Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Peceptive to changes

So the other day I got to the barn fairly early to try to beat the rest of the weather. It wasn't snowing, but it was pretty darn cold and really windy. Of course, Xena was playing with the wind, which I find absolutely beautiful...... and I'm not going near her when she does it! Running around with it as it whirls up some dust, spinning when it goes underneath her, then bucking like crazy when it leaves her pen for a minute. Fun to watch, not to play with.

So I go to play with my other big horse Mesa for a little while. She is a very centered, not too emotional, sometimes lazy, LBE. Boy am I glad I took her in the arena first, and not Xena! We walk in, and she suddenly gets super right brained and really on her toes. The arena had just been watered, and the wood on one wall that had gotten sprayed was dark about half way down. I saw her go through literally every single horsenality in one play session that day! Where the typical owner would say it's scary in here today, lets go somewhere else, I said "Oh boy! A toy!" Now had that been Xena, I probably woulda said lets get out of here! But I've had Mesa for 6 years and am pretty comfortable doing just about anything with her.

She chooses the 3 square feet right by the gate as her comfort zone. She is LBI standing by the gate. While she's pretty much a stationary figure by the gate, I contemplate what about water on a wall could possibly be scary. Horses are to preceptive to danger, people, places, changes, and things. Well, that wall was a different color yesterday when she was in there, so the change is what's bothering her. Funny how you own a really calm horse long enough and you start to think they don't even notice things anymore. Guess I learned, the horses is always watching!

I try to do a little bit at liberty because usually she'll follow me if I have carrots, and she would, to about the halfway mark in the arena, and then she'd flip around with her tail up (RBE!) and run back to gate. I wanted to see where her now RBE self would go if I took the option of the gate away, so I stood there and sent her away from it. She looked 100% arab - she's actually half - and really she looked like those terrified arabs at the shows.... I think I saw an equal dark to white ratio in her eyes, and her tail was over her back. Then I let her stay at the gate, tried sending her out of it from the middle of the arena. I know that's not going to help her confidence at all, but I wanted to see exactly where the threshholds were, and what she was going to do. Then she was a bit away from the gate and went RBI, freezing and then exploding. Fascinating!!!!

So I've now seen my LBE go to three other horsenalities in 5 minutes, I go to put her halter back on and play approach and retreat with the wall.

An hour and a half later!!!!!! She finally goes back to her LBE self, puts her nose on the wall, and starts chewing the dark spots. The arena isn't that huge... it basically took us an hour and a half to go all of 50 feet. This took 1. the realization that I couldn't let her turn her back to the wall, or she'd become a blur in the distance, and 2. allow her to keep her feet moving, and go back in forth in front of it rather than forwards/backwards approaching.... cuz in super right brain mode, she wasn't about to go backwards. I would have her go back and forth at a threshhold until I could tell we'd conquered it by having her put her head down for 7 seconds. Even exiting the arena, I had to go back and forth to get to the gate, because the wall was okay in zone 1, but she was nervous about it in zone 5.

I didn't take any other horses to the arena, but I played some sort of friendly with each one of them in my barn aisle. Playing friendly with the same obstacle with 7 different horses and seeing the different responses is always interesting. In this weather, I've been focusing on undemanding time with everyone, and increasing our friendly games, especially with the 2 minis I'm driving. With Xena, even when I don't take her out, I still try to hang out with her and get her itchy spots. It's been one of those "Blinding Flash of the Obvious" moments for me..... Parelli doesn't mean that you can get your horse to do all these fancy things, sidepasses at liberty and flying changes... it means your horse is happy to see you when you get to the barn, and you can touch him all over, and the both of you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the relationship is most important. I had been letting our friendly games slide (with all 8 horses, really) and had been trying to get them to do this trick, or that move. I had forgotten how FUN the friendly game really is! When your horse confidently accept something you never thought he would... it's an amazing feeling. So... I've thrown out the agenda, I feel like really I don't need to get any thing done in anybody's time frame, and I can truly ENJOY my time at the barn. Even if I just have time to feed them and leave, sitting for a few minutes with each of them as the eat... it's awesome.

Well, that was fascinating! Always a learning experience, whether you planned on it or not. And it's great to know I have to stay on my toes, as even 21 year old left brain horses are still prey animals.

Playing between snow storms

It's been nasty weather lately! Usually below zero in the mornings. Ick.

