Apparently Parker spent the time between last Thursday’s lesson and this Tuesday’s lesson pondering what else he wanted to teach me. Gone was the withdrawn, insensitive, meh LBI of last week. Hello explosive-reactive-kicking-bucking-dominance-insisting LBI! My very first send out to circle, he went from standing still and looking at me with two eyes to leap whirl buck and kick *toward me* — this was not a playful on-the-circle or to-the-outside lift of the heels but a planned, fast, BLAM of a hoof toward my face.
I remained calm and ignored it. But he knew that he had surprised me and that I didn’t know what else to do, and he did it again. This time I backed him up further before I asked for the send, though, so when he did it again he missed me by 12 feet instead of three. Who says I don’t learn? I tried to modulate my language: could I be lighter and get impulsion without reaction? Did I have to get stronger to counter the dominance challenge?
Erin then offered to show me and did a series of intense back up, hindquarter yields, falling leaf patterns, and other moves designed to show him that no matter what he does, she’ll be consistent, and to establish herself as leader. I then got back on the line and tried to use the right body language, knowing that my core was cringing more than my external appearance let on, and that Parker (and any horse) would respond to the core no matter what appearance I tried to give.
What was really cute was that I was not sure how to do falling leaf, and was a bit mixed up in my signals and intentions, and Parker ended up concentrating so hard on “what the hell is she saying” that he ceased all dominance behavior and became so attentive and intense that our ultimate goal of communication and cooperation happened even though the pattern didn’t! Then we figured it out and he responded well; we were both feeling successful and like we had figured out a puzzle together.
In the past, I probably would have been holding back tears, frustrated with myself that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Instead, I felt “ah ha! an opportunity!” I have never been in this situation before and so how could I already be good at handling it? I did my best and managed to get Parker tuned in and offering more obedience and he didn’t kick at me again. And I quit before it turned into a drill and got worse again.
Erin compared last week to this week. Last week, Parker didn’t need a lot of friendly game, as he was relaxed and mellow and dull. This week, he was reactive and tense, which called for more friendly game and even a more extreme version, until he could stop flinching when the savvy string slapped the ground.
We also talked about riding. It took an hour to get him tuned into me and in the right frame of mind for saddling with savvy. But even so, I couldn’t just saddle and get on. He’d need some games and safety checks with the saddle on, including time at liberty, and I would have to pay close attention to whether he was having opposition reflex instead of positive reflex and whether I had permission to mount. We didn’t have time for all of this and frankly I can only learn so much in a day, lessons are so intense, so I happy to end there on the good note.
I really want to be doing my lessons with Rocky but it’s been interesting to learn from other horses with other behaviors.
Countdown to Rocky’s boot-fitting: 11 days.