Thursday, March 25, 2010

The little things

Yesterday was amazing! As every day I get to spend lots of time with Xena is. Boy, she is teaching me SO much. The main thing is Pat's principle #2: Don't make or teach assumptions. It's like... the eight principles, lots of the Parelli-isms, eight responsibilities... they've all been floating around in my head for years, since I started the program. I remembered them, but it's only now that I'm starting to truly understand the meaning. Like I always say, "Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarden; it's up to the rest of your life to interperate it."

With Xena, I know not to assume she'll ever be the same horse two days in a row. I never assume she will respond to something one day perfectly just because she's done it before. Because I know this horse was predictably unpredictable, and jumping ahead to learn something new, without being 100% certain that she's solid in our language and confident, is downright dangerous. Not to mention rude. And, out of a new natural habit, I've been doing this with my other horses. Checking all our level 1 things work properly before doing anything else. If the horse was hard to catch, it isn't a good day to teach it something new. I think this was really the missing link in my relationship for everyone. I was making way too many assumptions that now that so-and-so is in level 3 she shouldn't act like that. Giving them the respect of still being prey animals whose emotions change at the drop of a hat, never forgetting to read the horse, has made all of us get along so much better. No more dust! Thanks to my new found savvy, I was able to braid Sugar's forlock for hte first time (the extreme RBI abused rescue mini)!!!! That was the coolest feeling. 3 years of owning that horse, and I couldn't pick her feet or touch her forlock or ears. Yesterday we did both! And I've got halfway down the back legs and the top of her tail! *Floating!!!*

So other than my amazing success with Sugar, I think I'm almost ready to get on Xena. She's truly starting to trust me now. To "take my word for it" as I like to think. Even if she's unsure of something, she's beginning to realize that I'll never force her to do anything she doens't want, and that no matter where I take her she'll be safe. I went in to get her out of her pen. I try to always follow the rule of don't just go get the horse. So even though the pen was ankle deep in ice/mud/slush, and it was tempting to throw her halter on and haul her outta there, I climbed up on the fence and sat there for a minute. I like to do this, especially before playing with her, to get totally present... not thinking about my day, or what else I have to do, just the two of us. She went from standing beside me with her head turned away to investigating me, then pulling the halter off the rail. :D I think that means she wanted out, huh? She licked her lips and thought about that. Guess I did the right thing! It really is the little things that mean the world to them.

This was the start of an awesome session with her. On the way to the arena, we passed the tractor that was turned on. It's parked by her pen, and usually she bucks and spins when it turns on. This time, I stopped around 6 feet from it to wait and see what she thought, and to my suprise she walked forward! So I sent her to put her nose on it and she did!!!! Then she started eating out of one of the buckets, of a loud, noisy, working trailer! I am so proud.

In the arena, I was mainly playing with desensitizing to more things. She has to be literally bomb proof before I feel comfortable really riding her. So I started with a small plastic bag. And at the end of the session, I could rub her all over with the large plastic bag, and scratch her forhead with it. I love her. Also played with some head lowering without the halter. It's a little sticky, but it works. We also played a bit with sending her into the washrack. It is a quite scary washrack if I do say so myself. Dark, totally boxed in concrete stall with a metal gate, and they can't see out. But thanks to the squeeze game, I could point and she'd go in after about 10 minutes.

I considered that more than a small success for the day, and ended there. I've been letting her graze afterwords in the aisle where they keep the hay. It happens to be right next to the washrack gate.... and she felt so connected to me (and I'm also confident in that this horse loves hay so much that it would take quite a bit to spook her)... I hopped right on! Of course I'm no where near truly riding yet, but might as well get the both of us confident in me sitting on her, while it's a pleasant experience such as grazing. An added bonus is that since she's RBI, before she outwardly spooks at anything, she'll stop eating first. Great warning for me to get off - the calm before the storm.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We're getting there!

Things are going pretty well! Last night I was playing with Xena in the indoor arena. I was circling her while standing on a bucket, to get her used to communication from a person up higher than her. Kind of important while riding. We got almost two laps, and then she started having issues by the gate. I'm not entirely sure what they were, she wanted to stand by the gate, but she wasn't looking at it, it was weird. She'd stop out in the middle of the circle and just stand there. I'd suggest for her to keep going at phase 1, then release when she did that head bobbing thing that means she's thinking about it and working through it. That went on, her standing there, for probably ten minutes. Sometimes she did a tongue sucking thing that I was wondering might mean she was catatonic, she wasn't blinking. I let her work through it, and we stopped circling after another lap.

She felt like standing at the fence, so I said okay me too. I sat on top of the gate, scratching her back and neck. She wanted no business of me sitting on her, so to help both of our confidence, I put just one knee on her, took it off, lather rinse and repeat. Then I was getting super tired sitting up there, so I was leaning most of my weight on her. She had more of an issue with me on her left, really didn't care on the right. Interesting! I eventually got so tired of mainly holding myself up on the panel gate, I turned around and sat on her butt. She didn't care!!! She had totally flipped when I tried to throw something on the left side of her back, wouldn't let me fork a leg over, but yet she doesn't mind my butt sitting on hers. WOW! Okay so that means she definitely is afraid of being ridden and having something bad happen to her. Poor girl, I don't know what that last trainer did to her, but she didn't like it. So I sat there sitting kind of on her hip, scratching her withers and neck, for quite some time. I wonder how I'll be able to get her to trust that I won't hurt her when we ride? Oh well, it's not about the riding. It's about our relationship, which means before I do anything more than sit on her butt, she has to gain more trust in my leadership.