So the other day it was around 3 degrees, brrr. I took Xena over to the arena, but there was another boarder. He knows I'm just doing groundwork with her right now, so he let me stand with her right outside the arena while he was running his horse around. She has some seriously strong Mustang instincts of "I must run away with the herd!" every time a horse passes her, which has lead to blowups on trail. So I'm going to start playing with getting her focus while around other horses. My new, very very distant, goal for the future is to someday be able to circle another horse off of her... calmly.

So there was some snorting, lots of approach and retreat, but eventually she just stood there watching him and cleaning up the dropped hay in the barn aisle.

Then we went in to the arena after he was finished, and played some more yeilding hindquarters, backing up, and stick to me. We are getting very good at staying together at liberty!

Then another snow storm hit and when the wind gets up she runs aroud like a bronc, so I decided to stay out of her pen while she's acting like that, and when she came inside just play some friendly, not really ask her to do anything. I have been making a point to have some sort of daily interaction with her, even if it's only long enough to give her some scratches and cookies. I've actually been trying this with all 8 of the horses, even if I can't get each one out to do something, 5 minutes of undemanding time is still important to them. I'm pretty sure that's the realization that I needed to have, to get un-stuck from where I was. After all, it's about the relationship.

The next time I played with her, as soon as I got her halter on, someone started up a tractor, so she was high-headed, snorty, up on her toes. At first I was just defending my space to get her off of me, then we went into her stall where it was less scary and did yo-yos in and out of it until she got left brain. Then I sent her backwards out the gate, and lead her (properly!) to the arena, with just a few hide your hiney's to keep to following. Once we were in there, we played put your nose on something, but since she was getting bored of the arena and I hadn't brought any obstacles in, we played "find the carrot." In all of the usuall places, I put a carrot down. Once she got the game, she really had fun trying to find it! I think this is an awesome way to build curiousity, maybe I'll try that the first time we go into the big outdoor arena. That is, if the snow EVER goes away!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Square one: horse, follow closely

Finally got to spend some decent time with Xena last night. I think for the very first time since I played with her in California, I actually feel like did something SUCCESSFUL!

So after that whole incident the other day with taking her outside of her comfort zone, experiencing sudden onset of opposition reflex, and realizing she has nooo language with people... I decided on using last night to teach her how to lead properly. I remembered figuring that out exactly in CA, but problem was last time I only got half way through how to fix it. I was working on the opposition reflex, but not the following part. Also, it would always come back when she went out of her comfort zone and until that last play session we just had, I had no idea why. I am so glad that my savvy has improved SO much since then, that I actually feel I can handle it.

So last night I go in to her pen. Once I get her haltered, I spend some time on her favorite scratchy spots. Then I try to see just how little she knows of the halter. She doesn't really respond (at least not well) to pressure anywhere on it. Can't turn her, can't flex her, can't put her head down. Hmmm...... how interesting!!! What about porcupining backwards? If I use the stick, she walks forward in to it, but if I use my hand she will back up. Okay well at least I have some sort of reverse button. Then I start playing hide your hiney, and backing off when I get two eyes. When she's walking correctly without me touching the halter, I start using a bit of the rope, with hands that close slowly and open quickly. She fought it for a while, and would not look at me if there was rope contact. With enough retreat and proper timing of release, she would follow me around her pen, sharp turns and all, on a loose rope, and when I did use it she actually followed the feel!

Then I open the gate to start the hike over the puddles and through the snow to the indoor arena we go. This is where things started going badly last time, so I just made sure not to let her lead out and lose confidence, but give her a JOB the whole time. Follow. It was surely a difficult concept for her since she'd really only ever been dragged around by the snap. Plus, when people hold the snap on those traditional halters, the horse only has her inside eye on the person. So getting her to think "Boy, I gotta keep watching that nut, she's all over place!" was exactly what she needed. But it took a while, and I'm sure our tracks through the snow would look something of a first grader's scribbles. Eventually we made it to the arena. We play the game a little longer, and then I let her loose to run and play.

After about 3 laps of galloping around the arena, she came to me! Hmmm... looks like I made the catching game an automatic response. Yay Im not completely on the wrong track! After a bit more catching game, she was following me at liberty. You know what, tonight I'm focusing on leading properly... let's play stick to me at liberty! And we did! AND it worked!!! All I had to do was look at her hindquarters ever so slightly and she would remember her job was to keep her head up next to me. We did this from both sides (she has had little to nothing done on her right side, so I was quite impressed with that). I could switch directions easily too. And if she didn't stop right when I stopped, I could touch her chest and she would back up. By the end of it, she actually let me back her off with the carrot stick.

