Monday, April 4, 2016
After Leatherwood, I spent the short time I had at the barn in feeding and doing a worming power pack on Khaleesi- and backing her up the hill in their pasture each day. Both the worming and the backing were simple things that couldn’t hurt – in worse case have no effect at all.
I am surprised to say I believe the worming has improved her mane quality already. Ever since she came to me her mane and tail were somewhat brittle- like she’d had too many colors or perms and her hair was a little fried. I brushed it out yesterday and it seemed much softer already than it’s ever been.
Just that simple interaction has been a neat learning opportunity for us.
I’ve been continuing through the Simple Equine Teaching classrooms and though the concepts are simple (well that is right in the name!) the shift has been ongoing and foundational for me.
I am an active, get-it-done kind of girl. I like solutions and action. This Simple Equine method of working with horses is about inhabiting their world and seeing things as a horse might see it- which is a slower process for me. I find myself observing more carefully and with more understanding each week and having much more clear intent with my horses in every interaction.
It’s also been fascinating to get more serious about energy and mental focus and realize how big a part these play in working with horses.
I watched a few short videos of people working with horses then a discussion group about what was going on. Some things go well, some do not- but they are not obvious as to what goes wrong… In some cases it takes a little help for me to even notice something was ‘wrong’.
The horse did what the handler asked, right?
Oh… That moment the horse looked off distracted… A missed opportunity… The tension in his back end… Right. Of course.
But it’s all there if you look again.
In one video a woman was leading a horse and training the horse to lead with quality. The horse was very interested in the woman and trying to do the right thing. As soon as the horse hesitated or wasn’t quite lined up the woman corrected harshly with a stick/string (not hitting the horse but still overly harsh for what the horse was giving). As the video went on, the horse continued to get more frustrated and eventually began to rear on the lead.
It was interesting to watch the 2 minute clip over and over and ask “what went wrong there?” She seemed to be training the horse firmly- but nothing I haven’t seen many times. Still- the horse who began so willingly became so frustrated (in less then 2 minutes) that nothing good could be accomplished. This wasn’t so obvious to me at first glance, but I knew my heart rate rose while watching. Something went wrong.
After a few times I tuned in to the first time the horse hesitated in following at her shoulder and RIGHT before the horse slowed the woman hesitated… If you really paid attention, it seemed to me she had lost her forward energy and clear mental intent of what she wanted to do… She looked as if she might stop and back and then changed to continue forward.
Right after that hesitation that was only perceptible to me after re-watching a few times – the horse slowed and then picked back up. And not fast enough as the woman tossed her stick behind to reprimand the horse. The more I watched the more I saw how she used her energy was confusing- she would stop and back and change speeds (all good things to train) but she wasn’t being clear in her mind what her plan was and the horse who appeared to be trying to play along to the best of his ability was more and more frustrated from being punished when the request wasn’t really that clear.
She also didn’t give a release or reward when the horse did try; only once stopped to pat the horse’s neck then jerked forward so fast back into ‘the game’ it wasn’t at all a release or reward.
Then it hit me.
These animals ARE energy creatures. I’ve been backing Khaleesi uphill which is less comfortable than backing on the flat. Once I get a few quality steps I release her lead and rub her neck – however– I know in my mind we are still backing up the hill more steps. My goal oriented brain is still mentally not done backing up the hill and I can look back to these short sessions in my mind and see that though I’ve ‘released‘ her physically- she didn’t relax. She would look around, move her head, as if she was uncomfortable. It hit me as so obvious that I had only released her physically. Not mentally, not with my energy.
So these layers once you see them….
They can’t be unseen.
Susan has been fun to run ideas by and she said there was a time she would have said that its ‘mumbo-jumbo’ voodoo junk… We know how to work with horses, you put your leg there, your pull the rein… The lead… This is a waste of time…. But she is starting to see it too.
Sure- you do pull the rein or jerk the lead if you have to (and boy sometimes do I have to) but the bigger picture is if you’ve started the request or conversation with clear mental intent, back it up with the energy you need, then if you still aren’t getting the response use physical pressure until you do ‘get it done’ but as humans we don’t seem to realize that the physical cue – depending on how harshly it’s used is at best raising your voice and at worst screaming.
After putting together the electric fence to bisect our pasture and teach Khaleesi for future camping systems, I took her in to ride armed once again with a little more understanding.
I thought about how riding used to be relaxing and carefree and now my mind was full of tweaks and improvements I needed to make (being a goal oriented person- this is naturally where I would end up in any activity and for the record it is fun for me to function this way and I like having purpose- so I am not lamenting the carefree days of old when I didn’t know what I didn’t know):
*Try one less saddle pad insert and see if my sweat pattern and saddle fit improves.
