Monday, November 10, 2014

"Horses and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder"


Howdy Friends,

We are all very sensitive to people enduring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Veterans, First Responders, Police and of course women and children. But what about horses? Can horses suffer from PTSD? I submit they can and in fact do, all too often do. Sadly this is usually diagnosed as bad or non compliant behavior and a wide variety of "training" routines are administered most of which can only deepen the grip of PTSD in the suffering horse.
Kessy helping me with my PTSD with her love ...
PTSD occurs when a traumatic or sustained stressful event or events occur, causing an over active adrenaline response which creates deep neurological patterns in the brain which can persist for decades after the event or events that triggered the fear. These patterns in the brain are a transformation making the person hyper-sensitive to future stressful or fearful events, real or perceived.
 
Some of our Coffee Clutch and Facebook friends know bits and pieces of my childhood, the unspeakable abuse I endured for over 3 years locked in a room. I can tell you, to this day as
an old geezer in his 6th  decade of wondering this beautiful world, it takes only a single instances of the wrong kind of fear or stress and I'm 8 years old again, back in that horrid room with the blackened window. Interestingly recent studies at Harvard Medical School in Oregon found that adults who were in foster care for one year between the ages of 14 & 18 were found to have higher rates of PTSD than combat veterans, and the recovery rate significantly lower.

I share the tidbit of my personal struggles to help make the point, the younger the individual, or horse, when the original trigger events happen, the more ingrained the PTSD. The more difficult the personal battle to manage it is. It walks with you as an unwelcomed friend every day. Unexplainable or out of context behavior, feelings and emotions simply occur without the ability to completely manage or control. They are as much a part of PTSD as kisses and hand holding are to love.

In my travels I've seen many horses, young, old and middle aged displaying the symptoms of deeply ingrained PTSD. I know I'm right about this, and it breaks my heart. They may not have all been abused, they may have been weaned too young, trained too hard too young, trained, owned or shown by one, or too many individuals who could not understand them and disciplined instead of trying to connect and understand them. They may have been yanked from friendships, or homes in ways they could never understand.

How can we help horses with PTSD? Our interactions, our intent, our training should follow one simple rule, "Ignore the negative and celebrate the positive." And in everything we do, operate from the horse's perspective ... We want to do our best to never be the trigger that drives them back into that horrid room with the blackened window.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry

18 comments:

  1. I believe this could be true with the majority of horses! There may be just a few that don't apply but I think there is some underlying problem either past or present!
    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I do too Anon ... It's why I try to help folks to see the world from a horse's perspective. Thanks for caring, reading & commenting. I hope you'll share ~ Dutch

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  2. Yours is a wonderful viewpoint Dutch...I, to, have seen PTSD in wild mustangs after roundups and in domestics after they get sold (cuz the owner is "done" with them)...my heart breaks...a great article for trueCOWBOYmagazine, indeed.
    818 642 4764
    www.truecowboymagazine.com
    Besos
    Calamity

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    1. Thanks Calamity! ~ Yes the wild ones suffer so very much ... more than heartbreaking, spirit breaking ... I will be expanding this post for my HEARTBEATS column in Trail Blazer, perhaps we can also run it in your magazine? - email me dutchhenry@hughes.net

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    2. Ours is not a world that favors the fragile. We hide it, ridicule it, ignore it and make excuses if we are embarrassed by the fragility of ourselves or others.

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    3. Wings of Change, I am and shall be an advocate for the voiceless fragile ... I'm a horse advocate ...

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  3. I am working with one right now. A very smart little Paso Fino I rescued. One week just to get my hand on his shoulder. He is 11 and never was haltered. Every bone was sticking out when he came. He has taught me so much about being soft and slow. Thank you Max.

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    1. Good job Anon! The opportunity to save a horse is a gift and a blessing.

