Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Update

I'm shocked at how much time has passed since my last post. At least I'm spending (slightly) more time with my horse than I am blogging. :-)

I was just outside removing blankets (sunny & 25 degrees) and feeding. While waiting for Smokey to finish eating, Guinness & Cody instigated a clicker training (CT) session with me. Cody has finally learned his first behavior taught entirely through CT. He can now "smile" on cue and is very proud of it!! He is well on his way to "shaking hands" (lifting his front leg) and next will be picking up a glove.

Guinness had two triumphs this morning:

1. I can now stand on the other side of a fence, tip my head in the direction that I want him to turn, then raise my opposite hand and make a spinning motion with my hand and he will spin in that direction and return to facing me. It works in both directions!

2. I can gesture at his front foot and tap his hind leg and he will lift his left forefoot high and right hind at the SAME TIME. This is the beginning of a piaffe on cue at liberty!

He will alternate lifting his forefeet depending on which side of his withers I tap. (I need to remember to play with asking him to lift alternate hind feet with a hip tap.) I think that I'm going to expand my cue for the forefeet into snapping my fingers and reaching with the arm that I want him to mimic, while facing him. Then I'll turn and teach it to him while facing the same direction that he is. This should allow us to morph it into a "stick to me" game with extension and/or elevation of the forelegs. How fun!!

While Guinness was smiling at me, I noticed that he has lost one of his lateral incisor baby teeth and another one is very loose. I think that he was showing them to me.

For more information on young horse dentition, visit this website:

I've heard that it is supposed to warm up to near 50 degrees next Thursday, so I'm going to plan to spend the day playing horsey!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Slo-Mo Passenger Lesson

This morning, Guinness and I went for a walk away from the other horses down to my septic field - where the grass is still green. He was overjoyed. There I spent a half-hour or so closely observing his halt-walk-halt transitions, shutting my eyes, and trying to work out where his feet were and how things felt. It was really educational. This is the second time that we've done this and I figured that I'd better blog about it while I can remember what I was thinking..

- It seems that when a hind foot is loaded with weight, that hip rises - and when it is unloaded, it drops. This is totally counter-intuitive to me!

- However, when a front foot is unloaded, the shoulder rises.

- If the rider's weight is back and we are trying to encourage the horse to use his hiney more, shouldn't the rider synchronize MORE with the horse's hind end?

- It seems that the rider should avoid "falling into the dip" created when the horse unloads a hind foot, since it seems that would tend to off balance the horse?? Should the rider strive to keep her own hips even - say at the trot?

- I tend to sit more on my seat-bones, and to stay off of my crotch, while riding. To do this, I tip my hips up. This is ok, except that I had a L4 discectomy after rupturing that disc during a sit-trot lesson about 10 years ago, so I can't over-do that position. In this position, it is natural for my thighs to move somewhat forward to compensate for me shifting my cheeks under me and my weight a bit back.

- To keep my thighs aligned under me, I have to tense the muscles at the juncture of my hip and back of my thigh. This is not pleasant and makes me feel stiff. Thus, my "chair-seat." (I admit that I have chunky thighs and short legs, and this may be a factor!) I can allow my lower leg to hang straight from my knees without having to tense any other muscles..

- If I squeeze my upper thighs a little, it tends to roll my legs from a pidgeon-toed position and my toes will point a bit more straight forward. Is this good? I probably do this without knowing it.

- To cue a HQ yield, I can easily bring my inside lower leg back behind the girth and point my toe downward. To cue sideways, I could use a neutral leg with pressure at the girth. To cue a FH yield, I could squeeze my inside thigh/knee and allow my toe to point a bit in toward the horse which results in pressure a little in front of the girth. Is there any reason not to do this?

I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

It is snowing here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

But, I don't WANT to... (in a whiney voice)

I just read a very good blog post:

It got me thinking about how our over-thinking can box us in. Here are two of my current mental blocks:

1. I still feel distinctly uncomfortable with the thought of riding in my tiny back field (basically my back yard). Why?? Because about 7 years ago, Smokey threatened to run away with me. Did he? No, 'cause I got off. Since then, I've ridden Bandit back there a little, years ago. I've also ridden Guinness there about 4 times (with someone else nearby giving me moral support). Come to think of it, it may have something to do with my high-school horse running off & dumping me while in a field with his buddies. But, even when the other horses are confined, I get sort of anxious! I guess that I need approach and retreat. I'd really love for someone to bring a horse over here to ride with me!! I'm going to try to rope some friends into coming over. Perhaps I should host a playdate or try bribery?

2. My horses CAN NOT do the Figure 8 pattern. When I send them, they go the the barrel (or whatever) and try to climb on it (mostly Guinness). I get my rope tangled up and knock things over. I feel stupid. I've been half-a**ed playing with this pattern for a YEAR. I hate it!.. However, I used to feel that circling was impossible too, and breaking it down and rewarding each component is solving this. I suspect that what I need to do is to start circling around cones, then using the cones to mark changes of direction, and mixing it up to finally develop a Fig. 8 pattern. Any other ideas?

So what are YOUR mental blocks that are preventing you from progressing? Fess up!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nitty Gritty Plan

Guinness and I are enrolled in Carol Coppinger's L3 camp in Bristol next May. Although she has already approved us to participate based on our performance last year, it seems only reasonable that we strive to officially pass L2 prior to the event. I'd like to have both auditions submitted by April 1st, at the latest.

Online Level 2 Try using a feather-light line or the equivalent to prevent "noise" in the line

We should be able to knock these two tasks right out:
  • Teach horse to stand on 3 legs (hold each leg up for 30 seconds)
  • YoYo back and forth from Zone 3 practice stick-to-me
Patterns: Break down into components, CT to teach/reinforce each component, then chain together with emphasis on giving Guinness responsibility for each pattern. study the Patterns!
  • Figure 8
  • Weave
Sideways: Guinness knows this behavior, but I need to allow him more responsibility in the execution! I need to focus on getting quieter in my body.
  • Move sideways keep feet still
  • Sideways without fence
Circles: Guinness has learned to circle me up to 4 or so laps at a time at a walk, but it needs to be reinforced in and out of the roundpen. Trotting is a bit newer to him. I need to help him to differentiate between my requests for walk vs. trot vs. canter (cue words) and to teach him to maintain the gait until requested otherwise, understanding that this is a *challenging* task for an LBI unless a game is made of it! (Break gait/change direction/tag where he was with a laugh. Jackpot when he "wins.") Once he masters the cues for the three gaits and the "game" and then all four of these will be achievable.
  • Circling 2 – 4 laps without breaking gait at both walk & trot
  • Circling 4 – 6 laps trot/canter
  • Circling with obstacles and maintain gait at a trot
  • Traveling circles
Freestyle Riding Level 2
  • Passenger Lesson at trot
    We are ready to play with this NOW! I'd like to do this in Julie's small arena the first time and work up to doing it in my back field. Even if he canters a bit, he is so "short" that I should survive..
    This is mostly about MY confidence, 'cause I don't intend to use the reins!!
  • Circle with Casual Rein, 4 laps at walk and trot
    Should be a cinch after mastering circles online, but need to exit the roundpen for trotting.
  • Sideways 20’ facing a fence
    Practice traveling up to 20' feet with subtle cues.
  • Freestyle patterns: FTR, Fig.-8, Weave, Transitions, Question Box, Obstacles
    I have a vision of creating a Question Box in the center of my roundpen and leaving both gates open. This would allow us to ride within the roundpen, just outside the perimeter of the roundpen, and in large loops from one entrance to the other. I have plenty of barrels, logs, poles, etc. to provide variation & amusement - I just need to take the time to set them up. Our practice with this will probably be at the walk/trot due to the likelihood of slippery footing. When the roads are ok, I could haul to a friend's place with a large outdoor arena and firm parking area.

