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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Playing at Liberty

I had an amazing liberty session with Cricket last night.  To the casual observer, it probably looked chaotic and even pointless.

I have been having a problem with Cricket's liberty play.  Though she'll do most anything, when it comes to circle game, she bolts.  We've had this issue before but it's never been localized to the circle game.

One of my goals for the winter is to work on magnetism - increasing Cricket's desire to be with me.  It goes beyond physical draw; it's a mental connection.

Last night I played with "look at me; never mind."  I followed Zone 5 until Cricket turned her attention to me and then I would turn and walk away, ignoring her.  Cricket hates to be ignored.  Pretty soon she was in stride with me, asking questions about what was going on.

I wanted to experiment with the circle not to see if she would circle but to see if I could find what wasn't working.  It was so interesting to see every horsenality show up in this simple exercise.

The first time I offered the send, she braced against me by looking in the opposite direction.  Totally LBI.  I held the send without offering any additional pressure and she switched to her right brain, very unsure and even a little worried.  I changed the game and she wasn't ready for it.

I even saw flashes of RBE when she would bolt, though she quickly flipped LBE.

We finished when, after a soft send with soft support, she thought through the bolt and disengaged the moment I asked.  I think she went back to her right brain to process it all through.

Thinking through the bolt was pretty significant.  She's not scared, she just doesn't want to deal with the pressure.  I loved seeing her make a conscious choice to stay and see what might happen.  It was hard to quit on that note.  To see her really offering the connection that has been elusive in our liberty.

I remember something Carol told us about exuberance: until your horse greets you with exuberance, you quit when you get it.  The same for this magnetism.  Until Cricket is locking onto me from the start, we quit when we get it.

I think my decision to end the session came as a huge relief to Cricket.  I cannot explain it.  I think liberty worries her just a little.  She showed way more right brain than I'm used to seeing in her.  I need to let her know that she's right, no matter what.  Even when she bolted, I kept in mind the idea of "send, allow, bring back" and just kept my focus without criticizing how she executed any one part.  I just kept asking until she could offer something I liked better.

We finished with wonderful connection.  Again, it's hard to explain.  The energy from Cricket just felt like "yes ma'am."  When I opened the arena gate and indicated she should go to her stall, she did so with purpose.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Emergency Dismount

This past weekend, I survived my first true emergency dismount.  I was bareback and bridle-less and Cricket became a runaway . . . at the walk.  She was crossing the gravel road as I planned my dismount but as soon as she got off the gravel, she broke into a trot.  I vaulted off and landed on my feet.  Unfortunately, I was facing the wrong way and Cricket's momentum pulled me backwards and I softly toppled to the ground.

Since this event, I've been reflecting on a few things.

It didn't scare me.  At all.  It was my choice to get off.  The power of that decision preserved my confidence.  Later that day, I haltered her and rode her from the barn back to her turnout field.

I've also thought about when the runaway actually started.  Most people hear "runaway" and picture a horse at a full gallop and a rider hanging on for dear life.  In reality, a runaway occurs when your horse disconnects from your leadership.  When you don't control the brakes, it's a runaway.  But when you don't control the accelerator, it's also a runaway.  A horse can runaway in one step.  If you fix all the little runaways, you never get to the big one.

So when did Cricket runaway?  Honestly, before I ever go on her.  I asked her to pick me up at the mounting block and she didn't.  I had to coax her with the stick.  I thought, "Well, I'm just going to sit on her while she grazes.  We'll be fine."  I failed to establish my leadership and since nature abhors a void, someone had to step up.  It doesn't take much for Cricket to take over.

My last thought was about the actual emergency dismount.  I have never vaulted off a moving horse.  Ever.  I've become very fluid in my bareback dismount and it was that muscle memory that saved me on Saturday.  I also practice landing on soft knees and ankles, sinking further than necessary to ensure the shock is absorbed throughout my body.  It was that softness that allowed me to tumble backwards and prevent injury.

Since I often ride bareback in the winter, I think this is an excellent time to improve my emergency dismount.  I want to be able to vault off Cricket, from the walk or trot, and land safely on my feet.  I'm going to start at the halt so as to retrain myself to twist my hips and land facing the same direction as my horse.  When that gets good, we'll put it in motion.

As weird as it might sound, this is one of my best moments in my horsemanship journey.  I vaulted off a moving animal, landed on my feet and was just fine.  A year ago, I'd have fallen off, gotten hurt and taken months to rebuild my confidence.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I need to find a way to increase Cricket's magnetism.

It's different than draw. We have draw . . . most of the time. If we had magnetism, we'd have better draw.

A while I go I blogged about rapport being more than just handing out cookies; I realize that's part of my solution.

But first, the problem. Or rather the challenge.

How do I cause Cricket to understand the send on the circle in open area liberty? How do I keep that rubber band whereby even as she leaves, she's being pulled back?

