How perfect that since writing my last blog I have another opportunity to coach a student on dealing with right brain (RB) issues. In this case, Emma’s horse is RBI (right brain introvert), but goes RBE (extrovert) in front of a crowd. She had the misfortune of experiencing this last year when she applied to do a Spotlight at our Reno event… and her horse took her in another direction!
I don’t select the lesson participants at our 2010 events, so it was fun to see that Emma had been selected and of course the subject was “helping my horse deal with crowds”. She was already better since Emma had been focusing on some things she learned since then, but of course once you get back in that situation, there are still things to deal with.
I had a lot of thoughts the night before about what to do because there are a number of savvy arrows in my quiver for dealing with that kind of problem, but once with Emma and Lil I took advantage of the situation as it presented itself and tried my first idea first. It’s the concept of “and then some”… “You want to run around, you should do that… and then some”.
Emma brought her horse into the arena and it didn’t take long before Lil was running around in circles, very RB. So I asked Emma to encourage that* – not so vigorously that it could be perceived as punishment through discomfort, but to encourage it in a positive way. That feels kind of weird because every instinct we have as predators in that situation is to shut it down which actually can make it worse because it makes the hors feel wrong and claustrophobic. With this horse being Level 3 competent yet upset in a strange and very challenging circumstance, this approach can really work very well. It’s as though your horse thinks “you see, I knew we should be scared!” and that asserts your leadership in a prey animal sort of way. By sending the horse forwards and then some, it takes the adrenaline out of the system and it keeps you in the leadership role.
*(It’s important to know that if your horse is below Parelli Level 1, and if you are below Level 2, you might find this hard to do. Some approaches are more suitable for certain situations but you also have to weigh up how competent the human is and how educated the horse is – from a basic trust/partnership perspective. If you are not as advanced as this, constant and frequent disengagement is the most appropriate approaches).
So Emma encouraged Lil to go a little faster with some stimulation in Zone 5 with her Carrot Stick and Flag (plastic bag attached – which Lil had long ago learned not to fear). And go she did. I asked Emma to speed her up for a lap, then relax and see how long it took for Lil to slow down. It took an average of 3 laps. Pretty soon, it took less than that and finally Lil started asking if she could slow down and trot. It was almost difficult to get her to speed up! So we encouraged the trot, and then the walk, and soon she wanted to come in. So we invited that but if she couldn’t stand still, we gently encouraged her to move again. Not much longer and she wanted to stand still.
But that’s when her introverted side showed up! As Emma sat on the barrel (as directed by me to lower her own extroverted energy!), Lil sidled up to her, zone 3 / 4 first. That’s a major behavioral tendency of RBI horses – feeling better but not enough confidence to come over with zone 1 first. What occurred after that is what you had to be there for – the Touch It and Figure 8 Patterns were very revealing! At this moment, we are working on getting the complete video-taped lesson up on to the Savvy Club Vault. It won’t happen right away, please be patient, it will be there and we’ll let you know. Same with the wonderful lesson Pat gave, which was the exact opposite of mine! Erin needed to learn how to get more assertive with her husband’s LBE/I!
Here’s the great news… first of all, go to Emma’s blog about what happened on Sunday and even better, the breakthrough she discovered after the fact. And secondly, here is a wonderful email I got from a Level 3-4 student who is also a nurse:
First of all, it was a great weekend; it just went by too quickly….
So, today I went to work. I don’t know if you remember that I am a nurse and I currently work in the post anesthesia care unit (PACU). I was caring for an elderly gentleman today. He had some Parkinsons disease and had surgery for a bowel obstruction. No small feat for a man of 81.
Anyway, he was quite confused after the sedatives began to wear off and became very combative. It always amazes me that these little elderly people suddenly have superman strength when they are confused! There were literally 4 of us holding him down and trying to keep him from pulling out his IV etc…
I was thinking to myself, this poor guy is in fight or flight mode right now and his brain synapses are firing a million times per minute. He is so on adrenaline…I asked everyone to stop fighting him.