We have 4 months to prepare, but they tend to be rainy/cold months, so it will take perseverance. Michelle's husband gave me advice about lighting my roundpen/back field with two 500 watt halogen fixtures mounted to the rail of my deck, which should help a ton. Thanks, Rick!

I should probably plan to enroll in "lessons" at my local indoor arena in Feb/March, just to have a back-up place once per week to practice (provided that the roads are passible).

Time to git 'er done.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For the Record

To date, here is my inventory of Guinness' and my remaining L2 & L3 tasks to master:

Level 2
  • Patterns: Figure-8, Weave, Circles
  • Move sideways (keep feet still) - need to test
  • Teach horse to stand on 3 legs (hold each leg up for 30 seconds) - we're so close!
  • YoYo back and forth from Zone 3 - need to test
  • Circling 4 – 6 laps trot, canter - we have 4 laps at a trot, on a good day
  • Traveling circles - sort of
  • Circling with obstacles and maintain gait at a trot
  • Circling 2 – 4 laps without breaking gait at walk, trot - how does this differ from above?
  • Sideways without fence - needs to be straighter
Level 3 (we haven't done anything with the 45' yet)
  • Massage with clippers - need to test, ok with messager
  • Lead backwards by hind leg -usually
  • Point A to Point B, 45-foot Line
  • Drive from Z5: one rein - great on the trail, but in an open area?
  • Back and draw towards you (45-foot Line)
  • Jump towards you, stop, back to obstacle
  • One hind leg and front leg over a pole - straddle?
  • Circling 6 – 10 laps at canter
  • Circling walk, trot, canter transitions
  • Simple change of direction at canter
  • Obstacles, hills, maintain gait
  • Sideways fast (on 22 or 45-foot Line)
  • Along log or fence, keep my feet still
Freestyle Riding
Level 2
  • Passenger Lesson at trot *very soon!
  • Circle with Casual Rein, 4 laps at walk and trot
  • Sideways 20’ (facing the fence)
  • All Freestyle patterns, except Follow the Rail
Level 3 (I haven't tried riding with two carrot sticks yet)
  • Passenger Lesson at canter
  • Bridle and unbridle from your horse’s back - I bet that we can do this now
  • Canter, stop and get off - with the sticks?
  • Refined Direct and Indirect Rein
  • Lateral Flexion, 2 Sticks
  • Disengage with two Carrot Sticks
  • Full turn - with sticks?
  • Transitions: halt-walk-trot-canter (2 Sticks)
  • Circling carrot Sticks on your shoulders, canter 4 laps, with less than 4 corrections total (1 per lap)
  • Circling simple change, bowtie
  • Circling with Casual Reins: canter 4 laps with less than 2 corrections per lap - is this correct?
  • Sideways with 2 Carrot Sticks
  • 20’ Sideways without fence
  • A log (12”-18”), turn, face and wait, 2 sticks
Level 2 - Done!
Level 3
  • Lead backwards by hind leg - most of the time
  • Lead by ear, chin - most of the time
  • Stick to Me at canter
  • Stick to Me Transitions: walk, trot, canter, halt and back up - most of the time
  • YoYo transitions: halt, walk, trot, canter and back up - not sure what this means
  • Circling 6 – 10 laps (trot and canter)
  • Circling walk, trot and canter - transitions?
  • Circling change of direction at canter with simple change
  • Circling 3 laps with a barrel - what does this mean?
  • Circling single spin - working on it!
  • Circling change direction at trot
  • All Level 2 and up - I'm not planning to ride him in a bridle until he will follow my feel without reins

A lack of impulsion is our main obstacle in many of these tasks. Looks as though we need to let go of the roundpen and to focus on practicing the Patterns, both Online & Freestyle, in our small pasture. It is time to truly let go of my historic reluctance to ride outside of the roundpen at home. Funny - I confidently ride him everywhere away from home.

* Please post a comment if you can offer me insight into any of this! *

Our Second Anniversary Together

On November 21st, Guinness (my cookie-monster) and I celebrated the 2nd anniversary of our partnership by going to visit our friend Julie for the first time.

Julie, who has lots of dressage & eventing experience, and her partner, Shadowfax, are playing somewhere in L2/L3. Julie recently purchased Karen Rohlf's study materials and is busy integrating it into her studies. She encouraged me to watch some of it with her, and I admit that I'm captivated too! I'm now trying to figure out how to wrangle her Everything Pack for myself for Christmas (probably wishful thinking..).

In several of her videos, Karen plays successfully with young LBI horses (often bareback and using only a halter) as she laughs and coaxes them along. I find these both instructional and highly inspirational. (As I have found those of Linda P. and her LBI, Remmer, to be.) I had held the mistaken belief that I wasn't "worthy" to study Karen's materials yet since I'm not even close to being a L4 student, however she offers strategies for issues that I am having this moment with Guinness. I'm especially appreciative that her philosophies mesh perfectly with those of PNH.

Julie, the horses, and I played with driving game on a circle. The focus was to see if the horses were able to match our energy to make appropriate transitions. It was totally different from anything that I've played before with Guinness and I could see the wheels turning in his brain.

We played at liberty including the catching game (which I find incredibly helpful to set the tone for a playdate). When Guinness showed her his new behavior of holding each leg folded up high on cue, she commented that Karen R. uses tapping on the side of the withers as a cue for the same behavior. In a couple of tries, I was able to morph the cue from tapping the point of his shoulder to tapping his withers and he got it! He was even able to figure it out for each foreleg while mounted. :-))

It was tons of fun and I hope to do it again very soon. Thanks, Julie!


This past year has been very eventful for G. and me. (The photo is of the two of us this past January. Note that we are still on a leadline.)

