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.