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?!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tools for Partnership?

(This blog is a continuation of the comments from the previous post - Driving Guinness.)

The founders of Cavalia have written a book that apparently delves deeply into this discussion. Click on the photo of the cover of the book to be taken to Amazon where you can search inside the book. Click on Interview to listen to an interview with the authors from NPR. Click on Excerpt to read more about them. Click on Article to read more about their "Six Golden Principles" of playing with horses.


Force versus psychological manipulation as tools for communication.. Fear versus respect - is it almost the same thing, except that the response of someone respected can be controlled by one's own behavior?

What happens when my horse that isn't afraid of me, but also doesn't have any intent to do me harm? What if he only balks when he is questioning my judgment or is conserving his energy - often a prudent tactic in a natural environment? (My other partner - my husband - also exhibits very similar behavior!)

The funny thing is that I'm in the very same quandary about my pre-teen son. I'd almost come to the conclusion that I'd raised him incorrectly. That if I'd only corrected him physically (phase 4) at an early age, he would be more compliant & obedient now.. It is too late now because he is getting bigger than I am (not to mention the legal issues)! Perhaps an underlying element of fear is a good thing? After all, the world is a dangerous place..?

If a horse (or kid) isn't afraid then why would they choose to do what you/I want them to do? Could the answer be "because I have good ideas/answers"? But how would they learn that my answers are good without experiencing the consequences of their own poor decisions?

There may truly be a time in a child's life when force is necessary to keep them safe. When they are too young to face the consequences of their own decisions. But as they mature, we as parents are supposed to move into more of a supportive guidance counselor-type role.

So what about our horses? According to Temple Grandin, we infantalize our pets through selective breeding and by preventing them from acting as mature, adult, fully-functional animals. Do we do this to our horses in order to keep them dependent upon us? Maybe so. Isn't that what "domestication" is?

I've heard the opinion that if a horse doesn't "respect" you, then he is a danger to be around. In this case, "respect" really means "fear you enough to move when you tell him too." I may have that with Guinness. If I put a point on my intention and really bring up my energy, he will move. However, he is a very "short" horse meaning that his flight distance is small before he turns and faces and wants to investigate. He is also foolishly brave. He is not being disrespectful, it is the way that his brain is wired.

In PNH, and perhaps more so in clicker training, we encourage horses to think. However, it seems that once they begin thinking for themselves, and realizing that they have choices, we sometimes want to put the genie back into the box! We want them to think what we want them to think. We want them to be obedient. Isn't that also how we feel about teenagers in general?

There is something to the idea of meeting the horse as an equal adult creature with thoughts, feelings, opinions, and as much soul as we humans have. We humans tend to think that we are superior because we are masters of linear thinking. We devalue right-brain thinking (see the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). Our horses see the world in a different way than we do and this gives them a different perspective. Not inferior to ours. We have much to learn from them.

So, I don't know where this line of thinking goes. It has been rattling around inside of my head for awhile and I needed to write it down. Plus, I needed a place to link these amazing resources. ;-) Please feel free to post your thoughts!

Thanks for the inspiration, Tenley.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Driving Guinness

I was recently inspired by this quote from Keri's blog:

"I particularly wanted to play with Figure eights, another thing Mrs. Parelli talked about. She said that there are two ways to do Figure eights, as a driving game and as a circle game. Doing them as a circle game gives the horse more responsibility and causes the horse to fall in love with you being in neutral. Doing Figure eights as a driving game you are micro managing the horse to much."
I'm starting to consider the over-use of the driving game as though the horse is a passenger riding in a car being driven by someone else - he probably doesn't have his brain engaged enough to be able to repeat the task by himself, since he is being directed each step of the way. However, if he were in the proverbial driver's seat (ie; had the responsibility) he would have to think his way through the process.

Guinness strongly resists being driven. He will accept a cue to move away, but is only happy when he voluntarily moves. If I push him too much, he responds with "you can't make me move my feet" - just like he does with the other horses in the field. Then it turns into a dominance game and he has very thick skin. When I rely on driving him through a task, I think that his brain is too occupied with "how can I get out of this" for him to be really learning, even with lots of repetition.

I need to find types of Phase 4s other than getting more physical or big with him. Upping my intensity? Maybe little annoying things? Or perhaps even the idea of a "phase 4" (forcing him) is going the wrong way with him? Maybe I just need to give him enough space to solve each puzzle for himself (in order to earn a reward) without me pushing him? When he asks a question, I could give him some guidance.

Light Bulb Moment: This works with kids too. And with anyone needing to learn a task. When a student is in charge of finding their way, they learn more. I'd bet that is why the PNH instructors have changed their teaching approach from taking over from the student and showing them how to do things, and more to acting as a resource for students as they explore new skills. How interesting..

