Learning Experience

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

Putting the relationship first, because it’s not about the …

One of the Parellisms that I understand more deeply as I progress is “It’s not about the ____. It’s about the relationship.”


No matter what it is, it is always about the relationship, first. Putting the relationship first means more than making the relationship the top priority. It is also the primary, the root, the first cause of everything we do together, not just the result.

Last week’s riding sessions went well. Lots of learning and trying, for both Rocky and me. But the weekend rides included Incidents that could have turned into danger if I had allowed them to escalate. The weekend rides featured brace at all three levels, mental and emotional and physical. This does not mean they didn’t “go well.” It means they are new challenges on the journey.

I am confident and skilled enough to stay on through small arguments that would have scared me stiff a few years ago. And I am savvy enough to hop off at the first thought of “Hrm, maybe I should bail while I can still do so on purpose, and handle this from the ground.”

But the real question is, why are we arguing?

Sunset in the front arena

I know it is the relationship. I can feel that something is wrong. I just don’t know what it is.

He still whickers when he sees me and trots to his gate to meet me. He thrusts his nose into his halter. He puts effort into the new things we are playing with.

He was acting like a partner, not a prey animal or a teenage boy, last week during our freestyle riding practice. He has been moving beautifully, floating over the poles, choosing to go over the poles at liberty, cantering with relaxation, looking more fit and sound. His back has not been sore until Tuesday, which makes sense, given Monday.

At liberty choosing poles

Yet the backing up evasion has escalated to the mini threat-rear which could escalate to real rearing. This is Not Okay. And I don’t know what is causing this behavior. What is he trying to tell me? Other than NO?

If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong. – Pat Parelli

I have done everything I know how to do, from adding more complexity to the arena patterns to keep them fun, to backing off and doing simpler things to keep them unscary, to going outside the arena when he so obviously wants to, even though once we are outside he seems to be looking for things to get up about. I have included undemanding time in the barn with a hay net, a random carrot in his pen as I walk by, hanging out and grazing on the lawn.

I have run out of savvy arrows and have scheduled a lesson with Erin for Thursday so I can get more in my quiver.

Incidents recorded in detail after the jump. Ready? Jump!  Continue reading

Categories: Leadership, Learning Experience | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: