Monday, January 24, 2011

Head in the Sand

Yesterday's session with Dove gave me the opportunity to see her more Right Brained Introvert side. Previously, I thought she was more Left Brained, but simply unconfident, and that may prove to be her innate horsenality, however this time, at least, I felt her tendency was to lower her head and freeze or hide, and lock up mentally and physically. 
At first I only noticed that the Porcupine Game was a little sticky. It took quite a bit of persistence on my part to make progress beyond a few steps. However, it improved and I even got some full circles of the hind and forequarters. I had been thinking of her as fairly "easy" and it took me awhile to notice that somehow, Dove wasn't quite as "present" as in the last session. Still, we successfully went through the motions of some Driving and Yo-yo tasks, so I thought I'd teach her the Circle Game.

At first the sends appeared to be understood well enough and she would set off, only to get stuck after a couple of steps. Getting a true disengagement was hard. Then the sends got more difficult, and she was just freezing up, and eventually put her head nearly on the ground and just shut me out. Okaaay... even I could read that as RBI. What to do?
I admit that I was a little short of Savvy Arrows for this. I am realising an uncomfortable truth about my horsemanship, lately, which is that I am better at technique and theory than I am at psychology. Especially acting on the psychology that I know, sometimes. However, my RBI experience is pretty limited, so I forgive myself! At least I knew to try something different. Even though she had responded to the send, I knew that she had no idea that she was supposed to circle. But I remembered the old "short range" Circling Game from the original Level 1 pack. At the time I studied L1 it had seemed like hard work to do this. (Well, I probably just wanted to see my pony run around in pretty circles at the end of a 12' line, more like!) However, it worked a treat for clarifying things. She was still very hesitant, though, and hadn't come out of her shell much, so we didn't go back to the long range game. I'll start short range next time and progress from there when we're ready.

I really don't know why Dove got up on that particular side of the corral yesterday. She has seems more positive and confident around us at feeding time as the days go by. I decided to stand on the pedestal and play some gentle Friendly and Porcupine games to finish the session. That was alright, although I could still feel her sort of holding herself apart from me. Then at one point I sort of stuck a finger in her mouth, in fun, as I was rubbing her face. Interestingly, she made a sudden change. It was simply as if she suddenly woke up and joined the party. I can't really describe it much better than that. Her eyes lost that vacant look and she looked at me more confidently. Huh! So that's were we left it.

By now, the rest of the herd were part way up the track from the arena, so I decided to walk her out to them. As we passed the water trough, she wanted to stop for a big long drink. At that point I guessed that she never got her morning drink. She lets the other horses push her away repeatedly when they congregate at feeding time, but makes her own arrangements to drink once the pressure is off. I probably haltered her and brought her in before she had a chance to drink without noticing. I can't help but wonder whether this discomfort was enough to upset her, and maybe the finger in the mouth triggered something that temporarily compensated. I'll probably never know, but I'll definitely make sure she doesn't go thirsty in future! 

Jumping with Ony
I spent most of my time with Iona. First we had a really nice session with the ball. It was just windy enough that I knew the ball would leave us if I put it in the arena, so I decided to try the round pen. Last time the ball was out, Iona surprised me by being very interested in it, biting it, wanting to push it around, etc. She knows what the likely human games with the ball are, but that was the first time I saw her so voluntarily engaged with it. So I was hoping that the limited and more boring landscape of the pen wasn't going to take the shine off things. It didn't, and I managed to get her to push the ball both to me, and to a barrel that I directed her to. Neat! We also played around with a few circles and Figure 8s while we were there.

I had obstacles set up in the arena with a plan to play with the On Line and Freestyle. Among them was a tiny jump that I wanted to ride over. I haven't jumped in quite a long time, and although I'm not always that confident, I have been missing it. To help my confidence, I wanted to get Iona to jump it loads of times while we played On Line. Maybe I was a bit too focused on that. Iona sure thought so! It seemed to take every strategy in the book to get her motivated, or at least willing, and I hadn't really positioned it for ease of play, but it was too heavy to take the time to move - or so I decided - so we were squeezed in between a bunch of other obstacles that Iona kept "running into" and stopping. 

