Lessons with Salsa and River

In four lessons, River and I have made huge strides in our bond and in our progress as partners. We have practiced figure 8s, weaves, circles (with obstacles to jump over!), and sideways over a pole, interspersed with rest breaks while we audit Jan and Salsa’s lessons.

We start the lessons by feeling our horses. We stand with them, scratch their itchy spots, try a few warm-up games. We assess how they’re feeling and what they need from us today, so we can help them become willing, obedient, exuberant, and athletic. Erin will then ask us what we need from her; do we have any questions or concerns or anything in particular we want to address.

Jan and I have both noticed that even though we want to journal everything we learned, by the time we’re back inside, it seems like we’ve forgotten 98 percent of it. We haven’t, really. It’s more that once we’re in the house, we are removed from what I’m calling the “field of feel.” All of that communication that vibrates subtly under our skin ceases when we get too many walls between us and the horses, and all we have left are words.

And yet, our bodies remember. In each session, we could feel our horses more deeply, and we became more tuned in to what they needed from us.

I got better at my: attention, energy, focus, send, stick, and rope! ~ Jan

We used feather lines instead of lead lines or 22-foot ropes. The feather lines are 18-foot savvy strings with no snap on the end, which encourages and enforces lightness,. That 1/4-inch yacht braid is learn-burn material, if you have hands that close quickly. Which I don’t. Yay!

Respect and Rapport
I lose Rocky’s willingness when I sacrifice rapport for respect. But with River, I lose willingness when I sacrifice respect for rapport. In the continuous yin-yang cycle of balancing these two, I discovered that I am much better now at recognizing disrespect when it’s still small enough to address quickly — and not just in River. (Hear that, Rocky?)

With River, all I needed was a judicious application of “separate, isolate, and recombine” to get us unstuck. Yesterday, our figure 8 pattern had devolved into a figure squiggle with lots of tail-swishing and impudence, so I took River aside and insisted on hindquarter yields and yo-yo games to get her attention, and then a few short squeeze games to practice a softer send. From there we put it back together into a circle, and from there, back to the cones for a beautifully supple figure 8.

Equine dominance is not based on brute strength, which is why humans can become dominant figures in a horse’s mind. What horses do look for in a dominant figure is movement control. ~ paraphrased from Dr. Robert Miller in The Equine Mind: Top 10 Things To Know

Provocative and Persistent
I am now consistently persisting until I figure out how to be clear. I used to stop when something wasn’t working, afraid of offending the horse or harming our relationship — and then accidentally providing release from pressure at the worst possible time. Instead, I keep trying and adapting my body until I get what I thought I was asking for the first time, and I know I’ve got it by River’s response.

Jan has been working on this one too, as she gives up and breaks into laughter when she judges her attempts as inept, and thus inadvertently releases and rewards Salsa when he’s at his most resistant or confused. She and I have both made a lot of progress in this area; me since last year’s Mustang Taming event, where I saw the enormous importance of “passive persistence in the proper position,” and Jan since last Monday when Erin explained the idea in the first of our four-lesson series.

Grace and Harmony
River and I are learning how to bring out the best in each other. Me, by being more deliberate and firm — but not loud or large — in my signals, and River, by being softer and more respectful in her movement. “Moving through molasses” is how Erin described her technique of being steady and smooth instead of spazzy, whether backing a horse up with a phase 1 finger or applying phase 3 to reinforce a send. Erin complimented me today on the improvements in my body language and movements.


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