A study in contrasts: safety, comfort, and play

I took two business trips this month, and each time, I got home in the middle of the night and played with the horse “for reals” in the morning.

The horse that showed up was radically different, because so was the human.

Arrow 4: Protecting Your Herd of Two. Look for opportunities to protect your herd of two. From this moment on, your horse will be testing you to see who’s Alpha. Are you the one who provides the safety, comfort and play in your herd of two? ~ Parelli Program Guide 1: Essential Savvy Arrows, Level 2: Harmony, 2005

The first trip: 9 days away

After flying across the country and driving an hour and a half from the airport, arriving home at 3am, I was too tired to go to pasture when I pulled in. I went out the next morning and set up the obstacle course I sketched out to use for my on-line savvy audition.

I had to play catching game to halter Rocky and then brought him in to do a run-through of the course, with the goal of learning where the holes are so I could “isolate, separate, and recombine” in our next sessions and then film the audition.

The first hole appeared right away when he couldn’t do sideways over the first pole, and it got worse from there.

Later, of course, I realized that I didn’t encourage his ideas first and then cause my ideas to become his, I didn’t listen to his feedback, and I had gone direct-line — which I did not recognize at the time because a) it’s rare for me and b) my goal was to uncover holes, not to be perfect or successful.

The second trip: 4 days away

After driving three hours, plus a stop at the 24 hour pharmacy, a stop for groceries at the late-night store, and a stop at the ATM, I pulled in at 11 and went immediately to the pasture with a 2.5 pound bag of carrots and distributed them among the four herdmates.

In the morning, I went out and got Salsa from his day room, putting a loop of line around his neck to lead him to the arena. Rocky met me at the gate of the back 40 and I brought him to the arena with just a loop. I set them both free while Seth, Jedi, and I visited.

Rocky rolled vigorously in several places around the arena, including right next to us humans. He then bucked and galloped around some, driving Salsa a few times and checking in with me occasionally. None of his kicks were in the direction of the humans, and he didn’t crowd into our bubbles either. When he came over we petted him and then I tried scratching the base of his neck, and he made camel faces, which is a new thing he’s doing: trusting me enough to enjoy the scratch and to express that enjoyment. I stopped before he asked me to, as I am hoping to satisfy him yet leave him wanting more.

We visited for about 45 minutes and then I played halter-not-wrestle with Salsa and took him back to his pen. As we walked through the gate, I opened it wide and said “it’s okay Rocky, c’mon out” and he did. He hung out by Salsa for a while, then wandered around snuffling for oat pellets and hay wisps. He almost walked on the huge blue tarp over the manure pile then changed his mind with a very teensy double-take. He hung out next to Sabrina.

I don’t know what he did then as I had to walk Seth to his car and visit with Leslie, but when I went back, Rocky was in the barn aisle munching on some loose hay. As I approached he gave me a look like “uh oh am I in trouble” but I just greeted him and kicked the ball for the dog. I got a curry and brush and did a very, very light once-over, more to show him that grooming can be pleasant, and not really getting him very clean. I picked his hooves with no resistance from him other than that it hurts to have the right hind up for too long. I’m getting better at giving him breaks, and he’s getting better at lifting it as soon as I request it. Hrm, how interesting.

When I finally put the loop around his neck he took a last bite and then followed me willingly to the back 40. He stayed with me after I took the rope off.

I came into the house all floaty and full of positive energy. He rolled almost within touching distance! He ran around playfully! He wanted to be scratched! He stuck with me!

I need to remember this for the rest of our days together. Don’t come back and immediately jump right back in where we’d left off. Have a day  to get reacquainted before jumping right back into the program.

That’s how to re-establish the trust, through providing  safety (no pushing), comfort (no new challenging things to learn), and play (Rocky’s ideas take priority).

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Categories: Learning Experience | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A study in contrasts: safety, comfort, and play

  1. I can really appreciate this piece that your wrote, “I need to remember this for the rest of our days together. Don’t come back and immediately jump right back in where we’d left off. Have a day to get reacquainted before jumping right back into the program. That’s how to re-establish the trust, through providing safety (no pushing), comfort (no new challenging things to learn), and play (Rocky’s ideas take priority).” I too have done the same and wondered at the moment what the big deal was, and it was a big deal to my horses. I applaud you for recognizing this inherently human issue! 🙂

  2. Just a tip from my on-line audition experience . . . Set up the course and the video camera and then play while the tape is running. Review, tweak, revise your course and do it again. By the time I’d done this about 5 times I had a smooth course with obstacles Cricket understood and a plan to showcase my seven games and all the compulsories. It was also something I knew I could manage in under 10 minutes without getting rushed. When I taped, I had an 8 minute timer. When the timer went off, I knew I needed to move to my last obstacle so I could finish in time.

    Excellent observations on connecting with your horse!

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