Monday, March 29, 2010


How it's been going...
My recent sessions with Iona have not been brilliant. Rapport, Respect, Impulsion and Flexion have all been wobbly. I seem to break one component trying to fix another. I've been doing my best to do lots of different activities and spend undemanding time, and well as trying to progress tasks I would like to improve with her. So mostly the rapport is pretty good. She will often follow me around or volunteer to help with herd movement at liberty - stuff like that. I see her acting like a partner. But we are still snarled up with respect and impulsion, and so naturally some forms of flexion (like ribs) are not happening either.

Last week I got Mark to video me. I played with some circles (lots of grumpy faces, etc) and also did some riding. Just a basic session of Point to Point. When I asked for trot there was the usual kicking out and little bucks, etc. I have sent these to 5* instructor David Lichman, to see what input he will give me.

When I sat down to write him a note to send with the DVD I realised that my approach to PNH has always been about learning stuff to further my horsemanship skills. Perhaps I have prioritised this over actually focussing on Iona's journey. I'm so interested in experiencing every task and technique from every possible angle that I sometimes fail to consider how Iona feels about that, and hold back a more linear form of progress that we need as a team. That was a huge realisation! So now I need to make some adjustments to myself to get us out of this.

And then today...
We started with some Friendly Game with the "clippers" which was actually a battery powered shaver thingy of Mark's. Well, it buzzes and it's what I have. We've had a few sessions with this before. Very sporadic and haven't made a lot of progress. My observation is that she is not much more "afraid" of it whether it is turned on and buzzing or turned off. Iona just doesn't like small unfamiliar objects, and it's easy to increase her scepticism rather than decrease it, by making too big a deal out of it.

If I were to rate her "fear" on a 1-10 scale, I would say that today we started at a 2 or 3. Probably she was only a 5-6 or something at the first session. However, with Iona it's sometimes a case of  "I am sceptical. Why should I mess with that? If you ask me to then I will act agressive, or maybe shut down. I don't DO curiousity!" So it's difficult to get her to follow an object, for example. I have tried things like just leaving the shaver running beside the grooming kit while we groom or play, leaving it running beside a pile of hay. trying to play Touch It with it, rubbing her all over with it. It's often been difficult to find a good note to end on, however, the two or three sessions we've done have probably chipped away at the scepticism a little.

Today my intuition told me that a slightly more direct approach might work better. Denise was also watching us, and strangely, the fact that I was giving her a commentary on what I was doing and how I was reading Iona, actually helped my focus and assertiveness, and my flow. As usual, it was hard to get her to follow the shaver in my hand, even turned off. She just leans on the rope, so I had to keep turning and turning to unstick her feet. We weren't progressing. So I was bolder and just started rubbing her with it. As usual she's fine behind the drive line, but has trouble in front of it, especially along her crest or toward her poll and ears. This brought on some threatening me with her ribs and shoulder, but I just bumped her hard, with rhythm, in the ribs with my elbow until that softened.

At this point I was able to play approach and retreat with the areas of her neck she was okay with and expand them. She had some mildly RBI moments, but I felt that they were mild, and she wasn't going to explode, so I quietly hung in there until she would blink or breathe, and encouraged her to do things like lower her head. So the "retreat" was more like a change in my energy, rather than removing the stimulus. It worked, and I felt we made a lot of progress in a fairly short session.

We went out to the playground to do some circley things. I'm now pretty happy with the trot laps and trying to progress to more canter laps. How to make it her idea? I sent her out and she took off at a slow walk. So I decided to just leave her out there walking for quite a few laps. It doesn't require much effort from her, but there is no release/reward, either. Eventually, I asked her to trot a little, then canter a few strides and brought her in. We did that a couple of times. If it was good, I threw in a treat. Then we did a few transitions and changes of direction, but always ending with canter before I disengaged her. Her attitude was pretty positive and I was careful to look for a good canter with enthusiasm to finish with. I then unclipped the line and wandered over to help Denise with Dakota for a little while.

