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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Obstacles, Hang-Ups, Roadblocks and Sticky Spots

I've been challenged, by my friend Clare in her response to my comment on Nitty Gritty Plan.  The challenge - to outline some of the sticky spots I have in my horsemanship.  Specifically working towards my L4 Liberty and my L3 Freestyle.

When it comes to Freestyle riding my biggest obstacle is my fear of losing control.  Letting go of that rope and really trusting my horse is hard for me.  I suppose it's a bigger hang-up than just my issues because I'm sure it creates a roadblock for my horse.  If I cannot turn loose to her, how can I expect her to turn loose to me?

A specific problem - riding and guiding my horse with the carrot sticks.  I can ride with them and if Cricket listens to my body we're golden.  But if I have to use the stick it goes to hell in a hand-basket.  Rather than yielding to the stick, Cricket turns into it and bites it.  Why?  I have no idea.  She doesn't bite the stick when we play on the ground.  She yields to the stick on the ground, soft and easy.  Under saddle, major issue with her biting at the CS.  Not exactly the picture the assessors want to see in L3.

And then our perpetual Achilles heel - the canter.  We've come a long way, mostly in fits and starts but we've still got a ways to go.  I can canter Cricket on a Question Box pattern and I can do some Follow the Rail.  But it's not wholly confident on my part nor is it wholly relaxed on Cricket's end.

Roll those three things together and I have a particularly big sticky spot when it comes to passing my L3 Freestyle.  Of course I could try it with Bleu but I've yet to even try cantering her under saddle and she has no idea about responding to my body . . . yet.

My goal to progress towards Freestyle is just to ride more and have fun while I do it.  I'm going to work on Cricket and the CS and see if we can't figure out just what's going on - I have a feeling it's part dominance and part lack of confidence.  I'm going to ride Bleu more.  Even if she's not the one to actually ride for my audition, she's teaching me about courage, confidence and leadership.  All things I need if I'm to conquer the canter on Cricket.

My singular hang-up for my L4 Liberty is the required flying lead change.  The precursor to that issue is the maintain canter and draw at the canter.  Right now, even getting Cricket to canter takes an act of Congress.  So we're going back on-line and trying to fix her impulsion there.  It needs to be a puzzle and I need to be playful about it.  She's offered/attempted a FLC at liberty in the big arena.  She thought about it too late and tangled her feet and had to buck/kick her way out of it.  Since she's already better at liberty than on-line, if I can fix it on-line it should work even better at liberty.

So there it is - my issues in a nutshell.  I have a plan and I just need to put said plan into action.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pleased as Punch

I went out and played with both horses this evening.  I had a simple plan. I was bound and determined to be pleased.

I decided it was time to do something, anything to get out of the horsemanship slump. 

Since I've been remarkably unsuccessful having a plan of my own, I decided to take a different tack.  I took my on-line and freestyle patterns maps and taped them to the inside of the tack room door.  Now I have them right there, at the barn.  I also read through my task lists on Parelli Connect and took a few of those with me.  I'm following another blog that lists a new task each week and I'll be using that as well.

I played with both horses in about an hour.  I feel I accomplished more in that single hour than I have in all the times I've played since fall camp.  I checked out Bleu's extreme Friendly Game and started her on the F8 pattern.  I played with Cricket's "snappy" and started to re-build her on-line canter.

Nothing was perfect but it felt progressive.  When Bleu had trouble with the draw on the F8, I chunked it down until I got a willing 2E2E (two eyes, two ears) draw.  When Cricket was giving me low energy, I just matched it until she was mentally engaged enough to offer more.

Turns out that having a plan makes it easier to deviate when necessary.  By actually knowing what I was trying to accomplish, I was able to separate, isolate and recombine.  The times I've just wallered around the arena, I had no idea how to fix what wasn't working because I had no real idea what I was trying to accomplish in the first place.

Finally, I was reminded by my good friend and 1* Junior Parelli Instructor Wendy Morgan (or on Facebook) that it's about the relationship.  If you don't put the relationship first, what is the point?  So I decided to find ways to be pleased.  Pleased with my horses, pleased with myself.  Lo and behold, it worked!  Now I feel like I'm looking forward to playing and being with my horses.  Finally!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Progress? and Parelli Connect

My biggest challenge lately has been progress.  Or more aptly, lack of progress.