*Get her moving with more purpose on alone rides.
*More steady trotting and more cantering intervals.
*Fix my balance in the saddle
*Continue to learn from ‘the turn around’ so we can move past that once and for all!
I know taking her out alone is the key to all of these. I decided to be more clear in my own mental intent to see if that would help her stay forward and help me when she tried to turn me around.
We got to begin this immediately. She started turning around in the yard to say:
I’d like to go back and eat grass with Faygo.
To which I set my intent firmly on the iron gates that I knew once we passed she would get with the program- I looked at them, imagined us going through them, and I held firmly to the right rein as she tried to turn left and held her from turning. It felt like an energy dam- like she was pushing a lot of energy my way towards turning around and I held as firm as I could until she gave the slightest give in the direction I wanted. Then I let my energy flow wide open toward the gate (total mental, emotional and physical release) and she’d take a few steps that way. We did this about 3 times until the muscles in my back (shoulderblade) were sore from holding firm against her pull – and for the record though I was calm, this felt like screaming at her in horse language terms– then she seemed to decide going with the flow was a better choice and we were off.
Next I imagined a point on the trail near where I might turn back around and visualized it clearly in my mind and mentally headed there – I backed it up with forward energy and if she started to dawdle or plod I pushed on with a good walk we also trotted out regularly. This seemed to make a difference!
There was only one more place she tried a turn around and it happened to be at the base of a nice hill not long into the ride. I had just been thinking that I hadn’t backed her uphill yet and today we could do it under saddle.
Great timing girl.
She turned around and I asked her to back up the direction we had been going. After a few steps I allowed her to choose- forward again?
Nope. She wasn’t ready.
We backed more and stopped. (She’s doing well backing!) she licked and yawned (not tired, processing). She tried to step forward, I blocked her.
Choices are only these:
Walk my direction forward.
Back up my direction.
We backed again and I gave her the choice. She turned to walk forward for 5 steps then turned around again.
Licking and yawning.
Once we turned back up the trail with my mind still firmly set on the end point she did not ask to turn again.
I will not be so bold to say problem solved– however this turn around question is beginning to grow on me! It’s been a learning opportunity that I’ve been able to tackle from many angles with some things working better than others. But something learned each time.
The entire ride I tried to stay focused mentally. I do get distracted easily- my thoughts wander. This isn’t bad but I can’t expect my horse to stay focused moving forward if my mind is elsewhere. How great that she is that in tune with me.
We rode alone for 7.5 miles with a moving pace of 4mph. Considering we tried a new route through some open woods with lots of down fencing and a deer herd that moved through and scary cows jumping out of the woods in a ravine, we spent a decent chunk of time walking slow enough to navigate and also find our way back to a trail I knew was out there somewhere.
Her pace was exactly what I needed when I asked for it- and this could be the first time I felt that was happening between us so easily.
I remembered Pam’s last words to me as she left for winter. They have rung in my head off and on since: if you do nothing else, work on riding with your energy this winter.
I heard her. But I wasn’t there yet. I think this ride began to click on what she was trying to tell me.
The difference was ALL mental on my part. The mumbo-jumbo energy stuff. Not kicking with my leg or driving with my leathers.
Some may say – that’s just not fun. I want to ride my horse to zone out and enjoy the woods. I hear that. But for me, yesterday was one of my favorite rides ever. We seemed more connected and that was worth all the mental effort.
The other tweak I’m working on is balancing myself in the saddle. I saw this photo from leatherwood and was aghast at how uneven my legs and hips are!
As I rode I tried to sort out what’s going on, and I think I have something.
I am much more comfortable riding one handed with reins in my right hand. (I am right handed). I believe my right hip comes forward and shortens my right side and in holding the reins my right shoulder also comes forward. In the picture my left side is long and my right side is shortened both upper and lower body.
After paying more specific attention yesterday I am convinced the picture is not an anomaly or off-moment. It is a sliver of truth- and I worked on pulling back my right leg and riding two handed to balance my shoulders as well.
It felt funny but I hope in time I can straighten out! The right side (where I am collapsed) is the side Khaleesi has the most tender spots after hard riding and where we need the pad inserts. I am pretty sure it was my uneven riding that created the issue in the first place.
Between the pad and improved symmetry I hope to help her back stay happy.
Upon returning to the barn her sweat patterns and hair smoothness was the best I’ve seen it.
The next day I am a little sore on my right side from the extra effort. At the gym I’ve also seen weakness in that side and we are working on that too! How odd that being right handed my left side appears stronger.
So a small triumph for us both mentally and physically. And the electric fence is a success. Nice to have some moments where things seem on track!