On the new Levels DVDs - in L2 there is a wonderful segment on 7 Games with an Obstacle, where Pat introduces the Figure 8 to a new horse. He starts with the horse just circling both markers; then he sends the horse out between the markers, but still just circles both; next he adds in a change of direction through the markers, but still it's just circling; then finally he moves from a circle to a couple of full Figure 8s and back to a circle. I knew Iona would love this, and she did. Of course, as soon as she saw the markers she started trying to do Figure 8. "I know this! I don't like it very much, either. Hey! What are you doing? Huh! You're messing it all up. I like it better this way. Look, I'm gonna do some proper ones now, okay?" It really blew her mind. She could see that I was being very particular about her going out and around those markers, but where was the Figure 8??? We really had a lot of FUN with this.

After another break we also tried mixing up Figure 8 and Weave, which is on the same DVD chapter. That wasn't as great, but I can see how it will help our success in another session.

By now I had the bareback pad on and took her out to a large odd shaped area of the pasture that is currently fenced off, to do Follow the Rail. It's 15 or 20 acres and has about 6 or 7 corners, so I figured it would be more stimulating than the playground. It also has some grass! Our last few FTR sessions have been all about bucking and throwing a tantrum. However, I decided that the bareback pad was a good choice anyway. I know I am "softer" in it, because I don't want to get chucked off! I did decide not to ride with my carrot stick, though, because if she's bucking and I'm trying to push and maybe steer or keep her head up, I just don't have enough hands. My plan was to make it a bit of a corners game, and just walk, then ask for trot shortly before each corner, then reward her with a rest. The first "side" was quite short, and she immediately saw my plan. (Smartie!) She liked the plan! Same with the next side. The third side was almost 1/4 mile long. Her impulsion was great, so I decided to play around with walk/trot/back-up transitions. No problem. We got to the 3rd corner with hardly a correction, in canter, not trot! The whole thing went like that. The only thing she wasn't up for was direct rein turns in trot. I'm pretty sure that she sensed that these would lead on to Bow Tie type simple changes in canter, which she has objected to lately. Today was not the day to pick a fight with her, when her impulsion was otherwise fabulous! If I can get the impulsion established more dependably, then we will re-establish picking up canter leads, I'm sure.

I hopped off, and we had quite a long walk back to the tack room door. I took the pad off and brushed her, gave her a drink. She just wanted to hang out there with me. I had a little sit down on a bench while she just stood by me. Eventually I suggested that I might turn her out. I don't think she really cared one way or the other.  

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Flying Changes?

It's been a busy few weeks since I last wrote anything. Petra's lesson series is up and running, and I think all the students are enjoying it. I will try to get some pictures of the action up, soon. We've continued to have quite a bit of mud and snow, so playtimes have been pretty limited. However, I have spent a lot of time watching the new Parelli Levels material, and taking notes, which are already proving a big help. I've got them in a little book, so that I can take them out with me and apply them.

Today I played with Iona all afternoon. We started with the inevitable circle laps. I still believe that these are going to prove to be a key that unlocks many good doors for us. I had 10 laps trot and 6 laps canter on my list, but I decided that if I could get the 10 laps trot, that would be a good session. We played in the large visitors' pen, which is where I usually put Iona when she's in - just to groom her and maybe let her eat hay. It's a funny shape, but at the widest part is big enough to circle on a 22' line. So it gives us a little support, but still gives her some areas to run away to (!!) so that she can express herself.

So my plan was to build up the laps, with rests and maybe some other tasks in between. 1, 2, 3, 5, then 10 laps. My notes from the new DVDs only go through Level 1 so far, but I've been throwing them into my play sessions just for self improvement, and to help new ideas stick. We started off with a little driving the FQ. That went okay, so I started the circles. Lots of running off at first, however, I was proud that I managed to hang on most of the time. She likes to run into the shed. Silly, because there are two poles in there which are just great for wrapping the rope around and disengaging her, etc. My L1 notes said "Horse leaning on halter - do HQ yield." So we did quite a bit of that, whether she was leaning, running off or just looking out on the circle. It's surprising just how long it took me to get that 1 lap each way! I let her rest, and sat down on a barrel and looked at my notes.

