Thursday, December 9, 2010

Linda Parelli's Game of Contact Course. November 19-21 2010.

Both photos of Linda and West Point by Coco.
To go to Coco's Photo blog on the Game of Contact Course click here.

Friday morning Linda gave an hour and a half power point presentation on her Game of Contact. It was replete with video and many pictures showing various different results in horses being ridden with some kind of connection on the reins. It was super helpful to train our eyes as to what we were looking for. We saw contracted necks, good necks with tight backs, floppy reins, good and bad expressions, and then examples of well through happy horses in the long frame, medium frame and collected frames.Here's the thing about the Game of Contact as I understand it: Ultimately it is a principle. As Linda said on the last day: "We can talk about techniques until the cows come home. The most important thing is that you are getting to the horse's brain. Teaching him what you want him to do in his body. If he understands it mentally he can accept it emotionally."

The Parelli principle of "nose, neck, maybe the feet" also comes into play. As well as "separate, isolate and recombine". We can teach the horse where the release is piece by piece. This may sound like we're riding the horse front to back which is exactly the opposite of what many of us were taught. That would be true if we were making it happen physically. But we're not. We're causing it to be the horse's idea.

Naturally horses gain confidence zone by zone like that. Its how they explore things. On the first day, Linda had our whole class play with the nose to start with. Pick up the reins and drop them when he pushes into the bit. Once our horses got that idea we'd wait until they stretched their necks. Pretty soon the feet started to follow the nose and the neck and we had horses that would respond to picking up the reins by stretching into the bit and walking forwards. Linda showed us exactly what she was talking about with West Point.
On day two Linda broke us up into two groups which was great. I loved getting to watch the other horses and riders. I must admit I was a bit out of my comfort zone riding. I felt like I was missing so much!!! Grayson was wonderful. For the most part very confident despite all the hoopla. On the last day we were late to the arena (because I watched the first group so long) so we went in cold..
He was a little bracey about the cameras on the edge of the rail. This was a big blessing because I was able to practice and feel the effectiveness of going with the brace...even encouraging the crookedness rather than pushing him to get his ribs and hind legs onto the rail. I think if I had fought it we would have had a big spook or explosion. I am so grateful for that lesson. I need as much savvy as I can get with helping Right Brained* horses to relax!
This was exactly the same concept as Linda had taught me with Lil in our lesson in Redmond. "You feel bracey? Me too!" (to read my blog after that lesson click here. to read Linda's blog on that lesson click here.)

My favorite part about day two was Linda's ride on Zen, one of the rider's horses. Linda was breathtaking to watch. This horse had been held in somewhat and was distressed when asked to go forward into the bit. Such a lovely horse too! He would offer everything. "Oh my god what do you want? passage? piaffe? what? what?" He was asking a question a second...but he was asking in a panicked way.
The awestriking part of the ride was how Linda was particular in communicating what she wanted Zen to try...she was clear. Then, when he did it she would let him go. At first when she'd drop the reins he would shoot forward and buck and not know what to do. She just freestyled it out...and went with him. After a few tries he got the idea. Linda could pick up the reins, make a good connection with the bit and Zen would take the feel and trot forward calmly. You could see the relief in him mentally and emotionally. To be truthful, I was in tears. (still am thinking about it) Linda made harmony out of disharmony. Everything I want...was embodied in those few minutes. The budding of trust and understanding.

Sadly just as they were really coming together, Zen rolled over his hoof and slightly aggravated the injury he had been recovering from. What a bummer! Thank goodness Linda had been giving him his freedom....and not forcing him into anything. I hear from Zen's owner that he is recovering well and back undersaddle.

Day three I got my huge "take home". Grayson was feeling big and powerful but he was holding out lifting his shoulders and the neck right in front of the whithers. I was the last one in the arena...we had made great progress. I asked Linda if I should go round one more time. She said it was up to me. Arg! I didn't know the answer but found myself asking one more time.

As I came down the long side in front of the crowd and in front of Linda....Grayson was going well forward with a nice confident feel of holding the bit...Linda said: "shorter reins!" I shortened them...and straightened my elbows. lol. Linda said: "bend your elbows...close...closer...crunch your abs!" Grayson poked his nose forwards. Linda said: "triceps!". I went to my triceps full for the release.

Grayson's neck popped up in front of the withers. His poll was up, nose forward, back free and abs engaged. I could feel his final big try mentally, emotionally and physically. Linda said: "there!". I flashed to West Point and what I knew the shape looked like. I made the connection between the visual in my head and the feeling. I got it. I asked Grayson for a downward transition. It felt quiet and on the haunches. I dropped the reins and got off. Woohooo!

Here are a few snaps that really show Grayson and I's process.

here we are a hot mess. poor guy. giving me what he thinks i want. poll flexion. waaay too much poll flexion. yuuuucky! i'm using my biceps to take up the contact and communicate that this is not the answer.
here he's trying the opposite. good job buddy...i gave with my triceps here.
i like that his mouth is almost all the way closed. i love that i can see him thinking.... the feet coming all the way through now... his shoulders look okay but his poll is too low and he's still way over curled.
got it! nose, neck and the feet!

I could write forever about this. I am so passionate about it. I think though, that I'll let it come out organically as I play with my own ponies over the next few months. For me the bottom line is to make it a game. A game my horse can win.

I have to share one more thing... I was talking with Linda the other day and she made another wonderful point: "Its not about the bit. Its about what happens as a result of trying to communicate via the bit. Like confidence, I think that the Game of Contact broaches that real biggie: TRUST in a way that almost nothing else can, like it's a final frontier, the last big test."

