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

Monday, May 17, 2010

At the Crossroads

I have come to an in between space with Cricket. I feel I am at a crossroads with no sure idea of the direction I should take.

It's as if I'm looking through a prism or a kaleidoscope and a subtle shift to the right or left; a turn of the hand and the entire picture changes. In one moment Cricket is the horse of my dreams and in the blink of an eye she seems to bring nothing but frustration.

How to move out of the in between? What is the in between? It is the clash of my dream with my reality. So where do I find harmony and balance? How do I bring the two in line with each other? Truthfully, I'm not sure.

I have come to feel, quite strongly, that part of the answer lies in ending my levels journey with Cricket. I'm not sure exactly what that means but I feel, very strongly, that I can no longer pursue my green string with my dun mare.

So here is Bleu. My potential new partner. I don't know if this is part of the answer or just adding another project/problem.

She is far from perfect. She has little or no formal schooling and no real exposure to Parelli. She has been trail ridden her whole life. She has beautiful movement and an amazing temperament.

I am bringing her to the barn for a trial period. What I like about her is her willingness to follow; her desire for leadership. Her nature is sweet and compliant and she is very low on the impulsion scale. She is solid and steady on the trails. She has beautiful movement and smooth gaits. What gives me pause is her lack of education. Am I considering a leap from the proverbial frying pan into the proverbial fire?

If this doesn't work out, where does that leave me? Honestly, I just don't know.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Licking and Chewing

So much to think about! I am still ruminating over my camp experience. I have a few pages of notes, mostly things I on which I need to focus in my journey with Cricket.

One thing that has finally hit home is that advancing through the levels is simply about addressing Level 1 with more precision and focus. Sure, there is a lot of fancy stuff in Level 3 and 4 but it's really nothing more than Level 1 with excellence. Something to seriously consider!

So here are some notes and themes from this camp:
  • Leg Yields - does your horse yield from your leg or does leg simply mean "go forward"?
  • Playing with your horse means getting out there and moving with him; keeping your feet still establishes dominance but that's not play.
  • There is a difference between riding the canter and sitting the canter.
  • Do you, at all times, hold your carrot stick as an extension of your body or do you hold it as a weapon? The horse knows the difference.
  • The "rubber band game" - equalizing drive and draw
  • Are you riding for relaxation or precision? Make a decision and use the appropriate strategies/tools.
  • When using two sticks for ground play, the idea is to make your arms longer - both sticks should be the same so there is no need to switch tools.
  • Make a pattern out of asking for the canter from a relaxed walk to help the horse understand the difference between a gait transition and simply going faster.
  • In anything you do, if you don't see an improvement after a few repetitions, you need to change your strategy
  • Don't block forward motion - if you're asking for a yield and the horse walks off, try to be persistent and release when he yields rather than falling into the trap of shutting him down and then getting the yield. Let it be a puzzle your horse solves. This way he learns to not go forward on his own.
This is just a small part of what we touched on. As with everything, my notes are what matters to me and my horse and are filtered through our very unique relationship. Nothing is meant to be a "how to" and everything is my interpretation of what happened.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Camp Report

It seems that my camp was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I had some pretty high hopes to take what Cricket and I have been developing over the last several months and be able to shape and refine it.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men . . . Apparently that applies to horses and humans.

Saturday was particularly emotional. I lost my temper with Cricket, worse than I probably ever have before. I'm ashamed of my behavior and I'm glad nobody was there to see me. After reaching into her back molars to retrieve my chap stick and holder, the emotion and adrenaline got the better of me. Nothing I did permanently damaged our rapport and I certainly didn't hurt her. In fact, she nickered to me after I put her back in her stall.

Sunday was as good as Saturday was bad. We did a lot of transitions using the carrot stick and I have never felt Cricket so positively responsive to CS riding. With such lovely trotting during the group session, I used my private session to focus on that relaxation and respect. I asked her for a right lead canter and she gave me a beautiful upward transition and a lovely canter. I called that a win.