To recap:
  • I began seriously riding him in April, utilizing a local indoor arena
  • We participated fully in a Carol Coppinger L2 clinic in May
  • We attended two informal trail competitions this summer, and he placed in both
  • We successfully rode in two 6-mile American Competitive Trail Horse Association rides
  • He went "swimming" in the river several times
  • I rode him in our local July 4th parade
  • We've hauled all over the place to visit friends for playdates and to ride the trails
In a mere 8 months, he has met all of my expectations for a horse partner (unlike my previous partner, Smokey - age 18 - who still couldn't handle all of this after 8 years with me & PNH). I attribute this to his outgoing, friendly, rock-solid LBI temperament and to the use of marker signals in conjunction with treats in his Parelli Natural Horsemanship education.

Guinness is now about 3 1/2 years old. He stands about 15 hands tall and weighs about 850 lbs (compared to our other Rocky who is 12, about the same height, and weighs about 1100 lbs).

This photo is of us at our second ACTHA ride on October 16, 2010. Note how much he has grown in 10 months. Wow.

I can't wait for 2011.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Guinness' Full Sister

Here is a video of Guinness' full sister. She was born in 2006 and is almost exactly one year older than him. Apparently, she is for sale:

Click here to find out more about "Raven". If you buy her, please let me know!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Musings on Equality

My Parelli Play Group is currently discussing the "Six Golden Principles" outlined by the founders of Cavalia in their book, Gallop to Freedom.

I wanted to blog my reflections on Principle One:

Foster a more equal relationship, based on trust and respect, in which we learn from each other.

"I believe we can forge a new kind of relationship with a horse based on a greater degree of equality than most people have thought possible. Horses themselves form very close relationships that can last a lifetime. I want the same: I want to reach the stage where they don't drive me from their space and I don't drive them from mine. I have to convince them that the space belongs to both of us."

- Gallop to Freedom

What this idea means to me:

Allowing natural pauses in my "conversation" with Guinness (ie; make a request of him and then allow him to chew on it a moment before responding). Expecting snappy everything all of the time feels like me yelling at him. He can tell how urgent something is by my energy - I don't have to always be loud and demanding. Threatening him doesn't work. I can use a cue that appears to be a driving game, but I know that unless he agrees with my idea, it would take a h*** of a lot to phase 4 him when he is in LBI mode. (You guys should see what he takes from the other horses without giving an inch!!) I'm saving the true driving for resolving safety issues such as "get out of my space NOW." The more polite that I am with him, the more polite he is with me.

Being open to communication and exchange of ideas with my horse. Not monopolizing the conversation. Exploring different ideas of what communication can look like: marker sounds, verbal cues, gestures, energy, body language, breath, imagery, etc. Sometimes *he* chooses our topics of discussion - where he would like me to scratch, where he would prefer to graze, when he rather me ride than lead him, what object he'd rather play with, and more.

Treating him like the sentient being that he is. Not that he could take care of himself in the artificial environment that people have contrived, but neither is he a slave that exists only to do my bidding. His thoughts and feelings have value too.

Taking the time it takes - we have plenty of it. I plan to have this horse for the rest of his life and Rockies can easily live 30+ years..

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Riding from the Ground

I've recently viewed two inspirational online videos that I'd like to share.

The first is of Ein Parelli-SchĂĽler auf dem Philippe Karl Kurs in der Schweiz. (I'm not sure what this means, but I'm very impressed!)

And with a young clicker-trained mule:

There is hope for us - Guinness included! :-)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Preparing for L3 Riding

It is time for me to become more conscious of the cues that I'm using while mounted.

I tend to ride intuitively - more from 15+ years of pre-PNH muscle memory and reflex then from any systematic awareness of what I trying to achieve and how to go about helping my horse to succeed. This has been ok for puttering on little trail rides in L2 style, however Guinness & I seem to be progressing past this despite ourselves.

This evening, after playing liberty porcupine & driving, I decided to tack G. up with a bareback pad and halter/rope. We played with trying to figure out what I was asking him to do with just my shifting focus, my weight, and using my thighs to cue him. (I didn't pick up the reins at all except when I needed to help him to figure out that I was asking him to back up.) Wow, how revealing..

He was very eager to earn his treats (Blue Seal hay stretcher pellets) and acted just like a kid playing charades. Turns out that when I stop to think about it, I'm not all that clear about the cues that I'd like to teach him for certain behaviors. I intend to use the Parelli system, especially since one step builds upon another to form a comprehensive, well-thought-out whole. I've absorbed most of the overt cues over my years stuck in L1/2 limbo, but my vision of how to progress from here is muddy!

My intent is to go back to the pocket guides for the old PNH video packs to get clear about what I am trying to achieve. (I realize that some of this information has been updated, however they are still excellent well-written resources.) I'm going to aim to teach 1 or 2 behaviors at a time as a continuation of what we are playing with on the ground in short, sweet sessions. I'm also going have some L3/4 friends watch me ride in order to help me sort things out.

Tonight, my homework is to read "Chapter 12: Working Under Saddle" in the clicker training book, Getting to Yes by Sharon Foley!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

4/4 Time

Over the last four days, I've somehow managed to play with Guinness a little on the ground four times in a row. This is truly amazing since it has been months since we've had time together. During one recent stretch, I sat on him twice (once on a trail ride, and once bareback for 15 min. in the rain) during a 5 WEEK stretch of time.. I'm pleased that we made it to the ACTHA ride last weekend and survived. ;-)

Here is a little of what we've done over the past few days:

10/21: Intended to play with Fig 8s, and instead played with circles on & off line. Once at liberty, Guinness left on the send, but I waited and he came around as if nothing had happened. ;-) Walking was good. Tried changing directions with he broke gait at a trot and darned if it didn't improve his motivation! Also played with sideways toward & away, the pedestal, and jumping. It was a good session.

10/22: I visited with two friends, and then arrived home around 9:30 pm. Played with Guinness' "energy bubble" while we watched Smokey finish his dinner. I can see the wheels in his brain turn as he works out how to move his body sideways toward me from either side. He can easily do it when I'm to his left, but has to flip everything mentally when I'm on his right and it shows! Too funny. We also played with spins at liberty while in the run-in (close quarters).

10/23: Went out into the back field (more like a dry lot) to goof off for a few minutes. No halter or rope. Just a stick & treat pouch. Played with gesturing and then waiting for G. to figure out what I was asking for - with treats to reinforce "yes." Oh what fun!! He circled at a brisk walk with changes of direction. He sidepassed over objects both toward and away from me, with just a gesture of my near hand over his back. He backed up like a champ with me 20 ft away in Zone 5 with me lifting my hands high to wave him back. Slow spins are merely an extension of what he already knows..