A huge thank you to Peggy for lending me Grayson. Thanks to Wendy for coming to the course with me and for being my awesome sounding board and moral support all week. Thanks to Kip for supporting me in going and helping me to laugh at myself when I got too wound up. Thanks to my fellow riders, auditors, campus students and instructors. Your energy and enthusiasm was fabulous. Linda, what can I say. You know how important this is to me. Thank you for choosing me to ride, for being as obsessive and crazy as me and for being willing to share your knowledge with all of us. Lastly, Thanks to Pat for being the butterfly wings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A week with Linda, Wendy and Grayson. Part One.

Such a fun time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Experiment, observe, compare, remember and DISCUSS EVERYTHING! I think I talked more that week than I have in a really long time.

Grayson's steward and owner Peggy had prepared him perfectly for the course. He was very confident with almost everything, safe, willing, stretchy and keen. Linda even said at the end: "this horse is not a challenge mentally and emotionally but he is physically". Emotionally this horse has some "experiences" so I think it's a huge compliment to Peggy that Linda would say that. The physically challenging part is just that he is built kinda long and for whatever reason earlier in his life he had habituated to moving around in a bad banana shape. Nose in the air, dropped tummy and butt up. The weakest part on his body was the bit of neck right in front of his withers. Peggy had already taught him to stretch long and low so the tide had already turned before I got there.

Getting to ride him on Monday I noticed firstly that he felt beautiful! Even when he was crooked or hollow or resistant. He still felt floaty and pretty. First thing off the top was that poor Grayson wanted to spit out the bit. He was happy to carry it around if I didn't hold it. He would even stretch down and peanut roll very nicely. But if I tried to hold the contact he would over curl nose to chest and open his mouth like a happy alligator. I understand! If its just noise and isn't giving clear enough just plain old unpleasant! Add in that we were just acquaintances....yikes.

I simply started picking up the reins and letting them go when his mouth was quiet. Very hard to see on the right side because his mane was in the way. Thank god Wendy was there to be my grounds person Tues, Wed and Thursday. She'd call out "quiet!" when it was. Pretty soon I was able to pick them up and hold them at walk and often he would be soft and confident in his mouth.

Moving to the trot I found that I wanted to baby him. Riding with true Contact and a non flapping rein requires a fair amount of feeling in the reins and therefore in the horse's mouth. Babying him by being tentative in his mouth netted me a reasonably quiet mouth but not a completed cycle of energy between us.

Anytime he didn't understand me he would open his mouth as wide as it would go and over curl hiding behind the pressure. I had to suck it up and take out the slack using my biceps....gently and with feeling....but make sure that he knew that that wasn't the answer. As soon as his nose came forward I'd drop the reins. Trying to communicate "yes!" that's the answer. When we got that I was able to take out the slack and follow him forwards with my triceps until Wendy said "quiet". and I'd drop them.

By the time the Game of Contact Course started I felt like we had some communication with the bit. It was still his default to hide and open his mouth when he was confused. But his brain kicked in much faster and as soon as he started thinking his mouth would relax and he'd start to figure out the rest of his body. What a good boy!

Friday morning we sat down in the classroom for the big Power Point Presentation on the Game of Contact. . . . .

Monday, November 15, 2010


Well, I'm here in sunny Ocala Florida! It is so beautiful. I especially love the live oaks and the spanish moss.

I'm heading to the Parelli Campus to meet my horse Grayson in just a little bit. I'm so excited. ....And nervous. I always feel this way when I come out here and don't have my horse yet. I feel a bit "off".

As soon as I get to put my hands on him I know I'll be fine. I want to say a very special thanks to Peggy, Grayson's owner for generously sharing him with me for this week and putting so much love and effort into getting him ready. I will do my ultra best to make it worthwhile for both of you.

My plan for the day is to BLEND IN! The rest of my course mates will be here on Thursday....everyone at the ranch is busy like little bees and I just want to stay out of the way and get to know Grayson. Be the invisible horse and human.

I should go get my saddle out of its travel tote too to see if it made it. .....eeeek!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pat's* Natural Horsemanship Principle #2.

The other night I almost got my head kicked off by Travis. The absolute last horse I would ever have expected it from.

Trav is in his thirties now. Kip and I bought him as a "17 year old ex race horse" ten years ago. lol. He was our first horse first horse as an adult. He was a wonderful school master and has been a special treasure. We've always talked about how he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He has taken great care of both of us.

Well, he's getting on in years. Much older than we thought, which is fine. He's been pretty much retired since 2008, his teeth are falling out and just this year he has started to go blind. Thanks to a super diet and heavy winter blankets he is looking amazing. Still the king of the herd, he moves the horses all around and has memorized everything in his environment. As he trots and canters around its hard to tell how much sight he has lost.

Ironically, while cleaning stalls, Kip and I were talking about what kinds of horses were "safe". We both agreed that even the safest horse can get a fright, trip or whatever. I was thinking about preserving the confidence and safety of kids and adults with less experience and in a rare moment was quiet entering Travis' stall to put on his blanket. He had his butt to me. I put my hand on his rump to let him know that I was there and to ask him to scoot over.

Travis is stalled next to our youngest horse Ferreira. He was her babysitter as she was weaned and they are good horsey friends. Naturally, as horses do, she tries to "one up" him when she is safely on the other side of a wall. When he first started to loose his sight she was able to sneak up on him and got in a few pretty good bites. Now he's savvy enough to stay just out of reach. Out of habit I was watching his expression. He pinned his ears. I cannot recall him doing that in the entire time we've had him. In that moment I realized he thought that I was Ferreira reaching over the stall to snipe him. I thought: "oh crap. he thinks I'm a horse". In my mind I flashed to how firm he gets with other horses.

Thank heavens for those good habits. I was standing out of the kick zone. He double barrel kicked out at where he thought she was. My eyes got wide and I felt the air swoosh around my ears as his hooves kicked out harmlessly a few feet from my head.