Tonight, I played with Mesa, and introducing the weave pattern. I'm not sure why the figure 8 is presented first... weave is so much easier!! After we got our forehand yeild better thanks to the weave, we weren't fighting about the figure 8 anymore! I'll admit sometimes it's difficult for me to understand that LBE, since I get along with my complicated RBIs so much easier. But, since having Xena around and learning leaps and bounds about horse behavior from her, things with Mesa have begun to make more sense. I have all the patterns up through level 3 down with Ghost, but she used to live in my back yard. Mesa was at an anti-Parelli boarding stable where our ground skills were level 1 most days. (We could do level 4 freestyle when nobody was watching, example that picture over on the right, but the rope halter was a bit of a no-no.) It's weird being able to play with the big horses on the ground like this. So much more horse to have to maneuver around the obstacles lol!

Then I got Xena out and was playing with improving our squeeze and figure 8. She was pretty left brain tonight, even pushy. She ran into the stick a few times, and then after minor objection, started putting effort into understanding. We got two very nice squeezes over some ground poles, and then finally she stopped and waited, and asked a question before coming in. Hmm, hadn't thought it was a respect issue, but I guess that worked! I have pretty much been letting her come in whenever she wanted, but tonight I thought "You're not worried about walking around in here all by yourself, you don't need me for moral support," and I was pretty insistant on her standing and waiting. Cool! All of our games are getting pretty good, even porcupining backwards from her face! I can drive her backwards from her chest as long as I'm standing in front of her. Off to the side she goes forward. Haven't yet decided if I think that's opposition reflex evading the pressure or positive reflex interpreting it as a circle cue. 50/50 chance, right? I'll play with it some more one of these days when I have more than 20 minutes to spend with her. Anyway we did a bit more playing with front end yields to fix our sloppy figure 8 turns. I think - for both horses - I need to place the barrels farther apart because they are both having trouble turning in time. It will also allow me to go slower in my phases, rather than "Come around the barrel and you better turn right now before this stick gets your zone 1!" lol. We'll have to work up to that precision. Right now it's just bothering my pushy LBE and timid RBI. Eventually Xena was trying to bend around the barrel, and asking before coming in. We quit there and headed back to the barn.

I backed her out of the door to the big barn. The small people door that's just big enough for a horse to fit through, that I've seen take people 15 minutes and a whip to go forwards into. Light phase 1, all it took. We have a very good concept of the back through a squeeze pattern. Now if only we could get the normal squeeze a bit better.

Another thing I think is noteworthy... I had her on the 22 foot line for just a few minutes while I was turning her out, before I played with Mesa, and she seemed to really enjoy the drift. I only have one big horse halter, and I mainly use the 22 with Mesa now, so to avoid going back to the tack room I just brought Xena out with it. So much for her needing my contact lol! I know she did in the beginning, and she still does on circles because that whole "resposibility" thing bothers her, but for the most part I think she's getting pretty confident. Which means.... perhaps it's time to try with her the big scary world of Level 2!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Just one of those days

...One of those SUPER AMAZING DAYS!!!!!!!

So yesterday I was at the barn for several hours, and because of the weekend the place was packed. Typically, that means I retreat to my little barn and my horse's pens and hang out with them, because with all these people around, if I do anything less than impressive I get looked down upon. I think.... Any of the minis running around may spook the big horses (there were 5 very right brain horses in the arena), people would just offer unwanted opinions on Xena... that leaves Mesa. Usually with her I even avoided going around them because her arthritis has limited us to just walking lately, and that's not anything people will respect. But this week, she got new glucosamine supplements!!! She's doing GREAT! I notice how she's had a bit more energy, so I decide to take her in to the round pen for some play time.

First I yo-yo her at phase 1 in to the corral. That got one person's attention. Then I take her halter off, and she puts her head down for hugs and kisses. After a minute, she layed down at my feet, while I snuggled with her head. That got another person's attention. After she got up, I went to get some brushes. When I came back she trotted toward me. I now have one person paying less attention to her trainer and more to me, and one person totally watching. So after some online play with circling on a completely loose rope, backwards, sideways, and improving our draw at the trot, I start some liberty. I had been working on getting a really good hindquarter yeild to get a bit more life at liberty, so we had a trotting draw working pretty well!! I sent her out on a circle since I could see she had energy, and woooow. She ran around like a young Arabian! Glucose is doing its job! She was prancing around, and doing that really springy, bouncy, Arab trot that almost looks like an exuberant passage. Tail up in the air, I just make eye contact and point and she canters off. I stay completely neutral in the center of the arena while she just canters, canters, canters, happily around the round pen. Once she slowed down a bit, I drew her in, played with our shiny new hindquarter control, and got reallly exuberant trotting stick to me! She left a few times, but thats okay, I didn't really want to be that close while she felt like letting off more steam anyway. Then we got a really good trot to backup transition, so we played with that. I played a sort of "million transitions" type thing, until by the end of the session, I could walk calmly, trot (a very fancy, prancy trot!) for exactly two strides, and back up. It felt amazing!!! Not only was it a serious confidence booster because nobody can say that Parelli doesn't work after that, but also because I rarely feel like I'm actually being interesting enough for my LBE. But that level of connection towards the end made me feel like I'm not a lost cause lol! Even when she's arthritic and limping around an arena, she'll still buck and tell me I'm too boring to play with online. I just need to be able to bring out more obstacles, get more creative, and lose all reservation of being in front of critical people. As long as I don't stir up a bunch of dust while trying to do something way beyond our level, and I can look like I'm enjoying my horse, I'm doing just fine.