We also played with the tarp and pedestals, where I spent some time asking her to to HQ or FQ yields while she was on them. And we played with some poles and jumps I had put out for Hunter's last session, which were fanned out in a semicircle. Again, it took quite a bit of experimenting to get her going over these enthusiastically, and I'm not sure that all the exuberance was really positive energy. That's something I will have to watch. I've been rewarding exuberance, but I know some of it is a bit snotty, and I probably don't want to ride that! We did have some nice moments where she would go sideways away over one pole, then forward to the next pole and sideways back toward me. That's coming on nicely now, and I don't see any sign of her trying to use it against me, as people always warn you of.

I got mounted up, and tried to play every game with at least a couple of obstacles. I'm generally not getting as much good stuff ridden as I am on the ground, and I'm going to have to think about why. Probably, I think "Oh boy! Now I get to ride around and have fun!" but to Iona it just translates to "More work, and Kris doesn't know when to quit!" However, at least she was pleasantly surprised when we got to the jump and didn't just jump it, but did things like back up to it and rest, or walk over it and turn around.

She had a couple of small tantrums, mainly about being sweet on the gate. I was riding with a stick, and she got really mad at that stick and bit it! Grrrr! We kinda worked through that and did some more interesting things, repeating some of the things we'd done On Line. I decided I didn't want my stick for the jumps, and was really pleased that it wasn't too difficult to ask for a circle which included the jump, and it was fun! I really don't know when I last jumped in a saddle, but jumping in my bareback pad seems to have helped everything. It may have only been a tiny jump, but we were nice and smooth over it and it felt great. We finished with a victory lap of the arena in canter, and I blew her mind by insisting that she gallop to the gate. Whoopee! Had the sense to take her to the middle to rest and dismount though!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fun With Hunter - and other stories

I've had a couple of nice sessions with Hunter recently. He has been joining the hard-to-catch mob some mornings, and in fact, was becoming a ringleader. We really didn't need that, so I thought a little time in the round pen might help. He didn't need a lot of Catching Game as it turned out, but it has been a good opportunity to progress his Circle Game, and we seem to have played enough with catching to improve his attitude in the mornings.

I think I have been afraid that I would put too much pressure on him in the pen, especially as it's a high sided one. However, I have more self control than I thought (LOL!) and I see that it can also be a tool to make the right thing easy. The simple fact that going in a circle becomes a given, means that neither of us has to worry about where he's going and we can focus on transitions and maintaining gait. The fact that he has now cantered some circles (not too many yet) seems to have improved his trot circles in the arena quite a bit. No doubt the work Livia and Mark have put in helped, too! I managed to teach him to do changes of direction at the walk, and immediately show him how to do it at trot successfully, the other day.

Today was cold and windy, and Hunter had spent an hour or two by himself in the yard by the time playtime arrived. We're trying to keep up a pattern of him spending a little time on his own fairly often. So it wasn't the best set up for a great session, but we had one! My goal was to work on Traveling Circles, maintaining gait, looking where he's going, and hopefully to put enough poles in his way to make him think and encourage him to use himself better. What a blast I had! He was full of go, and easy to direct most of the time. I couldn't believe this was his first session at this task! It wasn't all smooth sailing, he was bracey sometimes, worried about the tarp and certain monster poles! I don't think we have two matching poles/logs on the whole farm. What makes some scary and not others remains a mystery.

Hunter on the go with Livia in October
It was such a change for me play like that with a horse who has so much go. I could really get to like playing with this type of horse. I also believe that "horses teach humans" and that somehow, Hunter may teach me a "feel" that I can pass back to my slower ponies, that may get them moving. Perhaps in the form of new expectations.

Learning with Ranger 
I had the chance to play with Ranger twice this week. Before that I hadn't done much. He is a pretty nice horse, so far. I have to say though, I'm not getting barrel racer! He's mostly a big, slightly pushy "okey dokey" sort of guy. He can be pretty reactive, but that's probably because I try to move too fast for him and forget he's new to me and the environment. So far I don't see that he has tons of go, though. Having said that, he's easy so far, and we will be moving into a little L2 stuff next time, while we consolidate L1. 
I learned something interesting from Ranger during our last session, that I thought was worth mentioning. With so many horses to progress, and a lot of Level 1, more L1 and still more .... well, you get the picture, I realise that I've been a little hard on myself while playing with the newbies. Hard in the sense of thinking that I must achieve everything I try in a session. In a way, these high expectations are working for me, but somewhere in the middle of Ranger's last session I also realised that if I'm that hard on me, I'm also being exactly that hard on the horse, too. I was getting a bit "C'mon, we have to get this so I don't have to do it again on Tuesday," if you see what I mean. I'd definitely stopped playing! I will try to hang on to that!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good weather and horseplay

