Saturday, February 27, 2010

Emotional Fitness

This afternoon, my friend invited me to come out with her to play with her two critters at her new boarding barn. Silly me - I imagined a relaxed time watching Alyssa play horsey. Not so!

My friend handed her sensitive LBE Arab mare's leadrope to me and instructed me to go play with her. So, I led Vannah into the arena, swapped out her 12' rope for a 22', and then pretty much burst into tears. Hmm..

I've noticed for awhile that I'm having leadership issues. I also have had pretty significant performance anxiety. Put them together and it apparently equals tears. Now, I wasn't thinking any particular thoughts to provoke this, I was just trying to gather my thoughts to get started. When the tears started, I actually started to giggle and to think, "How interesting.."

I've just finished reading the book, The Tao of Equus and listening to the audiobook, Be the Pack Leader. Both books stress the importance of emotional congruence when working with both people and animals. So, I didn't try to suppress my feelings. Instead, I took a moment to explore them with Alyssa and then to regroup.

In a nutshell, I feel powerless and ineffective when working on a 22' line. Plus, I feel awkward when playing with someone else's experienced horse for fear that I'll annoy the horse with my clumsiness. I feel as though I'm in a fog whenever knowledgeable PNH folks watch me. (Forget ever auditioning for Pat!!)

It boils down the that fact that I've spent 6+ years *studying* Parelli Natural Horsemanship and during all that time, roughly the equivalent of 6 months of applied daily practice. I was in "Level 1 Limbo" for no kidding about 3 years.. (The red L1.) As an innate LBI, in all that time I've done way too much "thinking" and not enough time "moving my feet."

I now have the opportunity to move through the discomfort of "conscious incompetence." With all of my theoretical knowledge, I'm highly critical of my own performance. But, I now have a plan for a series of future play sessions:

Using the tool of "isolate, separate & recombine" I am going to turn over planning and direction to her, while I focus on refining my cues & body language. My friend's horse is playing somewhere in L3 Online and will give me clear feedback whenever I miss the mark. This will also allow me to work through my performance issues in a safe environment.

All I can think is, thank goodness that this has come up NOW, while I have time to deal with it before the Carol Coppinger clinic in May. Conscious competence, here I come!

Friday, February 26, 2010

4th Riding Session

Well, honestly, last Tuesday's practice session was a bomb.. Fortunately, I've read enough other people's blogs to realize that it happens to everyone sooner or later.

That evening, there were a total of 5 horses in the arena at once. One wasn't a part of the lesson - just schooling - as the rider loudly repremanded the horse every few strides. Of the other four, two riders hadn't ridden at all in several weeks.

I noticed when I first got Doc from his paddock that he was acting a bit squirrely and not connecting with me. Unfortunately, the number of horses around and time constraints weren't conducive to playing on the ground much before mounting up.

Our teacher had set up a pattern of ground poles for us to practice over (involving a circle). Since there were so many of us in the arena, we each took turns with the pattern, and spent the rest of the time in a small area.

I used this time to practice backing, flexing, a little sideways, etc. But, what Doc and I really needed was a period of time to move "our feet" without pressure in order to warm up and get in sync with each other.

In addition, I was feeling stiff in my lower back, and I'm sure that I didn't feel as comfortable or stable to Doc as I have previously.

Even though not as fufulling as previous sessions, I still learned a lot this time about the importance of "prior and proper preparation" for a successful outcome!

A PNH friend stopped by to watch the lesson. She gave me some great insights and I look forward to riding more with her in the near future. :-)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Morning

This morning, Guinness and I went for the walk the we intended for yesterday. This time, I didn't put the saddle on him. We left the paddock and explored the lower part of the woods. I was very pleased that he didn't call or respond as the other horses called to him.

On the way back up the driveway, we practiced leading with precision and "mirror me." He did pretty well considering that we haven't done much of this. He did resist the forward pressure on the halter slightly, but was willing to gait next to me on a loose lead.

However, his Porcupine Game seems to be broken! He would ignore my phase 1 & 2, and then respond to my phase 3 like, "how rude of you"! We'll definitely have to play with that more. His Driving Game was pretty good though. We practiced the HQ yield into FH yield patten, with legs crossing at the appropriate times.