"Oh my gosh Kip!" I said feeling the adrenaline surge through my legs. "I almost just got pounded by Travis!" I described what had happened.

"Whoa" he said. "I guess it makes sense. He's used to you chatting away on the phone."
I went back into Travis' stall making sure to talk with him. I thought of what it must be like...having to make this sensory have to imagine what's happening around you. This time I started by rubbing his shoulders. He cocked a leg and I threw the blanket over his back.

With the shakey chuckle of a near miss I commented to Kip: "It would have been awfully embarrassing to have to say that I couldn't make the Linda course because our old sweet horse put me in hospital. Phew. Good reminder. I guess all's well that end's well. I figure if no one gets hurt and you learn a valuable lesson, that's a good thing."

"Yeah", Kip said. "Principle number two. Don't make or teach assumptions".

*see glossary at the bottom of the page

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scrubbing the trailer.

Holy smokes. I wasn't sure we'd be able to do this but the other day after talking about faith.... thought we should go for it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Slow and right beats fast and wrong.

I fully acknowledge that I am slow in a lot of ways. Its not that I've ever been in a real hurry. I just notice I'm more and more ok with being a Tortoise on this journey as over time I achieve solid, lasting results with my horses. I really don't care how long it takes long as I'm getting there.

I've heard Pat Parelli* say that Troy Henry told him that to be a really great horseman you have to master three things. Liberty, Lead Changes and (trailer) Loading.

Liberty has been a natural skill to me. Thank heavens one of the the three has been relatively straight forward. It's all about patterns and relationship. Thanks to the Parelli Program* the pathway that by hook and crook I had found has become clear. Certainly I've done my share of bumbling about but I've noticed that if I don't rush it, all of a sudden things start to fall into place. In fact, Lil and I just passed our Level 4 Liberty!

Lead Changes have been kind of half and half. Getting regular inside leads and all three types of simple changes have never given me any trouble. (knock on wood) But the Flying Changes....oh the Flying Changes have been dangling just out of reach for what seems like forever. Of course on horses that know them its no problem...but teaching them under saddle makes my nose wrinkle.

This year I'm starting to get it. Nigel has helped me a lot with the confidence to go for it. I really think he's a big part of why I finally am getting them with Lil. Its funny though...when Nigel started flipping them for me it was only satisfying for a few weeks.

I realized they were not what I have in my head. They are not balanced and controlled and ballroom danceish. He does them...but the quality is not worth it. Luckily, I know where to fix it. Back to the FOUNDATION. Back to Level One yields with excellence. Bendiness and collectablility exercises. Back to the ladder of gymnastics. I know how to do that. Now that I did kinda get to some semblance of Flying Changes, improving the pieces individually is a lot more fun and rewarding.

Trailer Loading has been my own personal terror. Or perhaps I should say Trailering has been the terror. Simply causing my horse to get in the trailer has been no problem for years now. Closing them in...and driving is what scares the pants off me. Its so not natural for the horse to be locked in a metal cave on wheels! Plus, driving 60miles an hour down the freeway in a car could mean death for me at any second. I am choosing to put my horse in mortal peril by trailering them anywhere.

Its taken just hooking up an empty trailer, driving an empty trailer, loading Lil, driving Lil a mile down the road, driving her for 20min, and eventually up to 3 hrs for me to be confident and to accept the danger. This personal process has taken me several YEARS!

My way of mitigating the risk for my horse is to help them to be UBER confident in said metal cave on wheels. Lil is now and that helps me so much.

The biggest confidence builder maybe EVER in my personal development as a horseman has been helping Nigel to stand still patiently and confidently in the horse trailer. (see my post: Nigel and the Trailer and The Game of Standing Still). It has taken me the better part of six months to get where we are today. This morning he stood so quietly with the trailer totally closed up for 17:45. You wouldn't even have known that there was a horse in there! I took this little video clip in total wonder remembering standing at the house in despair, while he pounded, reared and kicked for over an hour and a half.

To have made this much of an improvement....this complete turn around....has given me ... proof.... proof that it can be done...and that...I can do it. For a long time now I've lived on the faith of others who care about me. The unwavering faith in me and my horses from my husband Kip and my coach Rachel*. Not sure if they know how much this has sustained me.....I am so grateful.

Like I said....I'm slow...but at least I'm getting there. Liberty, Leads and Loading (and going).............the tortoise is on your tail.

*see glossary at the bottom of the page.

Sunday, September 19, 2010 One With Horses Natural Horsemanship Center.

It is so indescribably wonderful to be with like minded horse people. I just can't even say. To have a whole Center of them springing up so close is like Christmas.

Wendy and Marc have used the old "if you build it, they will come" plan with startling success. In just over two years they have created a hive of positive activity at their center. They have hosted Parelli* Clinics, have many young students and have enabled study buddies from all over the Portland area to get together.

I had a particularly great time this weekend playing with my new friend Jen's 9 year old quarter horse Chrome and Wendy's darling 4 year old curly Dan. It is AMAZING to me how much I learn from other horses. How it highlights and reminds me about certain aspects of my and my own horse's development.

With Chrome, I was reminded about response and adjustablility. For me, Chrome was not very responsive particularly in the Online* driving game. It was so fun to try to read when he was ignoring me because I wasn't respectable enough and when he was worried about some obstacle and I needed to wait for him to build confidence. Weaving the rapport and respect games together artfully tested me plenty.

With my little (ok ok Wendy's) Dan ... omgosh... I just have fun. He's a bloody blast to ride for me because he feels very safe and very surefooted. Plus he's a hilarious Left Brained Introvert*. The other side of the sword with this horsenality* is that the "go" button always needs to be cultivated. Which again is an art and plenty of a challenge for me. I was so so so impressed with how much he had improved with the game of contact in the last month.

