Wednesday, September 23, 2009

YouTube NOW!

Well, so much for "someday I'll post something to YouTube." Carpe diem!

I've just uploaded some clips of yesterday's play session with Guinness. Click here to watch.

We focused on attempting some of the tasks listed after each lesson in the pocket guides. (After reviewing the "old" Levels materials some more, I decided to start back at the beginning of the old Level 1, instead of the old Level 2, as I'd previously written.)

With Guinness, "old things" seem new again! About 5 years ago, the last time that I went through this material, I was trying to learn with Smokey. It was like swimming through molasses and left us both drained.

In contrast, playing with Guinness is pure joy. We are racing through the old Level 1 tasks and keeping our eyes on old Level 2, where I'm going to have to learn more myself to keep up.

Fun, fun, fun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Becoming My Own Best Critic

Ok, I admit that I'm not always the most technologically savvy person. Thank goodness I have friends that encourage me! Producing this blog has been a really positive learning experience. Not only have I had to figure out how the Blogger interface functions, but I've had to learn to how to record, edit, and upload videos & photos.

The next step along my technological learning curve is the editing and uploading of video to YouTube. It turns out that this is the most efficient way to present official assessments to Parelli. It is also a wonderful way to allow my Parelli Play Group (PPG) friends near & far to give me feedback on my training efforts.

Last week, Sierra offered to help me by taping an "audition" tape of Guinness & I performing the various tasks on the Level 2 Online assessment check list. Boy, that was an eye-opening experience!

Frankly, I dread using the 22' rope and often shirk it by playing at liberty in the roundpen. In an effort to not get the bloody thing hung up on the barrels in the required Figure 8 pattern, I decided to spread the barrels further apart and to encourage Guinness to canter the pattern instead of his usual walk. (He rarely seems to gait patterns like this and tends to go straight from a fast walk to a slow canter - perhaps because he is a "gaited" breed.)

Cantering the Figure 8 pattern is really a higher level task then we were prepared to perform. Speeding it up really highlighted our weaknesses - namely that I can't/don't control his shoulder enough at a distance beyond 12'! Boy, was that footage ugly!! And, to beat all, the best (final) effort was inadvertently never recorded.

I did go on and post it to YouTube just to get the hang of that process, and to allow two non-judgmental friends to critique it - and then I deleted it!! Honestly, in that video I really appear to myself as a Level 2 student a bit in over her head. But then again, that is often how we learn.

Yesterday, I taped a 20 minute play session using my little camera & tripod for the first time. (Click on the photo of the Exilim camera for more details.) It worked great and I replayed it on my computer to watch. Wow, was it helpful. A picture is truly worth a thousand words!! I've been watching PNH practitioners both in person and on video since 2003 and I have a pretty darn good idea of what things are supposed to look like. Now I have a tool that will allow me to compare that "ideal" in my mind to how I actually look.

In the old Levels study materials, Pat suggests to do this. But, he cautions to watch the video once and then get rid of it. Use the recordings to make notes, but don't dwell on them or you'll internalize the mistakes. Great advice!

I've been over and over the "new" Level 2 materials, but still have found a review of Program Guide 2, Lesson 2: Transitions On Line and Lesson 3: Change of Direction On Line to be helpful. I'm now going through the "old" Level 2 pocket guides starting with "Stage 2" and working through the lessons systematically. (I will keep in mind that several techniques have evolved since the development of these materials, but there is just too much great information in them to pass up.)

I'm looking forward to recording many more play sessions with Guinness. Maybe someday I'll post a link to one on YouTube. ;-)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Smokey Goes Left-Brain Extrovert!

Well, I'm supposed to be cleaning my office right now, but I just want to take a moment to blog about my experience with Smokey a few minutes ago.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may be aware that I've had a really hard time rehabbing this Racking Horse gelding. He is now 17 years old, and I've had him for 6 years. My effort to try to get through to him is what drove me to Parelli Natural Horsemanship.

Smokey is a very interesting horse. He is the unquestioned leader of just about any herd, yet most of the time he is very low-key in the field. He spends a lot of time monitoring Guinness and Cody to be sure that they don't get too rambunctious. If things get out of hand, he intervenes. He is so mellow that the Rockies even move him away from his food.

However, Smokey is very vigilant and if he senses danger or a rival for his herd, his inner stallion appears! He will snake his neck, lunge and bite, paw & prance. The mares all love him and often seem to go into season whenever he is around. He has even been spotted doing the "wild thing" with his girlfriends..

Anyway, Smokey is a big challenge to play with. He seems to inherently be a Right-Brain Introvert. He is very compliant, rarely tries to dominate people, and has excellent ground manners. (The exception would be when he is going RB Extrovert in an effort to control a situation.)

Under pressure, Smokey will balk and shut-down, which is almost every time that he is ridden by an adult. (However, he loves little kids.) If pushed further, he will blow up. In his "yee-haw" rider past, he once sent a man to the hospital.

When Smokey is RB (either Introvert or Extrovert) he has a difficult time learning. His brain seems to move like molasses and he doesn't retain information well. He is most often in this mental state when around people (especially with a rope connected to him or a saddle or trailer in view). It took him -no kidding- about 4 years just to learn to play the Sideways game with me!