He had my hand in a death grip and was thrashing his arm back and forth, so I just started moving with him instead of against him.Then I started moving his arm a little faster than he wanted to go. Within about 15 seconds, he stopped fighting and became calm. He did this a few more times until he finally was able to cooperate a bit more and at that point we were able to reorient him a bit. His baseline was slightly confused but not out of control.
I thought Oh my gosh! All animals are wired similarly when that fight or flight kicks in. Then I thought, maybe I need to get to that extern program sooner. I am treating my patients like the horses! Hehe
So, now I have one more thing to add to my What Parelli has permeated in my life list!
Talk to you soon,
It’s been a little while since my last post what with Sydney travel for our recent event there. We had a wonderful two days, met lots of new students to Parelli and of course reconnected with many long-standing students we’ve known for some years now. That part is always fun for me especially.
On the Saturday I ran the section explaining the Seven Games and how they work with the help of four Level 2-3 students who volunteered to be the ‘savvy team’. Some of them had never been in front of a big crowd so they and their horses were understandably a little nervous, but they still did a super job and I think people really loved the fact that these were not professionals, but people just like them.
I told them to go to liberty if they felt they could, but hardly anyone was really ready by the end of the music. So I encouraged them to do it, and took the risk that some of the horses might leave but how fun and educational it would be for everyone to see how to get them back. It was so much fun, lots of laughter from the audience as I helped young Mel (14) to get her naughty Welsh pony back! They were all just super.
On the Sunday, Pat gave a lesson to Mel on getting her pony to bond more with her. That’s not easy with a LBE acting RBE, but by the end he did not want to leave her. The afternoon lesson was with me and one of the Savvy Team members from the day before. Clare’s RBE thoroughbred mare had some issues with tension.
So what did we do? You might have guessed it… Partial Disengagement! I actually coached her with this a little bit on the Friday night before the event when she was riding and it went quite quickly. Clare was thrilled with how relaxed her horse felt and said that even though things were so much better, she had never experienced that level of relaxation when riding her. Much to the delight of the group, things did not quite go that easily, however, on the Sunday!
First of all, they were in the arena alone and even though the Gold Members were sitting quietly and all in one spot, Clare’s horse was very distracted with the activity up on the walkways and was totally obsessed with getting out of the arena and back to the other horses.
We started on the ground and it wasn’t too bad so I had Clare play the Circling Game on a 45′ line and encourage her forwardness by asking her to make canter and gallop transitions. When you have an impulsive horse, it’s common to want to go slower and keep things calm and avoid anything that is fast. The good thing about this technique is that it actually is calming for the horse because you run off the adrenaline (of course the Circling Game must be established before you can use this technique). You ask the horse to go faster than it wants to and then relax and wait for it to slow down to a canter again, repeating this several times until the horse is really left brain, almost a little reluctant to gallop and wants to come to you more than stay out there.
This went super and pretty soon Clare’s horse was just lovely, so on went the bridle and I began to coach her through the Partial Disengagement to get the relaxation when riding. This took AGES. Even though her horse was walking on a loose rein and not trying to run off, she was very tense. Clare bent her slightly towards the wall and pushed on zone 3 with her leg (the one closest to the wall, on the inside of the bend) putting a curve in her ribs and making it difficult for her to hold tension there… but she held on and held on, almost releasing it then tensing up again. Clare was wonderfully patient and we all rode with her mentally and emotionally as we pursued relaxation as the number one goal. I lost track of time, but it was probably 40 minutes!
Her horse would almost make it, start to make little groaning noises, pre-blowing sounds, but not actually going all the way and blowing out. Then all of a sudden, somebody started making a lot of noise up on the walkway and her horse got really frightened. Clare reached down, bent her with one rein and got off, it was beautifully done. As Clare was obviously a bit shaken I asked her if I could continue with her horse… it was so important to make the breakthrough.
