Horsey Therapist

Monday, January 01, 2007

Musing after a visit with LL

I talk with her every month or so, but it was extra nice to be there in a room full of compatico horsey folks, hearing her tell stories about her time working for Joe Wolter. Each person will draw out something unique in the course of some conversation, so I get to learn more than I would from our discussions.

I came home a bit sorry that I can't be two places at once, because I am envious of her learning opportunity through this work with Joe! But I wouldn't give up the learning opportunities I have right here at home -- between relationship with RNB and relationships with the six horses we have here, I'm kept rolling along on the learning curve. But oh, doesn't it sound wonderful to dream of riding all day six days a week and having a superb mentor there watching and contributing to your horsemanship refinement!

So, what did I bring home from that visit? A few things, but after an afternoon with three of our horses, I come away with more questions than answers!

One thing that sunk in, was after asking the horse to let go of some strong thoughts, to let the horse travel along on their own steam longer than I had been, so the horse gets the sense that all is OK with the choice they just made. Instead of asking again too soon even though the horse is veering off the line again perhaps in the other direction. Picture me riding down the road and Kacee wants to go back to the barn. She is shaping up for a turn to the right and I pick up the left rein. Sooner or later she reshapes her body and releases the rein pressure (and this could all happen on a slack rein, but there is still pressure there, with meaning to a horse who understands that softer feeling). Then instead of proceeding down the trail -- the line I'm intending us to ride -- she tips to the left and gets ready to follow her thoughts back toward the barn.

In the past, I've then picked up the right rein and repeated what I'd done before. But after listening to LL, I let her go for awhile before asking something else of her. What is "awhile"? Good question, and I can't quantify it, but there is a quality of OKness I started to feel in Kacee after we did this a few times. Actually I should have said 'picture us in the ring' because that is where I was riding yesterday. But same principle -- I asked for her mind to take her body and mine to the fourth post on the far side (for example) and her mind was more interested in taking us over to the section of fencing closest to where her horse buddies were.

The exciting thing is that she started feeling of me, responding to my smaller requests to go here or go there, shorter moments of bracing against my idea, increasing number of times her ears popped forward wondering where I was asking her to go. It was sweet. I have yet to build this outside of the arena but if I continue to pay attention and not get ahead of myself with grandiose plans to go for a trail ride now and just ride her where she is in the moment, we will go for that trail ride. I'm confident about that.

Something else LL talked about that stuck with me was how to stop pulling on the horse. What I heard her say was pick up a rein and if the horse is not responding, come in with the legs to say get yourself rearranged, don't stand there getting ready to pull. I needed to hear this because there are frequent times when I ask something, like a left turn, and not getting a soft response, I will pull the head to the left, wait for the horse to come off the pressure, and release. Yuck. Pulling as a habit for both of us. Yucky feeling in me, yucky feeling in horse. And two yucks do not something nice make!

Anyway... I played around with this on Kacee yesterday because she can lean on the reins. So when I got a delay after asking for a change of mind/direction, I asked her to put some effort into what we were doing, in the prerequisite kind way in order not to fully offend this dear but very opinionated sensitive mare, and it worked! She didn't hang out getting ready to be pulled on, she moved. And in moving, easily shaped her body to keep the slack in the rein. What a nice feeling for both of us.

She also did well yesterday with my asking her for more trotting in the ring than we usually do. I am intent on experimenting with how to have a more disciplined useful horse while keeping the emotions calm and the mind open and eager. So far I've opted for the emotions calm and mind eager even if it meant I never did catch or tack up this mare!

Rusty presented some different things yesterday, and along with Sofia, raised more questions than solutions. He is such a character -- I do enjoy him! But now that I have these lofty ideas that my horses can do more than I've previously tended to ask of them, well, I started to ask more of him. He did not respond with as much energy as I was asking. It was in the ring so I could pretty easily eliminate any big fear issue regarding the rocks along side of the road or the leaves falling from the trees, etc. So I thought about some conversations from the past with LL when she talked about dealing with a lazy horse, a stuck horse differently from dealing with a scared horse. I also thought about how Rusty felt to ride after Joe Wolter rode him for a half hour a few years back. I want that feeling again. Think optimally functioning ball bearings, gliding with gusto here, there, anywhere.