I just seem to be spinning my wheels, getting nowhere.  It's frustrating and seriously de-motivating.

The bareback stuff with Cricket has been fun.  I know it's an indication that things are moving forward.  I remember one of my first bareback rides out at Ed & Bonnie's.  About four years ago, I couldn't even walk into the little paddock with out being afraid.  Every undulation of Cricket's back was enough to cause me to tense and panic.  Now we are cantering.  There have been little milestones along the way with Pilates and Centered Riding contributing the most.

Work has been stressful and demanding.  The days are shorter and growing colder.  And with two horses I seem to be getting nowhere twice as fast.

I found out, through Jessica's blog that the Parelli Connect site was up and running.  I'm sure this has been mentioned elsewhere but sometimes I'm a little slow on the up-take.

My first thought - great, one more social networking site.  Another thing to consume my precious time.  But I set up my account, added my horses and had a little look around.  It's a pretty neat site where you can follow and interact with other Parelli Savvy Club members.  So in that respect, it's more filtered than Facebook.

The one feature I really like is the tasks for you and your horse(s).  Based on the level you enter for your horse, you receive a list of tasks you can check off.  Also, on your horse's wall, you can post activity, savvy and duration - a very cool way to keep up with time spent on your horsemanship.

So as part of my goal for making some measurable progress, I am going to:
  • make a serious attempt to keep up with my Parelli Connect account, using the task lists to give me something to do with my horses
  • take my Patterns maps to the barn, post them on the wall and work in a more orderly fashion
Maybe, just maybe, I'll come out in the spring a little closer to that damnable green string . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

When I went to the barn to feed on Monday, my intention was to pull Bleu out, groom her and then feed and leave.  My house has returned to it's "federal disaster area" state and I need to get things in order.

Ed came out and said that Jeanne and John were coming so I decided to stay - at least to visit.  Despite the fact that I live on Jeanne and John's farm, I rarely get to chat with them.

So I stayed.  And I ended up having a lovely session with Cricket.

I played with her at liberty.  She's still reluctant to maintain a canter.  As with most everything else, I'm 99.9% sure it's got more to do with me than it does with her.

I put a bareback pad on her and got on bridle-less.  Because there were other horses, I just rode her to the rail and put her halter on from there.  She was pretty reluctant to hold her head to the left - partially her opposition and partly I really think she needs to have her teeth done.

She was wonderful.  Only a few snarky faces to the other horses.  I've been diligent about leadership and confidence under saddle and it finally seems to be paying off.  We walked and trotted around with relaxation and flexion.  She carries herself so beautifully, so naturally.  One of these days I hope to have the skill and knowledge to take her to the next level.

We even cantered.  Yep, you read that right.  We cantered.  Just twice.

I put her on the pattern we used before and just opened the door to see if she was in the mood to go through it.  She was and we did.  The second time I just took her on the pattern and when I felt her connected to me, I asked and she obliged.

Again, this is only 2-5 strides.  But it's earth-shattering to think that I can even consider asking Cricket to canter bareback.

The end of our session I played with posting bareback.  Not something I've ever done before.  I think Cricket liked it and she even got to the point where she was gathering herself to offer the canter.  I brought her back down, thanked her and got off.

Fun.  It was just FUN!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Little Catch Up

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the cool, crisp air and the delicious kaleidoscope of colors.  My house looks out on sweet rolling hills, occasionally dotted by cows and streaked with deer.  The world gets so sleepy, pulling the dark up over her shoulders, preparing for the winds of winter.

I love fall because even as the trees shed their leaves, the promise of spring grows.  Without the bleakness of winter, there is no glory of summer.

Much has been rolling through my mind since I returned from my camp at Carol's.  It was a bit of a hard learning experience for me.  As it turns out, I didn't so much "take Bleu to camp" as I "didn't take Cricket."  And there's where things fell apart for me.  It may seem a trivial change of words but the attitude inherent in each statement is significant.

I've been in a quandary about Bleu -wondering if she really is the right "second horse."  And in all that, maybe I've inadvertently put the strikes against her.  As Second Horse, she sits somewhere lower than Cricket, somewhere "other."  And that's not doing either of us any good.  I'm still not sure but I'm taking some time and being at peace with my uncertainty.