"Pressure motivates, the release teaches" they read. My gut instinct is that I need to use an effective phase 4, or she won't get motivated, and I won't get an opportunity to release and teach. She got pretty arguementative, pulling faces and kind of halfway charging at me on the send. I persevered and we finally made 2 really nice laps left. Gave her a treat and right came a little easier. I walked away again and read my notes some more.

"For the horse, with the horse, not to the horse." Well I figure I am doing it for her, trying to help her learn to hold up her responsibilities, etc. Not so sure about "with", though, and I'm sure it feels like "to" to her sometimes. That was probably a fair assessment, as when I sent her to do 3 laps she left immediately for the shed, yanking the rope from my hands hard. So I did some HQ yields, etc and smiled and sent her off again. She then did a lot of coming in and stopping. I just stayed firm and friendly and kept sending her again. When we got our 3 laps I asked for  a little bit of canter before I asked her in. The canter was very nice.  Read my notes.

"Recognise the slightest try." Well, I would look for a chance to do that. Naturally, she thought cantering was probably a pretty good idea now, so I thanked her for offering and reminded her to stay in trot. I got to thinking about some of Karen Rohlf's theories about having better self carriage in ourselves improving the horse's posture, and about visualising what you want your horse to look like, rather than settling for them just doing a sloppy trot. Interestingly, it seemed to make a difference right away. There was some slight leaning toward the gate and stuff, but it went better, and again I asked for a few strides of canter before we took a little break and went the other way. Now she was a little hyped. However, the thought of cantering improved her trot. She did offer it a few times, and I think my new version of "neutral posture with better self-carriage" had a little more energy which confused her a little. However, she then went into a beautiful, very engaged trot. Nice long strides and really picked herself up. She held that for several laps before I asked her in. I gave her lots of praise and treats, and what really surprised me was that she hardly licked and chewed at all. I think this may be because she really enjoyed those laps as much as I did. After that the 10 laps came pretty easy, and we were outta that pen!

I saddled her and we headed out to the playground. Something isn't great about how the saddle is fitting, though. The pad kept squirting out the front. A problem to be solved another day, though. We just readjusted a few times and lived with it. I put her on the 45' and we did some Figure 8s. The circle session did set us up for success, I think. She cantered pretty willingly, and if I'm not mistaken did one or two flying changes. I say that because her little legs go really fast, and her leads are not terrible pronounced, so it's very hard to spot in the moment, and hard to tell whether there was a quick trot stride in there somewhere, but I'm pretty sure she did it. The uncertainty made it a little anti-climactic, but I praised her and fed her treats and got off it!

Follow the Rail was a bucking session again, though. It's about wanting to go to the gate. The herd always seem to be hanging around when we do this, and I'm convinced that this is a factor, but so be it. Since I had a saddle, the bucking didn't really bother me, but it makes me sad. I did stick with it, and things improved a little. We got several nice right leads, which have been problematic again recently.  I ended on the best note I could, when we had at least done a full circuit of the playground in trot. However, what was missing was harmony and rhythm. I think when she is so under-impulsive I get a bit tight and desperate for her to just go. I don't quite understand why the groundwork doesn't improve the ridden stuff, We have been here before and I am tired of it. I need to find a way to make the ridden strategies more like the ones I used on the circle laps....

I unsaddled her and we had a little session in the roundpen. I probably shouldn't  have bothered as we were both a little tired. We just did walk/trot transitions and a few laps of each gait each way. It wasn't brilliant, but probably a better place to stop than after the riding. I'm not sure. She didn't seem in any hurry to leave either the roundpen or the playground, which surprised me. Looking back, I know that I forgot to carry some of the good stuff I learned in the On Line session into the Liberty. Next time!!