Just when I begin to feel like I'm in my comfort zone, I find out I'm far out instead. Now that's my version of an old sixties joke (and didn't THAT just date me!), but it still does a good job of letting you know in fifty words or less what it's like to learn how to "talk horse".
My goal this week has been to read where all the little thresholds are when I'm with Lucky and to react appropriately. I'm trying to give very clear requests to him while staying at a Phase 1 too. (For anyone reading who isn't in the world of Parelli, I'm talking about the importance of listening to my horse and using the lightest of cues to communicate with him. The lighter, the better.)
I decided the best way to do that was to experiment with a combination of walk about with him leading and me playing games along the way. So when he wanted to walk the whole length of the drive with me, eating all the tasty weeds growing in the middle of the road, I said "Cool! While we're heading up the drive, how about doing it in Traveling Circles?"
Being a the lovely Left Brained Introvert that he is, he lives to eat. Apache (Left Brained Extrovert) eats to live. Big difference when it comes to the temptation of green lawn grass. Lucky did the Traveling Circles while he skimmed the grass, eating all the way. Totally cracked me up! He was just a munching and a crunching along and humming to himself. "Hhhmmmm...crunch, crunch...mrunch!" One of our neighbors happened to be driving past while we were walking along, Lucky humming and eating and walking in Circles around me and me laughing like a lunatic. He slowed the truck to watch, smiling and giving me a tentative little wave. Bet he had a good story to tell his wife when he got home!
Part of the walk about portion of the evening was letting Lucky choose the place we were going to work...Round Corral or Arena. Again, he surprised me. He chose the Round Corral. It's not his favorite place. He came to me with a lot of 'baggage' connected to his old style of training that was started in a Round Corral. I was not there to see it, so it's conjecture on my part about what was done to him. But I do know that it involved abuse, so having him choose to go there was a breakthrough for us. I felt pretty good about that.
Up until now we've been doing lots of Approach and Retreat with the Corral. We played around the outside of it for months this past Spring and Summer (It's not about the Corral...or the trailer...or whatever else becomes the issue of the day.) while I learned how to read every little threshold. I wanted it to be a place he WANTED to go to, not a place we had to go to.
I opened the gate and in we went, humming and munching along. It was one of those "Hey...look at us!" moments. I was that thrilled!
I'd hooked my goody bag to the fence, thinking that bites of carrots might sweeten the deal for him as we walked around inside. I took the lead off to take that last bit of pressure off of him. We strolled, stopping to "pat and rub" the fence. (Good thing my neighbor wasn't there to see THAT part. Would have added to his story when he got home. " Honey, I saw the neighbor lady talking to a fence and rubbing it!" Hard enough being an artist on a road of ranches and farms, much less being the lady who talks to fences!) I wanted him to see it as non threatening.
I thought we were doing pretty good too. We even played a little, doing a couple of Figure Eights and Half Circles with changes of direction. I took it too far though. I was having so much fun and was so excited about what we were doing, I forgot to look for his thresholds. Lucky's can sometimes be very subtle...a bit of tension around his eyes and mouth, tension in his neck or even his head coming down and staying there, like he's hiding. That one's easy to misread. Usually a head down means a horse is relaxed. And sometimes it does with Lucky too.
His head came down and then he just left. His eyes went blank, completely blank. I'd asked him to play Circle game with me in a confined space. I missed his signals of distress and IN he went. He was gone, to some "happy place" far away. Lucky was catatonic.
I've seen videos of Linda Parelli's horse, Allure, go inward when he was given a cookie. I think I did the same thing unintentionally. I'm not sure about that though. But I was giving him little pieces of carrot every time he tried something for me and we were in the Round Corral, a place he finds very scary. I'm guessing it was the Circle game that triggered it.
I turned away from him and took all pressure off immediately. I stood there breathing the way I do when I meditate and do Yoga, breathing from my diaphragm, in through my nose and out through my mouth. I did my best to let all of the tension out of my body too. If I'm the leader and he's looking for me to tell him it's OK, then I wanted to make it as obvious as possible that it really was OK...that no one was going to EVER frighten him in an enclosed space again.
I stood there, breathing and trying not to cry. I'd pushed too far in my excitement. My 'monkey brain' took over and the predator came out. I was appalled! But I was also supposed to be in the moment with Lucky. It was my job to correct what had happened as best I could. So I stood there and breathed and waited with my back to him.
I stood there until he nudged me. It was just a tentative little nudge, a tiny little touch, right in the middle of my back between my shoulders. He was back. And it was time to make a slow and measured retreat from our Round Corral. I wanted him out of there as soon as possible. I walked over to the gate where I'd hung the rope up, without looking at him. He was with me too. I could hear him breathing just behind my ear.
I reached up, still without looking at him. I was trying not to put any kind of pressure on him. I reconnected the lead to his rope halter, picked up my stick and opened the door while I stepped to the side. He stepped out on to the grass, took a huge breath in and walked about ten paces away before he stopped. Then he laid down and began to roll. He was blowing off the fear and adrenalin. Back and forth, back and forth. He must have gotten up and laid back down four or five times before he felt better. Thank heavens for the systems Nature puts in place to help horses change their blood chemistry!
We strolled back...no games this time. It was just a nice, easy walk back to the barn and paddocks. By the time we got "Home" the sun was down and the full moon was up. I've never been so glad to take my partner home! Meditating while he went inward helped me to stay centered so I could stay calm, but I still felt terrible.
I'm going to have to work on that "monkey brain" thing. I'd prefer not to repeat the turning inward again.
I think sometimes that when I make that kind of mistake, I learn at a deeper level. It's in my bones now and tattooed on the back of my eyelids (another Parelli saying). I will know better the next time and see it coming from much further off when Lucky reaches one of those thresholds. And this evening I'm getting my Liberty and Horse Behavior out again. It's time I rewatched that series.
My new goals? I'd like to keep us 'outward' and going forward, keeping it fun!
I remain ever yours, a recalcitrant Nancy, smiling (especially when I think about my audience driving by in the truck!)