Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling Together

Its been very interesting to think about this. A few weeks ago Kip and I spend our 15th wedding anniversary vacation auditing Buck Brannaman for 7 days. Buck is definitely special. I found myself studying why. What makes him different?

I watched him artfully communicate with his horses. Of course he wasn't using a mechanical marker like a clicker and he for sure wasn't using food as a reward. Yet he was moving his horse towards the feel in a way that was beyond just pressure and release.

At one point Buck was talking about how extraordinary it was to be with a horse that was hunting the feel. He talked about giving the horse what it wants most in the world: PEACE. No wonder this guy doesn't need to use treats.

I could feel the lines in my forehead getting deeper as I strained to see how he was utilizing the laws of science and behavior modification with an accuracy I have rarely seen. And sure enough, he was using a marker and a reward. His marker was the release and his reward was the Peace of Feeling Together.

I think that it is very important to note that this is not a "peacefulness" that comes from robbing the horse of his sense of security or taking away the little peace he, as a flight animal, is born with. Its about adding a peace the horse didn't have before. That's when horse and human become more than what we were separately. So in fact, the release is a marker and not a reward.

A marker is a secondary reinforcer. It tells the horse "Yes! that was what I wanted!" A reward is something additional that you give the horse. Something that they want. Something that they didn't have before. The marker and the reward need to be linked together so the horse understands that the reward follows the marker.

This seems to be the critical difference between using avoidance behavior via pressure and release (Do X and I'll leave you alone.) vs using pressure (as little as necessary)to give the horse information about where to start hunting the feel. The thing about leaving him alone is...that is what he had before I got there. I frankly just took away his comfort in order to have something to exchange back. 

When I think about it, that's pretty pitiful. I don't want to have so little to offer my horse that I have to take away from him first. I want to Give to my horse. I want to bring something to the relationship. I think if we try to use the release of pressure as a marker and a reward simultaneously and don't add anything, we are missing that magical nugget all the special horsemen have been trying to describe throughout history.

Its a razor thin line... and I think its what makes a master. An artist. A true horseman sets things up for the horse to move TOWARDS instead of away. Moving towards the puzzle, towards the answer, towards the contact, towards empowerment, towards balance, towards peace. I want some more of that. I want to Feel those things Together with my horse so that we can be in  True Unity

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Progress With Nigel And The Trailer!


I feel like we are ALMOST over the hump. (man I hope so anyway)

Yesterday, I was able to load Nigel at liberty, lock him in, go about some yard chores, drive him up to the house, let him relax and eat quietly, unload him and have him put his nose into the truck to check me out for more cookies while I was getting ready to back it down the driveway!

He had a few moments of pounding initially when I practiced rolling the trailer back and forth, but when that didn't get reinforced he got quiet, came to the open manger door and looked at me. I clicked for it. Having the clicker has changed this horse's world when it comes to turning of his panic/rage system. In his fury of being locked in, he has moments of softness. That's when I click and treat. It is causing him to hold onto that feeling for longer and longer.

Another note: I seriously think that being able to turn around has been helping him. Its a little like the patience pole..they can move but only within certain parameters. He is finding the peaceful spot more and more! Totally excellent. Now, if I can just get him more experience in small enough increments so as to expand on that feeling.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SEEKING Is The Secret.

I use food rewards with my horses a lot and often get asked about how much I reinforce behavior with treats. How do I stop my horse from getting bitey or "muggy".

My experience tells me that on the surface, there are two parts to the answer. One is to make sure that I have a good driving game. Meaning that I can keep my horse out of my personal space. After all, if he can't reach me, he can't bite me or crowd me. This establishes me as a leader straight away and most importantly keeps me safe.

The second thing is to make sure that I am rewarding the things that I want. If my horse nips me or bites me or gets pushy I DO NOT give him a food treat. For heavens sake, why would I do that.

I think to myself...horsey, there is a way to get as many treats as you want. Just do something really cool! I mean seriously, if Nigel wanted to go out at liberty and do one tempi flying lead changes down the long side, he would get as many treats as I could get my hands on!

