Posts Tagged With: opposition reflex

My plan for ‘solving’ Rocky’s opposition reflex to stepping on his rope

I’ve been struggling with this one for a while. On one hand, Rock doesn’t always panic when he steps on his rope while grazing, and when he does panic, it’s not as big as it used to be. On the other, he still does sometimes panic, and I have not been able to tell what makes those times different. It might be that he’s stepping closer to the snap and therefore has less play in the line when his head comes up.

Rock can't wait to learn the new way to lead by the leg

Rock can't wait to learn the new way to lead by the leg

I called the Parelli Savvy Club Gold hotline today for the first time to ask what I should do about this. I spoke with a woman named Julia and told her what I have been doing: lots of porcupine to bring the head down, lots of head down, variety in putting the halter on while squatting, etc. (And as I talked I got a warm thrill as I remembered how hard this was for Rock when I started, and how these days I barely have time to close my hand on the line now before he lowers his head.) I explained that this mostly happens when we’re out grazing, as I try not to trip him him when we’re playing, although that has happened to.

We talked about a lot of things but here are my action items:

  • I can handle the rope better (or take it off for grazing) so he doesn’t get into this situation. I thought that I wasn’t supposed to manage it during down time, that he was supposed to learn to deal with it. Turns out nope, once I put the rope on, it’s my responsibility to manage it. I can do that!
  • She asked if he pulled back when tied, which made me realize I hardly ever tie him. He’s on the high line for at least an hour, sometimes two, every morning to eat his beet pulp and supplements and pellets out of a bucket, so he gets practice at tying, but that’s a rather yielding setup as well. She suggested that when I tie or practice tying to a rail, I wrap the line rather than tie him hard. (There’s a Savvy Club DVD segment about how Pat teaches horses to tie and not pull back, which I will review.)
  • Instead of holding both sections of the rope when leading by the leg, just hold the one side. I’ve been holding both to keep slack on the halter and just apply pressure to the leg. Now it’s time to play porcupine in both places at once, the leg and the head, so Rocky can solve that puzzle: lower my head and step forward. Now that I think about it, well, duh. When riding a person often uses multiple cues, many of which are porcupine. And you don’t see David Lichman‘s horses doing the Spanish Walk with their noses in the air. Julia said to practice this in a safe environment where Rocky feels comfortable so he can tune in and solve the puzzle without additional stress, and to go as slowly as he needs.

One thing that resonated strongly was the idea that when a human puts a humany thing on a horse, the human needs to stick around to give release. We were talking specifically about the rope but I think it applies beyond the line and will ponder it further. I said that I was always nervous about just turning a horse out with a lead danging from its halter, because it seemed to me like a good way to break a neck or take a bad fall. She agreed, and noted that when it comes to lead ropes, the horse can’t give himself release the way a human can.

I can simulate a downward pull by stepping on the rope, letting it slide under my boots and holding it in my hand so I can give Rocky drift if he needs it. I saw Pat do that with the rescue horse at the Reno Celebration (“want to learn how to do a backflip?” he joked). But if the horse is standing on his rope he can lower his head but he’s still trapped until he figures out how to move his feet. By then the release isn’t connected with the lowering of the head.

Heading out to the Back 40 now, either to lead them to the Back 80 (now that Sterling is living down the road a piece at the trail-riding ranch, the herd doesn’t have a fearless leader through the pass) or to practice leading by the leg in this new way, or both.

Categories: On-Line | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Who abducted the fireplug and replaced him with this firecracker?

Apparently Parker spent the time between last Thursday’s lesson and this Tuesday’s lesson pondering what else he wanted to teach me. Gone was the withdrawn, insensitive, meh LBI of last week. Hello explosive-reactive-kicking-bucking-dominance-insisting LBI! My very first send out to circle, he went from standing still and looking at me with two eyes to leap whirl buck and kick *toward me* — this was not a playful on-the-circle or to-the-outside lift of the heels but a planned, fast, BLAM of a hoof toward my face.

I remained calm and ignored it. But he knew that he had surprised me and that I didn’t know what else to do, and he did it again. This time I backed him up further before I asked for the send, though, so when he did it again he missed me by 12 feet instead of three. Who says I don’t learn? I tried to modulate my language: could I be lighter and get impulsion without reaction? Did I have to get stronger to counter the dominance challenge?

Erin then offered to show me and did a series of intense back up, hindquarter yields, falling leaf patterns, and other moves designed to show him that no matter what he does, she’ll be consistent, and to establish herself as leader. I then got back on the line and tried to use the right body language, knowing that my core was cringing more than my external appearance let on, and that Parker (and any horse) would respond to the core no matter what appearance I tried to give.

What was really cute was that I was not sure how to do falling leaf, and was a bit mixed up in my signals and intentions, and Parker ended up concentrating so hard on “what the hell is she saying” that he ceased all dominance behavior and became so attentive and intense that our ultimate goal of communication and cooperation happened even though the pattern didn’t! Then we figured it out and he responded well; we were both feeling successful and like we had figured out a puzzle together.

In the past, I probably would have been holding back tears, frustrated with myself that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Instead, I felt “ah ha! an opportunity!” I have never been in this situation before and so how could I already be good at handling it? I did my best and managed to get Parker tuned in and offering more obedience and he didn’t kick at me again. And I quit before it turned into a drill and got worse again.

Erin compared last week to this week. Last week, Parker didn’t need a lot of friendly game, as he was relaxed and mellow and dull. This week, he was reactive and tense, which called for more friendly game and even a more extreme version, until he could stop flinching when the savvy string slapped the ground.

We also talked about riding. It took an hour to get him tuned into me and in the right frame of mind for saddling with savvy. But even so, I couldn’t just saddle and get on. He’d need some games and safety checks with the saddle on, including time at liberty, and I would have to pay close attention to whether he was having opposition reflex instead of positive reflex and whether I had permission to mount. We didn’t have time for all of this and frankly I can only learn so much in a day, lessons are so intense, so I happy to end there on the good note.

I really want to be doing my lessons with Rocky but it’s been interesting to learn from other horses with other behaviors.

Countdown to Rocky’s boot-fitting: 11 days.

Categories: Lessons | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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