Monday, October 24, 2016

A Sublime & Silent Improvisation

"Joy--deeper still than heartache."


"Getting with my horse," is the goal of my work with Leah, but the fact is, riding a super-green horse can be scary.  You feel out of control, and desperate for control, so it's easy to be too much on their face--whoaing, circling, collecting, slowing.  Last week, all signs pointed to my being overly controlled with Leah--the Parelli video where he works with the rearing horse spoke to me.



And then I pulled the Lightning Horse card which reminded me that working with Leah should be--"a sublime and silent improvisation between two souls."




I merged those two inspirations together and could not wait to get out and see what would happen when I worked with Leah.  What kinds of things would she choose to do, if I were to let her decide, as they do in the video?  Who is Leah--my dance partner?  What moves does my partner want to make? What motivates her?  What inspires her? 

The fact is, horses don't need us for much.  I was thinking about it this morning.  Shelter? Nah, they're happy out with the other horses running free.  Hugs & rubs?  Nah, they can do that for each other, too.  Protection?  Nope.  They're stronger, faster, can see better, smell better, kick better.  In fact, the only thing I could come up with is food.  We have this magical way of producing food on demand--summer, spring, winter, fall--we  have what they love--FOOD--but, even that is available to them in the wild.

So, bottom line, they need next to nothing from us and are more than capable of defending themselves.

When I'm on the trail with Cowboy, I rely on that--I trust him.  It's like 95-5--where he gives 95 and I give 5.  I can eat my lunch, drink a beer, chat with my friends--and he's doing all the work and scouting ahead for danger.

With Leah, It was 5-95.  I wasn't sure what she was going to do, so I was calling all the shots.

I started out today with massage on the ground--then I saddled her and massaged and stretched her from on top--and then I let her go.

I did nothing.  No leg, no rein, no movement of my body.  She decided to walk in 15' circles to the right.  (If you remember, that's the direction she NEVER wanted to go before.) Walk, walk, walk, walk.  Circle, circle, circle.  Then she spotted my coat hanging over the side of the rail and walked to that.  Stopped.  Sniffed.

This was the point at which Parelli says to bump them gently with your legs and make it kind of uncomfortable to stand around doing nothing.  Bump. Bump. Walk, walk, walk.  Circle.  Circle. Smell the coat again.  Circle. Circle.

Finally, I figured I should make it an opportunity to practice neck reining.  So, I lay the left rein on the upper portion of her neck, moved my right leg back, my left leg forward, turned my torso to the right and bent her through.  Leah didn't like that too much, so she told me by grinding her teeth, but eventually, she was neck reining really nice to the right.

After ten or fifteen minutes, she got bored and started moving out along the rail to the right.  We did that for a while, then I sat way back in my saddle to signal a whoa--she stopped on a dime.

I began to slowly introduce gentle asks to the right or left--more whoas--but if I wasn't asking, I was quiet.  When I did ask, as soon as I got it I released and gave her the full rein.  Because I was so quiet, Leah was able to really hear the asks.

I figured it was time to move her up to a trot.  Bump. bump.  Trot.  At the trot, I let her move freely underneath me and rode above her in the 2 point position.  It gave her some freedom and it allowed me to massage on her neck, head, and sides as we rode.  We trotted around for another 15 or 20 minutes.

At the end, I felt I'd gotten with her and she'd gotten with me enough to test her around the barrel pattern.  We did some weaving in and out and around and she did perfect.

I jumped off her and praised her to high heaven.

The partnering thing was FUN--I had fun and she seemed to have had fun, too.  I trusted her (and myself) enough to let her go and she didn't do anything dangerous or scary.  It was a thousand times more satisfying than going out there with an "agenda."  She is a stubborn, but sweet horse, and she had decided to fight my "agenda" at the time we were working on opening and closing gates and the T-Bone exercise.    Today went a long way to ending our impasse.  I think it tells her that I value her opinion.  I value her.  We're in this together and we'll work step by step to get this dance right.

14 comments:

  1. I don't have time right now to watch the video, I will try in a couple of weeks after all the move is done. But I sure get what you say about horses not needing us and our agendas.
    It looks like you may have found the way to advance with Leah- how exciting!
    It's really interesting that as soon as you put cues on her she got anxious; but keeping your cues and asks as light as possible helped. I'd love to see what Mark Rashid would work on work you and Leah.