Monday we were confined to the indoor arena due to rain. Our ground session was pretty good but it fell apart during the riding. We were doing some high level finesse and the compression of the exercises coupled with the compression of the "line-up" was more than Cricket could handle. After one particularly upsetting moment in the line, Cricket was on the brink of kicking another horse. I pulled her out and dismounted until we both became more emotionally collected. I remounted and stationed her near Carol's "swing out car wash." Cricket proceeded to play with the plastic strips to her heart's content. She finally relaxed and the session ended better than it started.

Tuesday I had a great private session in the round pen. Cricket's draw is getting more solid and we played with 2 carrot sticks working on spins on the liberty circle. Her biggest issue is maintaining forward. Often her draw falls apart at the canter so we did a few canter circles, draw to me and stop. Our group liberty was done in a rodear - a living round pen created by the other students and their horses. Cricket did great but it became obvious that she was sore. After the rodear I played with her on the 22' trying to isolate the source of her lameness. I couldn't find anything but took her down to cold-hose her legs, apply liniment and give her some anti-inflammatory medication. By the afternoon she was better but still off. I rode her at an easy walk, asking for wide turns. She did great and I dismounted, put her in the round corral and watched the rest of the session.

Camp was very anti-climactic. It seems that I am past the point of Wow! and blinding flashes of revelation. Gone are the Shazaam! moments and instead it's the dawning realization that it truly is time to perfect L1. It was filled with moments of "Oh, that's why that is so important."

Don't get me wrong - I learned a lot. But it's mostly about how the little snags and wrinkles in my foundation become gaping holes if I try to progress without addressing and correcting them. And that's a bitter pill to swallow at times. It's not always about "having fun" - you have to put in the time to make sure the fundamentals are rock solid.

More on some of the specifics later . . .

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reflection on the Friendly Game

My friend Clare made a comment about anxiety and her upcoming clinic with Carol Coppinger. My response was "the best cure for something that isn't going well is Friendly Game." And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

This is my problem with Cricket.

So diving around the Internet and perusing the Savvy Club vault, I came across the following:
The Friendly Game #1
This game convinces your horse that you will not act like a predator and that you are friendly and can be trusted.
Hmm . . .

The principles of the Friendly Game are: Rhythm, Relaxation & Retreat. This means that you should use a nice, easy rhythm instead of sudden or irregular movements, that you should be relaxed and gently persist until your horse is relaxed; if your horse has trouble you 'retreat' which means . . . stop and wait until the horse is relaxed, etc. and then reapproach as the horse shows he's ready. [emphasis mine]
And finally

The Friendly Game is something you will use a lot. Any time you need him to settle down or know that he’s done well you will use the principles of rhythm, relaxation and retreat. That’s what the Friendly Game is all about.
And to this I say, Well, duh!

One of the things Carol mentioned during the clinic I audited this past weekend was that she is seeing more friendly game holes in L3 than anything else. It seems that as we advance and can do more, we tend to gloss over the need for increased friendly game.

So here I am wondering if this is the root of my issues with Cricket. When was the last time I told her I thought she was the best horse in the world? When was the last time I spent more time dwelling than doing? When is the last time I really considered her confidence? When was the last time I worked on the relationship?

Carol said, "putting the relationship first means winning the friendly game."

The nekkid truth hurts just a little.

Going in Circles

I swear I've been here before . . . wait, yes, I've definitely been here before. It's like deja vu all over again.

My sweet Cricket has gone from free and forward to balking and bucking. Again.

I thought we were past all that but apparently we are not.

It seems the journey is not a straight line, moving steadily forward from point to point. Seems it's rather more like a spiral. At it's best, it's an upward spiral. We revisit the same problems but maybe they are a little less intense, a little less severe. But we never move fully away from them.