Afterward, when handling Smokey & Cody, I really realized how differently Guinness responds to me. There is almost no resistance to my requests to change direction, to move specific parts of his body, or to slow down or stop. Plus, only one time *ever* has he offered to walk a few steps away from me as I approached him (when Smokey was telling him to avoid me in order to keep eating some yummy grass in my front yard). However, he does sometimes think twice before following me into "danger" (ie; the river) and he doesn't respond much when I ask him to go faster (probably due to operator error).

My level 3/4 buddy Alyssa has agreed to play with us to give us some feedback in these areas and to help me to progress my riding. I am now officially in uncharted territory in terms of my knowledge and skills. It is simultaneously intimidating & liberating..

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our 2nd ACTHA ride & sideways toward!

Hi folks. I'm so happy to have a chance for a blog update! Life has been NUTS for me since starting my new job full time..

Last Saturday, Guinness and I participated in our first *judged* American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) ride at the Horse Center in Lexington, VA. (The first time that we rode in an ACTHA ride, it was an unjudged "buddy ride.") We rode with our friends Diane & Ivan and Joanne & Noble.

Here is a list of obstacles & how we did:
  • cross a deadfall of logs & pause straddling the last one - G did great!
  • dismount on the off-side and remount from the off-side using a bench - great!
  • cross a small shallow pond - per the rules, I didn't allow him to nose the water, so he said "forget it" and we maxed out our time without him setting one foot into it..
  • walk up an embankment and then down again - G went RBE over the sight of some horses on a ridge line about 1/4 mile away. I still got him up the embankment, but had to dismount after that to help him work through his feelings.
  • weave at a gait through a line of pumpkins and halt at the last one - G did fine, but I forgot to halt until a horse length past - oops.
He nicely trotted in-hand for the final lameness check. Then I gave him some "tea", brushed him, and put him loose in the trailer to munch hay while looking out of the windows.

After lunch, I put him on a 22' line and reapproached the water obstacle. This time, I clicked/treated (with mints - a first) as he neared the water and within 5 minutes he was willingly cantering circles through it to earn a mint! He was energetic but didn't spook at anything (seemed more LBE at the time). I allowed him to graze a while, then we loaded up and headed home without incident. Loading is a complete non-issue. :-)

I've inserted some photos of the event. Plus, click here for a slideshow! (Photos 269-273+ depict Guinness refusing the water obstacle.)

Almost as fun, was the opportunity to play horsey in my own backyard this evening before dark. It has been MONTHS since I've done this..

I went out to the roundpen with a fanny pack filled with Guinness' dinner. I stood in neutral until Guinness "found" me, than I closed the rope gates to keep the other horses out. Guinness looked hard at me and looked as though he wanted to play circling game, so I gestured for him to circle. He eagerly walked around and I strategically clicked to tell him that he was on the right track. Once he passed my shoulder on the 2nd lap, I brought him in and fed him a little feed from my hand. We repeated this on the other side. I was *really* impressed because it has been almost 3 MONTHS since we played with this at liberty!! Click here to read about the last time.

Next, I decided to play with a very light driving game - more like gesturing to him and him interpreting what I meant and earning periodic treats after a series of multiple clicks. So awesome!

I decided that it was time to try something new: Sideways toward me. Easy as pie with clicker training; it took all of about 5 minutes!! All I did was to stand parallel to him facing the same direction as him. I started by crossing my legs and stepping sideways toward him, as he moved sideways away from me.

Next, I draped the string over his back near his flank, and stepped away from him in the exact manner as before. I could see the wheels turning in his brain. As his front end moved toward me, I clicked/treated. Then I gestured a tiny bit with the stick on the off-side at the flank and his rear stepped toward me - click/treat. After about 3 tries, his whole body was moving sideways toward me! We repeated this about 5 times and ended with a jackpot in his food bowl.

Guinness was very pleased with himself. I will be sure to never reward this behavior without my having cued it first, since I don't want to teach him to crowd me. This is why I've waited until he was really responsive to teach it. Yippee!

Guinness has now been seriously "under saddle" for about six and 1/2 months. It is so easy to take it for granted now that we are riding.

I am so grateful to have him in my life. Rockies Rule!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Time Management & Tools

My new job has now officially gone full time, so I'm now experiencing time constraints like I haven't in years. I'm so grateful for having had the opportunity to play intensively with Guinness from April to July. It has really allowed us to establish him as a useful riding horse!

I've booked a standing date on Friday evenings in a friend's lighted arena for as long as the weather cooperates (end of November?). Early next spring, Guinness & I will probably sign up for more practice sessions in the indoor arena of our local riding stable. My goal is for us to be prepared to participate in Carol Coppinger's L3-4 camp in Bristol next May!

Lots has been happening over the past couple of months. The biggest one is that I coordinated our local fair's horseshow for the first time. It was a blast & a great way to expose local folks to applied Natural Horsemanship. I promise to blog more about it.

I've also discovered a wonderful tool called a "jumping hackamore." I purchased mine from Amazon. (See the photo at the top of this page.) Since I've never ridden Guinness in a bit, and ACTHA prohibits riding in a halter, this has been the perfect solution! It is even milder than riding in a rope halter (which hasn't been an issue for us), and provides instant release unlike my experience with bitless bridles.

Also, have you guy noticed what a great value the "Get Started" equipment kit is on the Parelli website? $60 for a stick, string, halter and 12' rope (Savvy Club price). My stuff is finally wearing out (8 years later) and I'm thinking of springing for one or two of these!

Well, that is it for now. I'm planning to take Guinness on a little hike this afternoon, so I'd better get moving. We have signed-up for another ACTHA ride next Saturday! :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Life..

Hi folks. I just wanted to update you on what is up with my life and why I haven't been blogging (or reading my email)!

About 6 weeks ago, I accepted an exciting almost FT job. Now, I'm working this in addition to helping with our family's small business. Consequently, we've enrolled our son into private school (a huge transition from homeschooling).

Wow. Lots of life changes!! Today, I got to sit on Guinness for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks. (We went for a fun little trail ride with some friends.)

I have lots to blog about and hopefully will have some time soon. :-)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Learning Together

This afternoon, I found a little time to play with Guinness. It started off with my husband climbing onto the roof of the run-in to clean out the gutter. Guinness stood in absolute amazement as my husband scaled the ladder and began to walk on the tin roof (with associated bangs and thumps). Guinness took turns standing just behind be and staring, or nonchalantly hanging out inside the run-in as I groomed & scratched him. It was *very* interesting to observe his reactions. I wish that I'd had a camera..

This morphed into a liberty clicker training session in the paddock where we mostly played with posing, and turns on the forehand. "Posing" is when Guinness parks-out and holds his neck arched, head lowered, and lips away from me! He is totally getting the hang of this and is very proud of himself.