I began on the ground, she was certainly not safe to get on, and I kept up the Partial Disengagement by walking next to her, bending her slightly with the rein and pushing my hand on her ribs just behind the girth. She was so tight, so wound up, she brought back memories of Regalo for me!
As we came to one end of the arena, more noises appeared from the walkway and she froze and stared up towards it. I made the point that she can look but not get fixated because that’s dangerous and can quickly turn into a panic attack. It’s important to interrupt that pattern, so I flapped the rein against her neck to get her attention and to get her moving forwards again. This only had to happen a few times and then she was refocused and soon after she made the big breakthrough and started blowing big time, dropped her head and relaxed.
Now she looked rideable! I stepped up and walked her on a loose rein. She strode along, head down, back swinging, totally relaxed. It was wonderful. I told the group that Clare had really done all the hard work but I looked like the hero, I just helped at the end! After a couple of laps, she wanted to stop which I welcomed and as I talked to Clare she started to walk in tiny circles and I felt she wanted to roll so I allowed that too. As she dropped to the ground I stepped off and she released her body of every last little bit of emotional tension and adrenaline. It was quite moving that a horse so afraid just a short time ago was now so confident, trusting and relaxed to be with us. What was even better was that everyone got to see the whole process.
At the end I asked how you would be different after watching this and there were super comments about how now they get it, that this HAS to be the most important thing. My favorite was this one: “I now know that I can have the relationship I’ve always dreamed of with my retired dressage horse. Even though we’ve come a long way, for the 18 years I’ve owned him I know he’s never really been relaxed with me.”
Relaxation needs to be number one. When you learn the secret of achieving this with horses the world opens up. Partial Disengagement will be such a powerful tool for you – on the ground and riding, and I’ve written an article on it that’s coming out in the May Savvy Times magazine. I hope you put it to great use and you’d better let me know how it goes!
Keep it natural,
Pat and I had an awesome weekend in lovely, sunny Sydney – Share Parelli on Saturday and Savvy Summit on Sunday both went superbly! More on that to come, but first I wanted to share some thoughts I wrote down before the show about emotional fitness, such a critical aspect of good horsemanship:
On the flight to Australia, as we flew over Noumea, the air got pretty bumpy… some of the worst turbulence we’ve experienced in the last 20 years of flying all over the world. Some years ago this would have scared me pretty badly but as I sat there bumping around for a good 30 minutes and more, it suddenly dawned on me that I was fine!
Why was I fine? How did I suddenly get so emotionally fit in an airplane? I trained my brain.
It’s all about what you focus on… and I have learned that I have a choice. I can focus on fear and death, or I can focus on something else!
Because we humans have a frontal lobe on our brain we are capable of reason. It also means that we can think about the future and can attach feelings to all kinds of things. Animals are not like this, their brains are reptilian and mammalian. Horses learn from the past but are 100% present. Humans are not always “present”. We live in the past, we dream of the future… or to put it less productively, we bring baggage from the past and we scare ourselves by thinking “what if…?” in the future! The way I cured myself of my flying phobias is that I stopped thinking of what could happen and I found a way to focus one hundred percent in the present… reading something intensely does it for me.
Emotional fitness is so important to our horsemanship. And this is not just about fear of getting hurt by a horse, it’s about being conscious of how our feelings affect our horse. Horses are such sentient beings, they are incredibly perceptive, they pick up and respond on feelings which is a large part of how they survive because in a herd they operate almost as if they have one nervous system. Have you ever noticed how immediately the reaction of one horse spreads to the next, and within nanoseconds the whole herd is in flight?
