Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Let's see if I can start this thing off again with a couple of happy stories. The first one doesn't start off sounding that happy. A few weeks ago something was bothering me about Iona. She looked really grumpy. In my usual busy-busy state it took a few days for the penny to drop that she wasn't actually grumpy, her ears were just wonky. She looked like a flop eared mule. "Oh, no" I thought, "she must have some kind of bugs or maybe an infection." Really bad news, as she is pretty funny about her ears - particularly the right one.

I know, I know - as a diligent Parelli student I should have been dealing with this! To be fair to myself, I have tried. Spent lots of time touching them with hands (okay 'til I get too invasive), carrot sticks (string okay, handle okay, tip okay, orange part NOT OKAY!!!!...unless your hand is touching the same part of the orange part that is touching her ear - go figure!) plastic bag/flag also seriously not okay. Spent over an hour on this with an instructor a few years ago, and it still wasn't okay. Aaaargh. So I just got on with life, y'know?

The day of reckoning was now upon me. Iona is a lovely pony and I love her dearly, but she is very dominant, and when she gets scared or simply doesn't want to accept something she can get defensive, pushy and dangerous in an up-close situation. However, now I really couldn't put this off. I was pretty sure it was only something like gnats, and anyway, there was no way I was going to inflict a vet on her, or her on a vet, for that matter! That seemed like a recipe for a fight or a setback.

The thing that was in our favour to sort this out, however, was the sheer amount of PNH we have under our belts as a partneship. I know about approach and retreat, and so does Iona. I know how to time the release when the horse pauses in it's resistance, and Iona has learned to look for and recognise that release. That was something that the Hold the Tongue task really taught us, and I am grateful for that task and the help I had from an instructor when I was struggling with it. Quitting when the horse gives a little is such a powerful teaching tool.

Day 1 - I kept Iona in a pen near the house, which she seems to enjoy, and went out for several sessions. I made a little progress, and think I avoided being too direct line, but I still felt a long way from actually getting my finger in her ear. She always managed to either evade me or got agressive. This was mostly trying to bite, and I must have dealt with it right - backing her up and also making her soften her ribs and pushing her shoulder away very firmly when she tried to barge at me. I began to see that she was only half serious, and I think she knew I saw it. That realisation might have been the biggest breakthrough of the day. It subtly changed my attitude, and Iona's response. I wish I could explain this part better, but it's probably more down to knowing the horse. I finished each session on a good note and hoped that I would be able to get into her ears before it turned into something really nasty. Poor girl, she looked really uncomfortable.

I spent some time thinking about how often Iona has turned out to be a bit of a paper tiger, as far as her agressive behaviour is concerned. I know that she has scared me more than once when she wasn't really serious. I know that this is an important piece of information that I need to hang onto!
Day 2 looked like being a bit easier, but I was struggling with the timing of my release. It wasn't easy to quit at the right moment, and only at the right moment, while she was throwing her head in the air one minute and swinging it like a baseball bat at me the next. I thought back to learning the Hold the Tongue task, where I was taught to hold onto the halter - not to control to movement of the head, but in order to make it easier to follow the movement.

The way Iona's halter fits, there is quite a bit of spare rope hanging from the knot, so I wrapped that around my hand. That worked great on the left side, and before I knew it I was in and out of her ear, just because I could stay with her when she moved, and release when she relaxed. She even discovered that it might feel nice getting a scratch way down in there. Okay, so the left ear was the easier one, anyway, but at least it was a start. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to get hold of the halter on the right side and got a bit stuck. Finished on a good note on the left ear and went away to think. Aha!! Tied a piece of heavy twine to the right side of her halter, and we got the right ear, too.

It wasn't long untl I could get her ears doctored after that, and did it a couple of times over the next days. The problem turned out to be a minor one, but I'm thinking about what I learned. Pat says "I never saw it take longer than 2 days." I could whine and say "But it took me 12 years!!" but actually it only took 2 days. Two days of having the right attitude, savvy, imagination, tools, taking the time, etc. Should I beat myself up for not having all those things in place before. Heck no!

The other happy story is a short one. I easily trailer loaded Iona several times recently from the fender. That means I just stood back by the fender and casually sent her in. No big deal.
It used to be a huge deal to get her in a trailer at all. Those days are mostly gone, I'm sure, but I sure was proud!


  1. Yeehaa Kris ;-)
    What a worry with Iona's ears, thanks for explaining all you did to help with tackling that. So glad she is okay.

    Good to have you back on the blog...missed you ;-)


  2. Hi Shells!

    I'm gonna try to keep this blog going now.

    Yes, it's funny, I'm thinking back to a private lesson I had maybe 3 years ago, where I asked the instructor to spend the entire afternoon working on (a) Iona's ear problem and (b) trailer loading. With the ear, I was just stuck, and I wasn't able to replicate what the instructor showed me, and even she was struggling in that time frame. Also, I ended up using a less provocative method, which worked for whatever reason.

    With the trailer - well, you know the ongoing saga I had for a long time with that!

    Both these problems will probably recur with Iona from time to time. I'm sure they are pretty well ingrained from years of me not having enough feel or timing - so they will always be easy defaults for her. That's why Pat says "A good start isn't something, it's everything." But we humans have to start somewhere, too...