I am so ridiculously happy right now I can't even describe it. Xena and I played our first real live LIBERTY sessions AND I RODE HER!
I'm quite certain that today is so far our most significant play day we've ever had. And I thought it was gonna be pretty bad. I went out to do something with Xena. Took her to the round pen. I could tell she woke up on the seriously right brained side of the bed. She was kind of blanking out, staring at things off in the distance, flinching at little things. She rolled and jumped around a bit, but that was it. I could tell she was an "un-exploded bomb" just ticking to go off. The boards on the round pen are still up, she can't see out. Recipe for disaster right?
I guess playing with her directly after I've finished my coffee is a good thing, because I had a wonderful idea. I KNEW she needed to run around, but I didn't want to be connected to the explosion on a rope, yet she tends to crowd to me when she's spooking while loose. So.... upon noticing she makes quite an effort not to cross the ground poles most of the time, I made a square of 4 poles and a trash bag right in the middle of the pen. I got in it, and sent her off running. Our send is gettin pretty good, although it's probably because she was full of pent up energy, but she took off at a trot on phase 1. Cantered if I picked up the stick. Then she spooked at something, snorted, up went her head, and she was galloping around me every time a cricket chirped. Literally. So I said... you know what, keep running! And she came VERY close to me... but she didn't cross the poles! I was out of harm's way (out of her hind legs' way!) inside my little safety box. Every time she'd lose focus on the circle and try to look over the corral, I started with my phases to ask her to keep going, eventually making this a quick 1-4 to get her attention. She quickly got the "I gotta keep and eye on that nut" game. Then she did a funny sort of escape attempt I believe where she'd do 1/4 of a lap, then dart past me to the gate. No changing directions Xena, I added more pressure for her to speed it up if she wanted to go to the gate. After a minute of that, she was spinning little circles at the gate, not knowing where to go... I mirrored that until I got her attention, and then calmly asked for a circle. I'd only come out of my box if she broke to a walk or looked at the invisible monsters on the other side of the fence. Eventually she was doing lap after lap of good, solid trot, without paying any attention to anything else. Which was impressive because at that moment I noticed there were 2 of the neighbor's dogs running loose right outside, but I kept her focus through it!
Once I was confident that she was good and calm, I invited her in. She came, put her head down, sighed, licked, chewed, and relaxed. I think I just officially became more important than the fear. Then I was enjoying not worrying over her stepping on the rope, so we started some liberty. She backed away for a second and rolled, AGAIN! She was REALLLY coming off the adrennaline, she has actually never done that in the middle of a play session before, so I felt great that my strategy worked. Once she got up, I gave her a carrot, and we had our first real all 7 games liberty session. 7 games in 7 minutes! Even sideways with no fence!!!! I figured out our sideways problem - when she's against a fence and I yield zone 1 first, she just thinks I'm turning her that direction. But without the fence, z1 then z4, she went sideways beatifully! I even got 2 steps from zone 1!!! Couldn't be happier. I squeezed her between the fence and the trash bag, and she yielded perfectly both directions. She was a little skeptical of standing on it, but after a bit of friendly, I could put it on her back and she'd stand on it just fine.
I felt amazing about that session, like she's never so much surrendered to the idea that she doesn't have to take care of herself when I'm the leader, that following my suggestions is the way to save yourself rather than acting like a looney. Sooo.... I grabbed a bareback pad!!
I put it on her at liberty. I didn't want to make her hold still, I wanted to test myself to see if she really would accept it. She was less than willing in the beginning, but lots of retreat and reapproach, and I could throw it on her from any angle. Cinching was another story. She threatened to bite each time I messed with it, so it took a while to finish that politely. But I knew it was the threshhold that she NEEDED to be pushed over, the "look I'm doing this politely, and biting me won't make it stop." I checked out lateral flexion, good from both sides. I walked her up to a bucket, leaned over her for a while. If I went too far too fast, she let me know and was out of there. But I could tell this was the perfect opportunity to just push myself to get on her for real. More than just standing while she's eating, a real ride. I kept putting her back by the bucket, leaning, then getting off when she relaxed. Soon I could jump on the bucket, swing my leg, and put my whole weight on her. All I had to do was that final step of actually sitting on her. First time I think I forgot to breathe, jumped up there, 3 seconds later bent her and got off. *Whew* I'm alive. And she still hasn't moved. Okay... I can do this. If I back away from the edge of my comfort zone now, I'll just make it smaller, I know how to keep myself safe here, I can do it. Threw my leg over and got on.
I went right into the pushing passenger position, and just sat there, half expecting her to put me in the dirt straight away. Breathe. Her ears were locked back in the RBI frozen stance. I think I looked the same! The longer she stood without moving, the more my fear level dropped, dropped, then eventually left. Life is timeless with her, but I'm sure we stood there for a matter of minutes. Her ears started moving around the longer I sat there not asking her to do a thing. The beauty of our partnership is we have similar thoughts on threshholds... once we're there, it gets boring really fast. "You bored yet?" "Yep." "K lets do something." So she walked off, and I sat there letting her march me around. I haven't actually sat on her while she moved since California, and I believe that was August, so nearly a year. I forgot how SMOOTH she was! It's like riding a sail boat.
She stopped at the gate and we stood there for another matter of minutes, both keeping one eye open towards the other's actions lol. She slowly left the gate, lots lots lots of licking and chewing and sighing, and started meanderring around the pen. She put her nose on the ground like she was looking for another place to roll, and then decided against it. We went back to the gate to watch the kittens play for a bit, then I bent her and got off.
BEST.DAY.EVER! We both crossed about a million of our most important threshholds today... together. I'm proud of us.