I put her halter back on to slowly start making our way back to the barn. She leads just like she's supposed to. And any time we stop, she puts her nose on something! I think I've made that a default behavior too! AWESOME! So we play with that for a little while. We are walking along the wall to turn the lights out, and I think "She wants to play this, so at that next wood pole I'll have her touch that." and right where she was she stopped and touched the wall there!! Mental connection?

Since she is obviously learning best in patterns - typical RBI - I know that once we create a language then we'll start the Parelli patterns asap, before she creates negative ones. Or continues the negative ones she already uses. So until then, since I'm getting some response from the halter, I decide our next little pattern will be come to me and put your head down. We work on the for a few minutes. I turn half the lights out, she's a bit right brain, but I continue with put your head down and relax. She actually picks that up incredibly fast, and every few steps out of the barn I have her stop and stand with her head down for 7 seconds.

Of course on the way back to our barn she starts to get snorty and prancy, I continue with staying ahead of her, battling opposition reflex, and playing stick to me until she remembers her job. Follow. She then very calmly lets me lead her back in to her pen. I actually send her in since I knew it was a safe place, and I let her follow the feel of the rope around the gate.

I feel like I just accomplished something amazing. I never had any idea how something so simple as leading could cause so many problems when taught wrong. Its like the number 1 thing every horse needs to know to exist in humansville is also the most neglected thing out there. I now see when one thing early on goes wrong, but people keep moving anyway, it snowballs until you get a complete training mess like Xena.

Anyway, it was an inspiring play session and now I feel there is hope. I just might get on her one day. At this rate, I just might live through it too! ;)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quiet couple of days

Well I haven't had a lot of barn time lately, mainly the weather, but also just haven't been able to get out there. I cannot wait until we get our own place!!!
Last night I didn't get there until it was time to do chores. Xena wanted absolutely nothing to do with me - the people with large buckets that are ignoring her were FAR more interesting! Gonna have to remember that gets her attention lol. So I played with a few others. But I've got some cute recent pics!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bonding, and a huge realization.

I had some spare time on Thursday and it was a gorgeous day out - like 40 degrees and sunny! I actually got to spend a full 6 hours out playing with the horses, which is something I haven't gotten to do much of lately. Got to the barn to check out how Xena did her first night in the new stall. She was outside in her paddock enjoying some sun. I decided to enjoy the luxury of not being on a time limit, I didn't have to be direct line, so I grabbed some brushes and just went to hang out with her.

She came right up to me. We played lots and lots of friendly game. It was so nice to not care about anything other than being able to love on her. I thoroughly brushed her all over. I went for her favorite scratchy spot right above her freeze brand. Nobody else was around, so we were enjoying each others company. It kind of gets timeless after a while, so I haven't a clue how much time had elapsed, but after I had been scratching all her favorite spots for a while, I went back to her neck... and she started nuzzling me! I wondered if she was just nudging me out of the way or something, so I move a bit closer to her and it turned completely into mutual grooming!!!

I think I introspected about herd dynamics in those few minutes with her than I have ever done at one time. I have often noticed my minis grooming each other, and the leader seems to always dictate how it goes. When it starts, when it stops, what the other does. So I experiented. If I moved up on her neck, she moved up on me. If I started scratching too hard, she would use her teeth (ouch!), then all I had to do was go lighter, and she mirrored it. Then I stopped to take off my gloves, and she stopped right when I did. Hmmm how interesting!!!!

I wonder if all of that was some sort of sign... had she accepted me as part of her herd? Was she now my follower? Would she look to me for leadership? Is this some obvious example of rapport?

Since I had 6 hours to kill and 8 horses to be played with, I actually got to enjoy doing something with each one of them. Mostly average play although I feel compelled to share that I finally touched my extreme prey animal RBI abused rescue mini's lower legs. Like that thing Pat says "If she's wild and wooly and full of fleas, she's never been curried below the knees." That was her. I have had her for 3 years, I'm the only one who's ever been able to halter her, and I finally got to run my hand all the way down her leg and touch her hooves.