As our horse’s leader, being in control of our feelings is critical because of the effect it can have. And you can’t fake it, you really have to get more emotionally self-controlled! Knowledge is confidence, but there’s a point at which you really have to work on yourself and discover ways to reorganize your own subconscious mind and emotional way of thinking. There are some brilliant ways to do this and two of my favorites are NLP (Richard Bandler’s work on neuro-linguistic programming, the science of training your own brain) and the work of Anthony Robbins. No matter what it is you want to change or overcome about how you operate, there is a way to do it and I know these work.
So think about this in terms of your horse. Your horse will plug in to your emotions and if he is not attached enough to you, he will plug in to the other horse’s emotions… like at a show, a group trail ride, when the vet arrives, when you bring your horse to the Parelli Center… etc. etc! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “my horse is never like this at home!” But what would your horse say? “My human is never like this at home! I wonder why they are so keyed up?” ;)
Why don’t you make this next week all about observing your emotional fitness? Don’t change anything just observe. Become conscious of the emotional reactions you have to things that go on around you… and think about how that fuels your behavior. And then please share what you discover.
Many of you know about the horse that brought me to Pat back in 1989. His name is Regalo (he’s 30 now and living at our Sydney Campus), a 16.1hh chestnut thoroughbred, and pretty extreme Right Brain Extrovert! Boy do I wish I knew about horsenalities then. Parelli was my last hope, and thank goodness I found it.
So some 12 months after beginning Parelli, my problems were firmly behind me and we were making incredible progress. This spooky, bolting, fearful, panicky,distrustful, impulsive horse finally trusted me and we were becoming partners… I could ride him in a halter, pretty much anywhere and this was a far cry from my previous experiences which usually involved bits, nosebands, martingales and very short reins. We didn’t trust each other and I didn’t know how to change that… I didn’t know it could be changed, let alone that much.
So on this particular day, I crossed the road from my barn and went into the national parks for a leisurely trail ride. Not only was that something special that I could do with Regalo now (I couldn’t trail ride him before), but I was bareback and in a halter with one rein and a Carrot Stick.
As we rode along in the dappled sun I started thinking about how lucky I was to have found Parelli and what an enormous change it had made to my life with horses… just look at how much harmony Regalo and I now had. Then all of a sudden, I saw a rider coming towards me the other way. As she drew closer I could see the trouble she and her horse were having. The grey horse was black with sweat, foaming under the straps of his martingale. He had a gag bit on that was half way up his face because the rider was pulling so hard, a crossover noseband strapped tight, his eyes were white-ringed and his head was up as far as it could go, straining against the reins and the martingale. The rider had on a crash hat, a padded protective vest and rubber-ribbed gloves for extra grip.
As they came prancing towards me I thought “Gosh, that used to be me! How miserable that was and how terribly dangerous. I bet she wishes she could have the relationship I have with my horse.”
And as she rode by me, she shot a contemptuous look at my halter and said “That’s dangerous!”
I was shocked and surprised at her reaction, but then I smiled to myself and said, “How interesting” as Regalo and I continued along our merry way.
Like me, you’ve probably had some of these experiences. Why don’t you share what was happening at the time?
By the way, Regalo means ‘gift’. And he was indeed. Look at what he’s given me :)
I had a wonderful play with my horses today, the first since we arrived in Pagosa last week. Things are just starting to get green and there is still snow on the mountain tops, just gorgeous. Our crew is busy getting the ranch (campus) ready for the summer and Pat has his sleeves rolled up and is making lots of changes. Vinny is in dachshund heaven with lots of mole holes everywhere… I have to keep him on a leash when we go outside because he won’t come when I call! His instincts take over and he frantically digs and tears at holes hoping to find a prize in there so I’ve got to put a fence up around the house to contain him here!
Back to my ride, after a short session in the little arena behind my house (the one you’ve seen on many of our DVDs with the gorgeous Russian Sage bushes – which are just sticks right now!), Remmer was tuned in and ready to go. So I mounted up and turned Allure loose to follow and went for a ride from my house all the way over to the other side of the ranch. Remmer is so funny, he is the most perceptive horse I’ve ever owned, noticing the tiniest changes and differences and always making sure they are not life threatening! Our neighbors have some goats (weren’t there last summer) and he saw them from the hill almost half a mile away and was frozen in place for a good 2 minutes.
