Being particular and trusting

The principles I am working on lately are “be particular without being critical” and “trust that he’ll respond but be ready to correct, not more one than the other.” I’ve had one of those “ooohhhhh!” moments, where I suddenly perceive the depth of yet another glib Parellism.

Rocky cantering at liberty

Riding with both hands on the reins and my hands up and “ready” is not trusting that he’ll respond. It’s not even being ready to correct — it’s standing there with the red pen poised over the paper, waiting for the other to dare to write a word so that I can cross it out. It’s projecting a beam of energy that says “no!” and then wondering why my partner isn’t doing something.

There is time to respond. There is time, if a correction is necessary, if my leg cue or my breath or my belly button isn’t enough to communicate the correction, to raise my hand from its relaxed position on the mane or pommel or horn and add a rein cue. “There are four moments in a second,” says Pat, describing how quickly a horse can change, how the tiniest gesture on our part can mean so much to them so quickly. And it’s okay to use more than one of those moments to get my hands in place if it becomes necessary. Someday I will be fast and smooth; for now, I am practicing smooth and slow, because my fast right now is buzzy and spastic, just hovering there to swoop down at the slightest provocation.

I have not been particularly particular with Rocky. My habit has been to blame myself for not being aware of his phase 1 of a behavior, so that by the time I become aware, it’s “too late” to address it.  (Not that I still blame, exactly, but it’s a useful shorthand.) If Rocky’s rubbing his head too hard on me, in a way he wouldn’t dare with a higher ranking horse, I blame (or credit) myself for not noticing his approach sooner, not anticipating his actions sooner. Thus, by the time the Behavior happened, it’s “too late,” because I’ve already allowed the horse’s phase 1 or phase 2 of approach.

What it comes down to is that I have not been giving Rocky enough responsibility. In my attempts not to micro-manage, I swung too far the other way.

Rocky and Smudge grooming

My heart is in the right place, in that I want to be a fair leader who doesn’t overreact. But my habit has undermined the fairness, as Rocky never knows from one day to the next whether he’ll be corrected or not, which puts in him a position of constantly having to test the boundaries and find out.

My new behavior is to respond to whatever it is, whenever I see it. To allow Rocky the responsibility to be respectful, to remove his burden of seeking the boundaries every day, and to uncritically, unemotionally remind him of his side of the partnership, when necessary. In this way, he knows I’m doing my best to hold up my side as well.

And I’m recognizing that I don’t have to respond in 1/4 of a second. I have time for an intense, measured movement that is not so swift that it blurs at 30 frames per second.

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