While I was walking her back on rope with slack dragging on the ground, saying "I love my horsey!" every couple of steps, and her actually looking interested in me, I heard one of the riders in the arena point in my direction and whisper to another "I just want what she has!" Score. And this woman has her horse in training with a professional predator, and I can see that all she wants is a good relationship, she loves her horse. Hmmm. start locally and lead by example!

People hadn't quite all filtered out, there were still a few inside, so I kept playing with Mesa. I got some of our toys out, a bright yellow plastic bag, and a bag made from tarp material. She was skeptical of the bag at first, but after a few short minutes of approach and retreat, I could swing it over her head and tie it to her tail. Some other people came in, and I want to look respectful of them and their horses, since most others were afraid of the bag. So I balled it up and shoved it under the halter, between Mesa's ears. "K honey, hold on to that for safe keeping for me will ya?" I LOVE MY HORSEY!!!!! Once they had left the arena, I tied it around Mesa's leg and led her back to her stall. I think that made a good enough impression for the day, wouldn't ya think?

What next? It's raining today - perfect excuse to go out with an umbrella!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Horses teach humans

I keep meaning to update more often than I have been.... Well yesterday I got on Xena!!!! Just in the barn aisle, while she was eating some dropped hay. I was sitting on the fence next to her, and it just happened lol! I only stayed on for about 5 seconds, but she was perfect! In the arena I was playing with putting things on her back. She's a little iffy about me being there, but I used an empty grain sack yesterday, and a bag made out of tarp material today. The beauty that is approach and retreat - we can do anything.
Then we went to go play, I'm trying to get everything we can done with the Level 1 self-assessments. Only thing we have left is some issues with backing from zone 1 (she's still rather offended about things on her face) and the figure 8 pattern, because we have driving games and touch-it down realllly good!! So I played a bit with getting her to follow the feel of the halter by pulling it around the other side of her hindquarters. One side was better than the other, but eventually she got it. Then to the figure 8's. She'd go around the barrel to the right, but she wouldn't stop when going around the one to the left. Funny thing.... Mesa does the pattern the same way. So does Ghost. And 3 of the other minis. AH-HAH! It's a problem with the person! I'm right handed... so I must be doing something different from my right and left hands while going around the turns.

I become conscious of that - and I'm still going to play with that some more - and then try it again. Well, she does the turns better. Funny how that works out, isn't it? But she would still get really unconfident on the left, probably since in the beginning that's where our error in comunication was. "Don't make the process look like the product" Pat always says. Hmm... what's not working? She disconnects with me around the second barrel, then goes for the gate. So.... I'll draw her all the way in after I she does the right one, before going to the left. Ta-daa! It worked! But then she'd get unconfident around the end of the second barrel. WIth an expression of "Oh, you're just going to send me again." Just like the circling game, RBI's need contact, need to be able to come in until they are confident to stay out. I then started bringing her in each time she went around one - that fixed that! Then the next problem was she wasn't turning sharp enough.... what's not moving? The hindquarters! Then I start disengaging them at the beginning of each turn, and although it was two connected rectangles at first, we got a perfect figure 8!!

She is giving me so much insight to Ghost and my other RBI minis. I think it's because I know that I absolutely cannot get direct line with her, and I cannot get away with breaking rules with her. I have to be the perfect horseman for her, something I think I've often neglected to do with Ghost. I know often I'll break some rule, or push her past a threshhold, because I know I can "get" her to do it, or I assume she knows something that she doesn't. But with Xena, I am fully aware that I must pay attention to every little detail, because someone's going to get hurt if I don't. With her, I know I have to make sure all the little things are working before I even think about moving on. With the others, sometimes I'll see that something isn't quite right at a lower level standard, or one game is a bit off, but I'll keep going to try and get some high level maneuver. That got me a horse that will come sideways toward me at liberty, but won't porcupine to the left.

Note to self: follow the program! In order! I'm finding out that I must treat Xena the way I should treat any horse. Thank you Xena, for letting me know what that "should" means.

The trail less traveled

Lots has been happening lately!

This weekend it was finally really nice out, sunny and warm. Naturally, the barn was packed full of people. Every arena had someone in it, and Barn Nazi was riding his green 3 year old, who didn't put her ears forward the whole time, and was pulling on the reins. I really don't want to go battle for space with all these people, especially since 3 of them are trainers who are going to be critical. So I decide to just hang out in the pen with my minis, enjoy some undemanding time, and watch the show.

