Calm of mind, all passion spent ~ John Milton

Linda wrote a great article in the May 2009 Savvy Times about the goal we have for our horses: a calm, trusting, motivated, and willingly obedient partner — in that order. You can’t have motivation in a horse that isn’t calm; and without trust, you will not get willing obedience. She ties this to the horsenalities and makes brief suggestions on what to do to achieve each state, and refers us out to the horsenality materials for more details.

Here is what I had in my head, when I went out to play with Rock tonight:

perfect partner diagram

Even when I encouraged his “offer” to trot around at liberty after his roll in the sand, he started out calm. Head level, muscles relaxed, soft eyes. He drew easily and politely to me to go on-line to learn a new skill, so I felt he was trusting. But motivated? Nope. At least, not once we got going. My homework includes playing all seven games with slack in the line — specifically, with the belly of the rope on the ground. I felt clumsy and tangled most of the time, and with the rope dragging we both got off balance and lost a bit of confidence.

I was watching Rocky so closely that I was not watching the rope and I wrecked our connection a couple of times by letting it get in his way. Each time he stepped on it, he threw his head up and leapt backward. There went our calm, and probably some of the trust. A definite regression from a few months ago when he had become rather blasé about the whole hoof-on-the-rope thing. (I have an arrow in my quiver for this and will begin our seven sessions of lead by the leg practice in our next playtime.)

When we had several minutes of calm and had regained the trust (squeeze game between me and a barrel, over a tarp, at the trot), I put both pedestals next to each other to create a larger surface area — like a trail class bridge — and asked for all four feet. He believes the pedestal is a vending machine and became so motivated as to be pushy, frisking me even when he had one foot dangling out in space.  By the fourth attempt he figured out the puzzle and earned two cookies and a rest, during which he picked up his left front hoof and stood on three feet on the pedestals. Show off.

trust

Then I took him over to where I’d set out my English saddle and the hackamore. I gave him the pad to sniff and then when I went to set it on his back, he suddenly had to bend himself in half to bite at an itch on his hock. Then he kicked at his belly three times with the hind leg on the other side from me. It was 9:00 p.m. and chilly so I figured it was feedback, not a fly. I set the pad in place but went back and scratched his leg where he had tried to bite it, then switched to the other side and did that one, then scratched around his belly (carefully, in case he kicked up again), then took the pad off and rubbed him with that, then got the saddle and let him sniff. He has no respect for the resale value of tack and did his customary chewing of the cantle, but when I put it on his back, his entire face changed. His lips tightened in that classic Appaloosa “I’ll do it but I don’t have to like it” expression and his ears went to half-mast and his eyes glazed over.

Not motivated. Not trusting. Not calm, even though standing still. “Oh no,” I said quietly. “What have I done to you? What have I been doing to you?”

I took everything off, including the halter, and, as he turned his head away, I encouraged his idea with a little flick of the stick in zone 5. He trotted along the rail for half a circuit and when he gave me two eyes I invited him in, but instead he changed direction, and I encouraged that: flick flick! When he asked to come in, I smiled and jogged backwards and he came to me at the trot. We hung out at a barrel for a long time, me just leaning on my elbows, him snuffling me, then napping, then snuffling. Calm and trusting, and choosing to stay with me rather than go back to the side of the arena where he can see his pasture mates.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” — George MacDonald

Eventually, I returned to the area where I’d left our tack and I put his halter on again, with only a 12-foot line. I climbed up and sat on the fence and just watched him. He stayed 11 feet away from me and again I could see his lips tighten and his eyes glaze, and he rotated his ears back, side, forward at regular intervals. But he stood hip-shot, leaning his down hip waaaay down, his hoof cocked easily against the standing leg. And his neck and head were level, neither in the air in a freeze or in the sand in a withdrawal. I decided he was 75 percent calm and 25 percent ready to snap out of calmness — a lack of trust, again. He just knew I was going to make him come over and be sat on.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. And finally — at 9:50 pm — he flicked an ear toward me. He even risked a glance with both eyes. I had to sit on my hands to make sure I didn’t push for a hindquarter yield or a draw, because my whole point was to observe and see what I could read. After that his ears moved toward me more often and he blew out several deep breaths. Now he was fully calm, and again willing to trust. Eventually I did yo-yo him a couple times from my perch on the fence just to do something different, and he flickered between curious and unsure.

My last exercise for the night was to put the saddle pad on his croup and play the principle games, then put it on his neck and play the purpose games. Calm and trusting, not exuberant, but not entirely unmotivated either. Just having the pad on his neck changed everything, added something new to the mix. I left it on his neck all the way back to the pasture but took it off before I took off the halter, before it could freak the other horses out. (Not that it would, but still.)

I think this framework is going to have a huge impact on my journey. I’ve been going through another one of those stages where I feel like I have lost ground, not just in falling off the pattern map but in my own motivation and trust that I could ever make it through level 3 in all four savvies. Especially as I seem to be stuck between level 2 and level 3 on-line, and have had setback after setback for starting freestyle or liberty (and I am getting the impression that he wants more movement and speed in our play and is offering and begging and demanding liberty).

But spending just two unhurried hours with him tonight with a main goal of reading him against this rubric, and then analyzing it as I write it down, I see what I most need to work on: learning to see the very first signs of a loss of trust and doing the right thing to keep or regain it, and through that process, learning how not to lose the trust at all.

As disappointed as I was that I didn’t get to ride — which is kind of cool, to have been disappointed instead of relieved — and of course as heartwrenched as I am to see that I have apparently stomped all over my delicate flower’s trust, I feel good about identifying this issue. Now all I have to do is figure out what to do about it.

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