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    1. You're right, most cues are met with a pissy attitude. At first, she went in circles as if I was asking her to, and it took a while for her to figure out she was choosing to. I really feel like the way through this will be a creative process and I don't want to go to a trainer to find the answers. The video showed me a different way of thinking about the issue, but it only helps me to a point. It's one thing to get with her at home in the arena, but what about the next door neighbors when new horses are running around? I have some ideas.

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  2. It's interesting seeing how a horse changes when a rider changes something. I watched most of the video. I've been to several PP clinics. I'm the type of student who needs her teacher to say something and then be quiet so that it can soak in and I can have time to respond. PP tends to snap the same word or instruction over and over, his voice getting more tense until the rider responds. I think that worked against helping both rider and horse to relax. The video brought back bad memories of bad horseback riding lessons. I had one teacher walk out on me, because I didn't respond fast enough to her commands, and the reason why I didn't was because I was struggling to keep my horse under control. She wasn't doing anything to help me control the horse. She was just trying to get me to stay on track with whatever she was teaching on that day, and ignoring the fact that I was in a dangerous situation. When that happens, you tend to throw your teacher's words out the window and just focus on working with your horse. When the teacher doesn't let the student speak, the student doesn't have a chance to communicate what she is feeling the horse doing when she is riding. One time I told a different instructor while on a trail ride that my horse was about to blow up. She looked at him and said he was fine. I said, "No, I know this horse, he's going to blow," and I dismounted while she yelled at me to stay on. I led him a few feet and he blew. She said, "Holy cow! How did you know that was going to happen?" Riding instructors need to recognize that the person who is actually sitting on the horse has a lot of important information. But PP is very good at communicating the big picture, and he has definitely passed on a lot of good habits about horsemanship.

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    1. I agree--you have to listen to your gut and your horse over the trainer. A good trainer knows that. Every clinic I've heard of where someone got thrown--are the ones where they push the riders too far. I don't know much about PP. I have worked with a few of his students here and there and I felt their attitudes were a bit condescending, but I don't blame that on PP as much as the pride people get when they work up through "levels" of some particular trainer's instruction. LOL.

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  3. Oh man, does this ever make me happy! This is what I'm talking about, "get with your horse, so your horse can get with you". Leah is smart, and she sure has her own opinions, so why not give her the opportunity to express her wishes sometimes? Sometimes I think they can spot us a mile away when we walk up to them thinking about what we want to accomplish (our agendas), without so much of a thought of how they're feeling about things that day. Maybe we need to approach our horses with a clean mind, and just work with the horse that shows up that day. I sure know I can be/feel different about things from day to day - why don't we give them that consideration? I believe whole-heartedly that you are on the right path with this line of thinking. The answers that you seek, the relationship/partnership that you're looking for, lies within you. Sometimes when we seek help in too many different places/people, we tend to confuse our horses and ourselves. Too much information, too many opinions, so many agendas. I did watch that video from beginning to end. It was good and I think you've got a lot to build on right there. See where it can take you. One thing that always comes up again and again and again with the good horsemen is whatever the "problem" we're having with our horses is a good reason to go back to square 1. Get that foundation absolutely perfect before adding more and more. Makes sense. I am so happy for you! My instructor, Jessica always wanted to push me for more speed with Eagle. But my gut always told me to get things right at the walk before adding speed into the equation. Adding speed before things are good, just doesn't make sense to me. Trust what your gut and your horse are telling you. I bet you kinda threw Leah for a loop letting her decide how things were gonna go, don't you? :) Bet she liked it too!

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    1. I think I'm on to something, too. The grinding of the teeth she does is very common for horses who have "soured" on arena work. I'm going to write something about it today. Now, she didn't mind the arena work when I was letting her choose where to go--or when we came to some middle ground on what I wanted and she wanted--but back when I was dictating her every move, trying to get her collected, etc., she was soured badly. Now, I think we're working our way back from that and into something more cooperative. :) I didn't get to ride her today because I have to work--WAAAAAAWAAAA--it's a beautiful day, too!!! I did get a massage on her this morning though. And yes, it did throw her for a loop--a big one. I told my husband about it and he correctly pointed out she was going in circles because that's what she thought I wanted. When she realized she could go where she wanted, she wanted to cozy up to my coat--very sweet.

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  4. And thanks so much for the information on the cards. Sure hit the nail on the head of how so many things have been going for me lately...got my interest piqued enough that I ordered my own. :)

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad you got something from it. I got a lot from mine, too, as you can tell. That's funny that you ordered your own. I'm glad you did because I could not properly relate all the information to you. Plus, I filter it through my own lenses from reading your blog. There may be things you find much more compelling when you read it yourself. Please let me know what insights you do pick up that I may have missed.