Now, over in the corner to our right, there is horsey being ridden by trainer in side reins because he's been sticking his nose out lately. I can tell from this distance that it's because his saddle is pinching his shoulders, not to mention he doesn't like the mouthpiece being used on him. I saw it, it's a straight across bit, and he's a LBI. Then if you'll shift your attention over to your left we have horsey being "taught to flex" by another trainer who has tied his rein to his tail. Horsey is flipping out. And straight ahead we have an exuberant LBE mare who frequently bucks off people, being worked (and I only use the word worked when I mean it!) in the round corral, with her head tied down being micromanaged with a lounge whip. Same horse just about toppled over 5 minutes ago when she spooked at the barn door opening. Aaaand then straight ahead we have another trainer riding (riding being nothing more than the act of not falling off) a RBE young horse, who's spinning like crazy because he doesn't appreciate the draw reins connected to his shank bit, and he's only been under saddle a month. Then in the background, you'll see Barn Nazi's horse taking him for ride, and then almost dumping him as he tries to open a gate off of her.

Meanwhile one of my minis has now layed down in my lap, Ghost is letting me get a scratchy spot on her ear, and the third is resting her head on my shoulder.

After giving up on opening the gate, Barn Nazi comes over. "This beautiful day, and you have 8 horses, and all you're going to do is sit on that bucket!?!" ... "I like sitting on this bucket! I'm just hanging out with them." Again, gets confused and walks away. *Sigh* if only he could understand that I'm doing the most important thing I can with them: building a relationship. Something most of these people could clearly use.

Once most of them had left I got Mesa out to the round corral to play at liberty. The person who has her horse in training is trying to catch her horse out in the big arena. She fails. Trainer tries to catch one of her horses, and all 3 run away. I'm watching from the round corral as I play stick to me at the trot with my mare. Then just as she caught him and came walking my direction, and other horses spooking in the wind were dragging their owners back to their stalls, she layed down next to me. As everyone passed us, she layed there with her head in my lap. There's just no better feeling.

All in all, there is no doubt in my mind that I'm doing the best thing for my horses. And we'll take the trail less traveled, it's time for a better way.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I'll pass, thanks

So I didn't have much time left at the barn, and I was seeing if I could play seven games with Xena in her pen while sitting on a bucket. The Barn Nazi came over and started questioning what I was doing to "that poor horse." He kept pressuring me to ride her. He watched me as I backed her up and sent her on a circle, while sitting on the bucket.
"I have a saddle you can borrow, you know."
"No thanks, I don't need it." I say as I smile and pass the rope behind my back.
"Well at least a pad, don't you want to see what she'll do?"
"Nope, I'm good for now." Still smiling, actually enjoying the fact that Xena seems to really get the circling game now.
"And I've got some football padding if you wan't to borrow that the first time you get on her, in case she bucks you off!"
I respond "If there's a 1% chance she's going to buck me off, I shouldn't have been on her! So I'll pass thanks." :D
Barn Nazi is confused and walks away.

It was almost time to leave, so I was doing a couple more games in her pen. I hear my mom put the food in her stall, so I play yo-yo through her stall door inside, which she does perfectly. My mom was in the barn watching us, wide-eyed, since she was there the first time I asked Xena to get in her stall. And this is the horse that would stand out in the snow to avoid coming in through the squeeze. Not anymore!
"You just backed a Mustang into a stall!!?!?!"
I tell her what's going on with the Barn Nazi, and how most people at the barn think I don't know anything because I try to not do much in front of/around them.

A bit of that is because my toys scare other horses (I'll be playing with pulling a large trash bag over my horse's face, and it's spooking the arabian inside the barn 200 feet away), but mainly because... when something goes wrong, and people see dust, and they see my orange stick and Parelli logos on my clothes... they blame the program. When normal people's horses act up, and it turns into a battle, they blame the horse. He can't do this, he won't do that, he needs training. When things don't go right with Parelli people's horses, they assume it's the fault of the program. Especially with me - I buy the worst of the worst. Every single horse but my first one (that's 7 of them!) was purchased or given to me to be some kind of training project. So when I tell the farrier to put my RBI's foot down before she explodes, and he doesn't, and she kicks him, they tell me I need a new type of training because I haven't done enough with their feet. You know what? That particular horse is an extremely sensitive high-spirited RBI rescue case with a history of horrible abuse, and she trusts me enough to pick up her feet at liberty! Not my fault he didn't listen to what I knew she needed.
ANYWAY! That was a little rant, but basically it's all coming down on me right now that the general opinion of me at the barn is that I don't know anything... and to save them blaming Parelli, I don't teach my horses anything new while there are people around. Funny thing is none of these people can do anything to impress me. They all have relationship problems. There's plenty of dust every time they train. I know why her horse is pawing in the cross ties, I know why her horse is fighting that bit, I know why his horse has his ears back, I know why his horse just took off, and I know why his horse is hard to catch, and afraid of the velcro on his splint boots.

So as I'm having this conversation with my mom, after backing my not so wild Mustang into her not so scary stall, she says "If only they could see how much you know, they could learn from you. Parelli has so much to offer. It's a shame they look down on you."
I said "So long as they don't blame Parelli for my mistakes, let them think what they want to think. The only opinion I really care about is my horse's."
As Xena's eating contentedly and calmly, I'm behind her leaning up against her butt, scratching her tail, I add,
"...and I'm pretty sure she likes me."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Language: check

We're finally starting to get it!!!!

