A few days ago I sent out an email to a number of PNH students in the area, introducing myself and letting them know that I am developing a Parelli-oriented place here. From that came a very enthusiastic reply from a lady northeast of me, named Nancy. We rapidly exchanged a few emails, the upshot of which was that Nancy invited me and Sara to her place yesterday, to play with her horses. That in itself was a very freindly gesture, but, oh, did I mention that she had 2* Parelli instructor Kime Conkright coming for the afternoon? When I spoke to Nancy on the phone last week, I said that we would love to audit the lesson. Well, we were welcome to do that, but "why not join in?" she said. And, oh, did I mention that Nancy insisted that this was HER TREAT! Aren't Parelli people great?
At first, I felt that this was too generous an offer, and was a little embarassed to accept, but then I thought of all the Parelli instruction I had paid for, for other people in the past, and decided that we are all just "paying it forward" and that it was just fine. Also, like Nancy, I usually did this so that my own horses had the chance to participate in instruction. Nancy has 13 horses and donkeys, so at the end of the day, she was thrilled when 5 horses had been played with, and 4 had been seen by Kime.
In the morning, after showing us around, Nancy, Sara and I played with horses. Nancy played with her lovely Arab gelding. He has been her levels horse but is nearing retirement now, with a few health issues. He is that really nice old fashioned type of Arab and a very sensible guy. Sara played with Zippy, and I chose Dancer. I am sorry that a) I never managed to take any photos, and b) I can't tell you anything about Sara and Nancy's play sessions. Dancer kept me too busy to think about anything else!!
Dancer is a Mustang mare. Although she was not bred in the wild, apparantly both her parents were Mustangs. It doesn't seem like she had a great start in life, and Nancy inherited her from a friend, but has had little time to do more than care for her. My first impressions of her were that she is really my kind of horse. Short, stocky and short backed, and extremely well put together. She has a beautiful feminine face and kind eyes. In her stall she kept busy eating her hay when I approached, and didn't want to acknowledge me. So while the others headed out to play, I spent just a few minutes helping her to choose to greet me and accept her halter, rather than just grabbing her. That was relatively easy, and she even helped me a bit by finding the right "hole" in the halter to put her nose in.
Outside, she was a little tense, but pretty okay with basic friendly game. Someone else playing a more extreme version nearby upset her a bit, though. I was able to touch her all over, with stick and hands and she was pretty light in her response to the porcupine and driving games. Yo-yo was good as well, and she had lots of very light draw - however, she also had a tendency to want to be within about 6 inches of me all the time, so no surprises there! As we moved further away from the barn and I started asking a little more, things would fall apart a little.
Most of the herd had been let into their stalls to eat hay while we played (I think to give us more room and "peace" outside) and Dancer obviously felt that the barn would be more comfortable than out in the field with just a couple of other horses. I tried obstacles and changes of direction and letting her move her feet, etc. as there was an obvious need to let her move and also to try to get her thinking. And, oh boy, could she move! She is a really athletic horse. Bounces, high stepping trots, some very collected canter, and once or twice a few steps of the beginnings of piaffe. No mental collection to go with it, unfortunately!
The high stepping resulted in her getting her leg over the line once or twice, and that was the only time she became really difficult to hold onto. The deal then was to run back to the barn, where she was willing enough to be caught. So while she could handle having her legs touched when she was standing still, feeling that one might be "caught" somehow in the rope while she was moving was scary. I didn't feel that I made much more progress with her in the session. She was feeling pretty "barn sour" and bracey.
However, when it was time to put them up and have lunch I felt I discovered something very worthwhile. As we headed back into the barn she wanted to rush a bit. So I thought, let's do a little work here. So we walked in the door and down the very wide aisle with lots of little halts, and she accepted these well, seeing that we were going her way, just taking our time! By the time we reached her stall she was nice and relaxed, so I decided to see whether I could back her in. Her actual gate wasn't terribly wide, and had a small rail that had to be stepped over. A bit challenging, but I knew that it was also very familiar to her and a place of comfort. We played with this for a bit. She let me line her up easily, but got stuck when her back feet hit the rail. After a few failed attempts, I led her in and then partway out, where we played with backing the front feet in and out. That was easy, but when we tried the back feet again, we still got stuck. Something then made me try backing her OUT of the stall and over the rail, and she gave an enormous try and figured out how to lift her back feet over this tiny rail!
I was so pleased that I had stuck with this, as I felt she recognised that she had succeeded, and also it had been our best and calmest communication of the day. Being in the environment where she felt comfortable had made all the difference. We all chatted a bit while Nancy sorted a few things out in the barn. Dancer was still firing questions at me when I left the barn!
In the afternoon, when Kime was with us, I played with Dancer again. Wow, what a great opportunity to get some help in dealing with her! Kime first suggested that I give her more rope. I had become a little worried about this because of the foot over thing, so I am reminded that I need to improve my rope skills, so that this doesn't happen! I have become a bit careless, because my own ponies aren't the least bit worried by ropes between or around their legs. Now I have some bad habits to undo. Another rope skill reminder was to slip and grip the rope rather than just grabbing, as that was much better for the feel Dancer was receiving on the rope. Again, I knew this, but it was great to be reminded and I had a lot of opportunity to practise it with Dancer, so maybe next time my muscle memory will "know" it, too!
As the lesson continued, I didn't feel that Dancer and I made a lot of progress. She had moments of calm, if I would stand beside her, but distance and movement just wound her up. However, she needs to work through this stuff. I was willing to accept that it wasn't all going to happen this day, though. She is a lot of horse, a lot of athletic, extraverted and unconfident horse. I was going to be happy if we both simply came out of it learning some positive things.
Toward the end of the lesson, Kime asked if she could play with Dancer. Heck, yes!! She started out, as I had also done, offering Dancer a falling leaf pattern, allowing her to move, but asking that she move on this pattern. However, while Dancer liked changing to the right, she didn't like going left. When she finally did, Kime let her continue on a left circle and try to "find halt" there. It took 5 or 10 minutes of play (not all on a left circle!) before Dancer volunteered to stop moving her feet. Even then, you could see it was a bit fragile, but she made it, and some obvious processing was going on. Kime pointed out that even though she nibbled grass a couple of times, this didn't mean the processing was finished.
Kime and I then sat talking about things for a couple of minutes and Dancer chose to come over to me. Kime said that this would be the perfect time to lead her back to the barn, with "no more lessons today" and so we quietly did just that.
Sara and I have been having an ongoing discussion about "true unconfidence" vs. "learned unconfident behaviour" and I asked Kime about that with reference to Dancer. She felt that the unconfidence was genuine, but that much of the behaviour probably was learned, too. A case of this behaviour works, allows me to avoid things, etc. The choice to run off, etc. was a left brained choice, but Dancer was not confident while she acted it out.
Kime also pointed out that if the horse isn't in a learning frame of mind, the things you think you are teaching it don't tend to "stick" and you find yourself going over the same ground again in the future. I think that to some extent both Dancer and I had ended up out of the learning zone and out in the scary wilderness, by trying to play in the big field, where she wasn't confident and I had concerns about losing her or her hurting herself tripping over the rope. I think she would benefit more from having her learning zone expanded a little more gradually if I get the chance to play with her again.