Isn't this also the way that the best old-time horse trainers passed information on to their students? Allowing them to learn from their mistakes and to find their own answers? Maybe they were using the same techniques on both horses and humans?

I'm not talking about "defending my space" here. Just methods for teaching a task and/or getting results. I guess those can be two different things..

Please feel free to comment. I'm trying to sort this out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Playing with Dinner

I've come to realize that it is time to balance out all of the recent excursions with some one-on-one play time at home together.

Yesterday evening, at feeding time, Guinness' dominance rearing popped up again (while demanding food). I promptly sent him out of the barn, measured his meal into a plastic bag, then headed to the roundpen. It took him a few minutes to let go of the idea that I was NOT going to feed him in the barn, and then he followed me to the roundpen. There, we played the Circling Game. (Rules: I send him and he goes until I ask him to come back in. If he comes in prematurely, he gets 1 stroke on the nose then I back him and send him again. If he comes in when I ask, he gets a treat.) When he got up to 4 laps around with no corrections, he earned his entire dinner. Big attitude adjustment from him, with very little work for me! I allowed him to make his own decisions, but then rewarded only the correct ones.

This evening, I proactively measured out his meal and headed to the roundpen. The horses all stood in the run-in and stared out at me in the roundpen. I gestured at Guinness to come to me, but he obstinately stood next to his food bucket. I went and locked up the chickens and then returned to the roundpen and sat on the mounting block - totally ignoring the horses. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes (at least it seemed like it!) Guinness walked briskly to the roundpen gate, staring at me intently. I looked up, brightly smiled at him, then offered him an alfalfa cube.

He eagerly entered the roundpen and I scratched him. Then we played some yo-yo and sideways at liberty. Then I sent him and we played circling game. I brought him in at 2 laps and gave him a treat. At four laps to the left with no corrections, he earned dinner.

One thing that I'm noticing is that he has a strong preference for circling counterclockwise. Often, he will start out to the right and then bend around and go to the left. I'm not being particular about anything except that he send in the correct direction and then keep walking 'till I ask him to come in. (I just looked back at an old blog post from May 2009 where he is clearly demonstrating the same preference.)

He really seemed to understand the point of the game this evening, so tomorrow I will split his ration and wait for 5 laps counterclockwise and perhaps 2 laps clockwise.

We also played a little with Figure 8 at liberty. Not so great. He does well heading around the cone to my right (bending right), but then collapses and tries to walk over the cone to my left. If I ask him to go wider, he sidepasses and then stops. I'm not sure what is up with that, but will perhaps get Alyssa to observe us this weekend for some ideas.

I wonder if he is having trouble shifting his ribs to the right? I'm going to have a chiropractor friend come over to check him out, just in case. (Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa!)

PS - I played with him in the roundpen again the next evening. He has totally got the Circling Game counterclockwise (5 laps, no problem). We even played a game where he circled counterclockwise around me and also around a cone, and whenever he passed the cone I drew him to me (at liberty). However, it was all I could do to convince him to circle me clockwise. Eventually, he offered 1 1/2 laps, so I rewarded him with his entire dinner.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Statement of Purpose

Hi readers -

This evening's trail obstacle group lesson has been postponed due to rain. I admit that I'm relieved. I've just started a new job and it is impacting my horse time. (That is one reason that I've been scrambling to do as much as possible with G. lately, while I still could!)

I'd just like to take a moment to clarify my purposes in writing this blog:

#1, it is foremost a scrapbook of Guinness' and my early relationship. My memory is terrible, and I'm afraid that I will forget these formative experiences (as I'm in danger of forgetting my son's entire childhood)! I hope to keep Guinness forever, and this may be the only time in my life that I have an opportunity to shape a youngster like him.

#2, it reminds me of how much progress we've made together and keeps me appreciative of all that he offers me. This is so very different from my relationship with my previous horses and I'm endlessly grateful.

#3, it is a record of my ephiphanies, BFOs, and other insights that I'm sure to forget unless I write them down immediately.

#4, I've discovered that I love to write and to share information (and sadly, to reread my own blog posts). ;-)

I realize that I may come across as gushing/bragging about my horse all of the time. This isn't my intention, and I hope to be truthful and forthright when we have troubles. Honestly, not much has been cropping up lately.. (Once again, this is a huge change from my past experiences.)

My partnership with Guinness has finally allowed me to move beyond the huge L2 rut (preceded by L1 limbo) that I'd been in for a total of about 6 years. Hurrah! We are at the point where we are learning together and I'm having to scramble to keep up with him. I'm ecstatic.

Finally, I want to send out a huge THANK YOU!! to all of the author's of the other blogs that I follow (please see the partial list on the sidebar down the right side of my blog). Along with the Levels and Savvy Club DVDs, you guys are my primary source of information and inspiration!!

