Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Monday, June 29, 2009

Back to Square One

So just a little background on how I ended up with Cricket. When I lost Moose I had every intention of choosing "the right horse." I had struggled with a great deal of emotional baggage with Moose. He was an older OTTB who had severe claustrophobia issues. I knew this before I committed to buying him. The problem was that I had already fallen in love with him when his demons came to light. When I started thinking about my next horse, I thought long and hard and developed the following criteria and rationale:
  • Gelding - I had been told mares were more difficult so I wanted the easier sex.
  • 7-10 yrs old - old enough to have some training but young enough to be my partner for years to come
  • 15.2 - 16 hh - I am fairly tall and I want to learn some jumping so I wanted a horse that could balance my height
  • Color and breed were relatively unimportant. I didn't want another chestnut and I wanted a trotting horse because that would be easier for learning the levels.
All my carefully thought out requirements went right out the window the instant I laid eyes on Cricket. I was still fifty yards from her when I simply said, "Mine." So two weeks after I lost my thoroughbred I bought a 14.2 2 yr old QH filly. Brilliant! Not the shining recipe for success I had laid out in my careful plans for "second horse."

But God looks after fools and little children (just a hint, I haven't been in the little children category for a loooong time). Here we are six years later still together. Cricket has been the most phenomenal teacher. I cannot even begin to list all the things I've learned because of her. Sure, my journey through the levels has been slower. But in so many ways it's been richer. One of my Parelli instructors said that your easiest horse will get you through the levels faster but a challenging horse can teach you so much more.

So Cricket and continue to violate Parelli principle #7. There are days I welcome and revel in the challenge and there are days I cry with the frustration of it all. At the end of the day I know I wouldn't trade her for an easier horse.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flashback: Cricket's Eye Ordeal

In my never-ending struggle to purge old emails, I came across the following message I'd sent to our local Yahoo! group. It was written just a few days after I brought Cricket home from the University of Tennessee Veterinary Hospital.

In mid-April 2007 we began treating a small spot on Cricket's right eye. For just over three weeks, I applied three different ointments 3x a day and Cricket also received 7.5ml of Banamine (orally) to control the inflammation. When it was obvious things weren't getting better, we took her to UT for a consult. Four weeks, three surgeries and over $6,000 later, Cricket came home.
"What has only been a matter of days feels like a lifetime (or more). Cricket came home Monday and I don't think I've stopped moving since!
Now I just don't have two minutes to string together. It's been a very hectic process - sorting out her different medications, getting the process and the timing down and just trying to do everything that needs to be done. Four times a day she gets three different medications through the lavage, twice a day I also give her a dose of Atropine. She's getting Gastro/Ulcer Guard once a day and Banamine twice a day. She also gets an oral antibiotic twice a day and flax oil twice a day. . . [Cricket] absolutely HATES getting meds through the lavage. It's .2ml of meds, 2ml of air (to push it through) and then wait 2 minutes before starting again. I know it could be worse - at least I manage her by myself - but it certainly isn't any fun."

After I wrote this, it got worse. Cricket would shake her neck violently the instant I even reached for the lavage port. I don't know if she ever ran into me but she caused me to stick my own finger several times. The final straw came when she shook so hard she launched the entire syringe out of the port and over the stall wall. I hit her. On the shoulder. I was so mad, so tired, so frustrated and so worried. Then I took a deep breath. I put her out in the round pen while I cleaned her stall

I gathered my thoughts back together and remembered that it was just a Friendly game, albeit an extreme one. Over the next few days, I helped Cricket become more of a partner for her meds. With some cookies and experimentation, I soon had a horse who would approach me at liberty, position herself for her meds and then ask for a cookie. She became so focused on the cookies, she would often cut me off as I tried to leave her paddock, "asking" for more cookies by positioning her lavage port in front of me. Gotta love the LBI!

