Respect and leadership are my current priorities. Before I went outside, I thought about Rocky’s right-brain introvert horsenality and what happens when an RBI becomes confident. I thought about what I have to change in myself to provide leadership and earn respect, without damaging our rapport.
My goal: “do less now instead of more later.” I would check in with myself often, to assess what I was doing and how Rocky was responding. His disrespectful behaviors start out subtly. The more I could work on this goal, the less I would need strategies for dealing with anything bigger.
These helped me do less while building respect and leadership.
- Envision spikes coming out of my feet and going all the way down to the core of the earth, while the top of my head raises up to the sky. This keeps me grounded and lifted while reminding me not to move my feet.
- Exaggerate my body movements and then refine to the “sweet spot.” Linda teaches students to find our balance point by sitting on a log or a barrel, rocking too far forward or back or side to side until we find a secure middle place, and then having friends try to push us off. It works on the ground, especially when facing away from Rocky and going through the motions without any intensity or energy, so it becomes friendly game for him but practice for me. It also works while mounted.
- Get a clear picture in my mind of what I want us to look like before I even begin. This includes his body shape, my body shape, and our precise positioning on the Earth. When we reach a point closer to that vision than where we started, stop and rest.
- Breathe. And blow out when Rocky did.
We started with the 22-foot line in the front arena, playing Circle Game with the goal of tipping Rocky’s nose in on the circle at the trot. He has carried his nose up and outside for years, but he keeps the inside ear and eye on me. This posture started when he was favoring a physical issue and continued out of habit and my own ignorance. For a long time I didn’t know it was a “problem,” and then once I learned that, I didn’t know what to do about it.
I will keep just this light pressure on you and not release it until you try further than last time, but I can stand here like this for 48 hours, so take the time you need.
I still don’t know exactly how to teach him to change his posture, but I have a lot of tools in the toolkit now. I also know that I can’t expect him to change his entire body position all at once. Imagine if you had carried your head to the left for three years and now someone wanted you to look straight ahead. Ouch!
We had a lot of distractions from the road, like entire herds of feral motorcycles and trucks with flapping tarps on the way to the dump and big stock trailers going by. I ignored it all. With my goal in mind, I put light pressure on his nose to keep it toward me, and pointed at zone 3 to bend it outward, to put him “straight” on the circle. I tried to convey endless patience: “I don’t care what’s going on outside the arena or how long it takes, but I will help you find the slightest try of bending and then I’ll bring you in.”
I have a lot of tools in the toolkit now.
With his arthritis I have to be careful not to overdo circles. I got a small change in each direction and switched our focus to the water obstacle. Last time, we had another person and horse in with us, but this time we were on our own. Rocky put a lot of effort into taking the first step. Again, I grounded myself in endless patience: “I will keep just this light pressure on you and not release it until you try further than last time, but I can stand here like this for 48 hours, so take the time you need.”
He tried sideways away, sideways toward, back up, turn on the forehand, anything other than forward. And I tried not to raise my energy or pressure, just keep a rhythm of swinging the carrot stick so that his hindquarters ran into it when he swung too close to my side, and a feel on the line in case he tried to go around the other side. He pawed, he gave the impression that he was about to sit down or rear up although he did neither, he shook his head, and eventually, the feet followed the nose and neck. Release. Rest. By the end, he crossed it at the walk in both directions, and also stood in the cool water with all four feet and relaxed and enjoyed it.
I took him to the covered arena and let him loose to roll and amuse himself while I went into the barn for my helmet, reins, and bareback pad. In the arena, I smoothed him off with my hand, and just for fun, set the bareback pad in place. He stayed with me and didn’t mind, so I cinched it, very slowly and gently. He still stayed with me. He got nippy at the cinching like he usually does, and I laughed and used my elbow and concentrated on not moving my feet.
I cinched it up enough that I thought it would stay in place and invited him to walk around with me, still at liberty, to see that he can move and be comfortable in it. I ended up tightening the cinch in teensy increments, three or four more times. At liberty. In different areas of the arena. By the time I went to clip the reins onto his halter, I’d forgotten he wasn’t wearing it, and we had to walk back to our staging area so I could put it on.
He stood still for mounting and didn’t even shake his head when I waited a while, breathing deeply to ground myself, and walked out nicely for follow the rail.
By the time I went to clip the reins onto his halter, I’d forgotten he wasn’t wearing it, and we had to walk back to our staging area so I could put it on.
I had put markers in all four corners this time to help me see where to keep us on the track and we did better. I also felt more fluidity at certain times and practiced trying to find that spot again with my body, because I could feel him walking out more, and being more even. I found it a few times. Rocky isn’t the only one who needs time and repetition to reshape his body habits!
We left the arena to walk on the ranch trail and used the arena gate as an Obstacle. It took a while but we each figured out each other’s needs, over time, and got the gate closed again.
On the trail, we stopped to talk to various people, practicing standing politely and with relaxation. Sometimes I swung my legs back and forth or lifted my arms out to my sides or patted him everywhere I could reach. This helps me not get locked into a rigid position, and gives Rocky something safe to think about. We even stopped by my office window twice to say hi to Steve via webcam. Steve caught some screenshots.
When it was all done, I had Rocky step close to a tack trunk for me to dismount easily, and then I stripped off everything and let him graze at liberty for 20 minutes. (Stripped of everything he was wearing, that is. I stayed fully dressed.)
When I returned him to his pen for dinner, he stayed with me, even though the other three horses were eating ostentatiously. I pointed to a hay feeder and said “good boy, go eat,” and patted his butt, and then he did go to his dinner while I floated into the house.