Speaking of Nigel, I've noticed that an interesting thing has been developing. He has become less and less pushy, bitey, and dominant. I'm guessing that part of that is this good leadership from me. But a new and life changing theory has occurred to me.

Nigel can now count on getting reinforcements with treats. He knows how to procure them. Therefore his anxiety and grabbyness is disappearing. Number one, getting rude doesn't net him anything and number two, doing impressive things (sometimes this is just standing very quietly for saddling)will always earn him a reward. I think this has flipped a switch in his brain.

The BIGGEST HUGEST thing that I've begun to understand, is that how he earns the reward is the important thing to him. At the core, it is not actually the treat that he values most. Engaging the SEEKING part of his brain is the key. Its the deepest most basic instinct that any living thing has.

It comes down to the simple fact that having puzzles and finding answers is what makes horses happy. The SEEKING instinct is more powerful than fear or dominance. Its how horses find water, safety, comfort, play and everything else that they need and want. Its what enables them to live and gives them quality of life.

I've noticed this with all my horses and even with my dog. Having an opportunity to hunt the answer is what they're after. Our great pyrenees Ava won't even take certain treats from me unless I've asked her to do something first. She wants her BRAIN fed. Not her tummy. The SEEKING instinct is in every organism. Its what causes a tree's roots to search deep down for the water vein in soil, a dandelion to find the weak spot in the concrete to break its way into the sunlight and moss to grow on the north side of trees. The SEEKING instinct is why we humans love to read books, play soduku, get masters degrees, hike to see a special mountain view, study horsemanship and millions of other things that we invest gobs of time and money into. It turns our brains on. It nourishes the very part of us that is alive.

I can't believe I am just figuring this out! I mean this is it right? This is the whole golden secret to giving my horses what they need. Its the truth about Horsemanship. My Oh my.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Fear A Gift?

One time I heard a security specialist say that it was. Those hairs standing up on the back of your neck are to be paid attention to. In terms of horsemanship, Parelli has always said that the moment you think about needing to get off your horse, you should. Don't ignore the feeling of dread in your stomach or the warning voice in your head.

Healthy fear is a pre incident indicator. It can help us avoid many a sticky wicket, dangerous event or the shattering of trust and confidence in ourselves. Just as we need to respect our horse's prey animal self preservation instincts, we need to respect ours.

BUT....there does come a time to take a leap of faith and to be brave. If we've done our prior and proper preparation, we've got to push the envelope a little more. Otherwise we don't progress.
View on youtube

Over the last month Nigel has felt so solid and trustworthy that I've been taking the bridle off. Of course, he and I have done our preparation. Making sure we have our yields to level 4...(Or at least 3++) However, I am very aware that even in the very best of circumstances, and on the most confident horse...things can happen. My horse could trip, a flock of quail could fly up and crash into my coverall, even an earthquake or a tree falling could spook my prey animal. And the reality is that it should.

One of the things I think about a lot and strive for in my life is balance. When do I plan for the future and when do I live as if today is my last day? How do I live in the moment with my horse and still have ambition? When do I listen to my fear and when do I tune it out to plunge forwards?

I don't have the answer. I suppose there really isn't one. I just have to do the best I can to feel it out. FDR said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. My husband Kip says fear is not a gift..but caution is.
I think that it depends on how you look at it. The natural self preservation and will to live in all of us is a gift and confidence is a precious thing. Fear is important feedback about our circumstances and surroundings, giving us information on how to proceed. It is often governed by a powerful cocktail of subconscious and conscious data. I guess the key is to acknowledge it, respect it and yet not let it govern us unmitigated.

I suppose in life we have to take risks. Driving our cars down the freeway, swimming on vacation in Hawaii, or spinach from the grocery store can kill us. My friend Beth mentioned the other day that sometimes we've just gotta man up, roll the dice and accept the risk. Particularly if the circumstances are as good as they're going to get. We have to make the choice to move forward even at the risk of life and limb or stand still to keep the illusion of safety. So I've been taking the bridle off...and the feeling has been amazing.

