea while he was still in that good place emotionally. [We actually developed a game where we "spanked" the waves and said "bad wave" (kako kima!) just to make the kids feel more powerful and the waves seem less scary. We'd giggle and laugh at our silliness, and soon waves were FUN!]
So, Patxi, was asked by me to return to the obstacle that had just “attacked him viciously” and we said “Bad Obstacle!” and I slapped and kicked at it while he sniffed it, nosed it, then licked and chewed several times. We then turned away from it and proceeded to act like no bad thing had happened, even as I was purposely taking everything very slowly and calmly so that he could feed off of me emotionally, and not off of any lingering fear and negative gut-reaction to what had just transpired.
To his huge credit, Patxi calmly returned with me to complete four more obstacles (podium, bottle box, pool-floatie tunnel, and sleepy bear) at the course that only a few minutes prior had been the scene of terror and havoc.
See that here, too...
Why didn’t he refuse or freak out or try to run away?
I believe the focus and relaxation work (a la Warwick Schiller) we’ve been doing helped him to let go of his “freaking out” (flight) mode as soon as the danger was over; it allowed him to return to his normal, strong, willing self almost instantaneously.
Plus, all the relationship-building we’ve done allowed his trust in me to remain intact and override his instinctual alarm system even when the recent historical data pointed towards danger; he "took my word for it" and decided to go with my flow. Pretty cool.
So, thankfully, our activities post-drama were drama-free. Yippee!
Of course, an “explosive event” like the one he experienced will have emotional repercussions on him for many weeks (sort of like tremors after an earthquake), but I have been helping him with that this past week, too (more videos of that to come, too), and he is coming back to a more relaxed state as we speak.
Phew! All’s well that ends well…