Denise and I are still sorting through her fab photos of the clinic, and I hope to post some here, along with a further clinic report soon. But before I lose the feel of the weekend and the buzz of what I learned, I thought I would go ahead and write about my own perspective of the past few days.
The weeks ahead of the clinic were remarkably windy. Mark and I kept thinking that we would get started on the various jobs that needed to be done, plus we have our first weed problem of the year: mustard/flixweed to contend with, which meant I should really be out on that tractor mowing the stuff down before it goes to seed. I have done some mowing, and we did get the essential prep work done, but it felt more like a battle than a pleasure, and as I write this the wind is still blowing, the flixweed is still growing, and I am trying to remember what it's like to play with Iona.
The weekend had many personal highlights for me. Things I learned from Jerry, progress in new and old friendships and also seeing another milestone reached for Springvalley Farm with our first multi-day clinic. And I have to say - it's all been great!
Jenifer and Lily
As I wrote previously, I have been excited about finally making contact with Jenifer Morrissey, so I was over the moon when she decided to attend Jerry's Horsenality Clinic on Friday. Jenifer and Don arrived on Thursday night with Jenifer's mare, Lily. We had a nice evening together, in spite of there still being quite a few things left to do. They are both great company, and pitched in and helped while we talked, and the evening really helped to set me up for the weekend ahead.
Friday's clinic was awesome. Jerry started off by asking all of us to state our own horsenality! He then came up with a simple diagnostic tool for determining this which I found very powerful. Here it is:
When making decisions, introverts make them slowly and extraverts make them quickly. Basing decisions on facts is a left brained approach, basing them on feelings is a right brained approach.
Jerry used examples from his own life which really helped me to identify some issues in my own relationships both with horses and humans. One thing I realised is that many times we confuse feelings with facts (or at least I do!). Another thing I realised was that although I would generally classify myself as an introvert with both right and left brained tendencies, I have a lot of learned LBE behaviour, and this is particularly true in how I relate to horses. My energy is definitely higher than Iona's, which I know is a source of irritation to her. I hope that I can now figure out what to do with this realisation, which also explains why I find it so easy to blow more sensitive horses up, or create brace in horses.
Other notes from the classroom session were -
- a reminder to get in harmony with the horse first, then we can begin to ask them to get in harmony with us!
- The 5 areas of confidence: Self, Leader, Environment, Learning and Herd. I would say that that Iona is least confident with environment, followed by learning. However, it's possible that some of her bully behaviour in the herd could be lack of confidence - I don't know!)
We moved out to the playground with our horses, where Jerry asked us to play some games so he could get a look at everybody and he gave everyone some individual help as they needed it. My most memorable piece of learning from that session was the Quadrant Game. This is a version of the Circle Game for horses who already know the game but don't want to go forward. The deal is to give them a long phase one, but then you get to tag them as many times as possible within the first quarter of the circle only. It is very motivating. Of course it also motivated Iona to run off. Jerry's suggestion here was to go toward her hindquarters. I didn't really get to explore that strategy, as she didn't happen to run off again, but I will try to remember it!
Playing the Circle Game
We each had an individual session in the roundpen with Jerry. Iona wasn't sticking to me very well, and Jerry's tips were that I needed to be slower and less jerky, which made it much easier for her to stay with me, particularly on the turns. He reminded me to find her rhythm before trying to set one of my own. He played with her for awhile, and I noticed that he did a little more with the stick than I did. He explained that once he took his energy up and either forward or backward in an obvious way, that he wanted her to start moving, and if she didn't he would gently encourage her with the stick rather than leave without her. That was useful. I see that I was just walking off without her and then having to be more argumentative in the long run.
In the Roundpen
Stick to Me
He also emphasised the importance of what happens when you start a liberty session. Many humans will take the halter off, and then break the connection with the horse by walking away to where they want to put the halter and rope. This led on to some interesting topics about keeping and breaking the connection generally. For example, Jerry suggested that when breaking the connection (or leaving your horse) you walk from the head toward the tail with your nearest hand still in contact in a friendly way, rather than walk directly away from their head. This makes it more obvious that you no longer expect them to follow. He also talked about the importance of breaking the connection gracefully when turning a horse out. So doing something similar, and perhaps even taking the horse to the herd, rather than it running off toward the herd. No hard and fast rules here, but judge the situation so that everybody has a good feeling about it and you are well set up for next time being even better. He also pointed out that when you tie a horse up, in a way this maintains the connection while you are gone. "This is where I would like you to wait for me" sort of thing. I knew that, but couldn't have put it in words, and of course I see how it makes ground tying or teaching a horse to stand at it's place is a refinement of the same thing! Jerry called this keeping the conection by giving the horse a job, and used the example of how Pat will get Magic to go and stand on the pedestal while he is working with another horse.
I had what I think may turn out to be another big moment when Jerry said something about treating a horse the way they treat other horses. We were talking a lot about phases, as one of the themes of the weekend was Teach-Control-Reinforce-Refine and how this affects the use of phases. Jerry said something almost in passing about playing with a horse and noticing how he was very bossy in the herd, and using the same approach with him. At lunchtime I asked Jerry about this by asking about Bruce and Iona. Bruce has a long and subtle phase one, but the lower ranking herd members tend to be very attentive to him and move off his slightest glance. However, if they don't, he has a lightening quick and effective phase 4. Usually a bite! Iona, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have much in the way of phases. I think that I am right about this, because if she did, more horses would get out of her way in time, because she double-barrels them really hard! I have noticed that they do try to respect her space (even Bruce), but she is pretty calculated about setting herself up to get that kick in if she can.
As I write this, I don't see how it could possibly be fair to try to sneak into a position where I can just smack Iona, or what that would achieve. However, perhaps I should be really particular about my space, and see what that does for her respect. Hmmmmm. I also doubt (from experience) that I could hit her hard enough to simulate one of her kicks or that I would like myself if I did. But I think I will be looking for a more effective phase 4 again, and for better or worse, I have never really been afraid to use the stick on her. With Bruce, I suspect that making a sort of slow "I'm gonna get you" game out of things will be pretty ineffective if I don't also learn to at least follow it up with a really FAST phase 4, and make the "gonna get you" part more subtle, as the more he has to watch me to see if it is coming, the more interesting I will probably become!
An unmotivated moment
A motivating moment
A motivated moment
With all this talk of phase 4, I will just end with another important thought from Jerry, which was about setting the horse up well, so that it can at least achieve a small part of the task, so that you can reward it. I'm sure that for Iona I will continue to use food rewards quite a bit. I have taken David Lichman's statement to heart that she needs to see what's in it for her. However, I also have the idea in my mind that once you become interesting enough or significant enough as a leader, this will not be as important. But I see this concept of setting the horse up to do something that you CAN reward as the essence of what David was telling me. I may not end up breaking it down in quite the same way he described, but I will try to make sure that I set her up to both progress and succeed.
Can you see why I'm so interesting at this moment?
That's probably most of the Horsenality Clinic stuff. I will include some ideas from the Refinement clinic in the next installment.