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  4. Dutch, I didn't know this about your past. Reminds me of Buck Brannaman and the way that some who endure horrible childhoods can choose to rise above, be different and make a huge difference in the lives of those around them. Those differences made might be with people, horses, dogs, cats, etc. but one person can indeed change the world. Keep spreading the word and teaching that WE and the horses we love can change with the right treatment!
    Sandy

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    1. Howdy Sandy, Yea, I call them my room years, and later I was dropped off on a farm like a stray cat, that's a whole other story ... But yes with the help of good people like my wife, friends and a daughter things can be managed ... And horses can be helped ~ Gitty Up, Dutch

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  5. Working now with 3 Mustangs - BLM adoptions. One yearling and two 3 year old mares. I've been around horses all my life, even worked with them professionally in my early adulthood for about 15 years. All 3 of them are doing well and adjusting to their new surroundings. Not "crashing" into things anymore. Since I'm not as athletic as I once was and my reaction times are limited by my treacherous body, all work is going slow and easy. One of the mares belongs to a young friend of mine and I've been helping her with the ground work on her little gray mare. My friend has always had domestic, very bomb-proof horses all her life and I have had to help her change how she interacts with her mare. Like someone who has dealt with horses all her life and doesn't always express technique very well - you just can't teach feel - I would make progress with this mare and my friend manages to take one small step back with her interaction - even with supervision. Today I had an epiphany - I'm sure something you've always known - that this mare has been in a constant state of survival mode and will easily revert back if stress or pressure is too much. I told my friend this is this little mares' normal state, and unlike the domestic horses my friend has been around, she has to be constantly aware and receptive to every thing this mare is experiencing. I've had to give my friend strategies to be confident, but not aggressive; be cautious, but not fearful; show her mare that she is safe - always. These are the strategies we utilize when we have to deal with PTSD in our human counterparts. This concept never occurred to me until I read your article, so I suppose I had an inherent knowledge of these ideas without characterizing them. I'm acutely aware of the effects of PTSD on our military as I have served as a combat nurse in critical care. Probably have been "touched" myself to some degree. Have had history of "fixing" problem horses knowing full well it was usually due to human error. These life experiences take me back to dark places sometimes, but they also allow a degree of empathy for the "world view" of these special horses that is difficult to explain. Since these mystical feelings are difficult to articulate I won't even try, but I believe you know exactly what I'm talking about. I completely agree with your article. I also see how the programs that pair these horses and our military personnel (or anybody) that are struggling with PTSD are so effective. Thank you for your insight - Mary

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    1. Howdy Mary, I'm thrilled you enjoyed this story, thanks! And Thanks for all you do to help horses and their people! You are so correct, it takes insight, gentleness and compassion.~ Gitty Up,Dutch

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  6. Thank you so much for this article, a wonderful story that makes me think I am not crazy and to continue to ignore all those people that tell me horses only live in the here and now. I have a number of rescue horses (most abused in some way) who all to some degree or another present the symptoms of PTSD but over time we have managed to work through them. The one that floored me was one of my own horses that I raised from a baby. We had an amazing relationship but I reluctantly made the really tough decision to let him go to someone else who I knew and trusted to be dressage trained. Four years later I have him back (long story but he ended up coming back due to "issues" and showed obvious whip and spur scars) and the difference in him has broken my heart. The once calm, kind, gentle, fun, loving boy that went away is now aggressive, tense, stressed and reactive. Reading your wonderful article has given me a real understanding of where his issues can be coming from. When I have said to people that he must feel I betrayed him by letting him go they laugh but this confirms it for me and I now know I am heading down the right path to help him. Thank you so much and sorry for rambling on

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    1. Howdy Anon, There are too many sad stories out there ... That is why we must do our best to turn sad into happy every chance we get ~ Gitty Up, Dutch

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  7. Great article and comments. Of my 4 rescue horses one is a very challenging mare with a horrific past. I've never thought of PTSD in horses. This has given me a new outlook and understanding of her. Thank you

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  8. No One Knows Everything, And Everyone Knows Something. But knowing the truth? Is everything. Speaking Horse is a gift. If you listen? You are gifted.
    You have listened my friend. And speak for the horse. You never come back from the barn clean. Hay is in your pockets, horse slobber on your shoulder. Blessed are those that cross your path, Man & Beast. Thanks, Horsemen Dave Seroski

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