The lack of blog entries the past few days doesn't mean I've been idle. The weather has been incredibly mild, so we've been making the most of it. I've worked out a sort of rota for playing with the horses, which prioritizes Iona and Bruce, and then allows for working with the others to some extent. It's a bit of a horse training treadmill, but of course the weather won't always be this good, so I won't always be playing so much.

I've always subscribed to the old PNH idea of concentrating on getting one horse to Level 3 before you take on others. I've mostly done this, so the change is a little uncomfortable. Change always is, for me. However, there are lots of plusses. I think playing with the flightier horses will teach me a lot and help me to be lighter and more sensitive. Sometimes I know that I treat Bruce and Iona like tractors, and if I do, then I am to blame when they behave like tractors. It also keeps Iona interested in me, when she doesn't always get picked.

So my days have been filled with horseplay, and a lot of horse catching. The routine is that when they come in for their buckets, we box the herd in, which makes it reasonably easy (well, possible) to catch Dove or Journey. Hunter has also decided he'd rather not be caught and likes to get the other two to go on a tear. He's trying to be possessive. I don't think Dove and Journey are that impressed with him. They try to stay together and avoid being driven around by Hunter, but he only has to start running around and their adrenaline goes way up, too. Journey has become much easier to halter. Mark has spent a lot of time working on that with her. We've neglected Dove a bit, and now that's starting to show. I had a nice session  with her yesterday, though. and I thought her attitude was a bit more positive this morning.

I played with Hunter on Saturday. I had hoped to have a little ride, too, but he and Bruce saw something scary off in the distance, and I couldn't manage to keep his focus, so we just played On Line. Everything went very well. I managed to work up to some changes of direction at trot, by rehearsing them at walk first, and his transitions are getting better. However, I couldn't get canter - just a fast panicky trot. Typical young horse stuff. I knew that if I pushed him he'd probably end up getting loose, so I decided to either try to develop this slowly or maybe later take him into a round pen where I could make the right thing easy (I hope).

Well, the round pen opportunity came the next day, as he caused to much commotion at feeding time, when I tried to catch Dove, that I decided he needed to play the Catching Game himself. When I took him to the round pen and sent him around, however, it was obvious that he'd played that game before. I've never done it with him in a round pen, but we sure played it in the big arena some months ago! So I'm not sure why, but he was hard to lose and hard to keep out on the rail without making him feel wrong. So since we were there, I put the line on and worked a bit on the canter thing. That went really well, and I hope I kept it relaxing for him. I finished the session by taking the halter off and sending him out and around a bit more, hoping to reinforce the catching.

Weave breakthrough!
Today I had a nice time with Iona. I took the time to groom her in a relaxed way, which she seemed to appreciate. We headed for the arena, where I had her saddle and stuff waiting. I wanted tp work on two tasks On Line: Travelling Circles and Weave. I started out doing some circles in the corner near the loafing shed where Bruce and some others were lounging. She was pleasantly surprised that I picked that spot, but I figured it'd pre-empt any decisions of hers to leave me. It worked.

Once I got her going a little, we changed to the Weave. I've been having trouble with this for ages. Especially getting her to maintain trot as she goes around the end markers. I set the markers a little closer together than usual today, as I know that my rope handling is part of the problem. I think that helped. I also had a brainstorm. Part of my problem is that I never seem to be close enough to the end marker to help her with the rope as she comes around. So today, I started off doing a Figure 8 at one end, but standing off center, almost level with the 2nd marker. She got that easily, and I kept going until she offered an enthusiastic trot. Enthusiasm is what I am looking to reward these days! That really made the whole thing much easier for me and she seemed more clear on what I wanted. Yay!!

We circle-traveled over to her saddle which she found like a bloodhound "Can we stop here?" so I tried saddlng at liberty. Easy. We played back and forth between Weave and the circles while I cinched up. We threw in the pedestal and a couple of jumps. I got her to maintain gait in trot for quite a long time. Now we just need to do the same with canter.

