Hello everyone! It's warmest it's been all week today: 27 degrees. It's been below zero all week, and I got the joy of feeding and doing chores the other day when it was -19. Looovely. So I'm finishing up school work really fast while hiding from the cold. And also planning out a program for getting Firefly to level 4. Man am I excited. I'm lucky she's such a smart horse, I really am.
Anyway, here is part one of the story that is my driving force behind sticking to the program and becoming a Parelli Professional.
The first time I saw Roxie was the first day she came to the last boarding stable I was at. Some trainer was riding her in a double twisted wire shank bit, she was prancing in place flexed behind the bit, going sideways and half-rearing. It was in front of the mounting block behind the barns, she had BARN SWEET written all over her. I had seen a lot of right brained horses, but she looked like she was about ready to explode. Her owner was watching, presumably wondering if her horse would ever slow down. She wanted to get on her for a minute, but each time she went to get on, the mare would take off.
She was kept in the stall next to my horse Mesa. I thought she was a beautiful horse, but would look much better without the radiating anxiety. In fact, she moved so much it was hard to get a good look at her. She was sorrel with a perfect diamond on her forehead. Her legs were a blur.
I didn't think much of her for a while. Her owner never rode her she just let Roxie drag her to the arena to let her run loose to get exercise. Roxie never stopped, rarely rolled, just ran around with her head in the air. It's like she didn't even see the ground beneath her... she just ran over it. The minute she was let loose (always with her halter on) she ran and ran and ran. I saw trainers try to girth her, this horse would just about jump out of her skin, bite the person, kick out. It seemed to take them forever. And they always had to do it while tied to a corral behind the barn, she did NOT crosstie. Of course in Parelli we don't use them because we need to, but in this barn the tackroom was next to the crossties, and that's just where saddling happened. Usually I'd just throw the rope over my horse and fetch the saddle, or only clip her to one. But it was good to get them used to being so confined, I thought. I mean this was, you know, when I used a saddle. I almost never did. Err... never do, lol.
One day I was riding my Mesa bareback and bridleless, playing with a reining pattern. I had started riding Mesa this way early that summer, it was now August. Of 08. Usually I just had a leadrope around her neck. The habit started because the arena was closer than the tackroom, and as laziness would have it, it was easier to grab my horse from her stall with a lead rope and ride her in only that. It is here that I will interject with a bit of backround on me... I got level 1 for my 12th birthday when I got Mesa. I had completed it with her and then become one of those half-assed Parelli students that now get on my nerves - the type that pick and choose a few techniques but don't really follow the program. I had studied just about every program that existed though. Read every horseman's book, read every single article Horse & Rider had to offer me. I had a Parelli student friend who taught me how to play the catching game, sort of, and stick to me at liberty, so I did lots of that with Mesa. My house was 2 blocks from the barn, so I stayed there basically all day, only going home to feed my minis. I was always "that girl" who was always around. I was the one that took care of people's horses when they went out of town, the barn manager's official excercise rider, the one who gave all the kids lessons on the barn's ponies, that kid who wasn't afraid to get on any horse in the barn. The sad truth of city life is many people treat their horses like they would a boat docked at The Marina: they pay for the slip and come out maybe once a month to ride it as they please, but otherwise do nothing. Because I was around, I was the one that got pegged with taking those horses out. I got to see if they were ridable, and if they were I got to do it. Many of the times this meant I'd go flying, but I was young and dumb and 16 and hit the ground laughing. I remember being projectile catapulted off a gaited horse and laughing before I even hit the ground. That's just the way "us kids" were back then.
Back on topic!! When the following scene happened, I was just starting to get back to religously studying Parelli. Someone at the barn had purchased the Success Series and I had watched the whole things, and been really fascinated with horsenality. This day, I had 5 cones set up, was riding in the lead rope, and weaving my horse around the cones. While I was riding Mesa, Roxie's owner came up to me with an amazed look on her face and said "Wow you have a beautiful relationship with that horse. That's all I want, can you show me how to get that with my horse?" Of course, I said, and did another little demo with Mesa and explained a little bit of Parelli, and how I believed in this gentle relationship training stuff. She pretty much said she wanted me to help her with her horse until she felt confident with her. Now, Parelli isn't really a horse training program, it's a people changing program, but I figured I'd play with the horse just a bit and then get her owner doing it with her. "Okay," I asked her, "What's wrong with her?" Assuming that there was probably one main problem that could easily be fixed. Her owner followed with, "Well.... She takes off, she bolts for no reason, she spooks at EVERYTHING, I can't get her to cross the bridge to the trails, she's terrified of tunnels, she balks at streets and runs backwards, she never walks, she's had 3 head traumas from rearing in her stall, and she's so bad in new places I'm afraid to go halter her right now." What I should have said was the following four words, the last one being most important: Seek proffesional help immediately!!! But being 16 and what Pat refers to as The Young and The Dumb, I said, "Sure!! Sounds like fun!!!"