Cricket spent about four weeks on stall rest where she perfected the removal of her halter/hood (something she had to wear 24/7 in order to protect her eye as it healed) without disturbing the lavage tubes. It's been two years since the ordeal and Cricket is, for the most part, no worse for the wear. She has a funky scar on her right eye from the conjunctival flap graft surgery. She has a strange place in her eye where it appears the pupil "leaked" down into the iris. She has two cataracts on that eye. As far as we know, her vision is in tact and the scar just creates a shadow in her field of vision.

I am forever grateful to my local vet, Dr. Vikki Trupin, and the team at UT - Dr. Ward, Dr. McLain and Dr. Hendrix, and the team of students and technicians who took such wonderful and loving care of my horse.

I am also grateful to Parelli. Because Cricket knew how to be a partner, she trusted the people handling her and was calm and relaxed through daily sedation and nerve blocks as well as three rounds of general anesthesia. With a little bit of Friendly Game I helped Cricket's vet student understand how a little trust and a loose line were better for my horse (something that was remembered when I returned a month later to have the graft cut). Approach and retreat, coupled with appropriate motivation, allowed me to administer Cricket's meds at liberty with no stress for either of us.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Accept a Little

I always seem to forget the middle part of the maxim: expect a lot, accept a little, reward often. Too often I "expect a lot" but I also "accept a lot." I seem to have this idea that if Cricket gets it right once, she should get it right all the time. I'm becoming more aware but I think this is the biggest challenge in my horsemanship.

Walter Zettl writes about the dangers of a good ride in his book Dressage in Harmony. I wish I had the book in front on me so I could quote it directly. A good ride is, of course, a wonderful thing. The next day, however, we may feel an increased pressure to perform as well as the previous day. The pressure causes tension which interferes with our ability to relax. All of this transmits to the horse and he becomes tense. The second ride has no chance of being as good as the first because we get in our way and in our horse's way. So Walter says only expect the next ride to be 75% of the previous ride. In this way we give ourselves permission to have a bad day, we are not overly critical of every mistake our horse makes and we have room to say, "well that was better than I expected." In this way we have the possibility but not the expectation of another "good ride."

My Parelli instructor talks about "pleased but not satisfied." It goes along with Pat's maxim and Walter's caution. It's the idea that you should always be pleased with what your horse offers but at the same time not wholly satisfied. Have you ever worked for or with someone who was never pleased? What was your attitude towards that person? Towards the work you were asked to do? When we fail to be pleased with what our horses offer, the happy attitude we want to see begins to flicker and fade. Playing is just a euphemism for work and the seven games quickly become the seven jobs and then the seven tortures. Accepting a little means being pleased. Expecting a lot means not being satisfied and always searching for more (sound like good, better, best!).

I took Cricket back into the round pen yesterday for another session with our liberty figure 8 pattern. I expected her to remember everything from the previous session (three days ago). I expected her to just know that she needed to be with me. All of this is very subtle and very subconscious. In trying to have everything go as beautifully as it did on Saturday, I failed to appreciate some of the very cool stuff we accomplished:

  • My sweet left brain introvert is developing some beautiful balance between introversion and extroversion. The pendulum has taken some dramatic swings but more and more I'm seeing her find a soft, happy medium where she is willing to go, willing to whoa and is present in the moment, even if she needs just a little time to think.
  • She offered me fifteen laps in a 60' round corral of the sweetest canter. She was relaxed, balanced, forward, soft, connected - everything that makes you go "damn, I wish I was riding that."
  • We played with the 45' line as a neck rope for the first time and she acted like she'd been doing it all her life.
  • In our continuing quest for spins at liberty, she not only gave me 1-2 without blasting off, but she started to offer a spin when I asked for a draw.
  • Our figure 8 session had a few great liberty patterns but I began introducing figure 8 on line using the neck rope and her expressions were happy and soft.
So my goal for my next session is to continue the liberty work but to remember to accept a little. To be pleased with what Cricket offers and to build on that so we continue to improve. How has your horse pleased you lately?

