Horsey Therapist

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bringing softness and body awareness to ground work

A friend who studies often with Mark Rashid wrote to me about body awareness and softening during ground work as well as while riding. It was good for me to start thinking about ground work with these added components.

I rode Kacee Saturday afternoon and did ground work with Rusty. I tend to avoid ground work with Rusty as I've worked out most things with him much better from the saddle. But, I admit, I always know that someday I'll figure it out in the ground work, too. I'm not one to skirt the issues, not for too long that is.

I re-started ground work with Rusty about a year and a half ago, after I had a bad fall off him and before I mounted after recovering. I was convinced at that point I was missing some things regarding reading where his mind is and what he is feeling, and was determined to find them on the ground before I got on him again. Self preservation -- I was hurting after that fall!

The most remarkable thing I recall from those days in the round pen was the day I was walking with him, at his hip. For whatever reason, we had never figured out how to walk together like that, and certainly never did anything where I was at a distance from him while he was moving around, like free lunging. With halter and lead rope, I could do quite a bit, but without, nada. In fact, we had gotten into some energetic conflicts with me swinging a rope in desperate hopes to either move him forward or back him off, and him on his hind feet, either challenging me in response or defending himself. Whatever the reason, not pretty, very scary, and yes, dangerous.

So, that day I was feeling safe enough to be at his hip, and we were together enough so I was successful at influencing him to walk on with me, following my feel for forward. I kept thinking about Harry Whitney's talking about doing things 'with' the horse (even at a distance), not 'to' the horse.

Our walking path changed directions (no, not magically -- simple due to the fact that Rusty was choosing our direction and I was happy enough to have chosen that we were both walking together someplace without any halter and lead involved. I found myself between Rusty's hip and the round pen panels. I had a worried thought that I might get hurt there, that Rusty might squash me into the panels. As I had that thought, Rusty's head came up and he froze, standing there holding his breath. I was startled by this, and at first it added to my worry, thinking oh my, what is he going to do now?! Then I had the realization that he was responding to my fearful thoughts.

It was an intense moment for me, seeing and accepting that I had caused him to worry about me being close, with my own worried thought. I realized that with my fear thought, I broke our connection, and that startled him, that worried him. I had disappeared as far as he was concerned -- our connection was gone, I had severed it with my fear.

I took a few deep breaths, stepped back behind his hip so I had no tangible reason to worry about the panels, and purposely made the effort to connect with Rusty again, and asked him to move on. He lowered his head and resumed walking and I walked along with him.

This was a turning point for us, with me realizing how my emotional state impacts his. I am still learning about this, during ground work and from the saddle. He continues to be my most awesome teacher.

Today I focused on walking and trotting with him on a long rein (an actual driving rein). I focused on asking in time with my exhale, and using my imagination -- my intention? -- to 'trot' in my energy even as I walked, wanting to influence Rusty to trot. I mostly had to use peripheral energy like exaggerated stride, moving my hand or arm, swinging the end of the rein, even tapping him with it a time or two, but over the course of our time together trying this, he was tuning in more and responding more. It was relatively pleasant, not terribly precise, and the success of having him trotting around at the end of the longer rein was a milestone for us.

I was also monitoring my shoulder openness and imagining the energy out from my shoulders as headlights which could rotate a little, left and right, spreading the cast of the light and creating a space for him to move into. So, wanting him to move to the right, the angle of the light coming from my shoulders would open and draw him into where the light was cast. Then I was playing around with a sense of opening my right hip after I noticed we had an easier time going to the left than the right, and I assumed it has to do with my right hip which I notice when riding tends to be further forward than my left hip. In fact, although I was feeling clumsy trying to get my right hip back and to the right while I walked around, Rusty did seem to move forward with more ease intermittently during my focused period of trying! I should try the headlights imagery next time, using the same idea for my hips as I do for my shoulders. As Mark Rashid said to me when he first helped me by identify the energy blocks in the front of my shoulders, it is not mechanical, I don't need to do anything mechanical to fix it, just bring light to the area, just bring awareness to this...

When Rusty and I were done, he stuck close to me, then I shooed him away so he would go roll. Which he did, then bucked and bounced around before coming back to me. I do love this horse!


At 26 November, 2007 09:00, Blogger llm said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with Rusty. Writing about breaking the connection you had with your fear thought really hit home with me. It is so amazing how sensitive these animals are! Fear is one of those emotions that can consume us even when we don't realize it is. But our horses know. I don't think I could count the number of times I have broken a connection with my horses because of my fear. I have been told that I need to trust my horse, "get with him so he can get with me". Trust him so he can trust me. I don't give him enough credit.

At 26 November, 2007 09:51, Blogger Victoria Cummings said...

Hi LJB - Thanks for leaving a comment at my blog. I have been thinking about ground work alot and wanting to try some new exercises to limber Siete up after her bout with Lyme Disease. Do you have any suggestions? I've enjoyed reading your clinic reports. Besides Aikido, have you ever looked into Feldenkrais? You might want to check out my friend in California, Mary DeBono. Her website is Great for both riders and horses. Happy Trails! Victoria

At 26 November, 2007 17:49, Blogger LJB said...

Hi Victoria, and thanks for visiting. I am a little familiar with Feldenkrais -- what are you doing that supports you and your horse? I have roller that helps me with stronger core muscles and balanced psoas muscles and probably other things, too. *g*

Tell me more about what you want for limbering Siete and I'll put my thinking hat on.

Laura, trust isn't often a pushbutton deal, where we can say "I'm going to trust" and there it is. We don't trust because we are defending something. Unraveling the 'why' of it makes it rich and long lasting. At least that is my experience.

At 27 November, 2007 13:02, Blogger Victoria Cummings said...

LJB - I'm looking for some ground exercises that I can do with Siete on a lead rope or a lunge line. She still seems stiff in her back end - not reaching out enough with her back legs when she trots. I think after all the stiffness, she just needs to stretch out now that she's well again. Any ideas? Thanks!


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