With the riding, my goals were a little Canter Passenger lesson, to practice taking her halter on and off while mounted and maybe some Cloverleaf. She wasn't thrilled with any of this. There was some bucking and general grumpiness - however, not from me. I'm learning. She needs to go forward/maintain gait as a priority over maintaining direction. So if she needs help to go, I don't argue about where. Just go! Then I gently and smoothly guide her back to our route. Of course, there's no route in a Passenger lesson. Iona's route was to the gate on that one, but we eventually made a little progress. After a couple of short canters I let that go for the day.

I hoped that the Cloverleaf might help her impulsion and also get her mind on X instead of the gate. She knows the pattern well, and we had been doing Question Box yesterday, so she saw the plan right away. Our arena's quite big. Normally, I think this is good for a short horse, but it also means it's a long way to X on the Cloverleaf! I figured it was much too far to trot - haha! So every time we went through X I did a downward transition to walk for about twenty strides. As soon as she got more cooperative we stopped for a rest. I took the opportunity to take the halter off and on. We changed the rein and did a few more, and again I looked for some good stuff to reward. I think we both felt pretty happy by the time we stopped.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fells Do it Again!

Yesterday was pretty cold, so all we did was feed the horses. I wondered how that would go. Dove is still pretty worried about being fed in the group, and now Ranger and Journey need to learn the ropes. They all made it through the gate, which currently opens near the feeding area, but it was a bit chaotic with the Fells throwing their weight around, Hunter trying to boss the new mares into sticking with him, etc. So in the end the three new horses all ran around toward the loafing shed, and we just gave them their buckets there. 

I didn't want to continue this pattern, as the loafing shed spur is not a good place to catch horses. So this morning we blocked the track a bit up from the gate before I called them in. So it ended up that the three new horses had enough space, but were also contained. So far so good. Now I wanted to catch Bruce, Journey and Dove. Logically I would have gone for the easiest horse first, but Dove, Journey, and Hunter all got busy hiding behind each other, and behind the rather oblivious Ranger. They squirted back and forth past me in the long narrow space a couple of times, while I tried to get their respect, and Bruce and Iona decided that it would be a fun game to hold them at one end to help me out. It did help, and I caught Journey first, handed her out to Mark and went back for Dove. 

It's so cool when the Fells do this, and I see that they are getting better at it and more obedient about not taking pot shots at the horses I'm trying to catch. I think it's amazing that they have decided to do this without any real encouragement on my part. I've written about this behaviour before (Fells to the Rescue), but even so, it felt like a fluke. It's becoming clear, though. Just like a sheepdog, it's vitally important that I can control them. If I can, wow!! It's a huge help. I am really thrilled at their desire to partner up in this way. Next question, though: does it cause the horse I'm trying to catch to respect me less?

Journey was pretty easy to catch, but she's hard to halter. She gets high headed and stiff necked. Each time I devote some time to helping her lower her head and relax. I'm sure we'll get there. We had a session together in the arena, playing the first three games. The Friendly stuff will need more work before she is as relaxed as I'd like, and I need to resist the temptation to move on to other things too quickly. However, she seems able to learn, and we also need a language, to oil the wheels of day to day life together. It seems that the act of being haltered is the hardest thing for her, so far. 

I also spent some time with Bruce, although it was getting very cold by that time. We worked on Porcupine Games around his head, and he was very soft and easy to move around this way, even though he was goofing off, and not terribly attentive. I moved on to some Zone 5 Driving with one line. He has done quite a bit of this over the years, but it's been awhile for us. At first it was just rubbish and all he wanted to do was go to obstacles and he kept turning around or backing up in order to get his head near me to ask for treats. Really annoying, and it was working. I got annoyed. Oops! Initially, I just nagged and grumbled, which made him even more scattered. Ar one point he managed to swing his rear end into me and on a reflex, no doubt fueled by the frustration I was already feeling, I whacked him pretty hard on said rear. At least I had the emotional fitness to go "How interesting." NOT apologize, and have a look at his response. He lost a little confidence, but he started paying a lot more attention. We managed a Figure 8 around two half barrels without him putting his foot on them, so I was glad I stuck with it. THEN I apologized and rubbed his poor little butt.

He then did some very respectable walk-trot-canter transitions on a circle. His impulsion is sooo much better since his time with Livia. I wonder what she did!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Everybody Out!