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  5. I'm so excited to ride Eagle again. It's been like a month, but we're going to the arena tonight if it works with the barn owner. I'm hoping he tries to do his "turnaround" thing with me, because I want to go with his idea and make him work a little harder/quicker (I make myself laugh at "work" - ha, he doesn't know what it's like being "worked") in the direction he chooses. And then I'll ask politely again if he wouldn't prefer going the direction I'd picked initially. But I also want to try getting real quiet, body & mind, and just letting him do what he wants to do, and like you did, subtly asking for a little bit more. Re: the cards - the depression card especially made me think because we've thought about moving for years, and yet do nothing to make it happen. I have to ask myself, why? I don't really have a good reason other than fear of change. But I know in my heart that we'd be more active, we'd both have to work less because we'd be downsizing and have more time, which is what I always want. Time to do what I want to be doing, instead of always working just to get by. I do appreciate your insights though, sometimes through others' perspective, we get a clearer picture of ourselves. One more thing, Jessica always had me use WAY more pressure on the bit/reins than I was comfortable with, and I want to continue trying to do less with those reins. And use my reins and legs separately like Joe told me to do. That is very difficult for me.

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    1. How exciting! I can't wait to hear how it goes with Eags. The "Getting with your horse" part is so unique. I think that letting her go where she would was like me mirroring her movements at liberty. When you let a horse out for the first time, the lead horse will mirror the new horse for a while, try to get the new horse to mirror it, correct the new horse if it doesn't mirror, and then mirror all over again. That is the best way to describe what we did. Working her harder didn't help Leah, but it did help Cowboy. That's why it's a creative, unique process.

      I appreciated how the card talked about depression--a sign of some change that needs to happen. Change isn't easy for any of us--and moving is no small thing. Maybe you should take a week vacation to the place you may move and see if it fits.

      Back to working with horses--I had the thought--how do you let your horse do what it wants in an arena with a bunch of other horses--like the arena night that went bad for Leah and me--dark, lots of horses, lots of activity--train wreck about to happen. Maybe I have to be honest with myself that the building blocks are not there and she is not ready for that level of exposure. I plan to go over there tomorrow night or the next or both and work with her my way--no agenda--if it's crazy there, I'll stay on the ground with her--if it's quiet, I'll ride her the new PP way--let her meander to the gate at liberty and slowly work her away from it, but try to create a bubble of togetherness where she is tuning into me and I'm tuning into her.

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  6. Well, if nothing else the arena craziness will be exposure for both of you. I don't really know, but can tell you what we did at the "cluster fuck" (sorry, my husband's terminology of the night) sheriff posse ride night when Eags and I went. It was BUSY!! Obstacles all over the place, horses doing all sorts of things everywhere, and noise, lots of noise. We'd never been to this arena before, it's huge! I was a bit nervous, and Eagle picked up on that, and was likely a bit nervous on his own too. So, we walked around a little while at first and just looked at things, walked over a tarp, the bridge and around some barrels. When we both started to relax, I got on. We walked around ignoring the obstacles and just meandering in and around everybody. Then we went to one end of the arena and just sat there and watched the commotion. I talked to Eagle, reassuring in quiet tones and rubbed his neck and fussed with his mane. My hubby and I talked. Eagle just took it all in. Then we rode around again, walked over the bridge, stepped over the criss-cross logs, meandered through the barrels, walked over the tarp and called it a night. I was so pleased with Eagle and his behavior! I didn't push him to do anything he wasn't ok with and think it was time well spent. I'm hoping to go back soon. We even sat there and watched a guy ride past us on his bucking horse. Eagle just watched...while I held onto the cantle, just in case. :)

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    1. That's excellent advice. In fact, that's how I picture it in my mind. Even if we're just watching the activity together, it is good exposure, but I shouldn't push her past what she's able to handle.

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  7. I think you've found the key to her mind. Get with her and don't have an agenda. You're right about horses not needing us. They can do it all on their own and I sometimes think we just get in their way and it's a miracle they even let us put all the gear on them and bits in their mouths and try to make them get with our agenda. If I was a horse I'd leave you in the dust. But they are so sweet and special that they are willing to let us "train" them and ride them. The old adage "less is more" works best between horses and us.

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    1. Yes, less is definitely more with horses!

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.