Horsey Therapist

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Half Halt and other things

(Picture of how not to do it. Makes me hold my breath just looking at it!)

Reading a friend's blog and viewing part of Liberty Training video by Carolyn Resnick got me to experiment yesterday during my ride with Rusty.

Well, backtrack a bit. Before I rode, I experimented with getting his attention. Not a quick and easy thing as he was anxious, separated from his herdmates, and gosh, there was the green grass in the small paddock where we were. What a choice! Attend to LJB or eat grass? LJB or grass? LJB or grass?

Well, he chose the grass many, many times. And I found a way to communicate to him, "There is another answer, please keep looking for it." Although I will admit that once or twice my communication sounded more like, "NOT THE GRASS! Find something else!"

[I talked with Harry Whitney about what it might take to get Rusty's attention. I understood that I might tip over into scaring Rusty in the process of getting his attention because he had become so dull to my requests (my fault for letting him be in charge of our activities way too often for way too long). It wouldn't always be like that, and certainly with another horse there may be no need to get close to triggering fear in the horse, better indeed to stay this side of fear by drawing on their curiosity and natural interest in joining into what others are doing.]

Slowly we refined things. I searched for a more consistent message delivery, and bless his heart (bless his brain, really), he searched for a different answer. He made me smile when he would act like he was going to eat some grass, all the time having an eye on me, then not eat, then noting no response from me, he would eat. And we call these animals dumb. NOT!

In any case, he eventually found a good spot, standing parallel to me, quiet and waiting. Although he found that spot of standing there three times before he really settled with me. That's okay. I was feeling mellow and flexible and eager to see this through.

Our ride was nice.

Back to the half halt of the subject line. Friend was blogging about the half halt. Carolyn Resnick was demonstrating the half halt while working at liberty (no tack in an open pen, relying solely on body language) with a horse. I do best learning by watching and learning by doing. What I understood from the video was that we humans should use our entire spine from poll to tail (aka from atlas/axis to coxyx) when we half halt and/or halt, lengthening and rounding our bodies. She did this on the video and the horse did the same thing. It was lovely to watch! (Take note: she had already done a series of things with this horse to develop friendly rapport and establish a non-domineering leadership role with him.)

So when I got riding and eventually I remembered her advice about using our human body, I tried it for a walk-halt transition and voila! Rusty was right there stopping with me with life in his body, ready to go forward again or backward.

What was different in my understanding was about the lengthening AND rounding of my body. Before I had sought to lengthen upwards through my body while I 'stopped riding', but I can see now how that left me a bit tense and rigid, which doesn't do much for the poor horse at all. I'm struggling a little to describe this, but I know what it felt like and I know it worked to communicate to Rusty what I really wanted -- not just a stopping of the feet, but a stopping with form and flow, like an active pause perhaps, not a stop.

I'm seeing more and more how reciprocal horses are -- mimicking, mirroring, call it what you like -- and how good that feels to them. Just picture the fluidity and grace of a school of fish, then morph that image into a herd of horses moving together across boundless terrain...

I also found the length of reins, the amount of slack, that works well with Rusty. I found this during the clinic with Harry Whitney while I was searching for what I could do to influence Rusty's bit chomping, anxious mouth. Certainly part of Rusty's calmness comes from his confidence in understanding what I want (read: I'm becoming more consistent, understandable, and credible) and his ease in giving up his ideas and going along with mine. But another part of Rusty becoming quiet in his mouth was related to my giving him more rein.

This meant I had to trust him to be responsive even with all that slack! And I had to find a way to handle the reins so that in a moment's notice should I need closer contact to redirect his mind, I could do it smoothly (I hope!) and quickly, hence effectively getting the change I want without creating added discomfort or anxiety on top of whatever worry took his mind away from our activity in the first place.

Well, I found the sweet spot -- a comfortable rein length with which he could listen and respond to my hands without getting bothered, and with which I felt connected and confident. I created a small challenge for us: to do a complete figure 8 at the walk with quiet mouth 100% of the time, ending with halt with quiet mouth. It took a few tries but we did it. I grinned and swung off, feeling terribly pleased with our accomplishment!


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