I got Xena out of her pen, she backed out of her gate with me just thinking about it. What an amazing horse. We went over to the round corral again, since we've been having so much fun in there. She practically dragged me over, and squeezed right through the gate, turned and faced. Now that IS a positive reflex!!!

So I let her roll and buck and jump, and when I haltered her, she felt really connected to me. It's hard to describe... but it was like I have created enough rapport with her that as soon as she knew it was play time, she was asking what I wanted to do first... she was game for anything.

I quickly check how our driving game is going - forwards, backwards, front end, back end. Well... the one last game we haven't attempted yet that our language is missing is sideways. So I send her to the fence, she puts her nose on it, and looks at me. I send the front end, then the back end, then the front end, and she goes SIDEWAYS!!! Perfectly. Try it the other direction, we get 2 steps sideways! It's absolutely wonderful. She is even paying complete attention to me while there are other people, the tractor, and distractions going. We play a bit more with a few other games, and just hang out with each other. She constantly amazes me with the way she learns things, and she's making me a better person for my other horses. Heck, she's making me a better person period!

Behold, we've got all 7 games now! Awesome! Love, language, leadership.... gang's all here!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Watching the sunset

Friday was yet another terrific, AMAZING day.

So there are these trainers at the barn, trying to work with a young horse that's there. They were in the barn where Mesa is, trimming his feet. He was really scared, flipping out, had 3 people holding him, and the trainers were just yelling and cursing at both him, each other, and the kids that were there. Meanwhile I'm in Mesa's stall, sitting underneath her, leaning up against her front legs, scratching her belly and humming some country song. It was one of those moments that you can't help but think how much you love the relationship Parelli has allowed you to have.

Anyway... after they all left, I brought Xena out in to the round corral. I didn't have much of an agenda other than do something with her to keep our friendship going. I let her roll, then played a bit of stick to me at liberty, and circling. I thought this might just be some time to get her itchy spots, whatever she wanted. I pretty much took her suggestions and went with her. She lead me over to the edge overlooking the mountains and was staring off into the distance. I look to see if the horses in the far pasture are running or something..... nope, only the sunset. So I watch with her, as that seems to be her idea. I sat on the bottom rail of the fence and just enjoyed her presence. We stayed there together, as time seems to stand still, like two old pals, watching the sun as it set over the mountains.

So I'm sitting there looking up at her eyes, fixed on the mountains, after the sun went down... thinking... this doesn't even look like the same horse that got off the trailer a month ago. This isn't a frightened little deer. This isn't a bronco. This is a partner. If the professional predators could see us now. Awww, sunsets. How romantic.

Some kind of magic

Thursday night. I had been at the barn for quite a while by the time I got around to getting Xena out. I got her halter on, backed her through the gate, and headed off to the round corral. She leads absolutely perfectly now, loooots of slack in the rope, backs when I back, so light. We played some put your nose on the trailers on the way over, that was fun.

I let her follow me around the round corral for a few minutes. We play with getting her to yield both ends with both games, and some backing, all of which she does absolutely perfectly. So I see her looking for a place to roll, and take her halter off. Some day, I'll be able to sit down next to her, but first I'm going to have to break her pattern of getting up and bucking and galloping straight off. It's cute though! Lets me know she feels good. :)

By this time it was dark. I went to the barn to get something, and Xena was playing around by herself in the round corral. When I came back, I watched her for a minute. Then she came down to walk, after saying hello. I don't know what inspired me to do this, but I started walking around the outside of the fence with her. I just go where she goes, and we play the mirror game. Eventually she is taking me all the way around the fence line, instead of facing the gate. And soon enough we are trotting! And she's bucking and I'm laughing and we're playing like little kids, it's some kind of magic. Then she asks me where to go, so I test how much leadership I've got, and I trot around, and she comes with me! Then I do a fast change of direction and she flips right around and comes with me that way. Then I run faster, and she canters along! Then I reverse directions and she bucks and bucks and tosses her head and runs along with me. She snorts loudly, like she's breathing fire, like she used to do when she went super right brained. I realized there... this is the first time I've ever been confident in hearing her make that noise. I know she's just playing, and she's calm, and she's still paying attention to me! And that sound doesn't mean I'm about to hear scrambling hooves and get a rope burn, it means she's treating me like another horse. I'm not so scary anymore. Her snorting matches my heavy breathing as I'm trying to catch my breath from running. Eventually mom says it's time to go home, and I put her back.

Now, I really feel like she's accepted me as more than "that girl" with the orange stick that comes to do things with her.... I'm her friend! Come to think of it, she isn't out with other horses. I'm the only thing she's got. Good thing I know the games! When I first got her I didn't turn her out with anyone because I didn't want her to pair bond with another horse and get attatched. Actually I secretly hoped she would pair bond with me... I think it worked! :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Flicka?

Ghost was the easiest horse to catch today! And each time I came back for another horse, she kept wanting to come out again!! Wow, that felt great. And any time I walked by with another horse, she met me at the fence with a very exuberant expression. I love her!