So I was high and giddy off of that major personal success, when I went back in to Xena's pen. After a bit more scratching, I put her halter on and since she had enjoyed the snow pile so much the night before, I figure we'll just go wandering and play put your nose on the snow piles. Lets go snif the closest one. She climbed halfway up it and absolutely destroyed it. She bit it, she pawed at it, she had fun playing in it, and afterwards it looked like that scene from Wizard of Oz where the flying monkeys rip apart the scarecrow. :)

What I should have done was taken that as more than enough steps in our relationship and put her back. What I did do was follow her to the next snow pile. Whoops, overstepped a thresh hold. She can be really hard to read though, looking back I guess she was a little stary eyed leaving the first one, but she practically dragged me over to the second one, so I thought she wanted to go play in it. I should have known - since she did her head bobbing thing while she was walking - that for whatever reason, she was nervous, despite the fact that she kept approaching. Anyway she blindly went right past the snow pile. Yo-yo didn't work. I circled, and she was at the end of a very tight rope fighting the pressure. Sudden onset of opposition reflex!! I realized at that point I had 0 control, so I scurried off to the first snowpile, high-headed head bobbing snorting horse in hand. She climbed right over it without looking, like she didn't even see it. I was stuck on the other side of it, so I ask her to give to the halter pressure and come back around.... she did a Casper-esque defiant head toss in my direction and I practically had to drag her back around. Okay, I knew she didn't listen when she was scared, but this just means I have absolutely no leadership and no way to communicate with her. I had my carrot stick, so I inched towards the barn just to get the both of us back in one piece. She got way too far ahead of me, and since she has only ever been taught to be dragged around, she doesn't know the appropriate response to the halter pressure... so I go to yeild her hindquarters. And WHAM she had no hesitation of kicking right out at me. She didn't get me, since there was a carrot stick between us, but she tried.

Back in her pen, I realize we have to fix this whole opposition reflex business. Porcupine game with carrot stick, and not only did she push into it enough to push me almost backwards, but she was physically resisting it by walking forwards! This horse has NEVER been taught the correct way to respond to pressure. One thing of Pat's that sticks with me is "The most dangerous horse in the world is one that is afraid of things and also doesn't respect peoples space." ...Uh-oh.

Conclusion: Love, Language, Leadership, in equal doses. I think that day I finally earned the love, but the other two are nonexistant. If not, then in the negatives. She was never taught a true language in which to communicate with people. She has NEVER seen humans as a source of leadership. Put it all together and - you get a horse that under quiet controlled settings looks like a calm animal, but the minute she steps out of her comfort zone, you're the enemy, and she goes in a reeeeally extreme defense mode. I am seriously wondering how on earth anyone ever rode her safely!!! I'm wondering how the heck I ever rode her safely! So I don't know about you, but a horse like that isn't even what I call tame! I remember one demo I was watching when the horse Pat was working with did a lot of the same thing Xena does, and even though the owner could touch him all over and lead him places, Pat said that horse wasn't even tame... because "tame" means that the animal is pretty certain people aren't going to kill him.

Where do we go from here? We work inside of her comfort zone. And in any new setting, I'm going to lead her there, not send her and let her become an emotional wreck. If I think that just for a second we maybe might be approaching a thresh hold, I am going to turn around. And I need to build a language from nothing, because dangerous situations aren't the time or the place to find out she won't respond to the halter. It appears as though my "not so wild mustang" is, indeed... pretty wild.


Okay so I'm using this weekend to play catch up. I am really trying to write down almost everything important that happens, if for nobody else than my own benefit of remembering. Tuesday (day 5) wasn't all that eventful. She wanted to play, but didn't want to be caught, so we played at liberty, and ended the session upon haltering. The only other significant thing was that we decided to move her from the big barn to the smaller one where my minis are, trading her old stall with my other big horse Mesa. The horses in the big barn get blanketed by other people at night, and she is nervous about it, so I wanted to make sure it gets done the natural way every time. Also, there are way more people in the big barn, and she doesn't appreciate too much prodding. And to get outside the horses have to walk under carwash type flaps, so she would run outside and then not come in all day. However, my super confident LBE 21 year old mare Mesa loves people, anyone can blanket her, and she had no problem with the flaps at all.