I think maybe that is one of the most special qualities about a relationship between a horse and a human. Its an extraordinary mix of instinct, logic and spirit. Each individual causing the other to think more or feel more in order to progress. I think fear IS a gift and I'll take it.... especially because I have more experience with my horse and horsemanship helping me stay brave and in balance.

The Risk To Bloom

And then the day came
when the risk to remain
tight in a bud
was more painful than the
risk to bloom

-Anais Nin

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Day Makes A Difference

I keep thinking and thinking about this. I suppose it shouldn't be that much of a surprise to me ... or even be that big of a deal ... but it is.

Last week I finally put Ferreira up on my ParelliConnect Wall. (btw, anyone can sign up for a free 30 day trial) She's 5 this year and I know its about time to really press to find her a person. Part of that, for me, is to make sure that she has a reasonable mini foundation to set her up for success in life. You know, simple things like, trimable and trailerable.
On Parelli Connect there is a really cool tracking feature which is a big motivator and positive reinforcement for me. It tracks my horsemanship hours as well as each horse in all four savvys. It also gives each horse a checklist so I thought it would be really good for me to put her on there because that way I'd get credit for my hours (very important to me as my goal is 500 a year) and to use the checklists for her development.
Ferreria has had the least amount of development of Lil's three babies. Jake was Lil's first and got A TON of attention from us. It was just so amazing to have a little foal and he was soooooooooo cute! We also had quite a few less horses so by the time he was 3 he was set up. We had to lock the trailer doors so he wouldn't get into it.....our farrier nailed shoes on all four feet...we saddled him without a hitch, got on, easy as pie. The icing was that we found him a perfect human partner!
Jack, Lil's second baby, Kip claimed from the moment he squirted out. He got less time than Jake did but still was handled quite a bit, is very pleasant to be around and Kip is almost ready to finish up his level 2 Online with him. (Although, I have to say, Jack a PAIN when it comes to fences. They'd better be hot man or it means nothing more that a suggestion to him.)
We were there when Ferreira was born about 5:35 early Feb 16th 2006. Kip and I both imprinted her over the first hours. I made sure in her first week that she understood how to yield to driving and steady pressure, the yoyo game (hugely important safety game in my opinion) and of course lots of friendly with us humans. She has known nothing other than us as a part of her herd and that we are the highest in the pecking order.
That was pretty much it. Last summer I started to feel the pressure of a nifty horse hanging around our barn doing nothing. We brought her into this world and are responsible for her life. I had hung back a little because I didn't feel like I could commit to several weeks in a row and I was thinking that perhaps it would be a detriment to her to have a few days here and there.
When the round pen dried up I figured I should get going. So one day we played. Just the beginnings of the basics. Put the games to a purpose and start the figure 8 pattern as well as touch it. We had a few misunderstandings and a tiny bit of drama but I remember being quite impressed at how much communication we did have because seriously this was perhaps the 8th time she'd ever had a line on her since she was a few weeks old. We were both quite happy at the end of the session.
Then I got distracted by Nigel and trying to get to Lil as well and gratefully busy with real that was all the one on one time I ended up spending with her. One day in the fall she got a tummy ache so Kip and I hand grazed her until she had a poo...other than that, no more school. (even that really wasn't school)

Last week I was prepared for Ferreira and I's first session this year to be getting up to the arena. Although the arena is in the middle of the 5 acres the horses get turned out on and she's been in it many times with the rest of the gang, its about 300 feet away from the herd when they are in the barn. Our session last year was in the round pen which is very close to the barn but is still way too wet to use. I figured we'd do approach and retreat and make a 7 day program out of it if we needed to.