So Xena was super awesome today. It was wonderful weather, like 50-something and I didn't have to wear a jacket! So I got to play with all 8 of them, which is always nice. When I got there, Xena was half asleep in the sun when I got there, so I left her alone at first. Of course the local Barn Nazi has to go in her pen and mess with her because like all the other ever-popular Barn Nazis, they know everything. *rolling eyes* The only thing he's ever done is either say something completely bogus (usually either myth, tradition, or BS), or validate what I already knew was going on with her. Don't you love when the official know-it-all at the barn makes you feel like you don't know what you're doing? Or at least make you feel like they think you don't know what you're doing. Emotional fitness, emotional fitness, emotional fitness. Anyway, he walks into her pen, starts doing something with her. He didn't have permission to go in, either from me or more importantly, Xena. Then after like 20 minutes of being in there and me trying my best to hang out with the minis and ignore him... he comes up and goes on about how much my horse "loves him" because she fell asleep while he was petting her. Cowboy, she was asleep BEFORE YOU GOT THERE!!!! Auuughh. Then he goes on about how she looks totally harmless and I should saddle her up and ride her right then. Uhh... NO! I usually avoid taking her out when he's there because he always does something like this, so he hasn't seen me really play with her, and he hasn't seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, of her developement... or lack there of. He hasn't seen how if she is scared or confused she can buck and kick both of her hind legs over my head. *rolling eyes again.*

So I wait for 1. her to kind of wake herself up and it be her idea to play and 2. Barn Nazi to leave. This finally happens pretty late, after dark. The round corral had started to dry up, and I don't know, something about the way the distant arena lights and moon were shining on it, it looked strangely inviting. So I ask permission to enter her pen, and after a minute of contemplating, she came up to meet me at the gate. She put her nose in the halter! Then I yo-yo'ed her out of the gate, which has been difficult for her, but she gets it faster every time. It's so cool when you can literally see them thinking about something. So off to the round corral. I let her roll and jump around first, then went in to play with her. She caught me almost immediately and followed me around. The big arena was being tractored, which usually bothers her. But tonight she just felt SO connected to me. We were working on getting the seven games going well, and she was actually really trying. She was moving from the pressure!! Even the driving game backwards!! And the yo-yo she wasn't objecting too much to the halter on her face. It was amazing!

So the tractor would come around and her first response was to come stand by me with her head down. First I was wondering if she was just unconfident in staying out by herself, then I realized... when she used to get scared of things, her major problem was that her instinct was to resist the people and save herself.... and here she was coming to me, trusting me to protect her from the tractor. I never thought that would happen! That's exactly what we needed. I feel like we are actually acting more like partners now.

So as I was sitting there with her under the black sky and stars, it reminded me of that scene in the Flicka movie, where the girl is sitting in the round pen with crazy Flicka, gaining her trust, in the dark middle of the night when nobody is watching. Just like when I played with her in CA, when we had to do the same thing, late at night after the barn closes, to avoid being "caught" by the anti-Parelli barn police lol. Me and Xena - the real Flicka story. :)

There's just something about sharing a bonding moment, with a mustang, in the dark, when all you can see is each other's silhouettes... that feels kind of...magical.

So I yo-yo'ed her (pefectly!) out through the round corral gate after the tractor left. She followed me (perfectly!) back to her pen. Then I took her halter off, got her scratchy spots, just felt like staying with her forever.

You know you're doing Parelli when.... all of your horses whinny to you when you get to the barn and play "pick me, pick me!" when you go out to them. When you can't remember the last time you had a bad horse day. When you feel a strong bond with all of them. And most of all, as you pull out of the parking lot after spending 8 hours at the barn, you don't want to leave, and as you drive away you think "I miss them already!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Just what level was she?

Just got back from the barn. I had an AWESOME time with Xena. As always, an eye opener. Every day she reveals the horse that's inside, and I learn a bit more about her past.

Every day I see the horse that will be there in a few months, years, or 5. I can't wait to see where our relationship will take us. Oh when I ever get to finesse with her, how beautiful she'll be taking me across the arena in half-passes. Girl can dream!

Little victory: She walked really fast up to me when I went in with her halter today! And she stopped halfway out of the door to go outside, where she used to bolt out of the squeeze. This is actually where I haltered her tonight, in the middle of the doorway. She put her head down and everything, she's sooo sweet. As long as you aren't asking her to do too much, she's sweet lol!

Another thing that happens every day.... I learn how little proper training she's had. We've been playing with giving to halter pressure while standing still and walking, as you've probably read, and she's actually been getting lighter and putting effort into trying to get it right. Well, she was following perfectly, our hindquarter yeild was working, so was porcupining the front end... so I decided let's try and revisit our problem areas with driving and circling. Oh boy!

