Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trailer Breakthrough!!!

Hooooooooo Boy! Feels like a lot has happened in the last week with Nigel. It was all set off by one of the best calls ever with my Coach Rachel*.

We came to the conclusion that Nigel's trailer issue was separation anxiety ... not the trailer. If you put that horse in a trailer with several other horses...he'd be happy as a clam to go wherever. He would be with the herd which is were he is the very most confident.

Once this became clear we were able to formulate an appropriate strategy. ... and to cotton onto the fact that I was now dealing with Left Brained* behavior. It had started out as a little worry (especially after we went next door a month or so ago and we had that big meltdown when the other horses got all worked up about him being over there)....but now....he had my number.

It came down to needing to let him stay in the trailer longer. The thing was, he was still banging around and making such a racket! But...he seemed to be just fine to stand in there and eat his grain. As soon as the grain was done the symphony began.

As we know, Right Brained*, stressed and scared horses won't eat. They usually won't touch even their favorite treat because food is at the very bottom of a horse's hierarchy of needs. Sooooooo this was a great "tell". He was cocking a leg munching away...until he deemed the grass outside the trailer more appealing than the hay inside the trailer.

The thing was that I couldn't just keep letting him out now that it was Left Brained. Rachel instructed me to clean stalls...weed the garden...whatever...just ask him into the trailer, feed him his food and leave him be. When he got quiet (even if it was for just a minute) I could let him out. Duh right?

Well, I proceeded to do this. And Nigel proceeded to pound. Arg! I just wanted him to stop! It was making me crazy! I told Kip later: "thank god this wasn't in a nice new trailer. we'll have to keep this one for practice for sure." What was I going to do though? He was in the trailer! I couldn't move him around until he wanted to keep his feet still....I needed a way to make pounding less desirable...

Then it came to me.... A flag! I marched into the barn and tied a plastic bag to a carrot stick. When I came back out I simply mirrored him. He pounded...I waved like a mad woman. At first he looked at me like "what in the hell???" (I was watching carefully to make sure this was just annoying him and not really scaring him) He kept pounding...I waved...he got still...I got still...he clonked his hoof experimentally....I waved softly... About five minutes of this tit for tat....he looked at me....cocked a leg and started eating his hay. GOTCHA!

I've felt as if we were at a plateau with the trailer. This tipped the balance. Now I've got his number. Today, he chilled in there for almost 45 minutes. 5 of those he was completely shut in. At the end of the 45 minutes...he started yawning...he finally, finally, FINALLY..let loose. Oh thank god.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

....Nigel has been yawning after our rides.

Its been interesting. He has progressed through sighing...blowing out Online* at the walk..then at the trot...then at the canter.....same progression Freestyle* and now at all three gaits in Finesse*. We've been playing with The Game of Contact (as Linda Parelli has been teaching recently). Over the last few sessions, after he's undressed and relaxing as I pack up the tack locker he's been yawning. And yawning. And yawning.

This "Game of Contact" has been very helpful to me in a few different ways. First and foremost, it has put the idea of making it a GAME right at the front of my mind. This is sooooooooo important for a mostly Left Brained Introvert* horse like Nigel who really needs to see the point in going around and around in circles.

The thing with Nige is that he can get a lot of things done without really using his body to the fullest. (as evidenced by his passage with a hollowish back and head in the air. lol) So The Game of Contact, for whatever reason, reminded me that it is not just about a rounder topline and having the horse compress his body...not even just flexion like a bow...but ENGAGEMENT through the hind end. Really and Truly "Impulsion". Power from behind.

I know what this feels like because Lil is spectacular in the trot moving this way. She's not usually very uphill, more even front to back, but she sure uses her hind end to power the forward.

Now, reminding myself that this is the new game I'm playing with Nigel, I can fuzz out what I'm seeing with my eyes as we're going around, and feel for him to really push himself up and forward, powering it all from his hind quarters. When he does it, I've been releasing him with my whole body. At first it was a step or two of engagement then release and stretch for nearly half a lap or so, now even just a few sessions later, he's really getting the idea...the feeling of it himself too I think, its the reverse...release for a few steps then engagement for almost half a lap on a 20m circle.