The *only* time that Smokey is Left Brain when he is loose in his field with the other horses around. Fortunately, my roundpen is in the middle of his field, and recently I've been feeding him in it to prevent the Rockies from stealing his meal.

Several weeks ago, it occurred to me to ask Smokey to perform a little task, at liberty, in order to earn his supper. We started with jumping 1/2 size barrels. He has always knocked them out of the way and walked through them, so when he made an attempt to cross them I would click him and give him a handful of grain. Then, over time, I'd ask him to do it with more energy. (I cue this by making a swooshing noise with my mouth.) When he actually jumped them, I'd click and immediately give him his entire dinner. He has now worked up to doing the figure 8 pattern, circling, jumping, sideways and putting his foot on things. He can do several of these things in a row, but usually acts very ditsy about it and needs a lot of guidance.

Tonight we did something different. This time, I brought my stick out with me. I asked him to move out away from me and then circle toward the large barrels and jump them. I set his grain can in his feed bowl, but I didn't dump it. Boy, was he jazzed! He knew the food was there but clearly didn't want to perform the task I was asking him to. He shook his head at me, leaped and pawed. I laughed at him, so he stared at me a bit and then tried various other tasks to see if I'd accept one of those instead.

Eventually, he *walked* over the barrels (taking huge steps) so I clicked him and gave him a handful of grain. Then I sent him back out and pointed at the barrels and waited. He licked his lips a lot, thought about it, and then jumped them (not the best jump, but ok). I clicked him and gave him his entire dinner. As he ate, I kept the Rockies at bay with my stick.

When Smokey was finished, he stared hard at me and then made a bee-line over to me with his head down and started asking for scratches! This was huge. He is rarely this demonstrative. I really think that this experience was a breakthrough for him.

Here were the keys to getting him into a LBE frame of mind, and then getting him to comply with my request:
- he was in his own safe pasture with his buddies in sight
- he was performing tasks that he knew how to do
- I held his dinner hostage
- I was passively persistent in the proper position
- I laughed and was fair but firm
- I allowed him time to think - it was his choice when he ate!

I'm going to strive to get him back into this mental state as much as possible. The trick is going to be to reward him often enough to prevent him from getting too frustrated to learn. Now, I need to come up with a new challenge for him!

Now that I think of it, I believe that he is entering a similar frame of mind, but more LBI, as he is being ridden by his 10 year old horse girl. She rides him in the roundpen going from point-to-point in search of alfalfa cubes. She never forces him, so he doesn't shut down. And, instead of his habitual resistance, he is learning that she has good ideas about where to find the cookies. :-)

At this rate, he'll be a great partner - by age 27!! But, at least now there is hope.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beginning with the End in Mind

On Sunday, Guinness & I decided to make a little foray to a local recreation area. It is a popular place and he'd never been there before. My son joined us on his bike.

As soon as Guinness got off of the horse trailer, he was captivated. His eyes were big as he took in the "herds" of people and bikes. He is ridiculously brave though.. (Surely he wouldn't last five minutes as a wild horse!)

We headed out of the parking area and into the woods, with my son in front of us on the trail and Guinness eager to chase him. Pretty much immediately, I had to set G. straight about who was "lead mare" and who was "low man" in our herd of two.

Whenever he got too close and tried to push past me, I would (in order) flap my elbows, look sideways in a threatening manner, squeal, stop/back up, swing my rope, and (once) kick backwards! It only took a couple of times before he obediently followed me like a big, brown dog, and dropped back each time that I slowed down.

Whenever bikes, joggers or dogs approached us, I would direct him to the side of the trail to turn and face the spectacle, and then wait patiently until the coast was clear. He caught on to this routine very quickly. It was a beautiful day and the park was very busy. He had lots of opportunities for practice.

We continued down the path until we reached a stream where we practiced crossing water. Guinness took a hard look at the stream, and then painstakingly attempted to cross via some stepping stones. It took several crossings for him to figure out that the stream was only about 6 inches deep. ;-)

This was an incredible learning opportunity for him. I was so pleased to have done this *unmounted*! There were no other horses around (he did try calling a couple of times to check) so he had to rely on me. Since I was right in front of him, he learned how to follow at an appropriate distance and to match my speed, including sudden stops at the word "whoa." (I sometimes jogged and could hear him gaiting behind me to keep up.) I took the time to stop at choice bites of grass and to "smell the poop" on the trail - just to prove to him that I have good ideas!

In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Habit #2 is "Begin with the End in Mind." Since Guinness is so ready to soak up information and to learn, I have to constantly envision how I want him to ultimately interact with me and with the world.

As we proceeded down that path, I experienced a strong sense of "knowing" that what we were doing together was the perfect first experience, setting us up for a lifetime of hitting the trail as partners. Wow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pat Parelli Made Me Do It..

"Good, better, best, never let it rest, get your good better and your better best!" Pat often likes to repeat this quote from George Burns. I guess that I've heard it so often that it finally sunk in.