Because she has been listening to light yo-yos and I know I can back her up now, I started with backing from the chest. She would procupine backwards, but she continued trotting out on a circle when I tried driving her back. I was feeling particularly savvy because I had just had a great time with Ghost, so I just let her figure out that trotting forwards into the pressure of the stick didn't work. 3 laps of her trotting around me while I was doing my best to be passively persistant on her chest (I probably looked like a crazy person lounging the wrong end of the horse lol!) she finally stopped and backed. She wasn't happy about it, but she got the idea pretty quickly. Then driving from zone 1 worked pretty well, she thought it meant forward at first too, but when I gave her a place to land her nose it made sense. Then we started circling (which, last time I played with her, in CA before the move) I had going really well, could canter 4 laps at liberty, and go pretty long with just the savvy string around her neck. Tonight she kept wanting to come back to me. Now that I understand she's RBI, I allowed that and kept sending her until I got 4 good, confident laps. It felt AWESOME! Then each time I brought her in I had her stand by me with her head down. She started looking like a partner for the first time. It was great. We could just sit there together, she didn't move her head from next to me the whole time. Like a mare standing over a foal. Man, when she's good she is GREAT.

I found out that I can get her to do things with very light phases, but she gets defensive again if I get to phase 4.

She gets really offended if I do any more than phase 2 yo-yo. Backing up with my hand still gets a good amount of resistance and head tossing. I remember watching Pat playing with a young foal at a Savvy Conference, Liberty Belle, and how she was head tossing, shaking her head low, and resisting the halter, and how he explained that it's easy for horses to get offended about things being on her face. *insert licking and chewing image of me here*

That's exactly what Xena does!!!! Waitaminute.... okay she had opposition reflex everywhere you could possibly apply pressure, she didn't know how to respond to the halter, she didn't know to follow people, she's offended by things on her face, she kicks at phase 4.... What the heck level was she?!?!?! Like level negative 3 or something? For a 9 year old horse, she knew less than most yearlings. Actually it's worse than that, she had negative experiences with everything.

So I was reading the self-assessment check list for level 1. I was looking at how when I got her, every single thing on that list she at the very least couldn't do, and some she would kick or blow up if you asked her to do it. Like tonight.... she was grazing right in front of her stall door when I was trying to put her back... I was pretty slow with phases 1-3 because I knew she wouldn't be happy, but she was left brain and ignoring it.... phase 4 on hindquarters and OMG she leaped in the air, bucked at the stick, tossed her head like an angry arab stallion with her ears back.... then went back to grazing. Well THAT's not a positive reflex!!!!!! Also, as I was walking her back, I was using fences and snow piles as natural barriers to slow her down so I didn't have to nag her... when she walked her nose right into the pipe corral!!! No wonder she didn't stop when that one trainer tried to run her into a fence to stop her... this horse doesn't watch where she's going and won't even give to the pressure of a fence! Anyway the check list got me thinking... depending on how messed up the horse was to start with, I've generally been able to make progress through level 1 fairly quickly with the horses I've either owned, played with, or had the job of fixing. Most of them would learn all 7 games and the level 1 patterns enough to blow the socks off of their owners, in about 2 hours or less. The extreme RBE racehorse I worked with took a little over a month to get entirely through level 1, and stop acting like a prey animal, but she at least learned to give to pressure the first time I played with her! Why is Xena taking so long? Not that I have a time limit, or even want it to be any easier, it just gives perspective to how far in the negative levels she must have been, to have had her for almost a month now and still be pretty sketchy in the games. It's like her first owners must have practically caught her and saddled her, straight from the wild lol!

The four responsibilities of the horse:
1. Act like a partner, not a prey animal
2. Maintain gait
3. Maintin direction
4. Look where you're going.

We're 0 for 4 over here. Xena:
1. Acts like a prey animal (mostly, getting a few nice moments here and there)
2. Changes gait constantly, can't maintain trot or stand still too long
3. Is all over the place
4. Ignores her surroundings and runs right into fences!

Someone at the barn keeps bugging me to ride her. HAHA I don't have a death wish! I am not going to even sit on her until I know that we have at least completed level 2 ground skills, that there is zero chance of her fighting me. Anything can happen that will set her off... so I'm not gettin on her until all 7 games work at phase 1, and I can pony her off of the tractor while other horses run around her, and all her negative responses are a thing of the past. Seriously.

WHEW! All in all, it was a great day. I got SO much accomplished with her, I am starting to see our language coming together. And I love her more and more every day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The missing link

Yesterday I went to the barn and it was actually pretty nice out, even though it was late. Yeah, 35 degrees is pretty nice around here. Xena had been half asleep in her pen before I got there. Thanks to recent undemanding time and just playing friendly.... all 7 of the horses in my little barn started bouncing off the walls when I got there! 4 of them are RBIs (Xena included), and when each one of them whinnied to me and wanted to come play, that was an awesome feeling. Especially when it was Sugar, my abused little mini that couldn't be caught when I got her and after having her for 3 years she still has issues with her right side and lower back legs. She was the first to meet me at the gate, when she heard my car pull in.

I had to go check on Mesa in the big barn first, and all of them that I was still in eyeshot of followed me alongside the gate, and Xena was bucking when I went in, like "hey! Don't leave me!"

Well, I remember from the Natural Attraction DVD, "always catch the easiest horse first." I have been living by that since I first watched it. I'm using a RBI mini (Ghost) for my online audition, so usually she was the one I wanted to go in and get most often, but the 2 left brain minis were always in my face first, and she took some catching game each time. Then the other RBI minis in the next stall (Sugar and another), were the same.... the other would push Sugar out of the way and she took a while to halter, and it usually wasn't her idea.