I wrote the following Wednesday night as soon as I got home after an awesome play session, so it's pretty vivid:

I just got back from the barn. Xena was amazing! Our relationship is growing! Tonight we had a LOT of “Hmmm, how interesting!” moments, and I believe I’m understanding her better with each one. So in keeping with our week long program of put your nose on something to build confidence, I first let her loose in the arena to roll and then went in to play with her. This time caught me pretty quickly. I went to go hang my bag of stuff up, and she followed me there. She stayed stuck to my side as I went to the fence to get her halter. She put her nose on the halter, since it was hanging on the fence. It was like she was saying “I found it! Now put it on me!” So I did. I grabbed it, and went to go stand at her withers and wait for her to sniff it, when she backed up with me and sniffed it before I even got there. I’ll take that as a yes.

So we went for a quick mosey around the arena, and she started offering the game all by herself. The fence? This wall? The bucket? We went around for a few minutes; sometimes she got a bit unconfident and lost the plot, mostly good. She does this funny head bobbing thing when she’s trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do. She holds her head below her withers, and bobs it up and down, like when horses first see water and they are trying to get a better look at it. Hmm how interesting. I retreat when she does this, and just let her think. I asked her to go forward to the gate, she did the head bobbing thing, so I stopped and stood there. She kept doing it every few seconds until finally she shook her head and walked forward, and landed her nose on the gate. We went to the other side because she was interested in the dog agility things we have set up over there. She sniffed a few of the poles, and then someone pulled in to the parking lot which made her pretty right brained. She had her head up, staring at the doorway. So I thought… It’s okay to be scared, but you still have to listen to me. So I asked her to put her nose on one of the toys. There was a lot of “Yeah but... there’s something over there!” going on, plus she didn’t want the unknown scary thing behind her. I was passively persistent until she finally sniffed one of them. Butt scratches. Left brain is back. She just stands there. Person leaves, perfect timing!! So after she very confidently puts her nose on a plug outlet on the wall, we turn the lights out and leave. I’m mildly surprised she didn’t freak out when the lights went out, she did last time and we weren't even inside.

It’s 21 degrees out, and my hands are numb, so I suggest we go stand by the heat lamp. It’s in the crossties/grooming area, so I send her in, she sniffs a few things, goes back out, paces a bit, and checks it out again. She won’t stay in there, I’m not going to make her, and honestly my hands are too cold to really do anything about what she does anyway lol! So I let her kind of mosey around the barn. She puts her nose on everything! The blanket, the saddle pad, this fence, that railing, this bucket, that brush, this rope, that paper, the cat. I let her investigate each and every blanket while I was warming my hands up. She calmed down so we did a little more work on standing in the grooming area. Then she started walking very pointedly towards the arena. I can feel my hands enough to hold the lead rope, so I go with her. I figure she’s planning on looking at the trash cans by the grain room. We go right past them, and she leads me all by herself in to the pitch black arena!!!!! “This is where we play, why were we outside? It’s more fun in here.” AWWW!!! Sweetheart! I follow her for a while, which feels kind of strange since I can barely see her, but I have to leave soon so I just play a bit of squeeze game with the arena gate. Never thought I’d be sending her between a gate and a wall into the dark, let alone after only having her for 5 days.

Then I have to lead her over to the new barn, which means going through a narrow people doorway since the big barn door is closed, over to the side that she’s never been on, and past some trailers. I let her eat some of the hay that’s piled up in the corner first. It’s a bit of a squeeze between 2 walls… she has to step in to the squeeze to reach the hay. I walk away and she picks her head right up to follow me. I don’t expect her to go through the doorway but she surprises me by going right through it! Then she got right brain on the other side, so I stood there with her until she put her head down and started eating a potted plant. :P Try to go forward a bit, right brain, snort, prance. I retreat to the plant, but this is no longer within our thresh hold. Hmmm how interesting! That makes me think that this is probably one of the HUGE contributing factors to why she is so unpredictable on trail. You can’t go too far too fast with her, or her confidence goes backwards. We go back in the barn, over to the hay. She crept through the squeeze, took a bite, but was too emotional to stay there. Also a big one! I sat on a bale until she felt okay to eat quietly, then we tried again.

I decided that this time, I need to focus her on something. Something else clicks: every other time we’ve had problems in new places is because I was trying to micromanage her emotions, and get her attention, and ask her to either stand still or let her go all over the place and hope she’ll stop eventually. So we go back out the door. I wait until it’s her idea to move forward. When she does, I focus on directing her towards a snow pile in front of us. I do that and she had a GREAT time playing with the snow pile!! She was nudging it, biting it, pawing it. “What the heck is this white stuff??” I lead her away to take her into the new barn, but she had a better idea. Leading ME over to the trailers!!! I take that, anything involving her and a trailer can’t be a wrong answer. She didn’t want to quit playing, but I had to put her up.