It was fun. I didn't use treats however (since we didn't really play with any new behaviors), and as I was leaving, he was moping. I asked him to back up about 15 feet at Liberty and then to "smile" - then I gave him a cookie and he seemed satisfied. :-)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trail Horse

This afternoon, I did something really stupid with Guinness - and we lived! Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

Let me back up. Yesterday, the following was posted to the PNH Clicker email list, in response to a lady who was having some emotional issues with her mare. (The person was repeating advice that she had been given that really helped her):

1. The first thing she said to me was, "Tempo sounds like a horse who is not yet self-actualized". In other words, she is not yet able (maybe physically, maybe emotionally or maybe because I'm not allowing her or maybe all this and more) to be the horse she KNOWS she is supposed to be.

2. The second thing she said to me was, "Maybe Tempo is not able to be the horse you want her to be because you, yourself, have not decided what kind of horse you want her to be. If you are consistent about what you want her to be maybe she can finally find a way to become that for you."

For some reason these statements really hit home with me. Guinness isn't having any emotional issues, but I sure have been beating myself up irrationally about not having more "leadership" and failing to progress through L2 fast enough. Really, I suspect that the issue for me is more about my own LBI need for purpose. (I'm an RBE when on adrenaline, but LBI when not.)

Yesterday evening, I attended a lecture about NATRC's Competitive Trail program. It got me really fired up. I could totally see Guinness & myself riding off into the sunset (or more likely, the crack of dawn)! Our purpose is to trail ride.

This afternoon, I decided to head out to play with the horses in the 50 degree sunshine!! I was recently reminded of a method that I used to use consistently with Smokey & Bandit, but had sort of forgotten. I would take my grooming stuff and tools out to the middle of the roundpen and then invite a horse to be with me. When they accept, I offer to groom them, however if they get fidgety or mouthy, I send away and give them a task at Liberty. This is a stress-free way for both horse and human to transition into a play session.

So, I headed into the roundpen and Guinness immediately followed. He was in a snuggly, warm mood and I only sent him away a couple of times. After a bit, we started to get bored with the gushy snow-covered roundpen, so I decided to take him for a walk in the woods. He followed me at Liberty back to the barn to get his saddle.

Although he hasn't even seen a saddle since I last rode him in it 3 months ago, he was a champ about tacking up. I used his "park" cue to my advantage. It gives him a task and keeps him still. My intent was to give him practice wearing the saddle as we hiked the snowy trails.

We exited the pasture through a small side gate and his eyes lit up! He seemed to be saying, "Now that's what I've been waiting for!" After all, his last excursion away from his pasture was over 2 months ago and our last trail walk was on November 15th. He has been BORED.

He eagerly put me in Zone 5 and headed down the trail away from his buddies. I started to get offended, and then realized that we often hiked this way so he was doing what he thought that I expected. He wasn't pulling, even though we were only using a 12' rope to keep from dragging it through the snow.

Even with his buddies calling, he disregarded them and explored the trail. When we got to the back gate, he looked both ways and then offered to go UP THE MOUNTAIN rather than back to the pasture. I just had to laugh and try to keep up in the 2' smooshy snow.

I did my best, but had to stop for breath several times. Guinness looked disappointed each time we stopped and kept glancing up the trail. Eventually, out of sight of his buddies (but not out of earshot) we came upon a large boulder next to the path.

Here is where I was stupid:

A little voice in my head said, "Wouldn't it be easier on us both if you would just hop up? What could it hurt? The snow is deep and soft and you could leap off if anything went wrong.." Hmm.

I decided to ignore the facts that I wasn't wearing a helmet, the girth was as tight as it would go and slightly loose, I was wearing
snowboots, and that I haven't even sat on him in a few weeks. So, I hopped up on the boulder and asked him to come to pick me up. I swung over and realized that the stirrups were about 3" too long and that my toes could barely reach them. And, I totally forgot that no one knew where I was and that I didn't have my cell phone.. But did I get off? Nope.

Guinness was still very interested in walking up the mountain path through the snow, so off we went. He didn't seem at all wobbly, which was reassuring. I let my legs hang, and kept telling myself to breath and that I could leap off into the snow at any moment!

A bit further up the trail, he glanced back down toward the pasture so I encouraged him to turn about and proceed carefully down the path. I did shorten the reins to help him balance and to discourage him speeding up. He did gait for several steps (our first faster than a walk!) but slowed when I asked him to. I kept asking for one rein stops (punctuated by treats) just to be sure that we had brakes.

He willingly passed the back gate entrance into the pasture and kept following the tractor tire track thru the snow. At one point, I reached up to block a low branch and had a flashback of a serious accident a fellow rider had when reaching above his horse's head to snap a branch. However, G. didn't bat an eye. We walked a little bit further and I dismounted and led him around to our parking area.