He seems to be interested in the whole thing too which is amazing. I remember when I first started really spending time with him (about 9 months ago)...he had no idea that there was a point to anything. Not even something obvious like putting a foot on a stump or his nose on a cone. For him to "get the game" with something this subtle is really cool. Its not that surprising anymore I suppose, I'm more getting used to how smart he much of a super Left Brained learning genius he is......but its still waaaay cool.

Anyway, this yawning thing is a great sign I think. Sometimes a horse yawns when he's coming of stress and adrenaline but they also do it when they've achieve a new level of relaxation like during a good massage. I really don't think he's tense during the exercise...he's blowing, ready to stretch...when stopped cocking a leg, head and neck loose. I think the yawning means we're making progress gymnastically!

Its a crack up to see him out in the field after these workouts. Like yesterday. I let the whole herd out to run and play in the sunshine. Which they all did (even our 27 year old was cantering around doing changes)... except Nigel. He' play lip wars and "move your feet" if another horse came around...but he mostly wanted to eat and relax. Hehe....its very gratifying to see that I've been able to satiate him mentally and physically. And he looks happy afterwards, tracking me with interested ears forward and soft eyes.... Yay!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

... I can't believe that Lil is letting me lay her flat out.

Lil and I are a stronger partnership...for sure. Of late, I am frequently in awe of the bond that we have been able to forge despite our differences.

Lil trusts me.... she's been laying down at my feet for several years now. The new development is that she will let me gently porcupine her neck to lay her flat out. It is truly unbelievable to me that this formerly distrustful prey animal that I have made soooooo many mistakes with, will put herself in such a compromised position at my request.

Now its my turn to trust her.

I had a chance to talk with a wonderful Parelli Faculty member yesterday. She was helping me with a Nigel trailer question but also, I had sent in Lil and I's Level 4 liberty audition. It was great to discuss strategies for advancement. We were awarded all Level 3++'s except four Level 4 scores. One on rapport and one on relationship! (those are the best ones I think) But. Pat wants to see more refinement.

I hadn't really been thinking of Refinement...even though its all over the level 4 self assessment sheets. What it boils down to is allowing another layer to come off the onion. Instead of continuing to do what we've been doing for months now.....learning some very high level maneuvers but using phase 2 and 3 to execute them....I need to be ready to correct...but trust that she'll respond. Not more one than the other.

..........what a privilege! It is a dream come true to even be thinking about these intricacies.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

..Playing with "Summer Lil"

My horsey's horsenality* changes with the weather.

Its very clear, if we think of measuring confidence in 5 areas, as Pat and Linda have taught us, (Confidence in my Leadership, Herself, the Heard, the Environment and as a Learner) Lil has the most trouble with changes in her environment. The wind, pelting rain and cold really does a number on her confidence.

It is for sure getting better each winter as our relationship gets stronger especially as I've learned to help her more. We've made a lot of progress in the last 4months. Buuuuuuuuuuut, I LOVE it when she gets back to this Lil. She's snugglier, itchyer, pushier, curiouser (heh) and even nippier. It makes me sooooooooooooo happy!

It is almost like we can do anything together. I'm a lot better than I used to be about flexing my strategies for her changed behaviors and adjusting to fit the situation.

Now....we can get back to freakin flying changes undersaddle. I swear...if I ever get through this...if I ever get it...I can die happy. Its just so ridiculous. Lil is brilliant at them. Online* and at Liberty*.

Its a pretty simple issue....I chicken out. I get tight right when I need to be confident to allow her to go forward into the change. Grrrrrrr. Pretty soon I think I'll be so sick of myself I'll finally give up and go for it. Kip just laughs at me and rolls his eyes. "You're stopping her from doing it! She's ready!!!"