For "turns on the forehand" I decided to try break the task down into parts that I could more easily convey to him. He has the idea to yield his HQ down pat, but doesn't get that he needs to keep his inside front foot still. I found a piece of rubber mat and asked him to put his foot on it. Then I asked for his HQ to move over one step while keeping his foot on the mat (I stood in zone 3 with my stick in my inside hand pointed toward his nose, while my outside hand reached around to press gently on his side and I looked at his HQ. It worked really well! We played with me on his left side today. For the Fair next weekend, he is supposed to be able to keep one foot in a hula-hoop for this task. I don't know if I can get him ready in time for that or not..

After a while, I was getting tired of playing in the paddock, but he was still happy to be with me, so I tacked him up with his bareback pad and halter/lead rope. I brought him out of the paddock and into the front yard, where I pulled up a plastic chair to mount and then allowed him to graze. (Smokey called and called to him, but thankfully Guinness didn't seem to pay him much attention.)

Eventually, I directed him to a recently mowed path through the woods. I practiced asking him to walk by lifting my reins, bringing up my life, moving my rear to suggest a walk, and then clicking him when he was on the right track. I was careful not to escalate my cues and not to use my lower leg except to steer him. Once he'd willingly walked several paces, I would halt him with my seat and then cue him to eat (by pressing on his main near his withers). We also played with trotting and cantering in the same manner.

I love the idea of using grass as the "green carpet of motivation" and it really works! Plus, by putting his grazing under saddle on a cue, it seems to have reduced his determination to argue with me about it and instead to seek to gain it as a reward. I used almost no rein during this ride except for a few times to rate his speed by lifting one rein or to reinforce a halt cue (again using one rein). This was really the first time that I have consciously used CT to reinforce gait and speed cues. For this (and other tasks) I click with my tongue periodically to signal that he is doing the correct thing (when he seems to be hesitant), and then I multi-click when he has earned a treat. It is working great - no resistance from him at all.

One of the most important things to me about today's session was that I played approach and retreat with my OWN anxiety about riding at home! I know that this sounds silly, but I'm way more comfortable and have had much more practice riding Guinness elsewhere. At home, things tend to get in the way of my riding, plus I have baggage associated with Smokey getting herdbound and going RBE (my least favorite state of horse brain). (See previous post "Backyard Bravery" - I haven't ridden at home since I posted it on May 31st..) Guinness was actually more comfortable with this than I was and we had a great time looping around out in the woods for about a half hour.

Afterward, I slid off over his rump and sat on the ground as he grazed on tender grass behind the barn. Eventually, I lay down and dozed and looked at the clouds & trees as he munched and stood guard several feet away. At the time it occurred to me that this was a very herdmate-like thing to do together. I often see one horse laying down on the field while a buddy acts as a lookout. I even crawled UNDER him for the first time. :-)

When I returned him to his pasture, I went with him to the dusty spot and suggested that he roll, which I did with him. What a fun afternoon!


PS - I'm reading a new book: Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor (author of "Don't Shoot the Dog" - recently recommended reading by Pat Parelli). I'm sure that I will be posting more about it soon. So far, it is totally fascinating.

PPS - Guinness won 2nd in that little trail class competition last week and we took home a basket of *wonderful* homegrown tomatoes for our efforts.

PPPS - Just watched this clip and loved it. Especially that last part with the bowing and laying down!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Turns on the Forehand

This evening, just before dark, I decided to play with Guinness with emphasis on practicing turns on the forehand. In preparation, I chopped up some carrots and bagged up his dinner, then went to the roundpen to wait for him.

After a few minutes, as I was dozing, he briskly walked over to the roundpen and stared at me. I invited him in and he offered circling game. I encouraged him to walk around me and he did 3 laps in both directions, no problem.

Next, I asked him to do a little sideways over an object. He has the sideways down, but doesn't get the "over an object" part yet. He tends to trample all over it. We need to practice more with barrels..

Then we approached a large pink hula-hoop with the intention of eventually having him turn on the forehand with one foot planted within the hoola-hoop. Fortunately, the rattly noise didn't bother him a bit. We practiced with me in zone 3, lifting the rope with my inside hand, turning and looking at his HQ, and porcupining him a little with my outside hand. He would swing around well, but a bit too quickly. Next time, I'm going to have him take one step and then stop (repeat).

We played with the same task mounted and I got him to pretty much plant his inside front foot, however he was still too quick to be precise.

When I asked him to back up, he offered me a lovely parade-style rear, which cracked me up. However, I didn't dare click it or he'd be offering it to be every time! I think that I must have cued him too strongly considering that I was sitting directly on him bareback without a pad..

After walking forward a bit, I dismounted and asked him to sidepass over some cones (laying down). Eventually, he did it pretty well and he won his grain.

In hindsight, I think that the carrot pennies that I took out for treats today were too yummy for him to concentrate well. I need to go back to cheerios.

Tomorrow evening is the final trail obstacle class and I believe that there will be a little competition. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chiropractic & Accupuncture

Last Monday, fellow PPG member and veterinarian, Anna Simms, came out to give Guinness a tune-up.

This was my first experience with equine chiropractic or acupuncture.

It was a very interesting and informative session. Guinness enjoyed the attention, although a couple of times he swatted the needles as though they were biting flies.

Anna noticed that G. has a slight drop of the left hip while walking and somewhat more muscle development on the left side of his lumbar region. He also exhibited a slight restriction in the motion of his caudal ribs on the right side.

She recommended several stretches, but overall believed most issues to be developmental in nature.

After the basic exam, I asked her to check out the "stick" that I'd been feeling in Guinness' ear. I could feel it by poking my pinky finger way down into his left ear (the length of my finger)! We tried to look into his ear with her otoscope, but couldn't get a good look. We put some rubbing alcohol into both of his ears to encourage him to shake his head. It worked and brought the object a little closer to the opening of his ear.

Barring other alternatives, she stuck her little finger with long fingernail into his ear and dragged a little stuff out. We examined the crud and then noticed a hunk of something hanging from his ear! It appeared to be an inch-long piece of straw. It had been in his ear so long that it was partially decayed at one end and covered in waxy stuff. Yucky.

Anyway, during this whole thing Guinness was a champ. He even held his head down while we took turns doing weird things to his ear. While we were at it Anna commented, "I can't believe that he is allowing us to do all of this to him!" I think that he knew we were trying to help him out. ;-)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Secrets" for Winning the Games! (Especially with LBIs)

The "secrets" to winning all of the Games - every one of them - have been hiding in plain sight. Who would have thought? I had a huge BFO insight this evening while playing with Guinness and I want to share it with you guys!!

Prerequisites to Play

Your horse must feel safe and comfortable. He must know that you will not hurt him intentionally and that you are looking out for him (smashing horse flies and scratching where he asks are good tactics). Try at all costs to avoid doing things "to" the horse, but instead ask him to help you out. This includes hoof picking, grooming, trailer loading, vet care, you name it. Make it a principle in your life with your horse. Clicker training helps a ton with this because it provides a clear structure for communication plus incentive for the horse.

