Last night I watched the Problem-Solving DVD of the Liberty & Horse Behavior (L&HB) course-in-a-box. I learned so much, I can’t possibly blog it all, but this morning I tried a few things and felt the change in our communication — possibly our entire relationship — almost instantly.
We had to play at the walk only as he is still ouchy on his bare hind feet, though I think maybe less so, but on the weekend he sliced his front fetlock and had a bit of a wince with that foot too. All of this improved as the session went on so I am glad we put him in the big turnout with the other geldings today. Now that he’s used to being at the front of the property, they others will ensure that he moves around a lot more than he has been, instead of standing lazily in the soft urine-soaked mud in the corner of the solo pen. Movement is going to fix him faster than stillness. (Et tu …)
Stayed in Zone 3
I’ve often found myself back in Zone 2 or even Zone 1, leading Rockstar instead of driving him. This morning I went back to Level 1 in my head and taught him that a tapping stick in Zone 3 means move forward and a resting stick is simply friendly encouragement. I combined this with a quiet Send/Allow gesture and tried not to step in front of his shoulder. Result: I saw him shift from unconfident to confident when he saw something to put his nose on. I didn’t provide enough leadership as he “walked off” in front of me to sniff other things, leaving me in Zone 5. (Zone Diagram)
Got Quieter, Again
A while ago I learned how loud my body language was, and toned down. This morning I dropped it even further, seeing how little I could do and still get a response. Result: Rocky looked more intensely at me and spent more time figuring out what I wanted; and the long phase 1 was enough.
Provocative and Progressive Puzzles
I’m getting more provocative with my obstacles. Today I set up a tarp, folded lengthwise, with a cone at each end. We did Figure 8 over that and practiced the Change of Direction, without disengagement, which I’ve been doing wrong most of the time. I used barrels to flank a pole set on the lowest setting of the risers, for Circle and Squeeze; and then for variations on “move the feet.”
Like move one front foot over it … stop … .back up. Now both front feet and stop. Now three feet. Now back up. He went from confused to engaged to happy success, during that. By the time I moved us to the pedestal (after a Friendly break and a few push-the-ball-oh-look-a-carrot nudges), he had the whole “move individual feet” and “maybe don’t go all the way through” thing down pat, and for the first time ever we got feet on the pedestal. He went all the way over the first time because that’s easier for him and he got to use his momentum (he’s walked over bridges in trail obstacle classes without hesitation, with a confident rider).
He had a much harder time when I was standing on his right so I let him do a lot of nose and neck that way, then around the other direction, got one foot, tried to stop him, got a second foot, succeeded in stopping him … and I suddenly felt tinysmall as he loomed over me, a foot taller than normal. As he stood there I fed him six carrot coins in rapid succession, stroked and praised, let my sense of success and love and pride well up and spill over, and backed him off just before he started to try to get down. Undid the halter and he was free to roll and munch – and to find more carrot coins, which I scattered on all the rest of obstacles.
The individual-feet thing came from Bill Dorrance’s book True Horsemanship Through Feel, which also helped me see more of the subtleties in Pat’s “Inspirational Trailer Loading” chapter in the L&HB course. (At one point, Pat asks the mare to rest just the toe of her right hind on the edge of the trailer ramp and stand like that for a few minutes. It takes a few adjustments, but she does.)
The breathing and relaxing my body all the way, at the right time, came from How Your Horse Wants You to Ride by Gincy Self Bucklin as well as Linda’s demo with one of the L&HB students. Linda asks the student to relax and cock her foot, which the student does… but Linda points out that she is still tense and then the girl relaxes for reals… and the horse immediately stops and tunes in.
The trying different things with different obstacles, combining obstacles and games in different ways, the rest breaks long enough but not too long — watching Rocky to see when he’s thinking and resting and when he starts looking for something to engage his attention — the accepting what he offers when it is an offering and not a defiance, the way I interact with him when he’s learning and the ways I interact differently when he’s doing something he already knows … that’s Parelli Savvy Club and educational materials, observing Erin and Danielle and the students, watching the horses in the turnout, and, gasp, my very own progress.
Experience is one of the items on Pat’s “Ten Qualities of a Horseman,” of which he says: “Your experience after you get to a certain level will reveal productive results ten times faster than all the hours you put in before that, making hoof prints in the sand and wearing out riding pants and saddles.”
I can’t even imagine that I might wear out a saddle someday, considering how rarely I’ve ridden compared to the days I haven’t ridden. But … what an awesome dream to aspire to.