This is isolated to open area liberty. In the round corral, she circles just fine. She'll even offer short-range circles and doesn't rely on the panels to "hold her in."

I'm not worried. I'm not taking it personally. I'm just pondering ways in which I can, in our daily play, begin to build the rubber band.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Like Coming Home

I was able to play with my pony tonight.

Simply wonderful.

I wasn't asking for much and I wasn't expecting much.  And in return she blew my socks off.

My normally introverted and sullen mare was so beautifully and openly extroverted.  Something I haven't seen in our on-line play in a very long time.

Things were good when she offered a little trot in our warm-up.  Things were better when she gave me a gorgeous forward trot in the circle game.  She gave me some easy, 3-beat canter and an exuberant flying lead change.  We played with some long distance, energetic touch-it - asking her to really hook onto my idea.  On a focused send, she went straight for the jump and cleared it with beautiful energy and intention.

And that was it.

I sat on the barrels, scratched her belly and then put her up and gave her dinner.

Like coming home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making it a Game

I have finally figured out how to make the phases into a game.

It's only taken 9 years, 3 horses, 13 clinics/workshops, 2 trips to the ISC, taking countless lessons, auditing numerous clinics and thousands of dollars to figure this out.

Yeah, I can be slow.

Here is my realization: You cannot avoid something that was never coming in the first place.

Let me translate that into Parelli-speak: If I never intend to offer my horse a phase 4 then she cannot play the "ha, ha you missed" me game because you cannot avoid something that was never coming in the first place.

Get it?

If you do not intend to go to phase 4, your horse cannot make a game out of moving first.

Get it?

I finally get it.

I noticed a huge change in Cricket after camp.  I started thinking about phase 4 before offering phase 1.  I got  very focused on phase 4 as I offered phase 1, 2 and 3.  And Cricket started offering more at lighter and lighter phases.

Sure, my intention and focus was better but the promise of phase 4 was now real.

And my phase 4 is not a "whack her, beat her, how hard can I hit her with the popper" kind of phase 4.  It was about delivering a kiss to the tip of the hair with a smile on my face.

The last time I played with Cricket, she offered me a soft, true canter at phase 1.  She offered me a soft flying lead change at phase 1 and she finally hooked onto my idea of cantering circles and settled into a beautiful forward canter.  It truly was a game.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Normal, Naturally

I have this thought gnawing at my brain and I want to see if I can get it out before it festers.

I read a Parelli Central blog post about "breaking horses."  It wasn't the actual post that got me thinking but rather some of the comments.  I don't want to pick on people but I want to explore an idea about normal vs. natural . . .

There is a pervasive idea that Parelli horses are "crazy."  You don't have to be a super-sleuth to find this out.  You simply have to Google Parelli and you'll find a host of anti-Parelli websites and people who wouldn't touch a Parelli-trained horse with a 10ft pole.

Parelli people don't always help this image.

It is possible to get so wrapped up in what we think is creating relationship and preserving dignity that we fail to realize our horses are brats.  Or worse, dangerous.

"He needs to move his feet."  Sure, he does.  But not while the farrier is up underneath him.  True story - a Parelli student allowed her horse to just walk off and wander around, leaving the farrier with a dumbfounded look.

"She's unconfident in new situations."  Sure, she is.  But that doesn't mean she gets to shoulder through the vet tech who's trying to hold her for x-rays.

"He's food motivated."  Of course he is.  But that doesn't mean he gets to pull the hay out of the barn owner's hands while she's trying to put out hay for the boarder horses.

"She's dominant."  I get it.  But that doesn't mean she gets to charge and kick when another boarder comes to get her horse.

Here's a bit of a news flash: Your horse may not always be under your care.  But . . . but . . .  No buts.  It's reality, folks.

My mare spent four weeks at the teaching hospital at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  She had three major procedures and had to undergo daily sedation and nerve blocks.  While this may be an extreme case, it's an extreme example to illustrate my point.

I had ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over the people handling my horse.  Worse, few vet students have large animal experience and some are very afraid of horses.

I remember handing Cricket's lead line to the vet student and simply saying, "Don't hold her close and trust her."  I couldn't explain the million things that had gone into her training and development.  I had to trust my horse and the preparation I'd given her thus far.

It is my responsibility to help Cricket get along in a normal world.  A world where horses are not seen as sensitive, emotional animals.  A world where they are expected to meekly obey every cue and command.  Where they are supposed to lead on a short line and stand tied and lead into a trailer and go into stocks and stand on scales.  A world that expects her to be "normal."

I train my horse to be normal, naturally.  I treat everything the normal horse world expects of her as a friendly game.  She will lead on a short line and stand tied and lead calmly through gates.  She'll back away from her feed bowl.  All the behaviors that make her an equine good citizen.

To make the world a better place for horses we need to spend some time making our horses better for this world.