Today, I was a better horseman with Nigel because the girls let me play with their horses. What a privilege.

Thank you Marc and Wendy! Can't wait to visit again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nigel and The Trailer and The Game of Standing Still.

Probably the biggest thing I've learned from Linda Parelli* this year is "make it a game". Make it a game!!! How simple right?

Nigel is so amazing I very much want to take him places. As a result I am highly motivated to solve this bloody trailer issue. Thank heavens because my brain has been smoking for over a year.

To recap...issue number one is that he is not a fan of standing still when it is not his idea. Particularly in the trailer or in his stall. He can throw an absolute Left Brained* temper tantrum. Not a drip of sweat after piaffing, levading, kicking and pounding for hours and hours.

Issue number two: (which we just yesterday got to start working on) is that he is Right Brained* afraid of driving away and leaving the herd. He breaks into a full body sweat as soon as we leave the driveway. Literally dripping with fear. The Right Brained issue just needs approach and retreat. I already knew how to do that. The Left Brained issue was the one giving me fits.

About the second week in July I figured out that I could use the clicker to mark the standing still and reward him for it. So we've built up from less than a 5 1 7 minutes. Then I decided I'd see about the trailer.

Let me just say that not only am I working on Nigel standing still...I'm working on myself. It is not easy to be still for a Right Brained Extrovert like me. I gathered a few tools to help. Blackberry for emailing and texting, hands free for talking on the phone, Dick and Felix Francis' new book Crossfire on the Ipod, the stopwatch for visible progress and the magic clicker. LOL. Pretty funny but painfully true! Well, the pain has been worth it. We have made real progress. Over the last week Nigel made the leap from standing in the trailer with the back door closed, tied with the front door open. At first I had to sit with him. Now I can push wheel barrows around and pick blackberries. Perhaps I should get the weedwhacker out. He easily can now do 20 minutes.

Over the last few days I've been starting to close the front door. With the door closed, we're starting from the beginning building from one moment. But it is going much faster. He starts to paw when I close it but then obviously remembers that the answer is standing still. He's up to still for over a whole minute.

I figure once he can tolerate that, I'll start rattling things and tapping the trailer.

Yesterday is the first day since we started the clicker that I moved the trailer with him in it. I think it went superbly. I can say without a doubt....that if I can solve this...if he and I can solve this...and become confident enough to travel around town will be my biggest horsemanship success.

Here's where we started:
Yesterday Part One:

Yesterday Part Two:

*see glossary at the bottom of the page.

Monday, August 23, 2010

.........learning by beloved Game of Contact*.

It sure was a riveting day teaching my fearless subjects Kim and her quarter horse Tunes, Shannon and her Iberian warmblood Desi and Lisa and her quarter horse Minnie.

This whole Game of Contact thing is FASCINATING to me. I want more people and horses to play with!

Kim and Tunes have been doing a lot of cool fun stuff (like extreme trail courses!) but not really any arena stuff. So we just played around with the concepts of free forward movement.

Shannon and Desi have been together since Desi was just a few months old. Shannon has done quite a bit of Parelli with her and takes dressage lessons once a week. I feel like Desi came "through" about 80% of what she is capable of. I can't wait to see her in a few months!Lisa and Minnie were on their 8th session with the game of contact. Even I can't believe how differently she moves!!! wow!

All three girls had such upbeat happy attitudes and made the whole day fun. They were sweet to their horses and didn't once (at least not that they let on) get frustrated. The horses were troupers too. Even when they got a little emotional with the new information, they hung in there and tried their hardest. It was a pleasure.
I want to say thank you to Jim and Lisa for hosting the clinic. Beth for her support and Kip for being my assistant scientist and recording the data via video camera.

ONWARDS!...or should I say: FORWARDS!

*I must add that this is actually my understanding of Linda Parelli's Game of Contact. Its her brain child. See the glossary at the bottom of the page for the Parelli links.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

....Getting Unconscious.

A few months have gone by since my lesson with Linda Parelli*. Thankfully I have had quite a bit of time with Lil.

Its funny how such a big learning event can be so packed that it takes months of practical application to sift through all the information. Its like little bits of savvy dust that have been swirling around suspended are now settling down to form a visible layer of gold. Lil and I have been continuing to develop our foundation in Four Savvys* to level 4 with delicate attention to the details of cause and effect.

Tiny Tiny details. Tiny changes and little adjustments. Reading Lil just a little bit better. Reading her a little bit faster. Speaking to her a little more softly. Being a horse, Lil notices everything. Because she is a Right Brained* horse she has intense emotional reactions to it all. Because she is usually an Introverted horse* I have to look very carefully to see what she needs from me moment to moment. To be subtle be quick be gentle be right on...requires unconsciousness.

I noticed something interesting in the year after my lesson with Pat in Reno in 2009. Because of physically being there with he and Lil I could think back to how he was with her. Not just what he did. I could think back to how he felt... what it was like to be with him and somehow in doing that I was able to emulate his state not just his actions.

My Linda lesson had another dimension to it. For the first part she was playing with Lil through me. I tuned in not only to her words and directions but purposefully opened my unconscious to the tone of her voice, her timing, her observations and her split second decisions about what Lil needed. The results of being able to recall and apply Linda's example have been very special.

Its not that Lil is suddenly void of emotions....or that I am suddenly a zen master. (not at all. I am still a Right Brained Extrovert) She still is who she is and so am I. Innate characteristics and all. Its just that we are more centered as individuals. And I think it is a result of our partnership.

Wanting to be in partnership with Lil and be better for her has caused me to shift in myself and to notice and effect the most minuscule changes. Because she is a horse, and inherently so forgiving...she has allowed me the latitude to grow as a leader. Because I have grown as a leader she has been able more and more to feel her feelings and yet trust me to acknowledge them and take care of the situation.

