Exercising toward excellence

“Release when you have the lightness at a phase 1.”

Those are probably not Erin’s exact words, but as she explained, it was like a rainbow glitter bomb inside my mind. I felt the understanding racing through my nerves down to my toes and out to my fingers. Release on a phase 1. Not the phase 4.

Because, you see, if you have to go up to a phase 4 to get a response, and then you release when you get the response, you teach your horse to respond to the phase 4. It’s like telling your dog or your kid “sit, sit, sit, sit, sit” and on the 20th time finally taking ahold of them and sitting them down, thus teaching them that the cue for sitting is that you’ll say “sit” 20 times for ignoring or prologue and then use your body language when you actually mean it.

But if you return to a phase 1 when the horse is responding, and you release while you’re doing phase 1 and the horse is without brace, nice and light … the horse remembers that and you have a much better chance next time of getting the response at your initial phase 1. 

How this came up was, I was on River and I asked her to back up and River leaned on the reins.

I started to increase the pressure on the reins and Erin said to use my carrot stick instead, “on whichever shoulder is sticking — or whichever shoulder you can get to.” I tapped River firmly on the front of her shoulder (maybe that’s actually her chest?) and kept the reins where they were, and when River yielded, the reins got really light in my hand. She rounded up and backed nicely and I released after a few strides of that and we both licked and chewed. The next time I lifted the reins — lightly — and backed up in my own body, she backed up lightly with me. She also had a nicer expression and felt more engaged mentally, not just physically. Hm, how interesting!

And that’s how you get to that point where when you’ve gone to phase 4 (defined as “whatever is effective”) a time or two, you don’t have to go there very often, because you released on the phase 1 and taught your horse that they can avoid the phase 4 by responding at the phase 1. And that if they don’t respond, phase 4 is definitely coming, so why not win the game by responding sooner. This is part of the “attitude of justice” that Pat talks about as one of the 10 principles of horsemanship: “trust that he’ll respond, but be ready to correct, not one more than the other.”

Categories: Love | 2 Comments

I passed my Level 2 Freestyle audition

In fact, I passed with a 2++ rating on Relationship and a 2+ rating on Savvy and on Fluidity, resulting in an overall rating of 2+. WOW!

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In the feedback, they highlighted a few things I’m doing well, and provided some direction for what to refine next.

I like the way you’re building quality and partnership every step of the way. Excellent transitions along the rail! Good focus throughout too. As you continue, practice the following phases for your turns: Phase 1: Focus/eyes Phase 2: Belly button/Shoulders. Really emphasize this phase- think about having eyes or wheels on your shoulders and they need to turn on the “track” that you’re asking River to follow- turning your shoulders and belly will influence your hips and River will be able to feel this. Give this phase at least a few seconds- you might take the whole arena to turn at first and that’s ok. Phase 3: leg- Linda talks about using as much pressure with your leg as you’d use if you were pushing on your eyelid. Phase 4: rein or stick. Focusing on these phases will really help to refine your communication- try to force yourself to go through all of them before you go to your rein- it might be messy for a while- but you’ve got the calmness with River that you’d be able to play with it. Great job!!

The two things that really stand out for me are that it might take the whole arena to turn at first and that leg pressure is no stronger than pushing on your eyelid. Both of these give me perspective on exactly “how much” to do or not do: give River more time to figure out that I’m asking her to turn, and if I’m exhausting my leg doing “leg cues” then I’m probably doing it 10x too hard.

I glanced at the level 3 audition forms last night and I’m feeling excited and motivated to officially step into the next level of my journey.

Categories: Love | 1 Comment

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