I have to remember the idea of an upward spiral and not get stuck in the rut of an endless circle.

I rode again last night. It started really good, slowly devolved and ended okay. During the canter, Cricket threw in a pretty good buck-up that landed me on her neck. She balked a lot. She nearly pitched a fit near the gate. I got mad at least once, slapping her on the shoulder when she rammed my knee into the gate.

Time for some reflection . . . .
  • I have the feeling I'm not offering her enough dwell time. I think maybe I've gotten caught up in how much progress we've made and I've forgotten exactly how we made that progress.
  • Am I inadvertently setting her up for failure? Am I being fully present to what she needs? Probably not. I'm feeling very selfish in my horsemanship right now - I want to work on me. I want a horse that allows me to work on me. Is the confusion I feel transmitting to Cricket? If I don't know what I want, how the hell is she supposed to know what I want?
  • Could this be, at least in part, nutritionally based? I'm a huge believer in the power of nutrition to heal. I've seen it in Cricket with her headshaking and my friend Wendy's mare with her extreme hormonal issues. I need to explore some different avenues and see what I can find.
I leave for camp on Friday. My plan is to ride one more time on Wednesday. My plan for that ride is to be fully present to my horse and have a good ride. I don't care what we do or how long we ride, but I want to ride with my horse, not just on my horse.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Typical Cricket . . . Ugh!

I got on my horse on Friday. I don't know if I can say I "rode." If you define "riding" as the "mere act of not falling off" then maybe I rode.

We pulled out of the Centered Riding clinic because of the severe weather predicted for Saturday and Sunday. I took the opportunity to play with Cricket on Friday. All I can say is Ugh!

Cricket was . . . well, she was typical Cricket. Everything I asked for she didn't want to do and everything she offered she immediately hated. Most of our ride went something like this:

Me: Hey, Cricket, let's pick up the trot.

Cricket: NO! I hate trotting . . . I want to CANTER.

(canter depart, half stride, buck-up)

Cricket: I HATE cantering!

Me: It was your idea.

Cricket: I don't care, I hate cantering. I want to trot . . . but I hate trotting so I want to walk. I hate walking . . . I want to canter.


Enough is enough. After a few repetitions of the above sequence, I decided to help her find an idea and stick with it. She is, after all, a LBI and psychology works better than anything else. Since her idea was to canter, I picked the canter and went with it. The next time she offered a canter I decided we were going to canter until she could relax. It took a few circuits of the arena with more fits and starts and buck-ups than I can count. Finally she eased into a smooth canter and blew out. Brought her down to the halt.

Turned her to the left and we did the whole thing over again. This time, I managed her on a circle around half the arena and the goal was a relaxed trot. When she accepted the trot, we stopped on the rail and dwelled.


I don't know what was wrong.
  • I made too many changes for one ride - pad, stirrups, bridle and reins. I was riding in jeans and half chaps and gloves. Maybe she was just as uncomfortable as I was.
  • She may be having issues with her heat cycles. I'm considering adding red raspberry leaves to her feed. At least for the spring so I can see if that makes her more comfortable.
  • It had been about two weeks since our last ride and my expectations were too high.
Things I learned (or learned again and maybe this time they'll stick):
  • Cricket is not - and never will be - a "pick up/put down" horse. She requires consistent work in order to offer her best.
  • My seat is a hell of a lot better than I thought. Not once, in all her stops and starts and intermittent crow-hops, did I feel as if I were going to come off. I never felt afraid, even asking her to canter when I knew she was popping her butt.
  • PNH is not giving me the answers I need to unlock Cricket's exuberance on-line. It's time for something different.
  • In order for my riding to progress to a point where I can offer Cricket the under-saddle leadership she needs, I need to ride a horse that gives me time and space to improve my skills.
Saturday I went up and audited the first day of a L3/4 camp at Carol Coppinger's farm. I'm super excited about my camp this weekend. I'll post some of my insights in a separate entry.