I played with Cricket the other night and it was okay.  She refuses to maintain a canter on-line and I just have no idea how to fix this.  I'm tired of fighting the same fight with her over and over and over.  At liberty she was better but still . . .  On-line she side-waysed (is that a word?) over four parallel poles, straddling each one.  Then she backed of the pole, keeping her feet on either side.  Pretty cool!  But she's always been good a the slow, thoughtful things - that's my precious LBI.

I jumped on her bareback and bridle-less.  We rode the halt while I worked on this weird issue with the carrot stick.  From the top of Zone 3, when the stick is in my left hand, if it comes towards her she bites at it.  Never on the ground; never when the stick is in my right hand.  'Splain that one to me!

My biggest, funnest news is that I bought a new saddle!  All the pieces just fell into place and I'll be getting a Natural Performer in about 3 weeks.  It will fit both horses and I'll have a western saddle again.  I can hardly wait.  I'm so hopeful that this will help me advance my riding in ways I just haven't been able to do with my English.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In the Moment

One day, in my Facebook News Feed, a blurb popped up about one of my friends "liking" Horses for LIFE - an on-line magazine devoted to horsemanship.  I've followed it through my news feed for a few months but never thought too much of it.

The other day, I hopped over to their website and totally fell in love with the magazine.  I plunked down the money for an annual subscription and have been perusing the archives ever since.

In one of the earliest issues of the magazine, there is an article called Where is He? and it was all about how we connect - in time - with our horse.

Two excerpts from the article:

[Your horse] is right here. Right now. He exists as a pure being, his consciousness completely in this moment. Not the last moment. Or the moment before. He really doesn't care what you did two moments ago, he cares about now. He exists in now.
Our mind is everywhere but in the now. If you want to talk to the horse, you have to find the ability to join him where he is. In this moment. This moment that is gone the next, to a new moment that you must be in, releasing the moment that came before and that you were just in. You begin by living in each moment, moment by moment, letting go of all the moments before . . .
The author goes on to say that by living, fully present in each moment, something amazing begins to happen.  Time begins to stand still, allowing each moment to stretch longer and longer.  We can then become aware of more because we find more time to observe.  We find the place where our horse lives.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Thinking, Thinking, Thinking

Man, this stuff is HARD!

I had my Centered Riding on Wednesday.  I opted to ride Cricket.  While Bleu is just lovely, I think she needs some time off so I can work on strengthening her back, independent of a rider.  I've been having jolly fun with Cricket so I assumed this would be a walk in the park . . . or arena.

Principle #2: Make no assumptions; teach no assumptions.

Cricket was great through the tacking up process, standing ground tied in the alley way.  No flags popped up during our brief warm-up and she was accepting of the mounting process.

And then it went south.  Thankfully not too far south but south, none-the-less.  She popped in a little buck.  No worries.  Another little buck.  Okay.  And then again.  Uh oh!  As she was only increasing frequency rather than intensity, I decided I was okay to stay on.  After her fourth mini-tantrum I stopped whatever my instructor was asking me to do and did some intense "yield the HQ."  Both directions, with some intention.  I was a little upset but not angry.

After that we kept everything at a walk and really made Cricket THINK!  Lots of curves, turns, circles, serpentines.  Doing what ever we could to keep her brain engaged.  And it worked!  Not once, for the rest of the lesson did Cricket act out.  She was only resistant when I became demanding, grabby or pull-y.

We concentrated on connecting her thoughts to her whole body and then connecting her hind legs to my hands.  I'm not sure how, exactly, we accomplished this but it worked.  I felt her energy coming into my hands and moving forward.

Mimi had me work on leg yields - coming into the quarter line off a circle and then yielding her towards the rail.  Out of the dozen time we tried it, I really got it once or twice.  Some pieces would fall into place, others would fall out of place but a few times it all came together.  On the last yield, I asked Cricket into the trot as we came to the wall and she picked up a lovely collected (as in not scattered and strung out) trot down the rail and to the center line.  We finished with a near-perfect square halt (front AND hind) and called it a day.

My biggest struggle in all of this is really understanding rein connection.  What Mimi is teaching runs counter to some of what I learned in Parelli.  Maybe not to Parelli itself but at least to how I've learned and understood it over the years.  I am trying to wrap my head around how the inside rein and outside rein work in concert to set-up and guide/control the horse.  I can feel it work.  I can feel my horse understanding it and responding to it.  But I'm not making the connection between what I'm doing and how/why that's influencing Cricket the way it does.

Time for a little LBI research . . .