Step 1: Find the "game" in the Game

Think of what you are wanting the horse to learn to do - not just DO but LEARN TO DO. Then think of how you could turn it into a game that a toddler or 8 year old kid would want to play. Think of a few simple rules and a clear goal/reward. Really break it down into something that you can convey to your horse. If you can't do that, whatever you do, don't try to play it with your horse until you can!! Remember, you want this to be a Win-Win game.

Step 2: Make 'em beg to play

Put some treats in your pouch (and perhaps even his dinner as a jackpot) and mosey out to the play area. I even put out an empty feed pan to emphasize that I might be worth seeking out. Then deliberately ignore your horse until he comes to check you out. It is ok for him to gently sniff and explore your treat pouch. Just NO biting, pinned ears or rudeness of any kind. If you've been clicker training already, he will know that mugging you isn't the way to win treats. Use your stick if needed to protect your space until he sweetly approaches and asks to play. Yup, make him ask. Those little nudges to your pouch would be an "ask". So could staring at you intently with ears forward, showing you his feed pan, offering behaviors, etc.

Step 3: Allow them to feel successful

Start by playing a few simple things that they already know. For instance, Guinness loves to fetch objects, to smile, and to park out. When I ask him for these behaviors, he is confident about responding and earning his reward (which might be just a good brief scratch, at this point).

Step 4: Release all pressure

After a few little successes, take all pressure off of him by sitting down, turn slightly away, looking hazily off into the distance, "grazing", rolling, or whatever. Let him take some deep breaths and lower his head, if he so desires.

Step 5: Be happy to resume play when he asks you to

When he gives you a sign that he wants you to do more (see Step 2), bring up your life (stand tall & make eye contact) and then ask clearly for him to do something, keeping in mind the game that you'd like it to morph into. Be precise. Have a small but clear goal in mind. If he doesn't comply, completely disregard it (see Step 4) and wait until he asks you to play some more! DON'T NAG. Trust me, he will soon figure out that he wants to keep YOU engaged with him. ;-) When he achieves the goal, click/treat, and wait for him to ask for more play. If he tries, but gets tangled up, very clearly redirect him in SLOW motion, then TAG firmly where was - intentionally missing him. When he tries, allow him to win but maybe a much lesser reward than if he really figured it out (say, perhaps a stroke on the nose instead of a treat).

Step 6: Be progressive

Gradually add longer duration or more precision. In exchange, give better rewards. As I get closer to my ultimate goal for the session, I start to dole out bits of grain or apples, instead of just alfalfa cubes or cheerios. Between each burst of activity, wait until he gives you the sign that he is ready for more.

Step 7: Jackpot

When he reaches the goal for the session, click (perhaps lots of times for emphasis) and dump the jackpot of grain or something else blissful into his pan. Leave him alone to enjoy it. Then say goodbye and turn him out with his buddies. He will tell them that he just had the best "date" ever. Repeat this whole sequence a few sessions in a row, and I'd bet that he will be galloping across the field to try to get you to come play!


This is how Guinness and I played the Circling Game this evening, progressing up to 6 laps without correction in each direction at liberty. I was totally neutral with my hands behind my back, except I did stand tall and kept some energy in my body while I wanted him to continue to move. I really exaggerated tilting my head at his rear when I wanted him to disengage and come in. If he came in before I asked, I stroke his nose once, then backed him out and resent him in the same direction. I asked for him to work up to 6 laps in one direction, before switching to the other, to reinforce that I wanted him to continue in the direction that I'd asked for. Whenever he'd stop, I'd say out loud "where is the horse?" in a voice just like I'd use to play peek-a-boo, smile, and turn in slow motion in the direction of travel until I spotted his rump. Then I'd slow motion tag that spot firmly. He'd be sure to leap out of the way just in time. After a few repetitions, as soon as I'd say "where is the horse?" and think about turning and he'd resume moving in the correct direction.

Now that I feel that he totally understands the game of "keep going in the direction that I sent you until I call you in," I'm going to progress into rewarding only a particular gait. This evening, he was so into it that he was offering to canter so that he could get his laps done faster, without any increase in pressure from me. Next time, we will go from walking to cantering because he is still having difficulty finding and maintaining a consistent trot (due to his ability to both trot & pace). Cantering seems to be his favorite gait.

Now I understand Linda Parelli's comment about needing to use treats as incentive until she got more savvy about the psychology of PLAYING with her horses. I could see now how the treats will soon become secondary to stimulating his play drive, at least once beyond the learning phase for each behavior.

Super wow.

PS - In my experience, these games are best learned at liberty, if at all possible. Some horses feel pressure and react differently merely with a lead line attached to their halter.. When you take off the halter, "all that's left is the truth!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Last weekend, the SWVA Natural Horsemanship Club hosted its annual Trail Competition. This was the second time that Guinness and I have participated in it together.

Last year, I was thrilled that we took 4th place out of 6 or so competitors in the "unmounted" division. (At age 2, he was the youngest horse there and the only one not yet under saddle.)

This year, I'm excited to announce that he won 2nd in the "mounted" division against 9 other teams! My L3/4 PNH friend, Alyssa, & her partner of 8 years, Delilah, won first place.

I have to thank Alyssa for her insights into both sideways game & directional backing (discussed in previous posts). They made it possible for Guinness & I to do as well as we did.

Here is this year's list of obstacles:
1. ground tie
2. walk in-hand then trot in-hand
3. join up & walk (no lead)
4. mount and be measured
5. sprinkler
6. rope gate
7. creek crossing #1
8. deadfall
9. 360 turn on tarp in box
10. back into stanchion
11. jump hay bales
12. weave cones
13. ground poles
14. bag drag
15. 3 gaits around roundbale
16. mailbox
17. back thru L (gate panels)
18. back thru 2 barrels, around 3rd barrel, back thru 2 barrels
19. large flag carry
20. creek crossing #2
21. back up steep incline
22. send onto trailer

Our two lowest scores were for turning a 360 & jumping the hay bales.

We had a very fun weekend and even stayed over the night before the competition, after helping to set up obstacles. Guinness met another Rocky, Lakota (age 5), and they became fast friends in the field - but surprisingly, didn't call to each other when with their humans.

We even cantered around quite a bit from place to place. Now that I know that Guinness isn't inclined to run off with me, I'm able to relax and enjoy it.

I can't wait until the trail classes at the Fair!

PS - Guinness had no right-brained moments, it was LB all the way.

The Optimistic Horse

I started writing this post several days ago, as I started reading the book, "The Optimistic Child" by Martin Seligman, and was overwhelmed by what I read and how it fits into what I'm living & learning right now!