I am tempted to just take a passenger lesson and have Kip ask her to do it as if she was at Liberty. I'll just shut my eyes and hang on. How finessey and skilled does that sound?

Seriously though, getting down to it, here is what I'm worried about. I'm worried that carrying me will unbalance her and she'll trip and fall. I also have some emotional baggage with her getting super engaged at the canter. She used get very emotional at the canter and get so tight and overengaged .... I guess it's a carry over for me. For crying out loud. She's past that. I need to get over myself.

Having my summer horsey back will help me psychologically I think. She is more left maybe I will be too. I'm quite sure she'll be happy when her human gets it together....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hanging out with Beth and Louie (at their arena)

Its great visiting with those two for many reasons. I love having a fellow student (and dear friend) like Beth. And Louie...well, Louie was my first Parelli partner. About a year and a half ago he and Beth got together because they are perfect for each other. I'm so so grateful that he is still firmly rooted in the family. I love him a lot.

Sometimes I get a chance to go over to their place to see what they're up to. The two of them have passed their Level 3 Online* and Liberty* and so are working on Level 3/4 Freestyle*, Level 4 Online and Liberty. It is so fun to get to see them playing in level 3/4. I learn sooooo much! Knowing Louie so well is great too because Beth doesn't have to explain his horsenality to me.

Plus, there are things that only I (and Kip) would really appreciate. For instance, last night, they played Online (we fiddled with a few things . . I gave a little outside perspective and helped with some of the L4 things I've already done) then she saddled him. La la la and off they went to play a little more Online...then she got on and they showed off some really good Freestyle riding with 2 carrot sticks. An outsider would most likely not even notice anything. Which is the point. Saddling wasn't even a blip. That is a BIG HUGE DEAL!!!!

When Beth got Louie from us he had a few issues that I hadn't helped him get all the way through. One was trailer loading and the other was saddling. I started Louie about 3 months prior to becoming a serious Parelli student. I was using another popular "natural horsemanship" method. I exacerbated an already shaky Porcupine/Friendly game which I didn't recognize at the time. But, we got around it. I thought at the time that the goal was to "get on my horse and then fix the problem". I wasn't even thinking of his claustrophobia.

So I just made sure that Louie was safe to get on (I have to say without that method I could have been VERY unsafe) and didn't worry about him really and truly being ok with the saddle. He stood still and tolerated saddling. Once I got on and we were going things were mostly fine but starting the sessions off with that mental tension .... I can only see now how much more progress he can make when he starts off completely relaxed and confident.

The trailer issue is a lot the same although I don't think I created it. Louie was run through the sale barn and when we bought him we just got him into our trailer any way we could. (chased him through a chute and into it) When I started "training" him I began the miserable task of trying to fix the issue without the keys to success. As the years when by and I got farther in the the Parelli program my savvy increased and I was able to help him some. But I committed to Lil a few years after that and did not choose to spend the hours with Louie and the trailer.

Well, Beth has chosen to lay a real foundation. She spent a gajillion days and nights last year making the horse trailer a friendly place for Louie to be. She got him so good, so confident that she hauled him safely all the way to Reno Nevada (Lil and I went too) and he'll still hop happily in.

She has done the same with the saddle...taking the time it takes...however long it takes...for him to be like he was last night. Let loose. COMPLETELY LET LOOSE for saddling. Leg cocked... could have been eating grass in the sunshine let loose. I'm so proud of them both and very very happy for Lou.

A big highlight for me last night was when Beth and I had a big discussion about the Porcupine and Friendly games specifically with the tail. Louie, Lil and Nigel all lead backwards by the tail. All do it at Liberty. Lil even makes turns and responds from just a few hairs. But.....................we were talking about it getting so good.....again those let loose....that it feels as soft and gentle and relaxed as the feel we have with our horses on the halter usually. We were wondering what it will be like when our horse is so trusting of us that the whole dock of the tail is perfectly relaxed and we get a super soft following feel without ANY tension. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm that'll be a whole nother level of excellence.