"Until the horse is ready to look to you for the direction and support he needs so he can stay relaxed and follow your feel--you need to follow his feel. By that I mean to be ready all the time to get with him, and all the time be aware of when things start to change in that horse's mental system. If a horse understands that a person is in favor of him, and that their mental focus and physical abilities are available to him, then he can pick up some reassurance. As long as what a person does to help a horse doesn't bring out the horse's self-preservation instincts or disrespect, a time will come when that horse realizes a fella's there for him in a way that maybe he hadn't thought about or understood possible." True Horsemanship Through Feel
My first day on the beach, during our Hawaii vacation, was spent reading the book, True Horsemanship Through Feel. The first few chapters dig in deep about how to get feel and the different types of feel--direct and indirect. It's all about being with your horse as much as possible and looking for new ways, improving on old ways, and having an unquenchable desire to learn. It's all about listening to your horse and finding a way to communicate and be together from the very beginning, from when you approach and halter, and then throughout the entire time you're together.
My first day back, I put some of what I'd read into practice, having realized that I often jump ahead of myself in my horse work, instead, I slowed down and spent time asking Leah to lower her head in the pasture before haltering her. When I got that, I moved to haltering her and bringing her head down again in a nice relaxed frame before I walked off. Dorrance emphasized that nothing else should be done until you've got that first sign of togetherness and relaxation and, if it takes your whole time together to achieve, so be it.
He also suggested walking a horse on a loose lead--which I already do. He said that, ideally, the weight of the rope is all you should feel. You should be prepared for something more, but a relaxed horse will usually be with you and the rope is more of a safety net. All of my horses are really good at that type of leading.
The big difference in what I do and what he talks about is in the next steps, being with the horse up close before you ever ask them to move out away in a circle.
I tried it his way--the way most of my trainers have always taught me, but that I conveniently always forget--which is to say, yielding and bending, directing the feet, and then moving from there to a small circle about 3 feet out--still controlling the feet and maintaining a good feel between us--and then, if need be, further out, again, as long as the good feel is still there.
It went great. Leah never lost her connection and relaxation. As far as Dorrance is concerned, there's no need to go there. A horse should be with you ever step of the way or it's time for you to take some steps backward. We made the choice to be with the horse, so it's up to us to get feel--even though, the horse has its own feel going on, too--but these two things need to come together for the good of the horse.
I tried something new with the yielding--which I call the "I forgot something" game. It's easy for me to play the game, because I usually do forget something. It consisted of me asking Leah to move away in front because "I forgot something over to the right over her", or moving her hind end away from me because "I forgot something behind and to the side of her." It was yielding with a directional purpose.
She liked it.
At the end of our session, doing it the Dorrance way on the ground, I finally had the togetherness I had been seeking with her. Using feel, without knowing I'd done it, I set her up for success, and she was proud of herself, confident with me, and there was a new kind of relaxation and unity.
It was something we had been missing, so I'm excited to see how it translates in the saddle.
I put the same principles to use with Beautiful before the farrier came yesterday, and I got the same results. She was giving it more "try". Something in the barn was scaring her, and her body was shaking, but she looked to me for support instead of pulling back and trying to flee. When the farrier came over to trim her hooves, she relaxed and did great. Big changes from small changes.
I'm still at the beginning of the book, so I'll have a lot more to write about as we move along.
While in Hawaii, we also went on a horseback ride around Waipio Ridge. Wiapio Valley was closed off because of the Dengue Fever (YIPES!), but we were able to go out on the ridge and look down at the ocean and waterfall. It was beautiful, and the ride up was something else with the thick, tall stands of Eucalyptus trees.
The two girls we rode with had only been on horseback once before, so they didn't have any idea how to keep their horses from eating grass along the way. I didn't want to nag at them, or ride ahead of them too far (their horses would see us passing and then trot to catch up, which they couldn't sit), so I tried my best to help them out and, otherwise, enjoyed the leisurely stroll.
The view is always better between horse ears.
The big island is home to one of the nation's largest cattle ranches, the Parker Ranch in Waimea. If we go back next year, I want to ride on the Ponoholo Ranch, the second largest on the island at 11,000 acres, because they offer rides for the more experienced horse-people