F marched right up there with me. Like a good little marching follower! Slightly stunned with happy surpise, I sent her through the gate like a squeeze and as she turned to face me she spooked and headed back out. She stopped midway before she hit the end of the line and came back to me. She looked at me like "wait, did you want to do something? my paddock is boring. do you have any good ideas?".
From there we just played like I would normally play with any other level 1-2 horse. It was so fun! Same thing the next day. What a nice feeling. It like being given time! I thought we'd be starting from zero. many things are actually solid! Jump the barrels, touch everything, learning to put feet on stuff, fig 8...With another 20 hours or so she should be ready to rock and roll with someone. (we're on the lookout for that person to appear)
I'm so glad I played with her that one day last summer. Because, one day makes a difference. I'll never forget that now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

I wanted to share this blog from Linda because she saw everything first hand. I got to watch it via the webcast and am so glad that I didn't miss it.

Pat did everything that he promised us he would do. He promised he would put the relationship first. He promised that he didn't care about winning. He promised that he was there to show how beautiful starting a colt could be.

It was a picture of art and joy even when things didn't quite go as planned and he had to bail out. He touched that horse with his heart in his hands and as gently as if he was a baby hummingbird. Pat found this young horses hidden trouble spot and with almost no muss or fuss ... fixed it. In the end Pat's little pal was grabbing the tarp and trying to steal Pat's savvy string.

And the REALLY cool part is that Pat said "Troubadour" reminds him of the horse he lost a few years ago Revolution who died of a heart attack at 3. Troubadour and Pat is a horselovers favorite kind of love story.

I'm so proud and grateful to be Parelli.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Story Of Monty

Five years ago I was in Florida for the six week course at the Parelli Center. The weekend before the course I got to go to a Five Star Parelli Professional David Lichman clinic that happened to be nearby. Sitting on the fence I was captivated by a glorious white horse who seemed joyful and willing and moved like magic. I had to talk with his owner to find out what kind of horse this was! I just had to know more about him!

Ellen, his friendly, outgoing, red headed, Brazilian owner told me that he was a 13 year old Lusitano that she imported from Mexico. She said that he came out of a very old breeding farm and was a stallion for 8 years. If I remember correctly, she said that she was doing Parelli and learning freestyle for fun as he had a very extensive dressage background. Then she said: "You must ride him!" She marched out of the clinic into the round pen and I was sucked along by her magnetic personality.Before I knew it I was sitting on this fancy horse named Monty. I loved his flowing walk and how safe he felt. He willingly trotted when I asked and I got to feel how round and suspended it was. I was laughing and laughing. Then Ellen told me to passage. Of course I didn't know what to do and only got a bit of a collected trot. She said she would show me so I went to get off. "NO! She said. "I'll have him bow for you first." I protested, as I'd never done anything like that before. She wouldn't have it. "I have babies do this on him!" So he bowed and I didn't topple forward after all. It was a cool feeling.

Ellen proceeded to get on and show me his passage which seemed effortless. It was so clear to me that this horse had been born for this stuff. Mentally, Emotionally and Physically. As we parted so she could get back to the clinic, I kissed him on the nose and thought to myself that someday I would have a horse like this. Someday...

Three years later my husband's horse was getting older and his young one was not started yet. So when a friend of a friend was looking for a person for her Lipizzan, Kip took the plunge, bought him and named him Nigel. I loved the fact that he was safe and well going. But I had no idea that this was the horse I had been dreaming about all along. He reminded me so much of Monty! Bred and born for everything I wanted to do. As I started to cotton on I asked Kip if I could play with him when he didn't have time. He very generously said yes. Basically, the rest is history.

Last summer Wendy Dinnerstein and I met at a Karen Rolf clinic. We were kindred spirits right from the start and I was very interested in the equestrian park and education center for parelli students One With Horses that she and her husband Marc founded.

Last fall Kip and I got to play at the facility and I was in awe of what she and Marc had created in such a short time. In November Wendy and I got to travel together to Florida for Linda's Game of Contact clinic. We were together nearly every second of the day and evenings. We basically talked non stop for a week straight.

Over the week I realized that I d0 fit into the One With Horses plan. My passion is Dressage. I love the development of horses into beautifully moving athletes. When done correctly its a spectacular example of a horse and human partnership, sharing power, harmony, peace and joy. Being one with your horse basically.

