Horsey Therapist

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adjusting plans

Today I was finally going to ride to the local farm stand, about three miles down gravelly dirt roads. I rode Kacee yesterday, haven't ridden Rusty much at all, so figured I'd ride Soli, our dear been-there-done-that Haflinger.

But Soli is lame. I'm guessing he had an unplanned slide in the field. Weight bearing but gimpy, I brought him in, checked him over, groomed and trimmed him, and turned him out in the paddock behind the barn.

So now what?

Riza! Saddle!

I saddled her like yesterday, although I added a saddle pad. She was a teensy bit concerned but accepted it quickly. Horses learn by social modeling, by watching what other horses do. I had read this and then experienced it vividly when I taught the horses to stand their front feet on the platform RNB built. It took some time for the first horse to figure out what I wanted, and trust that is what I wanted, then the others who appeared to be grazing nearby, each stepped up on it the first or second try.

So when Riza was cautious about the saddle pad, I rubbed it on nearby Kacee then brought it back to Riza. Once she was fine with it, on her back, off her back, from both sides, I left it there and added the saddle. Another major ho-hum moment.

Time to add to this. I gathered halter and lead, some rhythm bells for the neck and for the ankle, and some reflective ankle cuffs with velcro closure and we headed for the round pen.

Walk and trot both direction with the saddle. Put ankle cuffs on her fronts. Walk and trot both directions. Removed the ankle cuffs and put rhythm bells on front foot. Walk and trot both directions. Moved the bells to a hind foot. Walk and trot both directions. Removed them and put the rhythm bells necklace on. Walk and trot one direction. Removed the bells and hooked her halter (which she hasn't been wearing all this time except for the initial journey to the round pen) to the saddle. Walk and trot both directions. Moved the halter to hang from the other side. Walk and trot both directions.

All this ho-hum stuff. Admittedly this filly has a gentle nature, moderately ready to submit within the herd, and has had little handling and most of that has been simple and understandable -- stand for trimming, stand for grooming, follow whoever carries the lead rope. I am certain that my efforts to add new elements to what I want her to learn in as careful increments as I can figure, is part of why this is all going so well. I thank Mark Rashid's influence for this. He talks about chains of knowledge, and he and his wife Crissi have advised me to work on one thing, then on another day, work on something else.

Overwhelm doesn't just come when a deer comes scooting across the trail. It comes when we ask a horse to learn too much too fast. Because I am in NO hurry these days, it suits me to proceed slowly, slowly through the lessons I want to instill in this little horse.

I suppose it helps that I've been teaching more lately, and especially teaching more therapeutic riding lessons. I am continuously seeking to introduce ideas in ways that the student has the best chance of learning. For some that means I might use 2-3 words and model an action, and wait. For some it means I hold the rider's hands and do the action for them, time after time after time, maybe for a few lessons, maybe for a half a year. And one day it clicks and they can do what I ask when they hear my request.

So I know a little about patience. That frame of mind is not always accessible, but I strive to have it be my way of life. It suits the horses, whom sometimes I describe as 3 or 4 year old children. Would we start yelling and slapping a three year old who didn't understand what we wanted? I sure hope not. (And having worked in child protective services early in my social work career, I know that some children that age do indeed get hurt due to the misunderstandings and frustrations of their caregivers. I am not naive about that.)

So I figure that as long as I bring my best to the barn, am present and focussed on helping Riza with learning what humans might want from her at a pace that makes sense to her, I have a good chance of ending up with a fun horse to ride. Fun to me means I'm on a horse who understands what I want us to do, and feels good about my requests and is somewhere between willing and eager to do things with me.

Another thing I'll attribute to Mark (though I know others of my teachers have offered me similar direction) is that sense of doing things together. Not me learning the nicest way to make my horse do something. Yes, that felt better than using less nice ways to make a horse do things. But actively cultivating that 'together' feeling, that's what I'm talking about. We're doing this together. If you aren't able or willing to do this with me right now, what can I do to help you change your mind, help you feel like connecting with me is a good idea?

I mention all this because when I was with Riza today, and we did all that walk and trot both directions, it wasn't always that simple. She has her mild ways of leaving me mentally, heading to sniff some manure, slowing near where the other horses are hanging out outside the round pen, changing direction when I haven't asked for that. But she is easy. I've kept things as clear and simple as I know how, and when I'm with her, this is reflected. I am thankful for this opportunity to experiment with a young horse drawing on the best of what I've learned.

I get along fabulously with my other horses when I treat them like I'm treating Riza. Each encounter is fresh. For each activity I'm asking, 'How well do you know how to do this that I'm asking? Some confusion? Ok, let's review this before we proceed.'

Now I will use the gas engine vehicle to go buy some fresh vegetables. I'm keen on putting up a variety of vegetables and berries for winter's use. This fall I'll freeze lots of local apples like I did last year. Nothing much more yummy than eating in March some baked apples freshly prepared and frozen in October. I'm hungry!

Here is the round pen with platform in the center.


At 27 July, 2008 21:06, Blogger billie said...

The shadows from your round pen remind me of a labyrinth!

I like how it's out there with the wide open space to work in. We don't have a round pen but just use the big arena. One day when we spread out a bit I hope to use an existing path through the woods to a clearing in the trees just the size for a round pen.

At 30 July, 2008 18:25, Blogger Victoria Cummings said...

LJB- What you have written is good reason for me to give you an award - please stop by and pick it up! Beautiful post.

At 05 August, 2008 17:57, Blogger Grey Horse Matters said...

Your philosophy on training your horses and working together as one is terrific. I guess I feel that way because it is the exact same way we interact with our horses, whether they are being trained or not. The young ones really benefit from this
type of slow and steady, at your own pace learning. I'm a big fan of Mark Rashid too. Those apples sound delicious.


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