Here are a few excepts from the book (paraphrased by me):

In 1964, Seligman decided to study experimental psych in a lab run by Richard Soloman. The grad students there were trying to find out how fear energized adaptive behavior. To do this, they would pair an electric shock with a signal [neurons that fire together, wire together] and then put them in a chamber in which running to the other side would turn off the shock. To the dismay of the grad students, the dogs just sat passively without moving. This phenomenon has come to be known as "learned helplessness" - the pattern of giving up without trying.

Learned helplessness requires learning the concept that "nothing I do matters" and is evidence that animals can think in abstractions. Learned helplessness looks very much like depression in both animals and humans. It can be cured by teaching animals (people too!) that their actions have direct effects, and can be prevented by providing experience with mastery and success.

The trick is to teach an animal that they could control a situation by taking action, before they have experience with inescapable shock. These "immunized" (against learned helplessness) animals never gave into helplessness, and when they later got inescapable shock, they did NOT become passive.

Masterful action is the crucible in which optimism is forged. The opposite message is "When things don't go as you want, give up and let someone else rescue you." Rather, strive to encourage perseverance and active problem solving.

Marker/reward based training (such as Clicker Training) is especially useful for empowering many types of animals - from chickens to horses to whales!

Two other awesome books that I've recently read that also expound upon these ideas:

The Brain that Changes Itself

Animals Make Us Human

I'm certainly not done with this exploration, but I wanted to go on and post this.

I'm feeling the happiest that I have in years and I'm certain that it is due to the sudden progress in both my horse & work life. Although my house is still a pit, I'm no longer feeling stuck. : -)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thank you, Linda!

Here is a link to a recent blog post by Linda Parelli addressing many of the questions that I've been asking myself. I'm going to print it out and read it over and over!

I also eagerly follow Fran's (the student) blog:


Thursday, July 22, 2010

RB at the river..

Today, Alyssa and I took Delilah & Guinness down to the river. She came to pick us up with her Brenderup trailer and new truck and we hauled over together, which took about an hour.

When we got on the trail, Guinness picked up on Delilah's nerves and was acting pretty goosey, but settled down pretty well once we got moving. We did lots of slow cantering in an attempt to keep up with Delilah's trot. I believe that was the most cantering I've done since high school!

Afterward, we decided to go play in the river to cool off. When we got down to the boat ramp there were kids swimming and a beached pontoon boat. Guinness bravely went up to his chest into the river and enjoyed some PB crackers while wading.

Then, I tried to encourage him to come in further (after all, Delilah was happily SWIMMING by then - her first time) and he dug in his heels. I pushed him more and he started going backward! Straight into dangerous stuff. Agh! (I have bad history with this with another horse.) I moved him sideways and then backed him into water to his knees and stood there a while.

Afterward, we walked back to the trailer and I tied him up while we packed up and changed clothes. Even after a little time had passed, he was still bracey with tight lips. I decided to go ahead and load him onto the trailer where he could chill and eat hay. He walked right on and then I tied him. As I was walking around to put up the butt bar, he barreled backward yanking on his rope halter and lead rope. He got far enough out for his rear to fall off the side of the ramp and there he stood stretched all the way, so that his halter was almost over his nose. Not good. I stuck my head in the front of the trailer and signaled for him to step forward. He stared a moment, then took a big leap back onto the trailer. Alyssa went around the back to put up the butt bar. I crawled into the space in front of him to sit and hang out. I gave him carrots and soft rubs but it took him about 10 minutes to take a big breath and to relax enough to eat hay. Whew..

Freeze frame. Rewind. What happened here??

In hind sight, I can see that I'd under-appreciated how different this outing was from others, and how I'd blown through several of his thresholds. :-(

First off, the reason that I can get away with basically throwing him onto his trailer to go places is that we have a clear routine & he knows what to expect: I move the trailer into position, then I call G. over, I halter him. I let him out to graze as I wrap his legs. Then I send him onto the trailer alone to eat his breakfast. I finish up feeding the others and do a last minute check, and then we get on our way. I deliberately don't vary this routine much.

This morning, Alyssa pulled up with her mare on board. First I fed Guinness, then haltered him and pretty much loaded him right onto her trailer next to Delilah (this was the 3rd time he'd been on that trailer with her). We quickly finished packing and hit the road. There was a fair amount of bouncing around as we drove to the river. Delilah was making mean mare noises at Guinness and he responded by hopping up with his rear end. (I don't know if he was provoking her..)

Once we got there, I led him aways as usual, then mounted up. As I said, he picked up on Delilah's nerves, and was unusual jumpy even though he had been on that trail twice before.

When we got back to the river, I got too direct-line and pushed him too much. I assumed that he was in foot-dragging LB mood, but he was apparently really going RB. (Even at the time, I remarked that he looked like my safety-conscious kid at the edge of the diving board!) When I nagged him too much, he blew through my porcupine by going backward into a potentially dangerous situation.

Then I stuck him onto the trailer where he attempted the same tactic, however, instead of tying him with a tie ring with some play, I had tied him with a fixed knot. That must have freaked him out. I am so fortunate that he didn't "win" by breaking his lead and taking himself off of the trailer. (Or hurt himself since I hadn't wrapped his legs due to faith in the design of the trailer.) This would have set a very bad precedent! Instead, he connected with me and was able to respond to my hand signal to come forward. This took the pressure off of his halter. When he eventually relaxed, I was there with him hanging out.. All is well that ends well, or so I hoped.

Getting home was uneventful and he was happy to be turned out with his gelding buddies. (Boy, was that halter knot tight!) Later in the evening, after his dinner, he was content to hang out with me, so I must not have totally butchered our relationship.

In the future, I will try harder to stick with our loading and hauling routine when I need to rush him. And the next time that we approach a large body of water, I promise to give him a huge amount of dwell time and will be happy if he only goes in up to his knees.

Boy is it easy for me to miss that moment when he shifts from LBI to RBI. I seem to only notice when he blows up. I'm going to strive to routinely ask myself "could he be feeling unconfident?" whenever he gets too quiet and compliant, AND also when he starts to drag his feet!

Good leadership is hard work, and I'm obviously not quite there yet.

Body Control

Last Sunday (yes, it has taken this long for me to write this up!), Guinness & I met up with three friends at a local arena. Instead of videoing one lady for an assessment, as we'd planned, we decided to set up a little trail obstacle course.

We took turns trying each obstacle and coaching each other. One big hint that I got helped G & me a ton with directional backing: move the shoulders to get into position and don't disengage the hindquarters. Alyssa reminded me that in backing, the weight is on the HQ and to disengage the HQ you'd have to put weight on the forehand. Instead, I should square my shoulders in the direction that I want Guinness' to go, and then lift the forehand and direct it sideways a step. Then back a step. Then redirect the shoulders. Then back. Repeat as needed. Worked like a charm!

