As I let the clinic experience sink into me, and select what to remember (learning, BFOs, special moments) and what to discard ( ), the following themes appear over and over again.
Remember that these are my words and my notes; this is my interpretation of what the clinicians said and did, what Rocky did, what I felt, and so forth.
Zone 1 for refinement
I got a wonderfully fluid, precise, smooth Figure 8 pattern when I learned how to direct Zone 1 instead of Zone 3. Circle games also improved in quality when we learned “put your nose on that line.” The idea was that in levels 1 and 2 we are learning and practicing the gross motor skills of the games, and to progress we need to remember to refine.
When did I lose my phase 1? I don’t know. But I’m committed to finding it again. To the point where I was walking around my client’s office this week and stopping, turning, and backing up my imaginary horse with a Dolly Parton stance (shoulders back and chest out) and one finger.
Wait until I have his mind
His body can go where I’m directing, but it makes no difference until I have his mind. Auto-pilot is neither safe nor calm nor responsive. I did many, many switchbacks while leading and many, many turn-and-face-and-backups while leading, to help Rocky stop looking at everything else and try to focus on me.
Simple things done with excellence
Pat’s list of 12 things to do with excellence do not include fancy maneuvers. It’s simple things, like how you approach your horse, how you walk away from him, how you halter, how you lead. The one-rein stop and the 9-step backup. Everything else builds on that, so when we get sloppy with our simple things, the rest of it falls apart too.
Measuring threshold progress in millimeters
Rocky’s backup has become less and less straight over the past months. In the clinic we practiced backing the horses to the rail. If that was easy, we picked an obstacle and backed them to the obstacle. The clinicians explained that when the hindquarters veer to one side, that’s a threshold, and to retreat. We were to measure progress in millimeters. Each time the horse got a millimeter closer to the goal, it was a success.
I had to be 75% of the way across the width of the arena before Rocky could back up straight toward the rail. The area was 150 feet wide, so that’s about 112 feet away from the rail.
The strength of draw toward the other horses
Rocky looked everywhere but me, most of the weekend. He bonded fast and strong to one of the LBI mares, Chica, and to one of the Atwood geldings, Stretch, but was willing to choose any of the other horses as his leader, rather than choose me. Including the young horses in the pasture across from the arena and the black-and-white paint half a mile away on the crest of a hill.
Phase 4 can be persistence
Pat talks about being polite and passively persistent in the proper position. Something fell into place for me with the trailer loading on Monday morning to come home. I did the tap-tap-tap / rub-rub-rub method, with the handle of the carrot stick on Rocky’s back. When he thought about forward he got rubbed, and when he thought about backward he got tapped. I didn’t get harder, stronger, louder, slappier. Just persisted, and that was effective. And yet somehow for a long time I have been getting bigger for phase 4, which offended Rocky and did not improve our trust. The clinic reminded me of Linda’s comment that phase 4 is what’s effective, not necessarily a harder smack — a fly can get a big response from a horse — and Pat’s comments about the connection between effectiveness and justice.
The power of patterns
Rocky was up enough for long enough for me to see clearly that patterns are a powerful way to soothe, to focus, to calm, to relax. For both of us! Because when I was worrying that I didn’t know what to do with the RBE at the end of my rope, I didn’t have to think up “what to do” if I chose a pattern. I could instead read Rocky and try to adapt for whatever he needed in the moment. The patterns I remember being effective in were falling leaf, traveling circles, figure 8s, even the simpler yo-yo and 180 turns.
It’s all about Leadership
Everything — every struggle, every meltdown, every hour that Rocky didn’t look at me — came down to leadership and my lack of it. He didn’t see me as a leader and therefore he didn’t feel safe, he didn’t offer trust or obedience. We had moments on Sunday where I got better and he tuned in for longer periods, measured in milliminutes.
Both days he was more attentive when I was in the saddle than when I was on the ground, perhaps because by the afternoon he had looked around enough to satisfy himself. Perhaps because I was focusing so hard on having focus. Perhaps because in the riding he got to move his feet longer distances and in straight lines, because we were all following the rail and didn’t have to stick to a particular station in the arena due to the other 9 pairs being at their stations.