All of this made me think about horses - but then almost everything makes me think about horses! I'm always wary of applying human experiences to horses - I believe that some of this is really misguided - but when it comes to really basic brain structure (one of the main brain structures involved in anxiety is the amygdala, which is one of the oldest structures in the brain), I believe that horse too come with inborn temperaments that lead them to experience anxiety, and cope with it, in different ways.
Now all horses are inherently more vigilant and reactive than most humans - their prey status makes sure of that. But I think there are real variations in temperament, and some things in the article made me think about how I work with different horses. Dawn and Lily are both extremely vigilant horses - they're always on high alert and see and hear things other horses ignore, and they're both highly reactive to what they see and hear. For example, when I was turning out horses this morning, Dawn immediately locked onto a flapping plastic bag that was almost 50 yards away - none of the other horses even noticed it. Interestingly enough, although Lily was one of the most difficult horses to ride and work with I've ever known, she was capable of going into any jumper ring, no matter how scary or colorful the jumps, and getting right down to the business of turning in a superior jumping round. This was despite the fact that she was almost impossible to ride in the warmup ring a few minutes before. She performed so well, I am convinced, because she loved to jump and compete, was very good at it, and knew that she was good at it. This is an interesting example of one of the coping behaviors that some people use to deal with anxiety and worry. I'm convinced that she was hard to ride doing flatwork or in the warmup ring because she just didn't care enough about those things for them to distract her from her anxiety.
Anxious people often are more physically "fidgety" when they experience anxiety - in the case of people this shows up as being restless, foot tapping, knee jiggling or hair pulling or twirling. Once again, horses with more anxious temperaments, in my experience, often have more trouble standing still, and exhibit other fidgety behaviors, such as head tossing, tail swishing or bit chomping - of course some of these can be due to pain issues as well. One good thing about a horse with an anxious temperament is that you're never in doubt about what they're feeling! A horse that is less anxious by temperament may still worry or experience anxiety - my Maisie comes to mind - but sometimes it's harder to feel or see what they're experiencing inside - although the signs are there if we're able to read them - until they become so worried they can't contain themselves. In some ways, this makes horses that are naturally less anxious more difficult to work with. But then I'm a naturally anxious person myself, and I think that gives me an affinity with horses that tend to be more vigilant and reactive!
In my work with Dawn (see my post "The Horse is Thinking About Leaving . . ." for an overview of what I'm up to with Dawn), I'm focussed on helping her learn self-calming behaviors, and helping her learn that she can worry and then successfully deal with the worry by accomplishing small tasks together with me. I hope that as she achieves success in overcoming her worries, time after time, that this will begin to build in some confidence. This foundation I'm trying to build sounds a lot like the successful coping strategies used by some naturally anxious people. It was an odd place to get some confirmation that I'm headed in approximately the right direction, but I'll take it!