Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To Push or Not To Push, that is the question

It is very easy for me to push. One might say I'm a natural at pushing. In fact, I am professionally trained to push in politically correct ways. Mindfully using words with my intention to direct the conversation, the introspection, the activity.

Works well for the most part, and people are grateful for the encouragement to explore, open up, risk, revel, reveal...

With horses, it's a different matter all together. I might say it's quite black and white -- either I'm pushing them to do something that is my idea, or I'm letting do something that (they think) is their idea.

So EASY to verbalize! So HARD to integrate into my life!

Two trail rides, two days in a row, two outcomes. I wish I could say I 'did better' on the second trail ride. But I didn't. Although I learned in a bigger way, so that I will count toward 'did better'.

Two days ago I invited RNB for a trail ride after he got home. What a nice surprise that he said 'yes'! We have both been busy, and it's been months since we rode out together.

I've been practicing patience with a few students that come ride with me lately. So I offered RNB that same patience while he caught and groomed and tacked up his horse. It is not something he does often and he benefits from reminders. But I let him do what he could on his own and he asked for help when he needed it. This all felt really good. It was especially pleasant to hear him say how much he likes his new saddle, which arrived sometime last spring, and he's finally had a ride to enjoy it.

Anyway, there we were on two horses who could use a little more confidence. I've been experimenting a lot lately with how to help my Rusty horse have the confidence to take me out alone on the trail. What has worked is a lot of patience -- being persistent with my intention but without any insistence. That 'insistence' is the pushiness that comes so easily to me. Argh.

I may get into describing in more detail some of my experiments but often they involved riding out until I feel Rusty hesitating. Inviting him to stop and check things out. Waiting and feeling for when he has a moment of letting down (different and bigger breath, head lowered, feeling more relaxed) then asking him forward.

We had many moments like this on our trail ride! Both Rusty and RNB's horse, Prince, were hesitant and checking things out. Often lately when I go out, I have ridden Rusty, and been accompanied by one or two young riders on Prince and on RNB's Haflinger, Soli. Soli is a delight to have along because he has tremendous confidence! (Admittedly that confidence when handling him on the ground is a bit annoying because he assumes he can go anywhere he likes, including right up snug close to a person!)

So with Soli on a trail ride, should another horse falter and worry, Soli will step right up and lead the way. He's happy to be in front, happy to be behind. Happy to be side by side. Very happy to grab mouthfuls of grass along the way!

So, Rusty and Prince on the trail without Soli to draw them past some worrisome places... that's where we were. We did well, both RNB and me offering patience to these horses, and we made our way along, found some areas where we all were ambitious and eager and forward.

For some reason, unknown to simple minded humans, our horses were just as worried along the road on the way home as they were heading out. I managed a few moments of impatience and incredulity, and resumed the wait until you're ready approach. RNB had some good learning moments with Prince which sweetened the ride for me. Then I tried something new, sort of piecing together some things my friend LL had talked about and some things I'd seen and/or tried in the past at clinics.

When Rusty stopped, instead of leaving him stopped, I asked him to move but let him move in any direction. 9 times out of 10 he turned and headed away from the direction I thought we should be going (and which I also thought he should think was a good way to go because after all, it was the way home -- but alas, horses don't think logically, or at least according to human logic). He walked some steps in his chosen direction then I picked up a rein and asked for a change in direction, releasing when he was into the turn heading us back in the direction I was thinking about.

It really was about 9 times we did this. Then on the 10th time, when I asked for movement, he moved forward. Woo-hoo! This felt much better than sitting and waiting for him to change his mind.

I think part of this working out was that Rusty was in that middle level of worry. He COULD stand still, but still was worried. He let go of his worry a little smoother when I invited him to move and let him take us in the direction that felt right to him. I didn't apply pressure or make him work when he made a choice. I just went along for a short while then asked if he would come back the other way. IF he'd been more worried and I'd asked him to stand still, it would have been one of those standing stock still with full body rigidity and if I'd asked him to move from that type of stand still, he would likely have gone from rigid to bolting.

So he was at a level of listening but not comfortable going with my idea. So we went with his idea then I asked again. At some point obviously, he was able to go with my idea. It was sweet.

So, the next day I'm heading out for a trail ride on Rusty and young rider friend on Soli. Should be a recipe for success I was thinking. But no, Rusty is hesitant and Soli was hesitant, and even when Soli went forward it did not draw Rusty.

I got off and led Rusty after I found myself getting a little frustrated. He came as usual although I could feel (and see) his heightened state of alert. 'Code Yellow' shall I call it? But even in Code Yellow, Rusty will follow me anywhere when my feet are on the ground.

At some point I felt ready to mount up again, and decided I would push him, from the saddle, in an experiment to see what happens if I push without emotion, just intention. I paid close attention to when I released my push (squeezing legs) and sometimes accepted any forward movement, and sometimes accepted some forward with effort.

What I really learned was that pushing doesn't lead to not pushing. Honestly, I tried this a few more times under a few slight variations of trail ride conditions (different trail buddies, different trails, different saddles, different weather), and the results were the same. Pushing does not lead to not pushing. Despite my hope that conscious pushing would work!

I also learned that pushing without emotion allows me to feel when Rusty might be close to surpassing Code Yellow and manifesting Code Red. This was a good learning for me as well. Pushing in the past has left me feeling that out of the blue (ha ha) Rusty was in Code Red and running for his life.

So, this all happened a few weeks ago by the time I write. I've been experimenting more with what I described at the beginning of this entry. And all goes well. The point of this all? I need to be the one to change. Yup, that's the recurring message.

[Rusty in Code Yellow]

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