Well, that day as I walked into their barn, I had 7 noses poking through the stall bars, ALL wanting to be caught! Even Sugar!! It was a tough pick, I honestly couldn't tell which horse would be the easiest to catch first! What a wonderful feeling. And when you've actually got time to spend doing something with each one of them, even better.

Anyway, what I did with Xena. She was running circles trying to get my attention, so I figure she probably wants out the most. I take her to the arena, which didn't take nearly the time it's been taking. She put her nose right in the halter, and stayed back where she was supposed to, following me perfectly over to the big barn. What we've been doing, since RBIs are such fabulous pattern learners, and really create them whether you're intending on it or not... is I've been taking her to the grooming area and letting her eat, and making it a safe place. It's a plus for me since that's where the heat lamp is at. :D Each time she comes in to the barn she is a little bit snorty until she reaches something she can call "base" such as the arena or a stall. As she's slightly snorty, I send her in to the grooming area, and instant left brain-ness!! It never ceases to amaze me how smart she is. Once we have enough of a language to start the Parelli patterns... imagine what playing with her will look like!!! So I let her stay there for a while to reinforce it's a safe place, plus I'm caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts right now. Right Brain Introverts are driven by comfort... and knowing what they are doing is right is probably comfort, which is why they love patterns so much. Or, I should really say it's why "we" love patterns so much, as I'm definitely a RBI too. I start to relate how I get through a typical day to what Xena's doing right now. Patterns, doing what I know is the right answer, motivated by comfort, going backwards when there's too much pressure put on. How she doesn't particularly like people, but at the same time she hates being alone. She'll tolerate people doing just about anything to her, but she doesn't really like it... then when she's out of her comfort zone she is clingy and wants to be near others, but she still only trusts her own judgement and rejects leadership. It was right there I realized... Xena is the exact, to a tee, horse version of me. Inside my comfort zone (which includes my friends, talking on topics that I know I'm right, acting - where there is no wrong answer, and doing Parelli) I can be calm, confident, and have fun. Like her with other horses... and I'm beginning to think, while she's with me. And how with both of us, the fear is internal, and the people around us overstep threshholds all the time, or read it as defiance and shove us over them, and then we absolutely explode, and get the reputation of being moody, hard to read, or unpredictable.

So my head is spinning. Horses are always our mirrors, and I definitely have similarities with the others, but Xena is my carbon copy plus 18 chromosomes lol. Anyway I take her in to the arena and let her play since she's been cooped up in her pen for a few days. She rolls, and then gets up and gallops at the speed of light all around the arena, bucking, bucking, bucking, every stride. I said, "Yeah, she'll do that with you on her, that's why I don't ride her yet!" She eventually starts walking more, then hanging out by the gate. I walk across to turn the lights on, and when I turn around, there's a horse behind me! I walk back over to where I put her halter, and she follows me and nudges it. I think that means she caught me!

I put her halter on, and after checking that the following / responding to halter was working, I decide we've reached a good point to work on this whole opposition reflex business. I start carrot sticking the spot behind the jaw, it doesn't take long to get the message to the feet. Same thing on her flank, she moved off pretty well. Back up from chest, she pushes pretty hard at first and tries to go sideways, but passive persistance payed off. Then my friend who had been watching in the bleachers got a phone call, and she absentmindedly paces when she's on the phone. So Xena heard the footsteps on the bleachers and went right brain. Head up, starey eyes, moving forward. I think... well, I could ask the friend to sit down, but you know what this is exactly what we need. Doesn't matter what I can do when the both of us are in our comfort zones, it's when we step out that we have problems. I am in my comfort zone (I have level 1 skills so I know how to keep myself safe, and we're in an enclosed arena where I can drop the rope if need be) which means its okay to take her out of hers. So I let her keep facing the bleachers, but keep asking for her to yeild to the pressure on her hindquarters. Just as I suspected, she kicked out at it. Getting defensive when she thinks she has to save herself from the scary thing. Because carrot sticks are conveniently the same length as her leg, I just hold it there and let her kick at it until she moves over. Rub, press, rub. I ask her to do it on both sides, so she can keep watching the bleachers. Thanks Mesa for that lesson yesterday. Then I use the front end, and after minor objection she yeilds. Then for the backing from the chest, which has been the hardest, especially when she's scared. This time, I was prepared that she would try to walk forward, so got into a power position first. Then I saw her actually trying to think it through, shaking her head, figuring it out. Eventually, she backed. The more I did it, the more focused on me she got. She finally had the confidence to turn her back on the bleachers and walk around me. YAY! Then we worked on our new pattern of back up, come to me, put your head down. She did it perfectly the first time. For a long time I sat there with her, me on the ground, her head next to me, as if nothing else in the world existed... what bleachers? What noise? I think this time it was more her waiting for me to lick and chew on it than anything else.

As we leave, I come to the conclusion that this was the missing link, all along. We needed a language, as we've discovered before, but really she needed to know that even when she's nervous, she has to listen to me. That she doesn't have to fight everything to survive. That focusing on me is a good idea. And that it's okay to let someone else be the leader. That I can be what keeps her safe, instead of an opposition reflex. I think, perhaps, I may have just become more of a horse than a human in her mind. Love, language, leadership. Two down, one to go.