Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rapport, Respect. Respect, Rapport. Balance...

Ai yi yi! So much easier said than done! Love, Language and Leadership in EQUAL doses. A pretty dang tall order.

Nigel is forcing me to step it up. We want to be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary right? Well, I have been faced with the fact that I really don't want to. I don't want to have to get firm with him. (unfortunately this is required in order to be order to be understood) I don't want to drive him away when he gives me the crappy ears and the driving face. Its one of those "everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" deals. I want to have a beautiful relationship...I want to have the 51% in the partnership but apparently I don't want to do what it takes to earn that leadership.

In the last year I have worked hard to create rapport. To build Nigel's confidence with me. He is by nature a confident horse and so we've reached the tipping point. Over the last week or so it has become clear that I have two choices. Dominate or be dominated.

At least I don't take it personally. Watching Nigel out in the field I see him behave the exact same way with the other horses. He is passively...subtley...surruptitiously dominant. He doesn't seem to go out of his way to make a big fuss about moving up the pecking order. He just is where he is. (somewhere in the middle of the herd of 7)

Its actually pretty humorous. The other day Jack was trying to get him to move his feet. He got so frustrated trying to get firm enough with Nige that he actually jumped on him. Nigel is like 14.2 ... Jack is about 16.2 . Jack was standing beside him with one leg on either side of Nigel's withers...Nigel sloooowwwwly moved sideways so that Jack slid off. I was vindicated! If all 1400 pounds of Jackson is having trouble getting Nigel to move...I don't feel so bad about not having figured it out yet.

Reverse psychology does work brilliantly because if I set it up to make it seem like his idea he thinks he's dominating me. And of course he naturally wants to do that. However, I think there is a time to make sure that I get a response. For instance, in the yoyo game..he can really suck me into nagging him. Finding an effective phase four is requiring me to stretch and grow my leadership skills.

When playing with Nige, I've been trying to visualize Travis who is the alpha in the herd. He's 27 and still in charge. He is the king of getting in and getting out. And he doesn't give a tiny little rat's ass (emotionally speaking) if the others are trying to move up or not. He just lays down the law very frankly. He's like an electric fence. If somebody steps out of line...he puts them back. Simple as that.

They either cause him to just lay his ears back as a reminder... or like the other day with Jackson...Jack caused Trav to run him around until he would stand still respectfully and not move... until finally Trav gave him permission. That was a big eye opener. Travis ran Jack into the fence repeatedly....making him do rollbacks...playing the squeeze game...playing the circling game making him go around and around. The mud was flying! If it had been dry there would have been a cloud of dust for sure. I watched him give Jack opportunities to stop ... but Jack would try to sneak he'd send him off again.

I would have felt horrible! Like a total predator if I would have been doing that to Jack. I'm consciously trying to emulate the way Travis does not seem to get mad. I know that is a big part of me being successful. The detachment of it. The attitude of justice. Cause and effect. Its when predators get emotional that horses get scared. I noticed that Jack was not sweating one bit when he finally decided comply. Very interesting.

Playing with Nigel yesterday I decided to try the flag instead of a savvy string. Friendly game was interesting....he wasn't too worried but especially on his right side he was lookier at it. Interestingly enough this caused him to want to bite it ... not really aggressively...but almost...dominantly. He didn't strike at it which I thought was noteworthy.

The flag did elicit more of a response. And I loved it because I could just change my expression from friendly to driving and wave the flag instead of having to smack him with the stick or tag him with the string. (which as I said has been marginally effective ... both for me and his herdmates) I was able to use the flag to drive him back when he gave me the bad ears with great success. I've also been using the flag to cause him to stand respectfully away from his grain and hay in his stall until I invite him to it. We'll see how long the flag remains effective.....
It does seem like this is creating MORE rapport instead damaging it. He also had seemed spookier since he took leadership....over the last few days...with me taking it back...he has been less so....very noticeably. Oh phew! Man I love this horse. Preserving and developing our relationship is my number one priority. I guess Pat was right. "Horses are natural followers and they are looking for natural leaders." Nigel just expects a lot out of his.

The super duper cool side effect is that Nigel is causing me to be a better leader...being a better leader causes Lil to be more confident with me. Nigel is providing me the opportunity to become an even more confident, balanced rider...which is causing Lil to be more confident with me as her rider. So as I improve (kicking and screaming sometimes) I am killing two birds with one stone so to speak. Efficientcy... I love it.


  1. "nit picky is fair" ;0)....this is huge! glad nige could help!

  2. It's called "being particular without being critical." We vest ourselves, emotionally, in the outcome. And that's where it bites us in the bum.

  3. Hi Emma!
    I stumbled in here from your link on shareparelli.

    Great insights into the whole Alpha/dominance/detachment thing! Really nice to read. I'm going through similar with my little LBI partner at the moment! Hang in there!
    Kris Hughes

  4. Oh yes I can totally relate tho this Emma! My LBI is the leader of our three (and in fact every single other horse who has ever been in close proximity of him) - without too much drama he keeps them all im line - and without too much energy being used.... I have kept that in mind myself when trying to ask him to do things, and sometimes I feel mean but then I say to my husband - it's no worse than what he would do to Maraschino (my 3 year old horse)..... well done - love the detail in your blogs - awesome - keep up the good work.