Send her in to the new stall, she bursts right back out. In again, stays for a second, out. I let her keep going until she got the confidence to stay, which only took 6 sends this time. You know, I kind of love seeing this cute face in my little barn. I can’t wait to come see her tomorrow.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The power of focussss

Monday - I didn't get to the barn until after dark, it was really pretty darn cold. Around 20, snow on the ground, just plain unpleasant. And the heater in my tackroom broke, so there was no warmth to retreat to other than a tiny heat lamp in the crossties. I go to get Xena out, it takes only about a minute to halter her. We go to the indoor arena. I let her loose because she seemed to have some energy to burn off. Since I have just discovered that she doesn't act like herself online, I want to see if she just wants to play by herself. My hands are already getting pretty cold, I turn around to exit the arena.

She was trotting around a bit, then she started trotting in my direction. She stopped, like she almost wanted to come up to me, but wasn't sure she could have that much opinion. I leave my back turned to her, so she can come up if she wants to. She walked right up and stopped next to me. So I started playing friendly game with her scratchy spots on her neck, and the one right above her freeze brand. As I move her mane out of the way, and actually get a good look at it, it kind of hit me for the first time what those symbols represent. This horse used to run on the wide open plains, and she just chose to stand next to me - a predator - all on her own. I get lost in my thoughts, and as I'm contemplating what her life was like before that freeze brand got there, she starts walking ahead of me. I think perhaps she just lost interest in me, when she suddenly starts nudging everything I had put on the gate. My parelli bag, the gate latch, a wood panel. Each time she looks back at me, as if she's wondering why I'm not suggesting she goes places. I walk up to really see what she's doing, and she kept putting her nose on things and looking to me for approval, and trying to move forward, like she's saying "Come on! This is the game we play! I always feel better after playing this game, play with me already!!" So with a pair of rather chilly hands, I put her halter back on. I haven't set up any obstacles since I hadn't planned on doing much, so I just use parts of the arena. So I send her to a gate, then a jump standard (which was really cute, because there were two next to each other, I didn't care which one she landed on, but she very definitively asked me which one I wanted lol!!). We find the muck bucket, which took a little convincing because its way in the darkest corner of the arena, so she was hesistant; I asked her once and when I could see she was thinking about it, I left her alone. Eventually she went and put her head in it. Then I started feeling a bit more focus from her, she was really asking about every direction change. We walk up to one of the doors, and she looks at it for a second, then puts her nose on the door knob! Awesome! Then we go to the other side, I aimed her for the mounting block since it was pretty obvious, but she says that was toooo easy - and she touches the light switch on the wall above it!! I felt I had just gotten way more mental connection with her than ever before.

Back to her stall. She stays in after about 10 sends, then our approach and retreat with the blanket routine, which is horribly difficult because I can't feel my fingers.

Well that took much longer than I'd expected, it's now 16 degrees out and snowing, my feet are so cold I can't feel anything below my ankels, and I go home absolutely glowingly warm on the inside... that connection was ALL worth it.

A mini-breakthrough

Sunday I got to the barn in the afternoon, and it was pretty cold here in snowy Colorado. Took Xena's blanket off, and took her to the indoor arena. Mirrored her to show her I wasn't gonna drag her in there and "start training" her, and it took significantly less time for her to get left brain. We played put your nose on something for a while. Our counter turns seemed to be improving. One thing I noticed though, was if I put too puch pressure on zone one with the carrot stick, she would put her head up in the air, and turn her nose the complete opposite direction. How's THAT for opposition reflex. Once she realized there was a target though, it seemed to get a bit better.

She is very ...reserved... on line. She always acts different when she knows she's being controlled by people. The halter goes on, and its like an actor walking on stage, she knows the lines she's supposed to say to make eveybody happy, but she isn't herself.

But after this little play session, she did something she's never ever done, even when I played with her in CA - she rolled!!!!!!! She's rolled while in the arena with people before, but never while still on the rope.

