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Setting up for Success. When flying is like trailering.

Published: 2/3/2016
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, Randy Rieman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

As a military brat, I spent an extensive amount of time on airplanes from the time I was very young. Flying became part of the norm for my family, and I thought nothing of it, even flying alone as a preteen between continents with ease.

As an adult, I settled down a bit and got out of the habit of flying. My work has brought some opportunities for travel in the past few years, and though I love to see new places, my first trip on a plane in years brought on some mysterious anxiety. This fear of flying wasn't logical, as everyone knows flying is safer than just driving to the airport, and certainly safer than my day job riding horses for the public. Current events sure didn't help, as I sat in my Spanish hotel room shortly before my scheduled trip home to Michigan, watching news clips of a missing Malaysian flight, and then watched the National Geographic airing of a week-long special on plane crashes.

In the security line I felt myself tense up, could feel my feet dragging, and a sense of dread building. As I boarded the plane I thought about turning back, but it was too late when the cabin door shut and the rumble of the engine started.

All I could think of was that I was trapped around people I didn't know without enough room to stand up or turn around, and I suddenly became very panicked. Every change in engine noise, airplane sounds, or bump from turbulent air got me more suspicious, and I could not shut my eyes on the 14-hour flight back to Detroit as I nervously studied the surroundings out the small plastic window.

I thought about my horses as I traveled, and it suddenly clicked that this is how they may feel:
  • Being crammed into a small, dark space and feeling trapped and panicky.
  • They’d become more suspicious every time the trailer hit bumpy roads, made sudden stops.
  • Still worse, when the driver would hit the brakes quickly to “teach” a horse to stand still (seriously, think about it – you're in the trailer and scared so you move around, the brakes are applied hard and fast and you lose your balance. If this happened to you, you would become more agitated, not less).
  • They are not only afraid. They are afraid for their lives and feel vulnerable, trapped, and agitated.
So what is the solution?

More airplane travel did not make me more relaxed, just like simply practicing trailering with a few of my nervous traveling horses did not result in more relaxation for them. In some cases it got worse (I include myself in here, too).

We've all heard the adage “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard,” but too often this adage results in “make life living hell outside of the trailer so that inside is the lesser of two evils.” This may get the horse in the traveling tin can, but it certainly does not necessarily produce relaxation on the road.

I noticed my horses were more willing to load and be quiet on the trip after a nice, long trail ride on our way home, and I thought to myself, “well, duh!” If the trailer becomes a place for relaxation, and getting in there is a welcome reward, why wouldn't traveling be relaxing?

With a nice hay bag to munch on and their minds settled and calm after a productive ride, my horses learned that trailer time was not so bad, and in fact could be nice.

So what became of my anxiety over flying? Interestingly, after a few of my trips, I was so exhausted that I looked forward to having some time to myself to read, write some articles (including this one, written on a tray table with a cup of coffee teetering near the edge, its contents vibrating like that scene in Jurrassic Park), and doze off a bit.
Was I having a great time? No, but I sure didn't panic. Maybe with some more self-training, I can be as good of a traveler as my horses.

Proof Positive: At the end of this video, Comet loads herself into the trailer. Watch here.


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2/4/2016 Dr. Steve Peters
Amy, your fear of flight/anxiety is a great analogy for the horse getting comfortable loading. I always get something interesting to think about from your articles.

"There are no problem horses, only problem riders" - Mary Twelveponies