And now I think about Harry Whitney talking time and time again about how bad a horse feels when they hold back, when they don't give their all. (True for people, too, eh?) I can hear Harry say that he doesn't like to leave a horse feeling bad, so he does something about it right away. Well, his awareness and skill level are something I might someday walk in the shadow of (forgive the grammar!), but meanwhile, it ties with what I'm feeling from Rusty. Rusty doesn't feel good hanging back with his energy. However, I know he hasn't felt good after he is 100% expressing his energy because there I am, on his back freaking out! (Oh, why didn't I have a grab strap last time I rode a bouncing, bucking, expressive Rusty???)

Deep sigh from me. These pieces are coming together. Rusty is big and expressive at times, and yes if I direct this energy proactively, we do do better than when I let him direct this energy. But meanwhile, when I get scared of what he offers, he gets hesitant to offer it, remembering that not-so-great-feeling coming from me when he did X, Y, or Z. So he will try to avoid doing X, Y, or Z again. Now I'm seeing (I hope!) that this is my job -- to help him feel good about all that energy he has to offer, so he'll offer it and we can do things with pizazz instead of concrete in the feet.

LL talked about this in a different context -- telling about getting the feeling of the horse taking you someplace, compared to the horse going because you are pushing even if it's just a little itsy bitsy gentle barely discernible pushing. Related to what I was just describing, she told of riding a horse out and experimenting with what Joe had told her which was to turn the horse back before the horse felt the need to turn back. But what happened is that the horse started looking to turn back where she had earlier turned the horse back, instead of what she expected which was the horse would want to go further down that road each time.

What she learned from talking this over with Joe, was that the horse was going along feeling great and eager and taking her someplace, and then the horse was stopped from that. So the horse is thinking, I'm not going to go to that place where she stopped all this good feeling, I'll turn away before we get to that place. What LL learned is to do what she did, but then set it up so the horse can take her someplace else, not to ask the horse to take her down a road where she'd ended the lovely adventure.

[Forgive me for any and all misunderstandings and misrepresentations of what LL said and what LL said JW said!]

I realized listening to LL, that I have innumerable times discouraged my horses. Like riding Kacee last week, heading out for a trail ride and she really, really wanted to head up the road toward town. Well, it's a busy paved road with hills and blind corners and little space on the side of the road and I've never ridden there for many reasons and I was thinking NO we aren't going that way, we're going this way as I pulled on a rein to turn her in the direction I wanted to go. Meanwhile I missed feeling that lovely feeling of riding a horse who is eagerly taking me someplace! How much of my decision was due to my fear (fast cars, narrow roadway, etc.) versus simply being stuck on my idea of where to ride?

LL also talked about when a horse is scared, how to help is not to take it physically away from the scary whatever, but take the mind away which can happen as easily as tipping the nose away from the scary thing. If the horse's mind gets away from the scary thing, it is a relief. Indeed, sometimes the feet may have to get away as well, but we don't need to expect that. We can feel when the horse takes a sigh or otherwise shows that it's relaxing. And it builds the horse's confidence in us when we can help it get away from the scary thing.

LL also emphasized (and I may have to get this clear with her again because I'm not fully confident I got this right) that it doesn't matter what is going on outside that appears to scare the horse, what is really going on that is so important for us to recognize is that the horse isn't feeling ok, safe, relaxed, and that worried, scared, anxious feeling condition is the problem, not any particular thing in the environment.

I would benefit from a mind meld with LL right now. Heck, how about a mind meld with Joe Wolter or Harry Whitney? Oh double heck, why would I even want to mind meld with another human to get a clearer understanding of a horse? Silly me! I want a mind meld with each of my horses!

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