I love seeing a choppy quarter horse change into a fluid mover, a bad banana arabian stretch and relax, an off the track thoroughbred get strong and happy and of course the ones that were bred specifically for dressage reach their heritage's potential to be spectacular and to live and contribute for a long long time. As Karen Rohlf says, Parelli Foundation is Gold. Pure Gold. It’s so true. Because as you guys know, everything in Levels 1-4 in Online, Freestyle, and Liberty are what allows you to achieve beautiful Finesse. We are lucky to have so many Parelli professionals in our area to teach these. I'm excited to help people if they are interested in dressage.On the plane home from Florida Wendy and I were still talking. We both agreed that the most important thing to do to change the world for horses and humans is to be a great example. BE THE CHANGE. Pat and Linda's demonstrations were so key to getting the whole Parelli movement going. People need to see the results. Not just hear it talked about. As Pat and Linda focus more and more on teaching at home it is time for us students to get out there and share our journeys and success. Wendy and I realized that a great addition to One With Horses would be a designated Demo and Competition team. Wendy's cute little curly horse Dan is well into level 4 and being an LBI does really well out and about. For me though...we needed a dream horse. We needed a horse that could live at One With Horses to make it easy to practice together and get on the trailer together and go. We wrote down a description of this horse.

We wanted a gelding, not a youngster, well going and experienced, doing piaffe, passage, and flying changes, LBE/LBI, confident and friendly by nature and a gorgeous mover. Pretty much again I was using Monty as a template. The biggest challenge with a horse like this is A. they don't grow on trees and B. they are wickedly expensive. Never the less we wrote it all down and trusted that the universe would eventually come through for us.

Two months later I was lying in bed browsing the Internet on my smart phone. I checked in on the Savvy Club Forum. In recent topics there was a thread that said Level 3 lusitano free to a good home. Naturally I was curious and clicked it. I could not believe my eyes. It was MONTY!!!! Adrenaline shot through my body and my mind started racing. This was him. The template horse! The actual horse! The Dream Horse.

Even though it was 11pm, I texted Wendy. "Are you awake?" She was not awake. But my text roused both her and Marc and she wrote back that she was. I sent back, with a lot of exclamation points, that I had found the dream horse. She said to call the owner in the morning.

I called Ellen first thing. She phoned me back later in the day and we talked for over an hour. In the end she told me no. I could not have him. She really wanted him to have a person. She figured that since I'd be two hours from him I would not be that. She understandably wanted a human for him that would see him everyday. Since I already had Nigel it was not the right thing to bring him to my house. Plus that wasn't my vision anyway. My vision for him was to be an ambassador for Parelli. A shining example of what is possible with a Parelli foundation and a specialization of dressage.

I acknowledged Ellen's desires for Monty's new life and yet still made my case for his roll as a Demo and Competition horse. I shared all about One With Horses and why he needed to live there. And how pampered he would be. She said it sounded really nice but no. Sorry. I asked her to think about it and let me know if she changed her mind. I also sent her some video of Nigel and I playing.

Meanwhile that morning Wendy had sent a request to David Lichman for a recommendation to give to Ellen and to see if he remembered the horse. The evening after Ellen had told me no, David had emailed Wendy back to say he remembered the horse, that he was great and that he himself would take him if he had more time. He also wrote a recommendation for One With Horses as his new home. Ellen wrote me the next morning to say she was reconsidering! Woohooo! I suggested that she talk with Wendy next.

By the time Wendy called me that evening she had decided that the best thing was to fly to Florida so that Ellen could meet us and really feel good about Monty's new home. We jetted out there together and spent two days with Ellen, Monty and her other horses. It was so much fun to meet her. Wendy and Monty bonded and I was reconvicted that he was indeed the horse I remembered.