When heard that my community's summer musical production was going to be, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," I thought, "if only.." Followed by, "why not??"!

I've never done *anything* like this before in my life - not even in school. But, I love musicals and had always wished that I had tried out for my university's production of "Hair" years ago. Regret is a hard thing to live with and I resolved not to let it get me this time.

The first huge hurdle was the audition. I had to sing a prepared show tune, solo, in front of a panel of judges (I chose the song "Frank Mills" from "Hair"). Eeeeeek! Then I had to do a reading, and then dance a little routine that they taught me. When it was over, I swear that I felt such a rush that I wanted to go back and do it again!

I would have been happy with myself for just surviving the audition, but even better, I was cast in the adult choir. My roles included: one of Jacob's wives, an Egyptian, and a GO-GO Dancer! Dig me in the purple go-go boots & flower-power dress. :-)

This was one of the most incredible and empowering experiences of my life. We played 8 performances to full houses. We even turned about 30 people away at our final show! I was onstage singing most of the time. What made it even more fun was that my son got to be in the production too.

I will never forget this summer - thank you, Pat Parelli!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Guinness is Officially a Real Horse!

Today, Guinness and I had our first MOUNTED playdate with a few friends. He was an angel! We practiced chasing cookies like we do at home.

He also had an opportunity to revisit the "Noodles of Death" and a huge green ball. The only thing that made him look twice was a mare that was galloping around and calling to the other horses. Oh, and he tried so very hard to get all four feet on a pedestal. ;-)

I love this little guy.

PS - I think that he is now about 15 hands tall.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Communication is a Two-way Street

I have come to realize that I am unusual - ok, weird. I do a number of unconventional things with my horses, including several which others would decry as dangerous or perhaps just strange. However, they work for me and my boys.

I confess that I routinely use noises to communicate with my horses, along with hand gestures. Here are the sounds that I make:
  • nicker in greeting, accompanied by lowering my head. (I even unconsciously did this when I passed friends in the halls at high school!)
  • mare squeal when a horse tries to score a dominance "point" on me (mostly in play). My horses think that this is hilarious. So does my farrier.
  • click = yes (see previous blog post "Give Your Horse a Yes")
  • smootch = pay attention/move your feet
  • whistle = come here
  • snort = "I see it too and will challenge it for you," followed by looking away, relaxing, and blowing to say "false alarm."
My weird noises and actions are not restricted to horses. With cats, I slowly blink my eyes to show that I'm not a threat, I point my finger and let them nose it as a greeting, I purr in pleasure, I trill to call them, I yawl to find a lost cat, and I rub them with my face in affection. I get along great with cats..

With dogs, I don't do as much - probably because they are so good at interpreting people words and facial expressions. I do sometimes woof (to say "pay attention, something may be wrong") and growl (rarely) over my food. I also make ferret, guinea pig, and cockatiel noises..

With consistent use, verbal commands can be understood by horses, especially in conjunction with body language. Words/phrases that I often use are:
  • "Back it up"
  • "Move over"
  • "Pick it up" (hoof)
  • "Walk, Trot, Canter, Gait-up"
  • "Whoa"
Hand signals are the most important. With training and consistent use they become very easy for a horse to recognize and interpret, unlike the gibberish that we constantly "speak" with our voice, unconscious body language, and facial expressions. These can be a god-send in an emergency situation when the horse is seeking help!

From observation, I've come to realize that horses are masters of "small talk." There is constant communication and give/take exchanges between them. When a horse asks me a question, I respect him by taking the time to give a clear, polite answer - be it in the form of a noise, gesture, or word. Asking a horse for his opinion is polite too, such as "Would you like me to scratch that for you?" or "Would you like me to kill that bad bug for you?" or "May I come closer?"

Why is it ok for us to intrude on the herd and remove a herd mate without spending a few minutes with the entire herd? Group mutual grooming (including me) after meals reinforces our intra-herd bonds. I don't permit dominance games when I'm around - bossy mare that I am. ;-) I also guard whomever is eating, which they seem to appreciate.

Why is it ok for horses to play the games that we want them to play, the way we want them played, but taboo for a horse to initiate horse games with us? My horses like to play "I'm going to make you lift your forefoot" and "I'm going to bite your lip and hold on." We have modified these games so that I can play them too. If one of them wants me to move my foot as evidenced by them swinging their mouth toward my leg, I do a mare squeal but sometimes also lift my foot. Next, I tap or reach for his chestnut and he will move his foot. They think that this is highly entertaining. Never do they swing hard or fast at my leg. We play "I'm going to bite your lip" by them swinging gently toward me to which I respond with a squeal and by tugging on his chin hairs or holding his upper or lower lip. Sometimes we also play the "I'm going to tug your tongue when you stick it out" game.

The four of us (3 geldings and me) are getting along great. Since I work from home and their paddock gate is about 10 feet from my car and in easy view of my deck, I interact with them almost constantly and I wouldn't trade it for the world!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Skills: Driving, Ponying & Hobbles!

Thanks for all your help, Sierra! And congratulations on your official PNH Level 3 student status!!