Our recent level of trust has enabled us to do some flying changes, pure bridless riding, connected and joyful liberty*, a soft and quiet game of contact and I have even trusted her enough to do some jumping! (which is a deep seeded childhood fear issue for me)

It pretty much goes without saying that the chances of all of this magically coming to me and my horse at this time without the generous mentoring hands on of Pat and Linda Parelli is remote. I suppose the only payback I can give is to USE IT. Don't waste it. Grow everyday and play with my horse.

Thank you Linda and Pat.

My Blog a few days after my lesson.
Linda's Blog on my lesson.
*see glossary at the bottom of the page

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dressage Naturally...

I audited a Karen Rohlf clinic last weekend. I had a good sleep when I got home letting everything swirl around in my subconcious. Monday morning, I posted on her facebook page:

"After watching you teach I just come away with this soft, calm, clear feeling about the specialization of dressage, bringing our Parelli* foundation forwards and the excitement of all the possibilities. After auditing, I feel free, and light and intrigued and more in love with horses and dressage. That's some real deal skill right there Karen. Big ups."

She has an amazing ability to sum things up in one clear sentence.
Here is a litany of her one liners:

Is what you are asking Fair, Reasonable and Possible?

If your horse didn't want to do it in the first place she is not going to want to sustain it.

100% is unmistakable.

We need to bring our foundation forwards.

A great question to ask yourself is: Fill in the blank. If only ____ was better, everything else would be better.

You can't just sit up there and say: "Guess what I want horse."

To be aligned on the circle in your body look over your horse's outside ear.

We want our horses to say: "When mom talks to me, everything feels better."

You might have to overshoot the target.

If you are doing something extreme in your body, it is usually because you want something from your horse that you are not getting.

Pick a yield you are really good at in Freestyle*. Then, practice it in connection with the reins.

With every transition our goal is that the first step is the best step.

Now that I'm liking this...what can I do from here?
Is my horse really signed up? (I love that one)

Do it long enough that your horse gets to practice it. But not so long that your horse regrets being willing.

Is my horse's timing in a different landscape than my picture?

"Well....that's pretty much it...." is never 100%.

Parelli foundation is gold. Absolute gold.

Relaxed, Energized, Balanced - Free. Thank you Karen for sharing so many precious pearls.

*see glossary at the bottom of the page.
With Karen getting the feeling of riding in connection with the reins is Michael Sparling 2 Star Parelli Professional. Mr. Monty and Karen doing piaffe photo by Dana Rasmussen. Photo of Jenny and Sebastian demonstrating the relaxation part of finding the sweet spot (lol) during a lecture photo by Erin Wood.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marker Post

This is a post to remind me of the beginning results of using a marker consciously.

Last week I read "Don't Shoot The Dog" by Karen Pryor. Pat Parelli* recommended it to us all at the Gold Summit in Redmond a few months ago. EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK! Its one of those that you read and are kind of embarrassed that you haven't before. lol. I kept saying...."when was this written?" (the original copyright is from the 80's!)

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver BC, every week my parents took my brothers and I to see the "Killer Whales" at the Vancouver Aquarium. We loved sitting in their underwater windows....watching them play with the trainers and each seemed eventually that they even recognized us. For years I watched the trainers use whistles to mark a behavior and then reward the marker with fish or scratching or toys or whatever.

In recent years I have heard more and more about this "clicker training" phenomenon. I even bought a clicker several years ago to use on my dog. It totally worked when I used it. Ask for something... click when you get it.... reward. But I really haven't wanted to teach any new things to my dog since then and so it went into the drawer.

For the most part behavior shaping seems to simply consists of reinforcing the behavior that you want. Figure out what the "organism", as Karen Pryor puts it, wants....wait for them (or cause them) to do something that you want...mark the behavior and then reward it. In the Parelli Program we use life down as a marker a lot or a bring back or going into neutral in ourselves.

With Linda's Horsenality* model its way easier to understand where our horse's motivation lies in any given moment. Is my horse a Right Brained Extrovert* and needs to feel safe? Is my horse a Left Brained Introvert* and just wants to stand still? Or is my horse falling all over himself trying to get the treats? Understanding what my horse wants is so key!

Nigel is the one that caused me to fish my clicker out of the junk drawer. Surprise Surprise.

There are times in which I want and in fact need Nigel to stand still. Tied and in the trailer are a few biggies. The single biggest issue I've been having is that he wasn't giving me the time to reinforce the behavior that I wanted. He was only standing still for a split second.

In the trailer I wasn't using a marker. I was just hoping that he'd eventually make the connection between that split second of stillness and me moving towards the trailer to open it. The same issue with tying. He had to make the connection between standing still for a heartbeat and me making a move towards untying him. By the time I opened the trailer or untied him he would have resumed tantruming for much longer than he had stood still.

A little over a week ago I realized that he does his trailer temper tantrum in his stall everyday when I let the horses out. And everyday I've been reinforcing the temper tantrum by letting him out.

It was one of those 6million dollar man leaps of consciousness in my little brain. I could feel it griiiiinding away in suuuper slow motion. The speed of the clicker as a marker would work! Sure enough...over the last week...I've been reading "Don't Shoot the Dog" and clicking and reinforcing Nigel to stand still before turn out. Yesterday we got 15 seconds twice and 20 seconds as our crowning achievement for the week. For this stand still for 20 seconds when he does not want incredible! Like my friend Beth said: "that is more impressive than passage or flying changes for that horse!"

As I understand it, the reason Karen refers to "organisms" is because almost any is prone to developing and repeating behavior that is positively reinforced. She has great stories about people, chickens, whales, dolphins, tuna, cats, dogs and even a crab. She was telling the craziest stories about what intricate things animals can learn how to do.

