Inspiration and perspiration at horse expo

Nothing like spending a day on metal bleachers in the full sun and 100-degree weather to test your dedication to horsemanship! And yet we managed to come away from horse expo with new ideas and renewed inspiration along with our heatstroke and sunburns.

I can be inspiration and motivation, but the dedication and perspiration is up to you.” – Pat Parelli

Respond with relaxation

One of the ah-ha! moments of the weekend was when Jonathan Field talked about how he doesn’t want to desensitize a horse. He wants the horse to respond to the stimuli — to “react with relaxation,” not with tension or fear. This especially resonated with me, as I’ve been playing the Friendly Game with Rocky and looking at Rocky’s future with the question “how brave can I help you become?” I’ve been allowing the stimuli to go on longer than I used to, to give Rocky time to find the relaxation on his own. Bring the emotions up and then settle them down. Set up the puzzle and really, truly give Rocky time to solve it.


The point of bridleless riding

I overheard a woman ask someone in a horse training booth “What’s the point of this bridleless riding anyway? It’s not like you’re going to go out on the trail without a bridle. You’re not going to jump or do dressage without a bridle.”

Never mind for a moment that people do those things and more bridleless. What struck me was that the woman in the booth — not the trainer, but a person helping out while the trainer was away — said “I’m not sure” and “I know what you mean.”

I didn’t interject or interrupt (“Oh, I have some thoughts on that,a may I share them with you?”), but Scott and I exchanged a look of surprise that the woman in the booth didn’t have an answer handy. Unless she was simply shocked speechless, she could have smiled and explained that the bridleless riding really isn’t about the bridle or lack thereof.

It’s about developing the relationship to the point where your horse wants to be with you, where you have the communication in your body, where you don’t rely on leverage or mechanics to steer, and where you know that your horse is into dancing the patterns that you are asking for. 

It’s about testing your horsemanship to see if you use the bridle as a communication system or as a pulley system. If you can ride bridleless and guide your horse and have the horse be a willing partner in your guidance, you have confirmation that you’ve reached a certain level of the relationship and are on the right track for further development. If you can’t, then the bridleless ride can help you see what else you need to improve in order to get there.

And that’s just what popped into my head in the first moment. 

What’s really cool though is that the women were asking questions, and admitting they didn’t know. This shows me they are open to accepting that there is a purpose, and that they are willing to be vulnerable in that they could admit that they didn’t know something.


Categories: Events, Love | 1 Comment

Themes from the clinic

Clinic at Atwood Ranch

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.

Phase 1

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.

Rocky at Atwood Ranch

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.

Atwood horses

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.

Rocky at Atwood Ranch

Categories: Events, Learning Experience | Tags: | 2 Comments

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