Horsey Therapist

Sunday, June 24, 2007


I had the best ride ever yesterday!

I was with Kacee, and started by just asking her to make the choice to keep walking (by letting her stop if she chose, then asking again for a walk) and I let her take me wherever she wanted. It was much sooner than before that she started exploring places to go other than barn, gate, chicken pen, barn, gate, goat pen, gate, barn, peacock pen, gate, peacock pen, barn... and so on.*

My responsibility (I set this up myself, needing clear rules for my experiment's sake) was no push, no pull. Ok, I know it's best to define things in the positive, but I don't have simple words or phrases yet that would describe what I'm talking about. But, don't we all know what it is to use the legs to ask or even demand a horse to go? Don't we all know what it is to use one or two reins to pull a horse into a turn or pull a horse to a stop?

An example of what I'm pursuing is what I'm looking for when I pick up on an otherwise totally slack rein. What I mean by 'pick up' is lifting up and out either right hand/rein or left hand/rein about 2-3" (and eventually it will be much less**). When I pick up, either my horse comes along with the idea of turning without my taking any more slack whatsoever and finds the full release again, or I ask the horse to hurry a little and I wait until somewhere at some time the horse comes off that minute amount of "pressure", which truly is a miniscule asking on my part. The pressure the horse feels is that of the request, not pressure of the aid. This starts to work after spending enough time (whatever that takes for the individual horse and individual rider) of riding with zero pressure -- zero use of seat, leg, or rein aids -- except when asking the horse to 'keep trying', 'look for something else', or 'a little more effort please'.

Am I making any sense? I doubt I could have understood a word I was saying if I hadn't heard it and seen it hundreds of times before, and finally the pieces of the puzzle are sinking in. Libby Lyman, my thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and generous friend/horsemanship colleague/mentor has been a crucial help with putting into words for me things we have both watched done over the years by a few specific horsemen. She has put into language her new experiences, and I have prioritized learning this next piece of my horsemanship puzzle, and here I am today with a big hurray and all this excitement stuff!

Back to yesterday with Kacee. I did carry on at the walk without asking anything of her more than the 'keep trying/look for something else', waiting some time before I even felt she might succeed at coming along with my idea. I wanted us to be successful with this. When I felt her starting to think about heading further up the drive, I asked if she was ready to take me there. Sometimes she wasn't, sometimes she was. I had to do this in slow motion until I could see and feel her at a level I've never before perceived.

Somewhere in all this it felt like we were connected enough and I trusted my consistency with sticking to my rules and she felt trusting that I was sticking to my rules, ie, I was offering her the choice to say yes or no and was not going to suddenly say, ok, enough already, let's just go down the drive (push, push, pressure, pressure, using aids to close doors and limit her choices).

So I felt confident that I was doing something that made sense to her and she was breathing well and feeling confident and walking out freely, not sucked back. I brought this up to the trot. I didn't keep her in the trot, and if she came back to the walk, I just asked for the trot again. I'd ridden up and down the rather steep but short inclines off to the side of the barn enough times to know she knew her footing and to know I knew we were fine trotting or cantering down the slope with her slamming on the brakes at the gate at the bottom of the slope, or doing a quick 180 and heading back up again.

Here and there I asked, 'can we go this way?' and more and more she said 'yes' but maybe only a few steps. When she stopped, I asked for go again but without telling her where. That was her choice as long as she had any drag in the rein at all. I wanted no drag. I wanted forward and eager coming from her, not coming from 'because I have to'.

And then she took me further, at the trot, and back towards the barn at a trot that was no faster than leaving the barn. Then she took me even further, at the trot, and broke into a canter, a nice comfortable 'I'm going someplace' canter down the road. And I went with her. My intention: have it feel really, really wonderful between us, that sweet feeling, when she was taking me someplace with all that forward, willing energy.

Ah, a piece of heaven. And I'm soooo proud of myself for not getting greedy, not asking her for more than she offered. When she wanted to slow, I was with her and we slowed together and stopped at my request, and proceeded at my request. Together. From a release to motion not from a push to go.

This has been an illusive dream for years. Illusive because nobody before had explained it to me such that I could 'get it' and play around with it. Illusive because at least with some horses I have been able to go out and ride without having to figure out what changes I needed to make to have this dream come true. I feel really good about this. Really good.

I'm working toward this with Rusty, too. And will do this with Sofia, Prince, Bo, Soli. Oh, honestly, will I really do this with Soli? He's my point and shoot horse -- I can ride him anywhere with so little effort! But yeah, I'll offer this to him as well as I value his collaboration, too. I owe it to him for all the goodness he offers despite our human deficits!

I don't know yet how this will carry over to a trail ride with another horse and rider for example. I don't know yet how this will carry over to when someone else rides my horse(s). I don't know yet how I will integrate this into my teaching. It is so much a different approach than all the miriad ways to apply pressure. I am so excited about this, deep in my belly.

Update from above after today's ride (I've added astericks in the above text).
* Today's ride on Kacee was 15 minutes and we went further than we did yesterday. She let go of her barn choice much sooner than yesterday.
** Today she was responding to my squeezing the rein with a couple of fingers like she had when I lifted the rein a couple of inches.

I also rode Prince today, and Rusty. Rusty made some changes quickly, and seems to enjoy climbing! We have other steep inclines and he thinks nothing of taking off up or down them. I'm learning something I've wanted to learn -- how to ride with a horse cantering down a steep incline. :-)

Prince was fun and taught me something important. When I get to feeling I need to pull, that is because the horse doesn't really understand left and right. When I think I need to get firm with my legs or such, that means the horse doesn't understand forward. I spent as much time working on left and right and go with Prince as anything. He's more ready to go new places, to leave the barn door, however he told me today how little he knows about turning and moving out in harmony with the rider. I think this was the third time I've ever ridden him. He has so much to offer and I know much of the brace against 'let's go' got cleared up. The left and right needs more time. I did pull on him today contrary to my intention. I should have dealt with left and right in the arena where wandering out into the road or off across the lawn would not be an option. That is when I pulled, when I wanted to prevent some trouble. My bad. Thank heavens I get another try!

Up to the barn from the gate ...

Down to the gate from the drive ...

Up to the peacock pen from the gate ...

The road where Kacee took me at the canter...


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