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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Proof is in the Foundation

In playing with the Patterns I am discovering how weak my foundation is with Cricket. I've known it for awhile but I see it now. I've been asking Cricket for more but the base of our relationship is too small to support advancement.

Thus we started our riding patterns at the very beginning. Lots of walking and trotting on a Freestyle rein. I need to learn to trust her and she needs to learn to trust me.

We started with our third session of Touch It on the 22'. To say Cricket was less than enthusiastic would be a gross understatement. I continued until she offered a positive response and then we moved on to our Circle game. Cricket is getting better with her right-to-left FLC but she's sticky on her left-to-right flying change. So I just kept setting her up to try it, giving her an opportunity and rewarding her when she picked up the right lead canter after the change. On about the fifth opportunity, she offered the FLC and we stopped and I gave her a handful of cookies.

I took her in the arena and saddled her and mounted up. She was more relaxed during mounting and she offered an immediate lick and chew when I settled in the saddle. Continuing with our patterns, our entire session was about walking and trotting on the rail. I had cones marking a path around the arena and we used them for transition markers. Some of Cricket's trotting was soft and relaxed, some not so much. I also noticed how much more she drifted to the inside when we were going around to the left. Hmm, how interesting.

I am trying to help Cricket maintain her connection during upward transitions. While auditing a PNH clinic (at least L3), the instructor said something to the effect of "if your horse doesn't respond to your seat on a downward transition, you've lost your mental connection." So that's what I'm keeping in mine when Cricket and I play with transitions. We might be doing the L1 patterns but I'm still a L3 student and I can ask Cricket to be more particular.

One thing that interested me was how much Cricket was not accepting the halt. She would stop but it was with tension. At the end of our session I had to be fairly strong with her about something - not mean or mad, just strong. I asked her to stop on the rail and she wanted nothing to do with it. After a few seconds, she would walk off or turn to the inside or whatever. I decided this was our final task, to fully halt and accept being on the rail. I knew she had some tension because in our last trip or two around the arena, she'd started flipping her head. Nothing bad but I knew she was getting stressed. I don't know how long we stood on the rail but she would say, "okay, I'm leaving" and I would answer, "no, not really." FINALLY, she stepped to the inside and I waited and she put herself back on the rail. Good enough for me. I jumped off and told her how wonderful she was.

Two more check marks on my chart and a whole bunch more to go. But I felt good on my horse. I felt more confident in asking her to trot and less like I needed the reins. Maybe I drifted a little towards micromanagement with the "stay on the rail" and I'll watch that next time. Oh, I placed the corner cones too deep and I asked Cricket to help me move them - she was awesome!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Power of a Plan

So I think it's finally hitting home that I need a plan. And not just a plan for today or tomorrow but a plan for the journey. Even if we have to deviate at least, as my dad says, I have something from which to deviate!

Of course the Parelli's have taken care of the hardest part when they created the Patterns kits. It's a ready made plan in all four savvies. How much easier can it get?

Well the hardest part of any plan is follow through. When I bought the patterns I watched the On-Line DVD and skimmed the rest. I unfolded - and then promptly refolded - the maps. I put the pretty books on my coffee table. Apparently this is not exactly how the Patterns "work." A couple months ago I took the maps to FedEx Kinko's and had them laminated to protect them. I then rolled them up on my desk. I piddled with the Patterns but never felt anything spectacular.

Last Thursday I went to Office Depot and bought a big presentation tri-fold made from foam board, some double sided adhesive and some binder clips. I then mounted my Patterns maps on the board. It's pretty cool. I have all four maps and I can fold the board closed to protect them.

This past weekend was a rare event in a Southern summer. We had a weekend with highs in the low 80s with nice cloud cover and a beautiful breeze. I feel for those in coastal regions but sometimes hurricane season brings lovely weather to the Tennessee Valley.

So now that I have my Patterns where I can properly access them, I went out on Saturday and Sunday to play with Cricket with a purpose. We spent a little time in the paddock playing Touch It on the 22'. I've decided to play with the L2 On-Line patterns and see where she was. She was fairly introverted so I just matched her energy and allowed her to graze at each obstacle. She was rolling the barrels and picking up the cones so I figured that was good confidence. On the last barrel, I asked her to trot the last half of the distance and she did. At the last cone she touched the cone and then moved over to me as if to say, "What else do you have?"

I decided to work a little tune-up on our circle game. I sent her back 6' and sent her and touched where I wanted her not to be. WOW! She went out with energy, picked up an easy canter and just loped around me. We did a couple changes of direction and she was throwing FLC at me, one right after the other. We did some quick changes and she was doing little half-rears and jumping from one side to the other. When she was done, I looked at her and asked to see her LBI union card. No self respecting introvert would have been that dynamic! We called it quits and I let her graze. I needed to guide some people at the barn out on the adjoinging property so I took her out on the 22' and did some Z3-5 driving. When we arrived at the far field, she chose to doze next to me rather than graze. She offered me some lovely walk -trot-walk-halt transitions from Z5.