I invited him to explore the driveway, but he indicated that he'd had enough so I untacked him and turned him back out. Everyone hung around for a while, but eventually only Cody was left so I grabbed a rubber curry and gave him scratches. Surprisingly, he is already shedding. Spring must be coming. :-)

I finished the day by taking a nap on the roundbale, in the sun, as the boys munched around me. It was glorious. What a day!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Riding Session #3

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling really down - probably due to the persistent snow (not to mention all of the Little Debbies I've been eating). I went to the gym in preparation for my riding session, and it really perked me up. I came home and changed into my cold-weather riding attire, had some tea, and then was raring to go! It was a good lesson in how transient moods can be.

Here are excerpts from my session. It is pretty much in chronological order. We improved as we practiced. One thing that really stands out is that I'm holding on to Doc's head too much! Since I was in an arena with other riders with differing agendas, I was concerned that I wouldn't have enough control without using two reins. I'll strive to resolve this next time.

Any constructive criticism would be *greatly* appreciated!

(I believe that maybe my toes stick out due to tight hip flexors?)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Ball

Yesterday afternoon, I loaded my iPod with happy songs and went out to play horsey. I decided to snag Smokey and walk him down to the big pasture. (Once again, they've been avoiding going down there since it snowed.)

I had him on the 45' but we used between 12'-22' reliably. It was good desensitization for him to see it dragging around in the snow - he took more than one hard look at it! I haven't played with Smokey in quite a while and overall I was pleased at how willing he was to do as I asked.

We did have a moment when Guinness & Cody galloped around him and then raced back up the hill to the barn. Smokey did a "bye, I'm out of here" move and I convinced him to yield his hiney instead. After than, he was sweet as a lamb with his head lowered. I released him part-way up the hill, since it was getting really hard for me to trudge up it with him (the drifts are pushing 3' high).

Once I returned to the barn, I spent some undemanding time with the horses as I located, uncovered, and rolled 2 barrels across the pasture and then out into our parking area. This got Guinness really curious and wanting to play. (He was fantasizing that he was herding me along with the barrel..)

I fetched Sierra's big blue ball from my basement and tossed it into the field. The photo above is him saying, "Look what I found!" And here is a little video of what he did with the ball. (I don't know why he tries to lay down on it.)

At the end of a long day.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Play

Yesterday, I suspect that Guinness had a wreck in the snow. He was galloping around like mad with Cody, and while I was looking for the video camera, something happened. When I looked again, he was standing still with lowered head and cocked back foot. When I went to check on him, he seemed hesitant to walk, but I couldn't really detect anything wrong in the snow..

This afternoon, my friend Dave (a Natural Balance farrier) stopped by. While he was here, we had him check Guinness for lameness. He said that G. looks fine now.. Whew!

With that good news, I was free to play with him for a little while before sunset. My friend Julie had suggested that I play my iPod for motivation during horse-time, so I put it on. I grabbed a halter, a 12' rope, a carrot stick and my 45' line and started walking toward the roundpen.

Guinness followed me inside and I tacked him up with the halter and 45'. Let me tell you something - the 45' line is PERFECT for playing in the snow. It is thin enough that it cuts through snowdrifts without getting heavy & wet. It will be my "tool of choice" as long as this white stuff remains on the ground!

Here's how it went:

Backing w. me standing still - sucky. He kept trying to get me to move my feet to force him to back up and at about 10 feet away, he'd leak out to one side or the other. In all fairness, 10 ft. is about as far away as we practice at Liberty during feeding time. And, it must take a lot of trust back up in about a foot of snow.

Circling - Once I backed him out a ways, his send was really good. We played "don't make me pick up the stick." First I would give him a sheep-dog-stare, and then I'd imagine tagging the spot where I didn't want him to be very hard with my string. At the stare he'd perk up, and then when I'd look at the spot behind his hiney, he'd leap forward. I rarely picked up the stick and he cantered a lap or so around at each go.

Changes of direction - These went well once as long as I was mindful of where the 45' line was coiled near my feet (since we weren't playing at the end of it).

Sideways - We played with me walking straight toward his side which differs from cueing him from in front of zone 1 or with me walking sideways myself in zone 3. He was pretty good considering we were also working within the curved roundpen. We definitely have lots of room for improvement.

Squeeze - I'd forgotten about playing the "squeeze between me & the fence, then turn and face and wait" game. I did it to death with Smokey, but don't remember doing it with Guinness. He could care less about the squeeze part, but the hide your hiney and wait part was hard for him. He kept leaking out behind me. No wonder we have trouble with the Figure 8 pattern!