Savvy On!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Riding at Lanier's

Last Sunday, Guinness & I took an impromptu trip back to Lanier's place for a trail ride with Jennifer and Marge. (See my previous post "If I won the lottery.." for more about Lanier and his ranch.)

I somehow neglected to mention in my previous post that there is also a glider runway on Lanier's property. Anyway, it was pretty busy while we were there. Guinness has now officially been desensitized to low-flying gliders, as well as to boats!

(Here is a photo of Guinness' reaction to the glider and drag plane.)

We had a relaxed and easy-going ride with our friends. And it was great to meet up with Lanier at the end of our visit, as he was helping to load our friend's mule. What a cool guy. (Age 80? & L4 PNH student)

Other milestones during this excursion:
  • Guinness whinnied to me as I jogged away from him in the arena
  • He sidepassed to the right several steps at liberty, with me driving him from the side, no rail!
  • He performed his first spin (clockwise) while at liberty
  • He almost flawlessly allowed me to open a gate while mounted (practicing this from the ground is the key!! And of course, cookies for patience..)
Tomorrow evening, we'll be headed to the trail obstacle group lesson - weather permitting. It is FINALLY raining here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More River Fun

Yesterday, two friends and I returned with our horses to the river to swim! Before we hit the water, we rode about 6 miles along a flat converted rails-to-trail.

We had a fun day. Neither of my friend's horses had been swimming before, but both took to the water like hippopotamuses ("river horses")! Guinness went in deeper than last time, but was nowhere near as enthusiastic as the two mares who splashed & wallowed. We pulled out earlier than planned due to a flotilla of canoes needing to use the boat ramp - talk about a weird thing to desensitize your horse to..

  • 2nd time mounting Guinness from the ground (the saddle stayed straight)!
  • short canters along the trail
  • sidepassed both directions along trail

Needs work:
  • maintaining a consistent gait
I'm going to find some time to play with him this weekend, and perhaps to ride at home (which I haven't done since I blogged about it 2 months ago). Other than that, our next engagement will be the final trail obstacle group lesson next Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Group Trail Obstacle Lesson #3

This evening, Guinness and I braved 94 degree heat to head over for our group trail obstacle lesson. In preparation for the haul, I opened all of the vents/windows in his trailer and gave him a bucket of Equitea (which he loves). Fortunately, it was 6:30 pm by the time that we arrived and it had cooled down substantially. He wasn't even sweaty getting off of the trailer.

We rode this evening in a halter and bareback pad (no spurs).

Our focus of late has been Sideways Game. We've been playing it mounted, unmounted (close & at a distance), with me out in front or beside him, and both as a Driving game and as a Porcupine game. It is finally sinking into his head and he is starting to offer it!

He cantered with me a bit in the arena this evening and Paula complemented his "elevation in front" which she says is atypical of gaited horses. He really rolls back onto his hindquarters and rounds his back, which makes him feel like a rocking horse. Plus, he seems to do this in slow motion. Since I'm pretty much a chicken about going fast, I have no complaints!

He was very proud to mount the pedestal with all four feet on his first try during this lesson (unmounted). And his directional backing is doing much better - I tried to pull less on his face and to use more rhythmic pressure for support and had way less resistance from him.

We also played with me standing up on his back (I can squat!) and sitting on him in all different positions.

No issues loading up and heading home in the dark.

I'm hoping to sneak back to the river for a swim with him this Thursday. :-)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day Parade 2010

horse-flag Pictures, Images and Photos

Yesterday, my little town celebrated Independence Day with a morning parade. This year, we received permission to park toward the end of the route in a small field. This was a huge improvement since it allowed us plenty of room to turn the trailers around and to play with our horses before & after that parade.

Since we were parked about a mile and a half from the line-up, we had the opportunity to lead our group of horses through town. This allowed them to get a good look at things before all of the spectators had lined the route. By the time that we arrived at the starting point (30 minutes later) most of our pre-parade jitters were gone!

Ours is a very small-town parade with probably more folks in the parade than watching it! The parade starts off each year with a lady riding her mare carrying an American flag. She was followed this year by a pony & cart. Guinness happily followed the cart (proving that his issues with the Morgans at the show last weekend were due to the vibes from the horses and not the carts). Five friends from the SWVA Natural Horsemanship Club followed us, including a mini-donkey ridden by a little girl. (Guinness did have to stop and stare at the donkey before he decided that it was ok!)

This was Guinness' first ride in a parade! The parade itself was pretty much uneventful. I was totally comfortable riding Guinness - surprisingly, no pangs of fear at all. I rode him in a halter with clip-on reins and a saddle, and had no trouble controlling him. We practiced side-passing in order to slow him down, and I discovered that he is much better sidepassing to the left than to the right. We'll have to play with this more..

Following the parade, we loaded up and headed with two friends over to our local forest recreation area. We did a short trail ride and then headed home.

* Happy Fourth of July! *