At the end of our visit Ellen was convinced too and on the condition that Wendy would be his steward and that he would be a cornerstone of the demo and competition team she would donate him to One With Horses. In a little over two months after Wendy and I had hatched our plan the Monty arrived here in Washington.Over the remainder of the year, Wendy and I pretty exclusively will be playing with him. Wendy, as promised, will be his daily person and caretaker as well as focusing on finding and filling the gaps in his foundation. It will be my extreme pleasure to uncover and develop his dressage. We plan to get both he and Dan out to some schooling shows to get them used to the hoopla and hope to incorporate some demos at One With Horses as well as off site. I hear that just being around he lends a certain "ambiance". Ellen did tell us that he has a reputation for causing people to fall in love with him so watch out!So that's the story of Monty. I'm stoked.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

He Blows My Socks Off.

Nigel is so amazing.

I say it all the time but I can’t help it. Last night, he did the BEST long rear so far. I gave him a jackpot for it but seemed he was wanting to go again. I wondered if I could ask him to walk forwards on his hind legs…should I push it? Or shouldn't I?

I dithered for a minute…but felt like the first one was so positive and understood that if he didn’t do the next one as long it would be fine.

He went up and balanced. I kissed to him and did a little draw in my body. He started walking towards me on his hind legs! One, two, three, four, five SIX…I wooped and jumped in the air….he held it for another 2 or 3 seconds just to show off! The stopping and staying up again is a big deal because it shows so much balance.

He blew my socks off i have to say.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Improving My Leadership.

This is such an interesting area of study for me. I tend to be pretty empathetic with my horses. The part I need to improve is "yes I understand do what I say!"

My friend Wendy and I were just in Florida to see a lusitano gelding named Monty. A wonderful woman named Ellen is looking for a home and purpose for him. Wendy and I were looking for a super horse for our demo and inspiration team at OneWithHorses. It turned out to be a match made in heaven.

Naturally, we wanted to check him out and see what he was apt to do in different situations. One of the things we did was to take him on a walk down Ellen's road. Away from the herd and away from his favorite mare with whom he's been pair bonded with for over five years.

Over all his reaction was very mild. He got high headed and a little spooky about the shade nets over the neighboring crops and had a harder time just walking along. It was actually pretty funny...when he was more Right Brained* he couldn't quite keep his feet still. The fancy lusitano version of this was a veeerrrrry slow piaffe. Even his worry was spectacular!

Since Wendy was the one with the line, I got a chance to observe how Monty responded to her bringing up her leadership. She insisted that he stay next to her and not run ahead. She insisted that he go when she went and stop when she stopped. I suggested that she bring up his life a little and take off quickly then see if he could be emotionally fit enough to stop quickly as well. We used the telephone poles as markers.

A very few repetitions later he was in sync with her. I also noticed that he did not get scared when she corrected him. "Hey! Get back jack! Right now!" Sure enough he looked relieved. The most amazing thing was that he bonded with her like I've never seen before in that short a time. Probably a lot of other things set this up. I think he is bred to connect and partner with people. I was green with envy when he was walking along with her and started to turn his nose softly to her and nicker!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! arg! that killed me. Thank god it wasn't me or I'd be miserable that he isn't coming to live at my place.

Since I've been home I've played with Nigel and kept that vision of leadership and the possible results at the front of my brain. Its been interesting to have a few sessions with Nigel in which he was unrideable. That hardly ever happens. One day he got really Right Brained Introvert*. Here's a picture of the Right Brained Inrovert look I call the square ears.
Touch It and waiting worked for that. Then a few days he had too many unpredictable Right Brained explosions although, they are mini ones compared to Lil my thoroughbred. Speedy sideways and the Game of Standing Still worked for that.
Kip came up to the arena to shoot his bow to add something specific to play friendly game with. We did it over two days. At first Nigel struggled not to spook 20 feet. Then 2 feet. Then flinching standing still. Then not. Then he could trot while stretching his nose to the ground even when kip fired as Nigel's Zone 5* was going away from him.
I saddled up, got on and had a great ride. I love it when my horse is confident. I feel like I've made a few pretty good improvements in my leadership that has helped him with it. And so long as I'm improving. I'm happy! (I'm sure my horse is too.)

*see glosssary at the bottom of the page