Not the biggest breakthrough in the world, but for an introvert like her, I think's its huge. I'm so proud. Maybe, just maybe, she's possibly sorta, kinda trusting me, just a little bit? :)

Second play day

I decided Xena, like a typical Right Brain Introvert, will go where the people dragging her go, but has no confidence in herself. So we are going to have a 7 day program of playing put your nose on something. I get to the barn. I don't want to barge in and do something with her like every other human she's ever had. I wait until she gives me permission to come in. I start finding all her favorite scratchy spots, and scratch them with the halter. She was a bit tense when I walked in, but after I started playing friendly game, she put her head down and started eating again. Like she was expecting me to just go do something with her, and got so nervous she quit eating, she relaxed when I proved I wasn't like that. I take a good 5 minutes to put it on. She can't believe she has a choice in the matter. Lots of lip licks. Actually at first, she was a little leary about me even putting my arm over her neck, since she's only had it shoved on her nose. But I know one of her favorite itchy spots is on her neck right above her freeze brand, so I scratch her there on the other side, and eventually she lets me put it around her neck. Getting her to snif it was like I was asking this of a comatose patient. She was just standing there, not responding to stimuli, thinking "I know you're gonna put it on me!!" I would inch it toward her nose, then pull away either when I saw the slightest sign of worry from her, or when she made an effort to pay attention to it. After a while, she turns her nose towards it, and after she checks it out, I put it on.

I plan to take her to the round pen and play put your nose on something with the various things I have set out there. A few plastic bags tied to the fence, two buckets, and an extra pair of gloves I laid on the fence. So she seems pretty calm, I open the door to her stall. Up goes the head, she slightly flares her nostrils, RBI is back. I slowly let her creep out of her stall. She sort of drifts around me, kind of checking things out. We walk down the barn aisle, she does okay until we are outside, where her head goes much higher up and she's puffing a little louder. I remember that's exactly what happened that day last Ausust on the trail before she exploded. If we had been going anywhere further than the round pen, I would have turned around and retreated, but there were lots of people in the barn, and the round pen's only about 50 feet away. We go in, she snorts a little. Last night I had gained rapport by following and mirroring her, until she looked to me for things to do, and I quit when she had pushed a barrel. So I mirror her as we explore the round pen.

After a few minutes of realizing I wasn't going to ask her to do anything in the new place, the left brain comes back. We start playing put your nose on something. She finds the blue bag, and then the yellow bag. Then one bucket, do a few turns in the other direction, then the other bucket. Eventually she is so focused, she leads me over to the glove on the fence. "I found it!" she says. I don't want to stop playing, so I try to go back to the blue bag. She stands right in front of it, wondering why we're there. "What bag? I already found this one." I finish there, and take her halter off to let her hang out in her new play pen while I go feed the minis. A horse in the pasture next to the round pen was feeling good, and started galloping like crazy, snorting, tail up, all that good stuff. I remember that Xena had previously had a pretty strong feeling that she is supposed to run away with the herd, and that last blow up was because there were horses running that she couldn't follow. So her tail goes up too, she starts snorting a little bit, and prancing around in circles. At this point I'm just glad I wasn't still on the end of her rope. Remarkably, she stops to go play with the snow and lets the other horse just run around.

I come back later and go to put her back in her stall. She still doesn't feel completely safe in there, so instead of leading her in and trapping her, I send her in, and let her come right back out if she needs to. The first time, she bolted out, and was very hesitant on going back in. Eventually, she will go in quietly, but she at first only stays in about 2-3 seconds. I just keep sending her (it takes probably 15 sends) until she finally had the confidence to stay. Then it was time for her blanket, which she hasn't worn before. I approach her withers with it, she tenses, I back off. Takes probably 10 approaches until she lets me put it on.

I was doing up the back buckles, and needed her to move her hindquarters over. I push, she doesn't move. I try waving her over with my glove, she doensn't move. So I take the glove off, and start kind of tapping it against her side. No response. I wave it all over the place, slapping it on her butt, and when I see her face I'm now 100% sure she was "sacked out" traditionally. She was pretty nervous about it, but she was taught to tolerate everything. She is rather tense and starry eyed, but she thinks she just isn't supposed to respond. Hmmm, how interesting.

I go home happy that we are getting this progress, with a bit more understanding of her, and wondering how we'll overcome this. I can't wait to see the Xena that's under that shell.

Xena comes home

So last summer, when I still lived in Los Angeles, I boarded at a rather anti-parelli boarding stable. I have always wanted a mustang, and as my one big horse is getting older, gonna be 21 soon, my parents agreed I needed a second riding horse. Back then, we were just fabricating moving out here to Colorado, and I was convincing them to go to a BLM adoption once we got our own acreage. Around July, a new boarder came to the barn with a beautiful buckskin mustang mare she had just bought - I was instantly attracted. I stuck to her like glue. The owner had grown up barrel racing, but she hadn't had a horse in I think 10 years or so. The mare was 8 and had been a broodmare before she got her, but was supposedly a broke trail horse. She found her through her friend who was a "trainer." So Professional Predator #1 says other than a hard mouth she's a good horse...