I figured most of Roxie's problems came from harsh hands and energetic riders (oh and did I mention I had the biggest ego behind the rough and rugged cowboys at the barn?), so I saddled her up the first day and went to take her on a little trail ride. She had the twisted bit in, so I wanted to stay light with my hands. I knew the one rein stop, and that right brained horses should be focused on patterns, so I planned to maybe do some circles and stuff on the trail. She trotted or cantered in place the entire time, it took 10 minutes and a few backwards launches to cross a street, her head was in the air constantly but I really didn't want to pull on that nasty bit. She spun around when I didn't let her bolt back home, she didn't take 1 step of walk in the whole 30 mins I was on her!!! The only way I even survived that ride was bending her to stop the take offs, but it didn't stop her - she just trotted in tiny circles until she hit something and lurched forward again. I came back to the barn with her owner awaiting to hear what I could do with her. I got off (whew! I'm alive!). I said Roxie needed to be completely restarted from scratch, she has 0 relationship with people, no ground skills, she doesn't trust people, and reacts 100% in survival mode. The owner asked when she could ride her next, or if she could ride her while I was fixing her groundwork. I said "I'm 16 and will get on anything, don't mind falling off, and you could not pay me a million bucks to get back on that thing!!!" She said "Okay, seeing as how I'm 40 I think I'll wait." :D
I showed her another round my my fun bridleless riding, and I promised that when I was finished with Roxie, she'd be able to do this pattern bareback and bridleless as well. You train one, you can train em all right? Did I mention I was incredibly arrogant?
I did know, however, in the back of my mind that this horse was out of my league. I couldn't use my own pieced-together method in this one. I dug out my old Parelli level 1 and decided to follow it from the start. My first day starting a Parelli journey with Roxie was pretty interesting! I followed the level 1 box program best I could. The first thing you're supposed to do is just hang out with your horse and do nothing. Roxie was so busy tearing around the pen, she didn't even notice me! Seriously... this was a maybe 15' by 30' pen and that horse was running around like a rabid dog chasing its tail. Next was friendly game... I picked up the stick and she jumped out of her skin. It took me 3 days to get her to let me pet her with the stick, and about a week to throw the rope over her back. You're supposed to rub the horse all over with the halter/rope before you catch them so you don't just barge in and get them... Roxie was a nut in her stall - leaping, bouncing off the walls, I had to halter her from the outside in the beginning! So for those first few days, I'd halter her from the outside of her stall, scramble into the back pen, and try to play there. She would be marginally better going back to her stall, but she still didn't lead nicely or look at me. I was about ready to tell the owner I'd made a terrible mistake, I didn't know what I was doing, and Roxie would NEVER be calm enough to do the things I'd promised.
I taught her the first 3 games that Saturday morning. Move from steady pressure (Porcupine)... I thought my stick was going to snap in half, she was so defensive. She just kept walking circles around me. Move from rythmic pressure (driving)... I think I strained a muscle with how long I had to stand there tapping her before she moved away. After the first two games though, she walked around fairly calmly. It was realllly hot that morning, which made everyone pretty lazy. The next thing is play "Put your nose on something" so the horse knows that where you're telling them to go has a reason, not just do this because I said so. I put every obstacle I could find around in our little pen. This was the first time I actually realized how smart this horse was. Before, she was just a fiery ball of mad instinct, I believed I'd never reach her brain. Once she got the game, her eyes completely changed. OH - we're going somewhere!!! And she'd walk by my side like a partner, trying to find our next destination. There was a patch of white paint on the wall.. I figured she'll never get that one, so I put a bucket in front. To my surprise, she waltzed right past the obvious bucket and put her nose on the white patch! She was for the first time thinking, using the partnership side of her brain.
We were nearly a week into it. It was the first time I felt confident in telling her owner "Don't worry, there's hope!"
Thanks for reading guys! Part 2 coming soon.
Hopefully it will warm up tomorrow and I can play with my girls.