Posts Tagged With: lynn palm

Clinician Highlights: Lynn Palm at Horse Expo 2012

Lynn Palm’s session was called “Be Positive: Your Horse Knows Every Word You’re Thinking.” She focused on showing the results of keeping our thoughts on a positive path.

“Positive” in this context doesn’t mean unfounded optimism. It means phrasing our thoughts around the outcome we want (“we will trot evenly around this circle”) instead of what we don’t want (“oh god what is my horse going to do next, she’s so spooky, ack, she might shy at that, ack!”).

In Parelli lingo, this is “the natural power of focus,” and it goes much deeper than just “what we want.” Whatever has our complete focus is what will happen. There is no other outcome. It will happen, because it is the only thing than can happen.

If you can focus 100 percent on “we will trot evenly around this circle, with rhythm and relaxation and contact,” that is what will happen. Your horse can then share your bedrock certainty. Ah! yes! we will trot evenly around this circle! those billowing tarps and flapping flags and whipping branches and swirling dust devils are not the droids I’m looking for!

If you focus 10 percent on that and 90 percent on possible spooks, distractions, and disasters, you are going to get spooks and distractions, and possibly a disaster.

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In fact, just now, it hit me how rare the disasters actually are, relatively speaking; it tells you something about the horse-human bond that horses manage to stay disaster-free most of the time, even in our fear and lack of focus.

When you look down, his mind is in front of your mind. Keep your eyes ahead of the horse. ~ Lynn Palm

Lynn said that when we catch ourselves looking at our horse, or thinking “why is he doing this, what will he do next,” that’s a sign that we need to relax, slow down, think about something else, be casual, breathe, and ride through it.

She didn’t mean ride through an explosion. What she described sounds awfully close to Linda’s teachings on handling thresholds.

The more the horse wants to look, the more we need to let them. Stop on a loose rein. The more they look, the more chance they have to settle. ~ Lynn Palm

Like Chris Cox in his session about rider confidence, Lynn coached her student on physical balance. Breathing — “in sets, inhale and exhale” — and relaxing were key. Even just that made a change in the horse.

At first, the student had her hands wide, below the crest of the neck. Her arms were stiff — her whole body looked rigid — and any time the horse even hinted at shying, raising her head, moving sideways, or some other “unexpected” move, the rider clenched tighter and jerked on the reins.

The horse expressed her own discomfort through tense, jerky motions, and by flicking her tongue all around. Even when she kept her feet relatively still, her tongue was in motion, sticking out of the side of her mouth, rolling the bit, flapping up and down.

I watched the horse and rider escalate in a cycle of nervousness and thought ah, yes, I remember that. Many of my normal lessons went just that way.

The first change Lynn suggested was for the rider to raise her hands and move them forward. With the rider’s hands in front of the horn and above the mane, she could not lean on the reins to balance. She also coached the rider through looking ahead, not down, and had her tie the reins in a knot without looking at them and drop them over the horn.

While an assistant managed the horse on a longe line, the rider practiced raising her arms, then making a T, then resting her hands on her thighs, then picking up the reins without looking at them, then setting the reins down again. All while looking where she wanted to go.

When the rider let go of the reins and began to do other things with her arms, finding her balance point, the mare reduced the tongue action considerably. The longer the rider stayed off the reins, the more relaxed the mare’s entire body became, and the less we saw the tongue.

Parelli reminds us that the more we use the reins, the less they use their brains. I can’t help but think that many people prefer that their horses not use their brains, because the people do not trust their horses. They feel safer on horses that give up trying to use their brains and go dully where the reins drag them instead. These riders feel safer or smug with the illusion of control because they don’t realize it is an illusion.

In Lynn’s session, the looser the reins, the more relaxed the horse, which calmed the rider, which calmed the horse.

I ride Rocky now with the understanding that he will communicate with me in phases, not “suddenly for no reason at all” transmogrify into a bronco. It took me a lot of ground time to develop that trust.

Our horses are our mirrors. They are quick to feel a change in us, to provide release for us, and to reward our slightest try. We just have to learn to do the same for them.

