Learning at Liberty

Has anyone else discovered that once they teach their horse the Stick to Me game, their horse wants to stay sticky?

I took advantage of the invisible Bungee cord between us and practiced sending Rocky just a little bit away from me and then guiding our path so that he ended up going over poles, around cones, and between barrels. He kept an eye, ear, and nostril toward me almost the entire time, challenging me to come up with new ideas on the fly.

He did split off a few times and yet we’re such a pair now that I just laughed and jogged backwards and pointed a finger or the carrot stick (depending on how far apart we were) at his rear end, and he’d come trotting back.

I love that the Parelli program encourages us to allow our horses to express their opinions without fear. I love that Rocky has learned how to tell me I’m being boring and wait for me to step up again, rather than give up on me altogether.

And I love that Rocky got into cantering (chasing Salsa, but still with light contact to me, WOW!) and actually soared over the poles we’d been walking over earlier, and did that on three circuits before deciding to cut in and go around. With his habit of toe-stabbing since his surgery, he’s got bruised toes, and I wasn’t sure if a bruisy nerved horse should jump anything. I certainly wasn’t going to ask him for it. But he stretched himself out and really flew, all on his own recognizance.

Later, I put the halter back on and made reins, then climbed up the fence and sat with him for ages, scratching his eye ridges and playing friendly with his ears. Long after he had relaxed into a doze, I said aloud “Let me get on your back for a scratch” and tugged the rein furthest away from me, to guide the nose away from the fence (and thus the haunches toward the fence). He responded immediately and perked his ears at me, all interested, and I slid on carefully. Once there I scratched his withers while he made camel faces.

A few minutes into the scratching I relaxed muscles I had not realized were still tense: butt, thighs, lower back.

A few more minutes and I relaxed them again. When had I tensed?

When both of us were totally relaxed, I slipped off and rubbed him a few more times. That was the end of the session, although he proceeded to stick to me as I put all the obstacles back, gathered up the ropes and sticks, and scooped the manure.

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