Most of today was taken up with moving horses from A to B. I can now report that every horse we own can be haltered and led. (It's all I did all day, endlessly.) It's a start!

Our plan was to check out Journey's willingness to be haltered in a small area, and if it was possible then we would introduce both her and Ranger to the other horses with a view to turning them out. We achieved our plan! 

I had some trouble catching Dove. Hunter has latched onto her, in the same way he previously did with Dakota and Scooter. He likes to have a "friend" to herd around and doesn't want anyone to touch them, and his friend is not allowed to leave him unless he says so!  Hunter has been pretty easy to catch the past few months, and I think it's because it's just been him and the Fells. Obviously they won't play his games. But now that he has Dovey it's another story. Fortunately we managed to get them separated, and then Dove was much better. However, she'd lost her softness again. I was a little disappointed that yesterday's magic didn't last, but I'll get it working, I'm sure.

It only took Mark a minute or two to convince Journey that it would be okay to be haltered. He did put the lead rope over her neck first, as she was skeptical, but he wasn't sneaky. He let her sniff the halter and rope, rubbed her head for a bit and talked to her and that was that. Halter on, and here's your cookie!

Meanwhile, I installed Ranger in the arena with a flake of hay on a tarp. That's become my method for introducing new horses to the herd. I wouldn't use this method with every herd boss, but Bruce is so confident and seems to have a policy of using only the minimum force necessary to make his point. So I put one pile of hay out, and it's easy to tell when an agreement has been reached. Even so, I was a little concerned about Bruce and Ranger. Ranger is a very big, athletic boy. Playful, pushy and like Bruce, a former stud. I would be very upset if Bruce got hurt. 

Ranger had a few bucks and  rears while tearing around the arena, before I brought Bruce in. I let him settle a bit and find the hay. Bruce was really more interested in the hay than he was in Ranger, and ignored him a lot of the time. He even let him eat some peripheral strands of hay. After awhile Bruce drove Ranger around the arena for a bit. Ranger kicked him once and after that Bruce drove him from a couple of feet further back. They ate a bit more hay and then started playing with the hay tarp and abusing the arena obstacles like a couple of hooligans, so I guess Bruce has a new friend.

I put Iona in with them and she couldn't even be bothered to kick Ranger. Honestly, I think Bruce and Iona meet so many new horses that they just don't care anymore. I also like to think that the peaceful atmosphere here and plenty of space and Parelli helps. So I gathered up Ranger and Iona and put them in pens and introduced Journey to Bruce. Another non event, as was putting Iona back in. Ranger's reappearance started to stir things up a bit, as he now had "his" mare (Journey) to protect. So there was a bit of running around and posturing. I don't think Journey is any more interested in being rounded up by other horses than she is in being rounded up by humans, though. 

Hunter certainly tried to round her up when I put him in. That set them all of on a mad gallop around. Journey was too funny, taking off with Hunter and Ranger in hot pursuit. She can really move fast, but braking seems to be limited to a series of stiff legged bounces. Wouldn't like to ride that! Bruce was wildly excited by this time, bucking and high blowing, galloping sometimes and doing fancy trots. But also conserving energy by making smaller circles further inside the arena while the big ones did laps on the rail. 

Iona mostly stood in the middle and watched. Sometimes Bruce just stayed in the middle and bucked. Now Bruce and Iona don't always like to move their feet that much, it's true. But I also wondered if I was seeing a bit of learned behavior. The center of the arena being the sweet spot. The honeycomb exercises they've done on courses where you get to stop if you go to the middle. I wonder.

I put Dove in last, and she and Journey paired up, leaving Hunter without his hostage/friend. They all calmed down and I picked up the tarp and barrels that had been tossed around, so that they don't blow away in the next storm. I opened the gate. and got the Fells moving out and down the track. Everybody followed us until we reached the grazing cell gate. So we now have everyone out. I'm so happy for them. That's where horses belong.

The weatherman says we're now due for another big freeze up, so I don't know how much we'll get done with horses the next few days. I sure won't miss the constant hay net stuffing and pen cleaning, though! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Great Girls

I had another little session with Journey yesterday. It started well, but having at first made a little more progress, things seemed to slip backwards. I'm really not sure why. I came away with the feeling that I should have kept the session much shorter and quit after the first bit of progress. However, as I thought about it in the evening, I also came to the conclusion that because she has such a pattern of evasion, it might be much more effective to get a rope on her. I was kind of expecting this to turn into a rodeo event. We even watched a video of Pat halter breaking a mustang after supper to get in the mood.