So I have this really whiny cat. I mean really whiny. She wants attention but if you pet her at all she'll then follow you around and make you crazy. As a result, we end up just ignoring her most of the time. It has always made my heart sad. I love to give my animals what they want. Especially affection!

I began to wonder if I could shape her behavior. Again the clicker would be a great tool because she hardly takes a breath once she gets going. So reinforcing the moment of quiet needed the speed of the clicker as a marker. I clicked and reinforced when she was quiet. Within 10 minutes I went running into the house. "Kip Kip you've gotta see this!" Owl (said cat) was laying quietly next to me waiting for the click and some rubs.

My plan is to read the book to Kip as we drive up to the lake today. I've held back re reading it just for this purpose. Ever get that good sick feeling....when you feel like your life has just changed?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lil and I in Four Collections.

What springs to mind when I look at this series of photos is Collection. The dreaded word. It is dreaded for me because the word itself is so over used and misused and flat out misunderstood.

I like how Pat points out that the opposite of collection is scattered. If we accept this to be true, we can say that the opposite of scattered is collection. Then, we have a reasonable starting point.

These photos embody Lil and I being together in "FOUR COLLECTIONS". I learned this from Pat Parelli.

RAPPORT (heart collection) Bonding and Trust. Especially me trusting her because I'm the one who is worried about jumping. She is the one giving me confidence. How cool is that?

RESPECT (mental collection) Communication and response. She is understanding what I'm asking and is willing to do it.

IMPULSION (emotional collection) Go equaling whoa. This is the ultimate exercise to test this and has miles of "dressage" implications.

FLEXION (physical collection) In the simple purpose of jumping halfway over the barrels we are gathering ourselves up, balancing for a moment in full engagement, moving forwards and then halting.

Of course all of this ads up to being in harmony with Lil mentally and emotionally as well as sharing her physical power. A brilliant combination. It really was a great day. Karen Rohlf is so right when she says: "Harmony feels good and Beauty is obvious."
Here's a short one minute clip of us playing around.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beth, Louie, Jazz Hands, Revelation.

Beth is heading out for the Parelli University Fast Track Course (a boot camp of sorts for Parelli students with professional goals). Her course starts on Monday! I am so excited for her.

I've been her eyes on the ground and task master for quizzing her on Pat's book. (I love to try to catch her off guard! "quick! what are the 10 qualities of a horseman?" lol)

I was helping her the other day with The Game of Contact. It was amazing to see from the ground because Louie was really starting to reach for her hand. The thing was that Beth was letting slack in at just the wrong time. Gosh I know I've done that a million times. It was crazy to see from my vantage point...he looked like he was completely being abandoned just when he was trying.

Its so counter intuitive in a way. Horsemen have hands that close slowly and open quickly right? All this time we've built up the "jazz hands" response. (a friend who is just starting Parelli has coined "jazz hands" after watching the Parelli Level 1 Dvd. I told her I am totally stealing it.) We add steady pressure by degrees and then when we get a response.... Open!

Beth wasn't quite doing the total "jazz hands"...she wasn't throwing away the reins completely. . . but she was letting go of the contact. In this game that is not upholding our responsibility. When our horse starts to take the contact we have to "follow". But not abandon. For me it was a huge revelation to see it on Louie's face..."where are you going???". A release is important for sure. To communicate to the horse that he is right...that that is what we wanted...but we need to get a few steps of what we want first. Then. Stop and rest.

Beth sent me an email last night. I love it and have her permission to share. My favorite thing she said is that it is ok to be "wrong" -ish. Another distinction beyond just getting outside your comfort zone. We talked about it while she was riding. I said, "he's ok. he'll live if you hold too long for a lap. just see if you can keep the contact and feel the steadiness of it. if you get it wrong. that's ok!".

Here is her email:

"I now realize the contact game is just another piece of the puzzle that seems so far beyond my mind to get..yet I feel it is right in my grasp. Its like any other game I have learned to play thanks to Pat and moments it does not feel like I am making any progress not because of the horse..but because of my blocks and my moments of unconfidence in myself and how trusting I am that its all good.

It is okay to be "wrong" ish if you trust in the fact that we can only learn if we use love language and leadership to attempt new things)..You cannot get a forward move by sitting still and waiting for life to happen.. We have to take risks and learn and grow.The contact game has taught me I have to engage and be alive in the is another game that will inspire us all to keep growing wanting and needing more ! : )

It is contagious in the fact that even though I so do not have it yet it has inspired me to be more precise in all other areas of play with my horse!!!!!!" - Beth Weaver

Saturday, June 12, 2010

....playing in my 7th session with Nigel and "The Game of Contact".

Direct youtube link.

Ok so here is my understanding of Linda's explanation: We make a GAME about who takes the contact. So if Nigel doesn't want it. . .I'll take it. ...until he says "hey! i'll take that". I say, "great! you can have it! i'll just hold your hand".

I use my biceps (think dumbbell curls) to take the contact and my triceps (along the back of my upper arms) to push forwards following the contact when he wants it and rounds his lower back. When he can carry himself I try to remember to pull my armpits down and hold the contact with my triceps.

In the video when I'm calling out "biceps" I'm taking the contact because Nigel is sucking behind my leg (losing self propulsion) or over curling his neck...or bracing somewhere etc. When I'm calling out "triceps" I feel him round over his topline, drive forward from behind and take the contact forwards. I said lifting of Zone 4* in the video but I meant Zone 3*. The push and impulsion come from Zone 4.

As you can see when the push really comes from behind his shoulders lift up more and his trot gets floatier and more forward. His whole stride gets longer and I really notice the outside front leg looks like it suddenly is softer and reaches up and around the turn almost effortlessly.

