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.