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Not About the Trailer

Except that sometimes it is. Sort of. Because there is something about a trailer that brings to light every hole, warp and wiggle in the foundation of your horsemanship.

I came to Parelli because I couldn't load my OTTB. My journey with Moose taught me so much and there isn't much I cannot do with a horse and a trailer. I am so confident in my abilities with trailer loading that I told Pat Parelli himself there isn't a horse I cannot load. And Pat Parelli believed me - so much so that he told the entire Tour Stop audience about our conversation. I have developed Cricket's trailer loading confidence to the point she will, at liberty, canter into a strange trailer.

And then I met H. A big OTTB with more charisma, bravado, fear and unconfidence than any horse I have ever encountered. H has a rough history. He has pin-firing scars, a deep terror about jumps and a propensity to bite when he's frustrated. He has intense squeeze issues.

When I first began helping H and his owner, our biggest concern was trailer loading like a gentleman - going on when asked and waiting to come off when asked. Frankly, it was a bit of a band-aid and I know it. But how do you be that particular with a horse that has so much emotional damage? You just cannot do it, it's not fair.

So now we are trying to become more particular with H. Load the front feet and wait to load the back feet, accept a Yo-Yo game inside the trailer, unload and then re-load the hind feet without unloading the front feet. He is stretching me to the limits of my savvy. But it feels good to be challenged by trailer loading again.

On Sunday I spent almost 90 minutes helping him trust me to just load the front feet and then give him the choice to commit his back feet or retreat. Six months ago, this horse would have thrown himself to the ground in frustration. He was concerned, even a little unconfident but he never lost his trust in me. He blinked and licked and chewed through the entire episode. I was so proud of the strides he's made in his emotional fitness. What a cool horse!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rapport Ain't Just Handin' Out Cookies

So I've had this issue with Cricket bolting at liberty. Not in that right brain "outta here" way. But in the left brain, just for funsies, "look at what I can do" way. It baffles me.

A call to the Savvy Club Gold Hotline (I know, bellied up to the Kool-Aid) resulted in a fabulous chat with John Baar, head of the faculty at the Parelli Centers. That conversation added some savvy arrows to my quiver.

Last night I played with Cricket at liberty, in a round corral with the figure 8 pattern. I approached the session with the mentality of "if you leave, that's fine but I can still 'touch' you." Wow! What an amazing difference in our rapport. I've not felt that engaged with my horse in MONTHS!

What I realized was that rapport isn't just scratches and cookies and undemanding time. Rapport is being in sync, on the same wavelength. If I'm asking for something and Cricket is blowing me off, that isn't rapport. If I'm dictating everything and Cricket feels confused, unconfident or over-faced, that's not rapport. Regardless of the cookies.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Looking Back, Thinking Forward

For the last month or so, I've been haunted by Moose. No, not the large antlered herbivore that inhabits the frosty northern regions. My big chestnut Thoroughbred with the tiny ears. I lost him to colic in 2003 after owning him for just 14 months. Back in May I had a dream that God gave him back to me. Silly, I know. But you know those dreams that seem to cross the line into reality? This was one. And when reality crashed back in, it was like loosing him all over again.

Horses seem to blur the line between "pet" and "family member." I'm not one for treating our four-legged companions like human family. I firmly believe it is right and proper for cats and dogs and horses to be treated first as cats and dogs and horses. Anthropomorphism is a dangerous game and it eventually leads to unbalance both for the human and the animal.

But horses touch the heart and stir the soul in such a way that goes beyond just a pet or a companion. A few years ago I read She Flies Without Wings by Mary D. Midkiff. This book captured exactly how I feel about horses and the effect they have on me - body and soul.
Moose opened a world to me that I may never have known. He was a troubled horse with little trust and a lot of insecurities. In him I found a love and appreciation for horses that went beyond my childhood longings for a "pony to ride." Moose gave me my first opportunity to experience the power of the bond between horse and human.

I still grieve for him. I am finally coming to terms with loosing him and moving on with Cricket. I need to realize that all my success with Cricket is thanks to Moose.