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Clinician Highlights: Chris Cox at Horse Expo 2012

Chris Cox presented “Rebuilding Rider Confidence” at the Western States Horse Expo on Saturday. He took two nervous riders and helped them find their mental and emotional balance by finding their physical balance.

NOTE Reading the horses (and humans!) while listening to Chris Cox and Lynn Palm describe what was happening proved instructive. We heard a lot of familiar words — approach, retreat, pressure, release, partner, responsibility. Our Parelli studies empowered us to see and learn not just from what the clinicians said, but from what they did not say, and from what they did and did not do.

I am grateful for and proud of the students who were willing to share their fears with us and expose their process in front of a thousand people. I learned a lot from auditing their lessons, and saw myself in each of them! (Here’s my highlight from Lynn Palm’s session.)

Chris Cox was funny, matter-of-fact, gentle but persistent. For both of his students, the only way out was through. One of his techniques was to ask the student what she did for a living. When she answered, she had confidence and balance in her voice and body. He said to keep that confidence and balance when she was with her horse. That many unconfident riders are confident in other areas of their lives. “Climb that panel and get in here and look at this horse’s teeth,” he said to the dental hygienist.

He also pointed out that the rope between the horse’s ears was not a mistake. It put it over the horse’s poll and ensured that the horse did not choke.

Both of his students habitually leaned forward when they rode. They increased their lean when they rose to higher gaits or when they got scared at the walk, curling tight and grabbing with their hands, the way humans do when we feel threatened. Thus, both were afraid to canter. (When Chris asked the second student “have you ever cantered before?” she said “once, but not intentionally.”)

He played with their horses on the ground first, doing pre-flight checks in all zones and establishing a relationship with the horse. The second horse had a big reaction to the rope getting under his tail, bucking with his legs impressively high in the air.

Chris pointed out that in trail riding a horse could get a branch or leaves or other things brushing its butt and stuck in and under its tail, and that playing on the ground is not about “tiring the horse out before you ride” but rather about testing and teaching. “It’s there, so why not bring it out and fix it?” Chris asked, rhetorically.

Then he had the student get into the saddle and coached them on their seat. They didn’t have reins to grab onto and he taught them how to push on the saddle horn instead of pull it.

What you don’t know, you don’t know. ~ Chris Cox

One of the women especially didn’t want to go forward, not really, and the horse that had been gleefully cantering around on-line was now barely able to step forward himself. I’m not sure I have ever seen so clearly the connection between a rider’s walk-on-but-not-really body language and a horse’s hesitant steps. But Chris didn’t let either woman get stuck at a threshold by allowing a lot of walking time. Both women had to post without reins to lean on, and then both reached their peak fear when he told them to cue for the canter.


I noticed that I was tense in my belly and was not breathing either, and took some deep breaths and shook my arms and legs a little bit, up on the stands. And he kept the pressure on the student, at a phase 2, not increasing but not backing off, until each one reached the “fuck you it serves you right if I die and mess up your stupid demo” stage and signaled, firmly, with leadership, for the canter. Chris said calmly “good girl” and “shoulders back” and “sit down” and “very good” and both women very soon relaxed and the fear gave way to euphoria. The second direction was harder physically but easier emotionally and neither one took as long to get into the canter the second time.

The only way to replace fear is through knowledge. Find a program. Don’t let your dreams die. When your dreams die, you die. Being overweight and old is not an excuse. ~ Chris Cox (from my notes, possibly paraphrased)

During the session, I realized in a way I never have before that every time I have come off a horse, my shoulders were inappropriately in front of my hips. “Inappropriately” because I wasn’t jumping or roping or riding a race horse. The times I have ridden through a buck, shy, or spook, my shoulders were not in front of my hips.

Lately in my riding with Rocky I have experimented with body position, exaggerating in all kinds of ways, not just leaning forward or back but also wiggling to one side and the other, as if he were an exercise ball I wanted to bounce on and then find my balance. I also try to lie on him and pet his butt with my feet, like colt-starters do. He tolerates this and has become more relaxed about it every time. And now I have a better seat than I’ve had in years.

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