Monday, May 25, 2009

Visiting Nancy

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.


  1. WOW Kris,
    What an opportunity to play with such a horse, next time get a piccie so we can see how pretty a mustang she is. Hats off to you for going and playing with a strange horse, I find it quite a humbling experience and always makes me realise how cool my own horses are when going home so it's good in two ways.
    What a lovely lady Nancy've 'paid it forward' for many included so I'm so pleased in my soul that it's now your turn ;-)

  2. Hi Shelley!
    Nancy is a real star! I can see that she is also doing a lot to help Kime, which is great!

    Playing with Dancer WAS a great opportunity. I thought of you and that "untouchable" horse you worked with awhile back, although Dancer's issues are rather different. Although, Dancer could no doubt be dangerous in certain circumstances, I feel she really wants to like people. One great thing was that although she did like to be quite close, it was more like she thought I had a very small bubble, than not respecting my space at all. When I think about it, perhaps I did only have a very small bubble in my own mind. Hmmmm. At first I wondered whether she was going to barge or run into me out of fear/disrespect, but things never seemed to go that way. Interesting.


  3. Kris,

    It was certainly my privilege and pleasure to have you and Sara come up. It is always more fun when you are sharing with other Parelli folks. I would like to say one thing here as well - I think that you are being too critical of yourself with your interface with Dancer. She is a very smart little girl. Not confident yes, and still smart. She does know how to play some pretty complex "games" of her own and I do believe the whole leg over the rope stuff was another excuse to "be scared". And she has learned that if you act scared, people leave you alone, and she is unconfident in being scared - now that just sounds weird, I know. It is so interesting to see your horse with a different person. The disrespect that she shows me, is not what she showed you - how interesting.... I still say it has to do with the fact that she knew you are at a higher level of savvy than I am. She has barged into/past me and one time even knocked me into the dirt. (maybe I shouldn't admint that - it was before I passed level 1.)

    Also wanted to let you know that I took Zippy out to play yesterday afternoon and he was a different horse - it was so amazing - no leaving, no antics. I had a friend come over with her mare. She brought a friend of her's that was visiting from Philly. So I let the friend from Philly play with Alvin - my teacher, if you will. Zippy was very much interested in the very pretty paint mare that was there to visit - that was our biggest hurdle. Yes, I see her too, now let's put your nose on the stump. Everything started with, "yes, I see her too, now let's....." By the end of our time, he was doing the touch-it game all over the pasture - a lot of it had to do with me getting a laser focus.

    I'm going out to play with Dancer in about an hour or so. I will let you know how it goes. I'm sure it will be even more interesting as there will only be her and I, no other horses around at all.

    Again, you are too kind with your words and thank you. I look forward to coming to your place to play.

    Here we are - doing Parelli on the Plains - right?

    Be Natural,

  4. Well hello, Nancy! Fancy meeting you here.

    I am only being critical of myself because I want to be loads better for Dancer if I get to play with her again! I agree that she is a smart girl. Early in the play session, I would have said she was trying quite a few games, I think perhaps it is when they didn't work as she expected that she really began to lose confidence. The question is how to help her find it.

    Smart? My gelding used to intentionally throw his foreleg over the rope so that you couldn't control his head. It was lightning quick like a strike, and he was completely up front about what he was doing! Whereas Iona, if she gets fed up being long lined simply twirls around a couple of times and looks at me like "Oops! I guess we'll have to stop. I seem to be all tangled up..." It's amazing the plans they can come up with! Not sure that Dancer was up to anything like that, though.

    Glad you had a good session with Zippy! Let me know how you got on with Dancer.

    May the Plains Tribe increase!

  5. What a lovely account Kris, I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Hello Everyone!
    Sara here. Sunday was an amazing day for me! As you know I am always a little reserved when playing with other peoples horses and I also have alot of work to do on my own unconfidence issues but I know that will all come in time. If you like I thought maybe I would comment on my playtime with Zippy since Dancer kept you so busy that you missed Nancy and me.
    What a chalenging horse for me to play with as a level 1 student. In the morning session I played with Zippy and did some basic games trying to build my confidence and get a feel for what kind of a horse showed up. He had a very strong friendly game and accepted my touch everywhere. Then on to the porcupine game. Surprisingly he was much softer on the right side and quite bracy on the left. His driving and yo-yo games were pretty solid and then we came to the circling game. YIKES! Circling for Zippy throws him into some pretty right brained behavior and the more circles he does the worse he gets. At one point he threw his nose around and took off and I just let go. I would learn later thanks to Kime that this is one of his tricks and he has learned to push thru the pressure. With Kime's help in the afternoon session I managed to finally get ahold of his brain surprisingly thru his butt! Kime explained to me the difference between "true" disengagement of the hindquarters and just swingin your butt around. Once I had my AH HA! moment I was able to concentrate on getting him to crossover everytime he disengaged and what a difference it made! After awhile he even quit trying to push thru the pressure and leave and he became quite relaxed and left brained. Nancy was astounded!She couldn't believe how quickly he came down off of his right brained high with a simple disengagement of his hindend. I was so glad that I was able to help her learn from my experience. Kime told me later that with horses like Zippy you will never get to their brain thru their halter, only thru their butt! What a concept!
    Nancy, I want to thank you again for the wonderful learning experience you provided me through your graciousness! I was excited to read that when you played with Zippy the next time he was a totally different horse. I hope that in the future I will have an opportunity to work with you and Kime again.

  7. Fascinating to read your account Sara, and so cool to have had Kime there to help you all and in turn through this blog, US. Keep it coming, love reading good accounts of learning ;-)

  8. Sara -
    Thanks for that! I really wish I had had the chance to see more of what you and Nancy were doing. I've also been wishing that I could see a video of my session with Dancer. Of course it would be excruciating to watch all my own mistakes, but sooo interesting to be able to just read Dancer without having to manage her at the same time. Actually, once I get the camera thing sorted out, maybe that's something we could do for each other with our own horses.....

    We were really lucky to have the opportunity to play with these horses while Kime was there. And I'm glad you are getting some good stuff out of it, too, Shelley. Wish you were here to play with us!