Yesterday I started back with my riding lessons. It's not so much to "teach" me to ride but to help me figure out why what I'm doing isn't working. My instructor is my best friend and fellow PNH student. I decided to start with the L1 Freestyle patterns. Cricket and I have some serious holes in our under saddle foundation. We started with slow walk, fast walk on the rail and then moved to walk-trot transitions on the rail. I discovered how deep my lack of trust ran. When I added clarity and authority to my corrections, Cricket offered some lovely relaxation.

I am experimenting with a different seat position. My Pilates is illustrating how the Parelli Balance Point idea is actually rocking me too far back and locking my lower back. The lower back has a natural curve and to access the full flexibility of the sacro-iliac joint, that curve needs to be maintained. It doesn't mean the traditional English "duck butt" but it's more on the seat bones than behind them. Cricket likes it, I like it and we feel more balanced an able to move together when I have a more classical seat.

So I've marked off two days of my On-Line patterns (day two was warm up before riding) and one day of my Freestyle patterns. It feels good to start on this journey and I just hope I can maintain the discipline to continue.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Courage and the Great Divide

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside
Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

These are lyrics to one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, The Wood Song. This song always comes to mind when I'm faced with life's adversities.

Another song lyric comes to mind, this time the Rolling Stones . . . You can't always get what you need; But if you try sometimes, well you might find; You get what you need. I guess it goes along with "when the student is ready, the teacher appears."

My recent audition experience has been a huge learning experience for me. When I received my results I began asking some questions. What that has lead to has been unbelievable. Following are a few excerpts from an email exchange between myself and Linda Parelli.

Re the cantering - I think what I'm hearing is that it's the transition that is most difficult. And if so, here are some constructive strategies:

1. Play approach and retreat with the canter but in the trot. Go to a faster trot and then back off, then a little faster again, then slower. Repeat until you feel balanced throughout.

2. Think of the canter this way: it is a change of gait, not a change of speed. A lot of people speed up into the canter instead of sitting back and moving their body in a different way.

3. Trust is everything. Your horse has to trust you and you have to trust your horse.

Wow! Just putting the idea in my head that cantering is not about speed is relaxing. I know this isn't new but it helps confirm some of the strategies I already had in place to help with our cantering difficulties

I do want to tell you that taking a LBI to Level 3 and 4 is not easy. You learn a heck of a lot more about psychology when a horse does not offer to move its feet very much!

I sort of felt this in my bones and it's nice to hear Linda confirm it. It helps me relax and not feel so inadequate

And now for a few hard truths:

I think that one of your main issues is that you are too careful. I know you've kind of said that, but this is an area that in some way has helped you but in others is holding you back. It affects your leadership because you appear afraid to get it wrong or upset your horse. But when your horse trusts you, they realize when you make a mistake and accidentally tap them, or you push them a little too hard because then you immediately back off and play Friendly. Does that make sense? I think you need to risk a little more.

I don't think I'm afraid to upset Cricket but I am afraid to be wrong. It's my ego. And I've allowed it because of the compliments I receive on my groundwork. It's not helping and I need to move past it. I'm still learning and I need to have permission to make mistakes.

From what I see, she trusts that you are not going to hurt or kill her. I think you have respect issues. I've spent a lot of time reframing the word 'respect' because so often it makes people think of smacking the horse, I don't know why. Of course you cannot smack respect into a horse. [W]hat's going to change for you is your expectation of her. You'll become more particular and yet equally or even more friendly and happy with her when she tries to respond. She'll get some things wrong or overreact at times, but laugh it off. It will become a game.

Hmm, that makes sense. I can see where I've allowed Cricket too much latitude in the name of softness and I've sacrificied the responsiveness.

What I saw in you was a lot of attention to detail. You are very correct in how you apply things, lots of feel. What you're missing is the 'spice', and that is what is going to take your savvy in those few L2+ and ++ areas up over the top.

I think this goes back to the fear of being wrong and too much emphasis on soft. Keeping Cricket soft does not mean making her limp!

If you are too soft and subtle too soon you do not improve their emotional fitness and tolerance for the human relationship and environment. That level of subtlety is Level 4, 5+. So it's great, but there's a hole in the foundation then.

What an eye-opener this was! I've been so excited about how easy Cricket would do certain things that I failed to see how we didn't have the real communication down. This is going to take a lot of thought. I don't want to loose the subtlety of our communication but I want to ensure that it comes out of the proper foundation.

I am so amazed at how this entire event has unfolded. I am extremely grateful to Linda for taking the time to personally address my concerns and questions. She's given me some insights and suggestions and it's just what I needed right now.

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
To get us where we are this far, yeah
But the question drowns in it's futility
And even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

Here's to the ride!

Friday, August 14, 2009


So I just happened to look over at my very cute countdown widget and realized I only have SEVEN WEEKS until my camp with Carol Coppinger. AAUUGGHH!!!!!

