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.