My biggest problem, and not just with my horses, is my serious lack of attention. I get very excited about something, going great guns for awhile. Then something else catches my fancy and I'm off like a rocket in a totally different direction. It's no wonder why I seem to be spinning my wheels all the time.
I committed to my program of carrot stick riding. Then I got the wild hair to teach Cricket to drive. From that pursuit, I've developed an interest in classical in-hand training. All of that got shelved after auditing Carol Coppinger's Super Camp and now I want to ride freestyle.
Really, it's a medical condition and I should seek professional help.
I spent five days at Carol Coppinger's first Tennessee Super Camp. I was not truly auditing as my primary responsibility was caring for my friend's daughter. Wendy was invited, by Carol, to assist in teaching the camp and I volunteered to play Nanny so she could focus on teaching. While I didn't get to really watch, I was able to see enough to get fired up about my L3 Freestyle (again).
Following the camp, and despite the horrible storms that affected north Alabama, Wendy worked with me and both my horses. The general message - the devil is in the details; it's time to sweat the small stuff.
My lesson agenda was entirely direct-line: I wanted help with carrot stick riding to prepare for my L3 Freestyle audition. While we did address that issue, where I found the most help was in my groundwork with Cricket and an impromptu session with Bleu.
The highlights of my session with Cricket:
- Improving the quality of our groundwork and on-line warm-up. While I'm right in saving the "cream" for our under-saddle work, if the warm-up is ho-hum and Cricket is not connecting mentally, I don't have much hope for a good ride.
- The quality of neutral cannot be over-emphasized. The pauses between the notes create the music.
- Breaking bridling down into a step-by-step friendly game. Can you bring your head around and relax? With my hand between your ears? With the headstall in my other hand? With the headstall between your ears, resting on your face? With the bit at your mouth?
- Cricket is far enough along to understand the consequence of not following my focus. So with CS riding, I need to be clear about offering eyes, bellybutton, leg, STICK. The idea is to bring the stick into play with the attitude of "you knew it was coming, hate it for you."
- Getting into the psychology of maintain gait. How do you make breaking gait more difficult than simply maintaining gait? Not so easy with a LBI and the canter!
Not having a plan for working with her, Wendy started off with a "Seven Games Diagnostic." We focused primarily on Friendly Game and Driving Game (with some Circle Game as an extension of what we did in the Driving Game).
Playing FG with Bleu, Wendy challenged me to maintain the rhythm until Bleu could ask me a question. It wasn't about moving past tolerance to acceptance but rather going a step further to checking in with me. I don't know if this was Wendy's intent but I can see serious value in teaching this response. When commotion starts, don't just accept it, check in with me to see what we need to do about it.
My socks truly got blown off when we played with the Driving Game. Wendy talked to me about the concept of "bringing up the butterflies" and the "return spring." Too often, especially with RB horses, we spend too much time going slow to build confidence and deal with thresholds. For L1 and L2 that's ideal because it's safe. But in L3 and L4 it's about developing the horse as much as the human and it's time for something more.
The driving question behind this shift is this: Does the alpha mare care how an individual herd member feels? The simple answer is, No.
This is a HUGE paradigm shift for me. I've been the biggest advocate of "set it up and wait" and "slow and right beats fast and wrong." I try not to over-face my horses and would rather err on the side of asking to little than demanding too much.
We used driving backwards to play with the idea that "it's okay for you to be upset, but look at me and do as I say."
I started with a long phase 1 and a slow escalation of phases to get Bleu moving backwards. Once she got the idea, I increased the intensity and asked for snappy! The idea was to keep it up until she started offering something a little more - thinking backwards, better flexion, etc. All through the backing, I used the lead line to bring her head back to look at me with two eyes and 2 ears. When I found a stopping point, I brought her forward and started over. No waiting for the lick and chew, no babysitting her confidence.
After about the third repetition, Bleu immediately licked and chewed the moment we stopped. How interesting! She never really gave me good flexion but she started putting more energy into backing and she was staying straighter. I took that as a win because at least she seemed more connected.
We took the same idea to the Circle Game. Back up like you mean it; send and take your shoulder with you. If she didn't take her shoulder out onto the circle the I disengaged and resent. To the left she was good; to the right, much less confident.
In the middle of everything, the most amazing thing started to happen. Bleu started playing with me! She was leaping, jumping, cantering and PLAYING! The best part? I knew it and was playing with her. She had a hard time taking her shoulder out to right and I had to be firm and repeat the request multiple times. But she started departing at the canter, maintaining the canter for multiple laps and drawing to me with this engaged and fabulous expression. And to top it off, she looked MAGNIFICENT! She started experimenting with her body and moving with better arc on the circle. How cool is that?
This is a quantum leap in my thinking. But it's taking my horsemanship to a new level. Bleu's general draw has gone through the roof - it's like her leader suddenly appeared and she's happy to be with me. Cricket is finally willing to acknowledge that a better alpha has shown up (at least sometimes). Yesterday I trotted circles (both bends) with no hands - total relaxation, cadence and only one or two corrections with the reins.
Just when I'm ready to shelve Parelli for awhile, something like this comes along and knocks my socks off (again).