Bring the fun into your body that he needs in his body

I’ve tried for a long time to figure out how to bring the right amount of energy into my body to communicate to my horses. Parelli calls this “bringing up your life” and Linda wrote a good article of Do and Don’t. I’ve been concentrating for a while on making sure to engage my core and body before I use my tools, but I just kept feeling like I was getting tight instead of energetic. And then on the release, I was totally flopping all the way to lifeless, rather than to neutral. (A couple years ago, I wrote about the time I grokked neutral and discovered it wasn’t the same as lifeless.)

Play time

In a recent lesson where Erin and I were talking about this (again), it finally hit me: I don’t tend to plan ahead when I’m going to move. I don’t think about “okay, I’ll probably be dancing for about 45 minutes, and then a 10 minute break, and then repeat that pattern twice more.” I don’t think “ready, set, go” when I drive into a swimming pool or head out for a jog. I don’t just take off from the front door at a dead run, but I don’t “gather” myself first. Not being in any sort of athletic competition where I’m waiting for a starting gun, I don’t have that anticipation and electricity buzzing under my skin just before exploding into action.

And I don’t really want my horses to explode into action, either.

But what I came up with in the lesson was to replace the word “energy” with the word “fun.” I told Erin “At the cone, we’re going to trot, so right about now I can start saying things like okay Rock are you ready? we’re gonna get to trot! we are! wait for it … waaaaait for it … almost there …. and …. Go!” And as I was saying those things, I was sliding my hands on the reins, checking in with my body and balance, smiling, and looking where I wanted to go. And then, on Go, I squeezed with all four cheeks and got a really nice transition into the trot. We trotted a few strides and then I eased into the halt for petting and praise. After the brief rest, I picked another transition spot and did it again. Same response.

I played with the concept again today on the ground, and Rocky went from “ho hum, circles again, big deal” to “which direction? which gait? easy or extended? now? now? now? YAY!

Clarifying “energy” in my mind to mean anticipation, suspense, grinning, joy, and fun may be the key to bringing the play back into our play time.

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Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

I brought River into the arena last night around 10 just to hang out a bit and brush her. She is a cusp LBE/LBI, and her “winding up” to click over into extrovert mode is pretty subtle. I’m finding that the keys for me are:

  • Trust my intuition. I can feel when she’s starting to need to be more … exuberant, let’s call it. It’s like the advice to dismount as soon as you think “maybe I should get off this horse” — as soon as I think “hrm, is she winding up?” I need to change tactics to match the wound-up River.
  • Read her ears. When River has horizontal ears, she’s engaged and interested and relaxed. When she perks her ears up to point her attention to a person, horse, or thing, she’s starting to wind up.

I sense her winding up before I see it. When I start to feel it, I try to look and identify physical signs to support what I’m feeling. I believe that I’m still not seeing the more subtle signs and doing it in this direction (feel first, evidence after) will teach me to see “what happens before what happens happens.”

Last night, I stopped brushing when I sensed a wind-up coming on and we moved around the arena on line. Then I let her off line so she could explore on her own. After a while she came back over at liberty and enjoyed having her other side brushed. Then we moved around some more as a pair, at liberty, and I grabbed a tarp and started to drag it. I didn’t see what happened but suddenly-for-no-reason-at-all she was kicking up both heels in my direction but far enough away not to make contact, with exuberant but not aggressive energy, and I had to flick my string in her direction (also without making contact) to encourage her not to get any closer.

At which point she turned around, leapt on the tarp with both front feet, picked it up in her teeth and shook it, then collapsed onto it and rolled, still holding it, so that it wrapped all around her belly and back as she dug her back in. She rolled all the way over and stood up with it completely over her back, like a pup tent. It didn’t bother her a bit. She shook her body and walked a few steps out from under it and then went trotting off to buck and gallop and play.

I’ve said this before and it’s still true: where is the camera crew when I need one?

When she settled down physically and began to amuse herself by standing at the rail looking at the rest of her herd in the Back 40, I approached and retreated in catching-game style to bring her back to me. She helped me put her halter on, backed through the arena gate like a pro, and minded her manners when I took the halter off.

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