She is very much a RBI, and quickly earned the title unpredictable. Within 3 weeks of owning her, the two got into an accident where the owner went to the hospital with a broken tailbone and the horse ran 3 miles before somebody caught her. Talk about flight distance!!! So she says the horse is probably just not very broke, sends her off to Professional Predator #2. This one was using her as the guide horse for a rental stable's trail rides. And one day she'd be "fine" and the next she would dance the whole way. Then eventually something happened and the horse took off while Professional Predator #2 was on her, and even with her big shank bit couldn't stop her so she ran her into a pipe corral type fence. Came back to the barn head to shoulders bloody. (The horse, not the rider, although it was all over the rider's arms and legs too). So she got that stitched up, and Professional Predator #2 says she gives up, the horse blows up without warning and she should find something calmer. I, who am still in love with her because she's a mustang, ask the owner if I can just play with her a bit while she's recovering.

Biggest learning experience of my life!! I find that she is a bipolar LBI/RBI. She is the way she is because she had probably 30 days of "microwave training" where she learned go where the Dope On A Rope drags you, get saddled up, go when they kick you, stop when they pull you, turn where the reins tell you. And was sold as a nicely trained horse because she can appear calm on the outside, so she looks good on paper. Also another HUGE contribution to her behavior is I was 99.99% sure she was "sacked out" with traditional methods. When she got scared, she just took it. She stood there like she wanted to move, but she knew she wasn't allowed to.... to a point. This made the friendly game horribly difficult because she simply wouldn't react. So while she was mostly still in her comfort zone, she was this quiet little creature who gave little to no feedback to what went on around her, and then as soon as she got to the point that she honestly thought she was in danger, she said forget you - I need to save myself! And that meant ditching the handler, losing the rider, and taking herself to safety.

So I built a relationship with her. Remember how I'm in an anti-Parelli barn? I literally got scolded by the barn manager if I "did that ridiculous horse voodoo" with anyone else's horse - exact quote. So anything I did with the mustang had to be 6:30 am before the manager got there, or out in the back parking lot after it closed. But she was worth it. In the safety of the arena, we could do awesome things at liberty, I could pop a balloon right off her head while she was relaxed, pony her off of a bicycle while pushing a barrel full of pop cans with her nose. But then leave the safe place and it was crazy. Something would bother her, she'd just go starey eyed so I assumed that was all she was going to do. My exact thought was "Oh if that's all that happens when she goes right brain, this oughtta be easy!" And no sooner did I finish that thought, and she EXPLODED. I knew that the problem was she was such an introvert that she had waaaay more subtle warning signs than I was prepared for, and it clicked that every problem she's had stems from people thinking she looks totally harmless, overstepping a threshold, and then blowing her up. .... So I play with her for almost a month, and fall even more in love with her. Her owner would watch us, I'd show her some Parelli things. I decide she's doing so well that one more play session and I might just get back on her. That morning I went to go play with her early and.... she wasn't at the barn!!!!!! Looks as if somebody had decided, with the influence of the barn manager, it was time to send her to Professional Predator #3. I am heartbroken; the buckskin mustang was the one that got away.

This guy is allegedly a specific mustang trainer. She is up at his place until we leave LA. I don't hear anything from or about the owner or horse. I assume he is doing something good with her, and everything's fine. Months go by. I look for a young horse in my area. Nothing works out. Until mid December when the owner calls me and tells me that Professional Predator #3 gave up, she still can't ride her horse, and would I like to have her. WOULD I!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hmmmmm..... A buckskin mustang with a spirit that can't be broken... who's seen that cartoon!

So Friday night, my girl finally showed up. The one that got away got to come back!!! My savvy has grown from applying the things she taught me before, and now I know how to read her a little better. This time around, I'm noticing way more subtle signs, and we're getting along great. This time, I'm not going to assume anything. This time, she gets a choice in everything. This time we go at her pace. This time, I am the leader she needs me to be, the voice for her thoughts, her icon of safety, .... her partner. Wish us luck!

This is my new beautiful girl, who I am naming Xena.