Mounting - Yup, we did it. He parked right next to the mounting block, so I tied the 12' into reins and I climbed aboard nekk'd (him not me). My husband was standing right there for moral support. Guinness did try to chew on my feet multiple times. (No treats this session and he was probably objecting.) We walked around a bit and then I dismounted. Ended on a high note. :-)

PS - The music from the iPod worked wonders for my attitude. It totally kept me motivated and prevented direct-line thinking.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Planning for Progress

As Linda Parelli explained in her recent blog, "The best time to prepare is before you are with your horse, even the night before! Make your plan and mentally explore what could go wrong and what you would do about it. This is mental preparation. Then when you are with your horse, play out your plan - don't go in expecting to have problems or you cannot function as a leader. You have to go in with a plan of what you're going to accomplish with your horse today and do everything you can to set yourself and your horse up for success to achieve your goals."

I'm trying my best to apply this advice while I create a master plan for Guinness and my play sessions. I'm feeling a bit stuck and a little avoidant, so I'm taking the time now to explore our situation..

Goal: To play with the L1 Freestyle Patterns: Follow the Rail & Figure 8s.

Sticking point: Mounting Guinness - I haven't been doing it regularly..

Feelings of avoidance/apprehension due to my approaching a "threshold." (See my blog about an accident that I had a few years ago.) The reality is that Guinness has had very few adverse reactions to being mounted and even fewer to being ridden. We have utilized outside assistance in this, but I fear that I've become overly dependent upon having someone here to hold my hand. Also, I don't seem to have this fear once I trust that the horse isn't inclined to buck.

Plan: For my own head, use "approach & retreat" method around mounting Guinness. When feeding each evening, halter G and defend him as he eats. Once finished, tack him up and lead him to roundpen to play on the ground. When ready, practice mounting/dismounting (bareback, w. pad, with saddle, from mounting block, from rail, from ground).

Low lighting in roundpen - does this really matter? More of a hindrance to me than to the horse. Time - not much of a problem in the evening.

What could go wrong?:
"Guinness could buck me off and drag me by my foot."
Is this true? Yes, G. could unseat me.
Is this likely? No.
Preparation: Mentally rehearse the entire process! Then, using approach & retreat, practice this task 7 days in a row to build up our mutual trust. (I'm totally fine mounting Doc, the school horse.) Practice without bareback or with a pad (no stirrups) at first. Rehearse emergency dismounts. Be sure that my husband is keeping an eye out for me with a cell phone in hand..

"Guinness could bite me."
Is this true? Yes, but so what.
Is this likely? Not if I'm being considerate of his feelings.
Preparation: Lots of Friendly, cookies for when I'm accidentally rude. I need to continue to strengthen my own muscles so that my body is better balanced & controlled.

Once I'm regularly sitting on Guinness, it would just be a small leap to playing Follow the Rail in the roundpen. Figure 8 in the roundpen would be easy as well..

Another sticking point: Riding outside the roundpen in my field - another mental threshold for me!

Why?: When I first got Smokey, I would attempt to ride him in the little field behind my house (where he spends 95% of his time). At first I was confident, and he wasn't. Then I learned to be unconfident and stopped trying - even though he was improving! (Also, the horse that I rode in high school loved to run off with me across open spaces, but was trustworthy on trails.)

Interestingly, I'm totally confident about hauling somewhere else to ride. This is because:
- The horse acts less herdbound and relies more on me.
- I have friends to ride with & there is a plan of action.
- I have a "date" to ride vs. always having other obligations when at home.

Plan: In Blue L2 pack, (program guide 3, p. 37) Linda says, "Make a trail plan in your arena, pasture or back yard." What a liberating idea! Once I'm comfortable riding Guinness by myself in the roundpen, I'll open the "gates" and ride around the outside of the roundpen, along the rail, since the visual barrier of the rail gives me confidence. Then we can shift to riding along the perimeter of the small field (on a bluestone path that my husband created for me). Then we could ride from barrel to barrel, and other point-to-point in the field.

Also, to develop his confidence, I need to continue to practice leading Guinness along the path into the remote field and outside the field through the woods. Eventually, we should be able to alternate leading with riding. ;-)

Limitations: My anxiety. I need to take things step by step, on a daily basis, to redefine my own thresholds.

What could go wrong?:
"Guinness could buck me off."
Is this true? Yes.
Is this likely? No. With the exception of the accident with Parlay (when my foot got caught), I've successfully ridden many bucks. Plus, this isn't really Guinness' inclination. He doesn't spook easily and gives lots of warning.
Preparation: Develop confidence riding in the roundpen, and leading on trials, without boring Guinness into opposition.