Nigel is on the cusp of a Left Brained Introvert/Left Brained Extrovert ...forward is not always his favorite but when he figures out what we're playing he's got LOTS!

I think its worth noting that this is not about vertical flexion at the poll. (although this can't really happen without it) Its about the horse using his whole body to power forward and lift... and hold the contact through the reins. The contact between the bit and the rider's hand completes the cycle of the energy. (Walter Zettl calls it Schwung. The cycle comes from the horse's hind legs, over his back, between his ears, through the reins to the riders hands, through the rider's body, down the rider's legs and then again into the horse's hind leg. If the contact gets dropped by either the horse or human....the cycle is broken.

This is Nigel and I's 7ths session playing this game since Linda's article was published.

You can read Linda's article on The Game of Contact in the May 2010 issue of the Savvy Times in the Parelli Savvy Club Vault under "back issues". To join the club (which has been such an important part of my journey and I believe an awesome tool to help us change the world for horses and humans) click join.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Allure Breakthrough

I've gotta share this one. "The Game of Contact" is my new obsession and I love Allure updates. Picts even! Click here Another Allure Breakthrough to go to Linda's Blog.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

...and I almost got faked out.

This is the tricky part after all. Our horses are dynamic not static.

Lil and I went up to the arena pretty happily. She rolled right away which is a good sign. When she seemed ready to do something, I sent her out on a circle at Liberty*. She maintained gait, direction and connection and started to blow out within a few laps. When she came back though she didn't want to touch me when I put my hand out. (read Right Brained*) I waited until she could. Then scratched her withers which she got into (read Left Brained*).

I figured we should check out our Figure 8 Pattern Online*. Oh man. In my lesson Linda called me out for moving my stick too quickly. I seriously don't even lift it! But even thought it doesn't raise off the ground....I move it to the side at the same time as giving the cue with my direction hand. And crap! Its not an easy habit to break! Linda suggested I might need to put a bell on my stick like there used to be in the Blue Level Two pack. I'm thinking I may need a car alarm to go off.

Lil was not going around the cones at first. I allowed her to work on it for a bit but when she seemed to have lost the plot I sent Zone 1*. I got the ears back for a second...shoot!..I must have asked too loudly. Of course she went around the cone but then straight away got stuck coming through the change of direction. Once through the middle she would start to trot...come around the cone and stop for a second before heading through the middle again. I'm so glad Linda pointed out the mental tension in her hesitation to come through the middle. Its so subtle....that is the part that is broken and yet I hadn't been conscious enough to isolate it. We just kept on until she could walk softly, ears relaxed and not get stuck.

When she came back to me it was not with Zone 1 was kinda with her shoulder. So I sat on a barrel and waited. She blew out softly but had the secret lip licking. She cocked a leg but didn't touch me or start to rub on me. She looked sleepy. She had been on grass for 3 hours. It was the time of day she usually takes a nap...but I wasn't sure. Then her lower lip started to sag. Ha! Had to be Left Brained! I had waited it out!!!!! ...right?

I saddled her without any resistance...played some cantering circles over the barrels...a little sideways at the trot on the circle...nice stretchy, relaxed..a few changes of direction... all good. Brought her in. She blew out softly and licked...but none of her tongue came out of her mouth. I started to get a little suspicious.

I had asked Linda about this in my lesson....this...uncertainty. She reminded me that she used to make sure that she couldn't blow Allure up before she rode him. I wanted to be sure so I thought I'd try some canter gallop transitions on the circle Online*. I asked for gallop...nothing happened...I waived the flag in Zone 5*.....KABLOOOIE! Now we had gallop...and a few bucking horse quality crow hops. There was one I didn't think I could've ridden.

Now I had a Right Brained Extrovert on a string. Enter my handy dandy new strategy from Linda. Encourage the gallop for a lap and try to keep my feet still! No adding motion to the commotion. I feel like I had improved on that one and I think it helped. Then, I'd get neutral in my body for a lap. When she wanted to relax and slow down I allowed her to. We had to repeat this about three times. Finally she could canter...then gallop without melting down.

Suddenly Lil started blowing out for real. With conviction!!!!! She started licking and two inches of tongue appeared. She itched her leg and started swishing gnats.

I hopped on and we had a great ride. We had a perfect sweat pattern, she rolled at my feet, frisked me for treats and swung away at the walk the whole way down to the barn. Thanks Linda for giving me that extra strategy to roll with the change up. Savvy equals safety right?.... pheeeew!

*See the Glossary at the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Yaaaaaaaaaaahoooooooooooo! My lesson with Linda and Lil was priceless. I'll have to mill out what I learned as I process and absorb it.

Yesterday I was playing with Lil and a very large bell went off in my head.

In our lesson at the Parelli Across America event in Redmond, OR Lil came into the arena acting like a Right Brained Extrovert*. Linda helped me understand the strategy of asking her to go faster than she wanted. If she couldn't keep her feet still then "lets move them!". Now, I've heard this for years, but to see it utilized for a horse that I know really well, helped me big time.

Not too much...just enough. Add just enough energy to take over leadership. Its not a punishment. Which, although I didn't think that I was using it that way. . . . clearly I've been doing too much. Linda told me to be very careful not to add motion to the commotion. (I moved my feet a lot. arg!) Understand Lil's idea... "eeeeek! I've gotta move" then ask her to do more of her idea. All of a sudden, without even knowing it, she's following me. I get it! And boy did it work like a charm.

In pretty short order Lil could stand still. Even in front of all those people! But as soon as I asked her to do something too loudly she went introverted. To entertain the crowd Linda told tons of stories in her spellbinding Linda way and shared lots of Horsenality* info while we waited. . . . . . .And waited and waited and waited. Finally, in her own time, Lil came off of the adrenaline. In the end she yawned for like 5 minutes, rolled, rubbed and nuzzled Linda. She had made it to a confident Right Brained Introvert*. I could feel the grin on the crowd.

