Firefly is doing well easing off of stall rest. I have been thinking a lot about the differences between Xena and her. I put Firefly in the roundpen today, after she'd been couped up in the barn for about 2 days. When Xena is in for just 1, then the next time I take her out she acts like she's seeing the big scary world for the first time in her life. Firefly, even after 2 months of pretty much stall rest with hand walking, was still calm and quiet for me to walk her wherever I wanted. So I put her in the round pen, which had a hay bag hanging from a post and had gotten wrapped around it in the wind. Oh and it was one of those days that you think the wind might blow you over. I let Firefly go, and she ran around a lap to play, then ran past the bag and spooked at it. About a second later, her very LBE self came out, and she walked right up and sniffed it. Immediately recognizing the scary item as a hay bag, she began nosing around in it looking for hay. I love how she is innately so calm and curious and confident that scary objects become interesting or boring within about 5 seconds for her.
Roxie Part 2
The next time I played with Roxie was to teach her the rest of the games. Sideways made no sense to her, I think she thought I was asking her to climb the wall in front of her. She tried. Circling she'd go... and go, and go, and go, but took me chasing her hindquarters enough to make ME dizzy to get her to stop. Repeatedly. Squeeze was the game that she needed to play the most - she had been so clausterphobic, that she absolutely could not go in to the grooming area, and had to be brushed and stuff outside tied to a rail. She tried to spurt through the biggest squeeze I could offer her, at all 12 feet of the rope. By the end of one session she'd at least turn and face when she hit the end of the line. And I do mean HIT. I think that day I quit and flew her back to her stall after we more or less got the mechanics of the games down.
Next big milestone I remember doing with her was the first time I backed her through a squeeze. Backing through gates is a big important thing in level 1, especially for this horse who was trained to bolt through them, and had run people over. Repeatedly.
I was working on improving my yo-yo phases with her in our little 15 x 30 pen. I decided to try backing her out of the pen we'd been playing in. She did everything but back through that gate! She tried running through it, she'd get to it forwards, and then back straight up. She'd swing around in a circle and hit it with her shoulders or hip. Eventually I got her lined up just right, after overshooting it about 12 times with her back legs. I asked her to back up, and she couldn't believe it. It was like I was asking her to jump off a cliff! She would toss her head, then leap back away from the gate, then I'd line her up again and lather rinse repeat. Finally, she put one foot across the threshold. When I quit wiggling, you could almost see the lightbulb go off in her head. She thought about it, took one teeny tiny more step backwards, then waited. Then she got a really focused look on her face, and slowly deliberately marched backwards all the way though, and waited to look at me once she was out. It was that seemingly diminutive detail of a moment that "it" hit me... we all have this moment, when even though you believed this Parelli stuff, you finally get how it works, and why you do it. Her expression had changed entirely, it was like I was reading The Miracle Worker all over again, when Helen Keller first understood a word, and that everything had a meaning. Roxie came out the other side of that gate an open-minded, renaturalized horse. I got it... I just caused an emotional change in this animal. This was horsemanship for the horse.
This tremendous learning curve sparked after that an upward parabola of both Roxie's progress and my commitment to Parelli. Each day she learned twice as much as she had the last, until we were blasting through tasks. I'd watch my old Level 1 dvds every night and go to the barn with a lesson plan in mind.
There were PLENTY - and boy do I mean that! - of days where I'd feel totally discouraged that she was just impossible. I knew she was smart, but some days Roxie would get so distracted by some invisible monster off in the distance that I'd think she would never learn to be the calm trail horse her owner wanted. What had I gotten myself into? There I'd taken my horse through an obstacle course with a string around her neck, and promised Roxie's owner that soon enough her horse would ride just like this?!?! We'll never get there!! First time I tried teaching her the figure 8 pattern online she'd take off like a rocket, and I couldn't understand why I had to reteach her to disengage all over again. Or why she wasn't "smart enough" to generalize that lateral flexion works just the same from both sides. Soon enough, she taught me that she wasn't trying to be bad, and she certainly wasn't being thick, she was just trying to survive. And that horses know they are most vulnerable without the use of hindquarters, which is why she resisted bending. Strongly.
Here I will add, as I may have mentioned previously, that I was in the worst most anti-Parelli boarding barn that possibly exists. The barn manager (yeah the one I was an excercise rider for and gave kids lessons for) was vehemently against not only anything natural, but also a minor handling others' horses. If I had another boarders horse in my hand accompanied by that orange stick, I got scolded for doing that ridiculous horse voodoo. Exact quote from the barn manager. I had been doing it since I was 13 because I had lived so close, but she either didn't know, or didn't care, or both. If she even spotted that orange stick, I was told I wasn't allowed to do it in "her" barn. She couldn't control what I did with my own horse, but she would sit outside the fence and scowl. Though she would yell if I jumped anything on my ex-jumping horse Mesa. What this meant for me and Roxie was that we used the back pen out of sight of the security camera, or we waited for the manager to leave before I could play with her. I was a pretty determined kid.
During that first month, I almost never got to use our arena with Roxie. The barn manager's piercing glares seemed to be around every corner for me. Most of our earlier sessions outside of that back pen took place out on the trail. Yeah, the trails Roxie was known for taking off on. Our first walk down the trail, I taught her owner the value of jumping jacks and protecting your space because Roxie was flying around like a kite. We didn't even make it to the park we had planned on going to before deciding it was best to come back. The next day I took Roxie down the trail, across a bridge, and to an open field that most people used as a public arena. It had cones lined up and a few logs here and there. She was extremely right brained and panicky so I tried for some figure 8 around 2 cones. The pattern was really run a few circles, reel horse in like a fish, upon running out of places to go, switch direction to run circles other way, knock out a few cones in the process. I think I got her to do one proper direction change before walking (flying?) home.
Through a couple "Roxie can't you please just do this"s and "Why are you still moving"s and "You don't have to run after other horses anymore"s, we built the foundation that turned into a beautiful relationship on the ground. It had been messy but after a little over a month, we had enough of a language going that I felt I was confident enough to start playing with the saddle.
Part 3 coming soon.
I was right, recreating this story for myself reminds me why I want to follow this program. This is horsemanship for the horse.