I am so not ready.

Every year I leave camp excited and motivated, with a plan to ride my horse three hours a week.

Every year I come back to camp and the echo through orientation is "well, I haven't done much since last year."

I feel particularly unready this year. Back problems over the past several months have really put a damper on my riding enthusiasm. And I hate that the times I actually cannot ride are the times I want most to throw a leg over my girl. I'm beginning to feel better so maybe we can get a little riding in to at least knock the rust off the gears, so to speak.

There is, of course, my master fall back plan. The inverse law of horse camp. The cleanliness of the horse and tack is inversely proportionate to the amount of time spent riding said horse, using said tack. So a day or two of intense saddle cleaning, running my ropes through the wash and giving Cricket a good head-to-toe scrub should be sufficient to let folks know I don't ride!

There's always next year to be ready for camp!

* Author's Note: The one thing I know about camp with Carol Coppinger is that it's not about "being ready." I am where I am and Carol is a master instructor so she knows how to work with students at every level. Besides, I think of it as job security for the PNH instructors. Heck, if we all took homestudy seriously, they would be out of a job! :o)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

After the Storm

I love thunderstorms - the crack of thunder and the flash of lightning. I love the sound of the rain on a tin roof - it reminds me of my grandmother's house over in Australia. I love the way everything can look so crisp and clear. As if God has washed the grime off the world and all the colors are brighter and the air just electrically clean.

While I relish a good "gully washer" in nature, I'm not so fond of the personal storms. When the winds start whipping at my emotions and thoughts start crashing around my head, the tears seem to wash away all my strength. I loose my anchor and I feel lost.

In the middle of my personal turmoil, I often forget what I love most about storms is how they wash things so clean. As if all the force and violence of the storm strips away the layers of grit and dirt and you see more closely the true nature of something. It's not that much different during times of personal struggle.

I've had a rough go of things lately and I've allowed myself to be tossed about by the storms in my life. But the rain has ceased, the clouds are parting and the sun is peaking through. As it always does.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Just Not My Day

I'm having an Eeyore day. And I mean Eeyore in the gloomiest of gloomiest ways. I feel like I'm under my own personal black rain cloud.

My back is hurting. It's been hurting off and on for several weeks and nothing seems to make it better. It eased off tremendously after my last Pilates session but it's back with a vengence right now.

I had a really good weekend. A very good friend of mine came to visit. She brought a horse and her darling daughter. It was fun to have a "grown-up girl slumber party" for a few days. As an introvert it was terribly exhausting but the company was fantastic. My back was feeling good so I was able to ride on Friday. Cricket was fantastic. We just did a little walk and trot in the arena and then in an open paddock. There wasn't a single hint of her headshaking so that made it a very good day. Saturday we did a little liberty in the round corral and she started to offer me her close range circle game again. I feel our liberty connection is becoming more and more solid.

Then something happened Saturday afternoon that has turned everything upside down. I don't want to go into the details because that's not appropriate.

It relates to my audition assessment. It's causing me to completely re-evaluate my participation in and commitment to Parelli as an organization. It's is making me nervous and sick to my stomach. I hate feeling this way. I'm trying to put things in perspective. I'm trying to muster all my emotional fitness. But I am at such a fragile place with my horse and it's hard. It may be one of the hardest moments in my whole journey.

I just don't know if this is fun any more. It seems around every corner lurks another obstacle and they seem to be piling up faster than I can deal with them. I just don't know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Results Are In . . .

I received the results of my on-line audition. My overall result is a 2++. I had several elements scored at a 3, some at 3+ and my Friendly Game was scored at 4. The biggest problem with the audition was the circle game, or more accurately lack of circle game. I knew this was the weakest segment of the tape but decided to submit it anyway. In the comments, the assessor said:

You have a great relationship and a willing partner. I would like to see you assertiveness come up and you not having to use more than one send for the circling game, in order for you to be level 3. Also, using more of your rope and finding neutral in the circling game will be essential.

The funny thing is that normally Cricket has an awesome circle game, especially considering she's a LBI. She will trot or canter 10+ laps without dropping gait or trying to come in. She has the most beautiful trotting circle game - longitudinal flexion and arced on the circle.

With the exception of the circling game, all my games rated level 3 or better. And my circle game came in at 2++.

Funniest mark on the whole scorecard: Obedience rated 3! HA! That cracks me up! My greatest struggle with Cricket is fostering obedience. She is usually so full of her own ideas and so sure of herself, it's hard to get her to agree to my plans.

I'm trying very hard to not feel like a failure. Afterall, it's not a test. It's an assessment. And it's not a true assessment - it's an evaluation of 10 minutes in time. Some elements of my audition were better than Cricket's ever done. Some elements were definately not representative of her best.

In the spirit of good, better, best I'm going to take my little black rain cloud and move it aside so I can see the rainbow. I've asked the assessor to clarify what makes something 2++ and what tips it over to 3. I hope to get some more insight into what they want to see.