One of the stories Linda told was from the Australian Parelli Event. (you can read about it at Linda's Blog the may 17th post) Her lesson there was with a Right Brained Extrovert. She talked about riding the horse and allowing her look around but not letting her get fixated.

So here was the big bell yesterday: All of a sudden I could recognize the difference between a Right Brained Extrovert frozen in place and a Right Brained Introvert gone introverted.

There have been times (looking back now I can see) where Lil was fixated. She would run around like a loon, freeze, then run around some more. This is why I kept saying that it wasn't "sticking". In this case I need to help her to focus. Ask her to do something. Making sure that I match her energy. Sometimes that means being pretty gentle. Sometimes that means I've gotta get pretty big. But the thing I realized is that just waiting for the next explosion is not the right strategy.

However, when Lil goes introverted I do need to wait for her to become confident enough to ask me a question and request further instructions. Linda has said that and written it a hundred times. Wait Wait Wait Wait Wait! Its just I was doing the right thing at the wrong times. Ah yes. What is that Patism about where to be, when to be, why to be, what to do when you get there and when to stop doing what you're doing? . . . something about that being true savvy...??

When she's in an RBE freeze its almost as if she's still vibrating. when she's in an RBI introversion, its so quiet! And now after the stark difference she showed in Redmond I CAN SEE IT!!!! Hallelujah! I was literally yelling with excitement into the phone when I called my husband yesterday to share my breakthrough. lol.

This will change everything for me and my horses. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Jackpot baby!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lil did so well at our Playday!

When we got to Beth's Place everyone was already there hanging around outside handgrazing their ponies. We of course joined in and Lil hoovered grass while us humans chatted excitedly about the coming Parelli Across America Event.

As people started to wander off to tack up or play in the indoor arena, roundpen or on the hillside, Lil and I went to the huge outdoor arena to see how she'd do as everyone left us. Its getting better!

The circling game is where I can see a lot of how she is mentally and emotionally. Can she maintain gait, direction, rhythm and connection to me? Can she not pull on the line or try to change direction every half a lap so she's always heading back to the barn? Can she relax into the movement and curve prettily on the circle hooking onto me as the bullseye?

The slower we go the easier it seems. And yet the blow up can lurk just below the surface. She was fine as usual at the trot. Nice rhythm and connection. Pretty good at the canter actually. Maintained the speed and rhythm nicely and it only took a few laps for the flexion on the circle to "get straight" and for her to connect to me. I loved that she seemed present the whole time and that I could see her tongue as she was licking and chewing.

Gallop is where the drama poked its head out a little bit. Not too bad though. On the long side of the arena I would run straight down the centerline so she could gallop. Then she'd get ahead of me so I would stop my feet. . . she would have to curve her body and slow down to cut across the short side. In this pattern she could make canter gallop canter transitions and I could be relatively passive in asking her to reconnect with me. Its not a circling game of course at that point. More like just a gentle driving game but that's just fine so long as I recognize it.

As she got faster she did a few leaps in the air. Her tail and neck got high and tight. . . . she even kicked out at me once. I did wish I had the 45 with me as there was plenty of room to use it and it would have been EXCELLENT to be able to really let her open up. (note to self to bring it next time because I can only run so fast and cannot seem to keep up with a thoroughbred. lol) In just a few minutes she was blowing and cantering with connection and impulsion (not too fast not too slow). She came back to me and then wanted to eat grass. All of this whilst we were the only ones within eyesight.

We went to find the rest of the gang relaxed and curious about everything. Kip hung out with her while I helped other people with questions. I didn't see it but Kip said she laid down at his feet and took a nap! Later we both rode her. She felt great for me. When I got on she started yawning. How un-freakin-believable is that? Kip said she had improved a lot since he had ridden her last (which I love to hear) and I saw them have a really nice canter.

This all gives me hope that things will be better for our lesson with Linda in Redmond this weekend than they were last year for our Spotlight in Reno. It is important to me that both Pat and Linda see that I've been putting my time in. That all of their investment in me has not been wasted. I'm guessing that Lil will still be scared in front of all those predators. . . but our relationship has improved soooooo much since then . . .I have to trust that Pat is Pat and Linda is Linda and that they will see it. . . . . and I am so excited to get a few more missing puzzle pieces!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Actually, We Went For A Hike Instead....

Beth and Louie, Kip and Nigel, Lil and I needed a break from the treadmill and the arena. So we met at the BLM land just down the street from our house (about 20min from Beth's) for a hike. Just Three Horses, Three Humans, Three Parelli Halters, Three 12 Foot Lines, Three Carrot Sticks, Three Savvy Strings marching along the logging roads singing a merry tune.

It was deliciously quiet. The gunmen had packed up from the morning target practice and the motorbikes showed up as we were leaving. A couple cyclists rode by as we started out but that was it. My cell phone didn't even ring once. That is seriously a miracle by itself.

Louie and Beth strolled along peacefully.....quite the handsome couple. Nigel led Kip from grass clump to clover patch....Nigel shining in the filtering sunlight like Shadowfax. Just watching the four of them was a pleasure.

Lil started out walking faster than normal and tended to get ahead of me. We did a little sideways and falling leaf. No fuss...she was walking without a problem....just faster than I could. She was very looky for a good hour but not spooky. Walking back she was my favorite Lil. Soft everything. Ears, Neck, Tail, Eyes. Head low. Blowing softly and moving with that musical gait of the relaxed quadruped.

I put her sheet back on before I turned her out when we got home....she nuzzled me and then started yawning. Doesn't get much better than that.