This morning, as I was mentally preparing for the day, I really tried to put myself in Journey's place and feel what she feels. My impression was "No, I mustn't give in...but what if is isn't so bad?" I had a strong sense of Journey's need to learn to become a "horse-man" in order to get along in life and have a bright future - maybe even some fun. But first we had to pick up a load of hay for the cows, and unload last week's horse hay. Then I played with Dove, which I'll tell you about shortly. 

By this time it was late enough in the afternoon that I felt I could reasonably not bother with Journey. I admit I was having some doubts. I checked the footing in the round pen. It was okay. I got my 45' line and played a bit in the small part of Journey's pen. I could see that it wouldn't be too hard to get a loop over her head. So I set up the barriers that allow her to go from her pen to the round pen. Last time, I had to push her quite a bit to get her there, but today she surprised me by just calmly walking out of her pen and around the corner and into the round pen. 

I made a couple of tentative attempts at getting the loop on. Mark was watching and declared that he could get the job done. She really is his horse, so I said "Go for it!". He took his time rubbing her head and showing her the loop, and sending her around the pen if she wouldn't let him progress, or decided to leave. His timing was really good. I know that we were both wondering what the heck was going to happen when she finally felt the pressure of that loop. Well finally Mark made his move, but so did she, and the rope ended up behind her jaw but in front of her ears. Eek! She was surprisingly calm about this (and the light began to dawn on us...) and let him put it back over her ears. We were still waiting for the explosion that never came. Instead she gave us the classic "Oh, well, you've caught me now" look, of the horse who hates to be caught but accepts the halter perfectly well once it's on. So in spite of the guy we bought her from thinking she hadn't been halter broken, it appears that she was. 

I then played a LOT of Friendly Games with her. She was very tense. I rubbed her with a carrot stick. and then my hands. It wasn't too hard to get into the zones behind the drive line. I spent a lot of time rubbing her crest, as her head was very high and he neck tense. She began to relax when I rhythmically rocked her crest from side to side. I took a halter, and using the 45' as a safety net, I haltered and unhaltered her a few times. Taking it slow, trying to make it pleasurable. Giving her a treat every time I put it on. She got more and more relaxed and we began to see lots of headshaking, yawning and licking. Pretty soon, she was doing this over every little thing I offered her. We played some Porcupine Game. More yawning. She made huge changes. We finished up by seeing how she felt about Mark slipping a rope over her head again (pretty relaxed) and then me asking her to lower her head and give me some lateral flexion. I led her back to her pen and unhaltered her. I stroked her back and face, just like I'd been doing with the halter on.

We're hoping that we've made a big breakthrough with her. We'd really like to turn her out, but only if we feel she's catchable. At least catchable in a small area. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

This morning's session with Dove was just awesome! As usual, I had a bit of trouble catching her, but then she decided to let me. I hope she will be catching me, soon, but for now this is okay. I left her in a pen while we moved hay around, and even though it was a small pen it took me a couple of minutes to catch her again. Off we went to the arena, where she was pretty skittish and it took us awhile to get out Friendly Game going. However, once we did, it was pretty solid, but I knew it was more toleration than true acceptance. Until I found her itchy spot. That changed everything. Wow! There it was, just behind her jaw. The change was very quick. I almost couldn't believe it. Suddenly I saw the soft eyes and sweet, relaxed face that caught my eye the day we bought her. You could just about hear her thinking. "This is nice. These people are nice. I'm enjoying myself" I felt so happy to be able to give her that.

The Porcupine Game was pretty easy after that, and we also did some basic Zone 2 driving between various obstacles. I then played around with jumping up and down next to her. That freaked her out a bit, so I got to skip and sing and jump around for awhile. It got better. I stepped up onto the pedestal. and that scared her a bit because I grew so tall! However, I was able to rub her and lean over her and stuff and have her stay calm. I had no intention of mounting her, but I thought it'd be good for both of us to have the experience.