"Guinness could run away with me and then fall down, or I'd fall off and hit my head."
Is this true? Yes.
Is this likely? Nope. If he did this it would be in a LB frame of mind. (He doesn't tend to run from things that spook him.) There would be warning and I could dismount and address the issue.
Preparation: Mentally rehearse a successful outcome. Take things slowly. Wear a helmet. Utilize our one rein stop. Practice emergency dismounts outside the roundpen. Practice one rein stops. Practice cantering & stopping a school horse! Take Guinness over to the local covered arena to ride. :-)

That is far enough to plan for now. Achieving these tasks would allow Guinness & I to be prepared for our upcoming lessons/clinics in April and May. We've got over 2 months to practice.

Effective leadership is about setting the situation us for a "win-win" outcome for both horse & human. It helps that I can now identify *myself* as a RBE "horsenality" when on adrenaline and a "LBI" when relaxed. When I'm in RBE mode, I need a plan and to be safe. When LBI, I need companionship and motivation. Guinness displays a balance of LBE/LBI characteristics. We are a good pair. When I'm RBE, he is unlikely to go RB too. (I go RB in response to my thoughts and very rarely over external situations.) And when I'm LB, I can find incentive for him and fun things for us to do.

Now I want to go outside to play in the snow!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Horse Pee!

The funniest thing happened a minute ago. I was out feeding the guys in the ongoing snowstorm and was topping off the water trough. I looked up and about 50 feet away from me, Smokey was stretched out to take a pee in the snow.

Well, my friend Diane C. always whistles Yankee Doodle as her horses pee.. This is to try to teach them to associate a cue for it, which would be very useful for encouraging your mount to relieve themselves during the vet check on an endurance ride. Anyway, over the past year, I've taken to whistling the theme from Andy Griffith while my guys pee, so I started up when I saw Smokey getting ready to go. ;-)

To my total surprise, Guinness eagerly emerged from the run-in shed right next to me, stared at me running water running into the trough, glanced at Smokey peeing and then stretched out to go too! I clicked him once he had a stream going, and kept whistling and clicking as he went.

When he finished, I ran into the run-in for alfalfa cube treats. He appeared to be very proud of himself.

How interesting!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The "Canter Dance"

Unfortunately, due to the new SNOW, this evening's riding session has been canceled. The good thing is that I now have the opportunity to catch up on my blog. ;-)

I haven't spent much time with the horses in the last few days due to the yucky weather - plus I'm taking the opportunity to "clear my clutter" (muck out my house) before I go to fetch my son back from his grandmother in FL.

Somehow, Guinness gave himself a big U-shaped gouge on the forehead about two days ago. He is wearing a (damp) fly mask around and it seems to be healing..

Anyway, I wanted to share with you guys the little "Canter Dance" that Parelli Play Group member Julie G. created to help herself develop muscle memory around asking for a canter departure. Julie is an advanced rider and regularly does dressage and eventing, however she is new to the application of PNH principles to riding and is committed to developing a solid foundation and not taking shortcuts. (The photo is of Julie and two of her horses.)

Using the blue L2 pack (DVD 7, Chap. 1: Leads and Simple Lead Changes) Julie came up with a walking sort of line dance set to a 8 beat tempo. It goes something like this: walk, walk, rein up (2 beats), trombone outside rein (2 beats), indirect rein/outside heel on/scootch hips toward inside. Repeat until your body knows without your mind micro-managing. This is also really helpful to practice while seated on a balance ball.

As Linda says, "set your horse up for the lead" by putting horse's ribs to inside "and then release into the canter." It is almost like asking for a little Sideways Game toward the inside of the circle. (She also recommends practicing this at the walk and trot.) There is even a simulation that she demonstrates with another student!

Somehow I've completely zoned-out on most of the Freestyle riding information in the Blue L2 pack. I think that I either skipped it or that it didn't sink in, since it wasn't relevant as long as I was focusing on Smokey (who won't even walk willingly forward after 7 years of L1/2 PNH - I've definitely been over my head with that fellow)!

Over the last week or so I've been reading another PNHer's entire blog (somehow I'd subscribed to it but wasn't getting the updates). She has been dealing with many of the same issues that I have been, but is one step ahead! (Cantering, respect, Pilates, etc.) Here is a link to some of her revelations about cantering: Lisa's Blog Thanks for your insights, Lisa!

Happy Cantering. :-)