We also played a little with helping Guinness to find and maintain a particular gait. Alyssa hopped up on him (a first) and commented "he sure is a short horse!" meaning that he has way more whoa than go - it isn't just me! She practiced a little with moving her hips certain ways to help him to figure out what she wanted and you could really see a difference in the way he moved.

I got her to explain what she was doing and here is how I understood it:

- to bring up life, "stack your vertebrae," then tense your abs & butt ("hold a quarter") and perhaps kegels too! Get tall.

- to trot, move hips like you are climbing a hill on a bike or doing a little belly dancing figure 8! Loose pelvis, but not floppy, with a fair amount of up and down motion.

- to pace, it is more of a flat, skating motion with hips.

- to back, skate backward with hips.

- to get a lead while cantering, shift my weight to my outside hip and lift inside hand.

And finally, Guinness stood on a small pedestal with all four feet - MOUNTED! :-)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And the answer is.. Sideways!

This evening, I headed outside to play with Guinness with the goal of preparing for the trail competition this weekend. Specific skills that we need to improve include directional backing and sideways - especially over objects.

Over the past few weeks, Guinness has really gotten the hang of moving sideways. We started off in-hand with me cuing him from the side with me facing the same direction as him in a sort of Porcupine game. (About this time I began to put this to a purpose by positioning him to open and close a gate, as a simulation for this task mounted.) Then I moved to the front of him (driving) while blocking his forward motion with my body. Next, I asked him to move straight sideways as I approached him from the side, with his forward motion blocked by a fence. After that came sideways without a fence using my very strong focus and approaching him from the side with a "choo-choo" motion with my arms.

As we progressed, we began to play with this while mounted. We started by briskly walking along a fence and then me asking him to rapidly yield his hindquarters in the direction of travel. This caused him to naturally take a few steps sideways. Next, I donned "prince of wales" spurs (short & blunt) to make my cues clearer as we moved along a fence. Then we tackled opening & closing gates - no problem due to our unmounted practice! (Just another pattern to be learned.)

This evening, I put a rope around his middle and asked him to move toward me a step or two. It took him sorting through all of the possible options before he stumbled upon the answer and was rewarded. His biggest issue with this was wanting to move forward or to turn toward me, but he finally figured it out in both directions.

Next, we moved out of the roundpen and played on-line in the small field with lots of obstacles. I would take him to an object and wait a moment while he anticipated what I would ask him to do (his first idea was almost always to put his foot on it). I tried to mix it up but the correct answer was, 3 out of 4 times, you guessed it - sideways! The thing that kept him on his toes was that I asked for sideways in as many different ways and positions that I could.

This really became a game for him and he was excited that he could successfully figure out the riddles to earn the reward. I could totally see the "wheels" turning in his brain. :-) By the end of the session, his first answer was to offer sideways!

I was hoping to progress into mounted practice this evening, but it felt like too much to ask (plus I was running out of treats). Instead, we moved into the roundpen, leaving the gates open. At liberty, he gave me 3 good laps clockwise! For that he won his entire dinner.

One other thing that we played with today was holding his head down and shaking it. It started out this morning with me realizing from the look on his face that he had something down in his ear. He would shake his head and partially dislodge it, and then I would feel for it and inadvertently push it back into his ear.. I realized that I could trigger the head shaking by putting a couple of drops of water into his other ear (previously suggested by my vet to dislodge a choke). When he shook his head, I clicked & treated. Later, I could cue it by touching his ear. I'll have to figure out a good final cue to morph this into.

Tomorrow, I'll aim to start him with sideways on the ground and to follow up with sideways mounted.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Musings

In cleaning off my dresser this morning (a highly infrequent event) I discovered some notes from months ago about this same topic (discussed in the previous two posts and comments - please read!). These ideas really have been rattling around in my head for awhile..

The big questions seem to be:
  • "What makes a good leader (from a horse's perspective) and why is it important to the horse?"
  • "What would good leadership from a human look like?" (My guess is Pat Parelli - not to suck up too much..)
  • "What constitutes respect?" (Both from and for the horse.)

Tenley currently has the Gallop to Freedom book in her possession and promises to research their take on the relationship of physical force to leadership. However, as she pointed out to me, they are creating art from the horse's performances and may not be set out to achieve a particular goal with their stallions. But then, doesn't that come back to the old debate about putting goals before principles/principles before goals? And whose goals are they anyway?

So here are my notes from before and I'll try to make heads or tails I've written:

Dominance = insistence on the outcome of another's decision
Human dominance without 2-way communication tends to trigger horses to go right-brain.
Dominance with 2-way communication = left-brain, decision making response ("do I comply or not?" "What's in it for me?")

2 way communication + motivation/incentive
From a horse's perspective, humans are either dominant or subordinant - as herd animals, they need to know where they stand. This prevents choas when the herd is confronted with a crises. *They work it out LB for use in RB situations.* This knowledge = Security in the herd hierarchy.

Security (from a horse's perspective) = 2-way communication + incentive + dominance + dependability. (Communication + dominance = its own incentive: Safety "relax, someone else is making the decisions")

Leadership = Energy (phases/follow-thru) + Intention (communication, focus) = trust/dependability. The more effective the leadership, the less testing of it.

Leader = communication + incentive (safety, rewards, etc.) + dominance + dependability (dominance + dependability = Phases)

Characteristics of a Leader: communicator (listening + conveying meaning), motivator, enforcer (firm but fair), emotionally fit (trustworthy/predictable/dependable/win-win), good judgment

What makes a horse want to follow human leadership?
  • good ideas with positive outcomes (from the horse's perspective)
  • getting through RB crises together (camaraderie, track record) - set it up for success!
  • relationship
Leadership is NOT "Do what I say or else I will attack you!"

Leadership IS "You do what I say and you will feel better" (no dissonance)

"You do" = dominance
"what I say" = communication
"and you will feel better" = incentive
successful outcomes yield trust/dependability

You must demonstrate to a LB horse that, above all, you always have his best interests at heart. Trust is easy to lose, but hard to gain!!

Responsibilities of a Leader (through a horse's eyes):
  • have a plan
  • act predictably and logically - no punishment or tantrums
  • mean what you say (suggest, ask, tell, promise)
  • keep my needs always in mind
  • answer my questions
  • show me how
So what then is Respect from a horse?
Premeditated compliance. This is based on the LB working out of Leadership through 2-way communication + incentives that the horse values + clear, progressive phases.

Oh. Hmm. Premeditated compliance.

Please comment!

Future questions:

Can one be both a "partner" and a "leader"? Can these roles be flexible? (Think marriage.) In reality, a horse is sometimes the leader in a relationship. This isn't always bad - consider the wise old school horse and the little child or the emotional lady and her stoic horse..

What do these terms mean to a horse? (Give detailed concrete examples.)

What is meant by "love" "language" and "leadership"?
Love - unconditional, positive regard ?, physical affection?
Language - a method of 2-way communication
Leadership - see above?!