I finished up with lowering her head and took her back to her pen. I really like this horse. There is something very sweet about her, and for awhile there I thought it was lost, but we've found it again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking it easy

I slipped into Journey's pen yesterday with some new ideas and feelings. She did her usual obsessive facing me. I don't like that. I don't like it because I made it, and it's not natural or nice. But I guess it's all about balance.

I had a feeling when we headed for the round pen the first time, that it would be difficult to progress. I just couldn't put my finger on why. Today, I got a little support in the form of a technical suggestion from a friend (thanks, Jeff!), who stated the obvious. If you can only get into Zone 1, try playing the Friendly Game in Zone 5. That gave me pause. I
sn't the Catching Game all about driving the rear end away? In order to draw Zone 1? But of course that might be appropriate if Zone 1 is always leaving and Zone 5 might be threatening, but if Zone 1 is in your face and Zone 5 is elusive, then maybe the pendulum needs to swing the other way.

With a reminder to myself to have soft eyes, and a soft attitude, I began the dance to unwind the spiral and try to turn it the other way now. Journey's pen can be divided into two parts. I sent her into the smaller and shut the gate. She snapped to attention and spent quite a bit of time shuffling around as I tried to approach her hindquarters. I tried to keep my gaze neutral and soft, and was very mindful to keep my head, neck and body straight upright so as not to send her any signals to disengage. Occasionally she would hesitate in her rhythm . . . and I would be too slow with my release. However, I think she still noticed.

The hesitations became pauses, my timing got better, and it only took two or three clear releases for her to figure out what I wanted. Smart horse! During releases, I looked at the horizon, or watched what the cows were doing. Softly. When I was approaching or being in Zone 3-4-5 I was often "touching" her with my gaze, or touching her airspace with my hand, in the same way I will touch her hairspace when she's ready. I mixed things up by letting her sniff my hand, touching her nose and face, even scratching her neck, and also walking away to do little jobs like taking ice out of her water bucket.

I feel that it was a much better session, and more progressive than our others.

Once we finished our session, I decided to put Ranger in with her. They have been friendly over the fence all week, and they haven't been eating their hay very well. So I thought a bit of company and friendly competition for food might make a good change for both of them. That went very smoothly, and I think Ranger will definitely be the boss.

In between chores I saw the other four horses all standing nearby at the loafing shed, so I thought I would just go out and be friendly. I decided to carry a halter and rope just for fun. The Fells came over for scratches and cookies. Hunter hung back, so I made a few overtures. He tried to herd Dove away and to hide behind her. So I made a point to stay until he was more relaxed and even ready to be haltered. I haltered him, gave him some cookies and then led him over to Dove, where I was able to give her some scratches, too. Then I took the halter off and left. Tee hee.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Much of my time lately had been taken up with the Catching Game. Either playing with Journey, or trying to catch Dove. I've already touched on my "revelations" about my technique, but that stems partly from my attitude. I have just started reading a book about spirituality by Frank MacEowen. It's called The Mist-Filled Path, and so far I like it very much. I had an "a-ha!" moment today when reading this passage:

I slowly came to understand that when approaching nature and spirit, one must enter these realms with a gentle openness of heart. We cannot make demands when encountering the sacred world. It is the overly analytical perception of reality, as well as the belief that we are somehow owed an experience, that immediately exiles us from the richness of the numinous power around us, within us, and within the earth. We have to be open.

And also this one where the author quotes from a conversation he had with an Ojibway man about moving in nature:

"The Four Leggeds and the Winged Ones live to a different rhythm. Theirs is the rhythm of soft eyes and soft feet: Two Leggeds have hard eyes and hard feet. When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people."

Yes, I have been thinking a lot about positioning myself here of there, about timing, release and draw. All these things are important. But so is attitude. I would not hesitate to say that I think of Horse-Man-Ship as a spiritual practice in my life. But mostly I "have so much of the world on me" and am so direct line, that I abandon spirituality in the presence of horses, just when they most need me to have it.

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My relationship with Dove continues to develop in baby steps. We have now moved the herd to the next grazing cell. It opens almost directly onto the water trough area, which is where I generally offer morning bucket feeds. This has made it easy to get the horses in for feeding. Dove continues to  be skeptical, and nervous of herd life.  She is a bit of a loner, so far, and doesn't care for being in close quarters at feeding time. I have been going out of my way to be her guardian and protector. She's obviously taking this in with some surprise and relief, so I will keep up with what I'm doing.