After about 40 mins of cruising around kind of like a trail ride, nice and relaxing, I headed to Arena Grande in preparation for a Savvy Club video segment we’re shooting tomorrow. Remmer was just lovely, and as I rode home with Allure grazing and then galloping to catch up with me, I suddenly remembered a ski trip my parents took us kids on in Australia when I was about 8 years old. We were in Perisher Valley having lunch in the hotel and there was a dramatic life-size bronze of the Man From Snowy River outside. As I gazed out the window a woman cantered up on her horse with another horse following her at liberty. I watched as she stopped to talk to someone and the other horse was playing around her. I was so excited! I was so obsessed with horses and this was like a dream… I ran out the door just as she cantered off amidst swirling clouds of snow. I remember the gripping feeling in my heart… I was seeing something I dreamed about.
And now here I am doing just that. Sometimes it feels unbelievable to me, the level of unity and connection I have with my horses is so special.
Is there something you always dreamed of doing with horses that you can now do? How about sharing it with us? :)
So here we are in Pagosa – we arrived 3 days ago. The weather has been lovely and sunny, and today it is a little cooler. The snow on the mountains is so picturesque and brings to life something I say every time we come back to Pagosa… it makes my heart POUND!
It’s fun to watch my horses as they settle back in to their summer digs. Remmer is such a chicken-spook (innately speaking) so when he gets back here he thinks that the area behind my barn is very dangerous! Allure doesn’t but he will follow Remmer’s lead and do as any good follower would – jump and run when the leader runs! In about a week Remmer will be just fine but I am savvy enough not to force the issue. I make it his choice because I know that when I’m there he is fine… it’s when he’s by himself (or the leader of his two-horse herd with Allure) that he has to do whatever it is that makes him feel safe. So he can hang out in other parts of his multi-acre field, the places in which he feels more safe.
From the Levels Program DVDs, filmed in the summer of 2009, many of you have seen the beautiful purple-colored Russian Sage plants on the bank above the little arena behind my house. Right now it all looks brown and barren and there are still a few big snowy patches at the bottom of the bank! Today, Caton pointed out the tire marks he made in one with the 4-wheeler!
I look at this and marvel at nature… because in just a few weeks it is going to look very different. Winter is a time of potential, when the dark is initiating processes we won’t see until the emergence of Spring. And as Spring goes into Summer we realize the full beauty of nature as we harvest its riches, feed our senses and gain nurturance. Then there is the Fall, the autumn that seeds the new cycle that begins with winter again… but here is where we celebrate the culmination of four seasons.
It is in moments like this that I covet the lessons I learned from my mentor whom I met in the mid 1980s, Glynn Braddy. He taught me then (and still does) about the seasons of life… to understand that the best and the hardest times are nothing more than ‘phases’ we are going through, and that this too will pass. How easy it is to experience moments and periods of difficulty, of frustration, and not be able to see beyond them. I believe that what we make of life is our own, to understand that we have choices and we can choose to be enriched by the experience. I think about how often I have looked back and thought… “If not for that, this would not have happened”. But at that time I remember being terribly frustrated or perplexed by it. I could have saved myself the stress.
Glynn paved the way for me because when I met Pat a few years later, I had already been groomed in understanding things from a different perspective, to not be angered or frustrated by events as they unfolded. So as I learned these same lessons about horses I found myself in familiar territory and realized an element of peace and excitement that I didn’t know was available in my horsemanship. I met Pat in 1989, and it literally changed my life with horses… and then my life’s course. And to this very day, it helps me differentiate training approaches because I see when it honors the horse, honors the student, honors the self… and when it doesn’t.
To this day I try to live my life as if I was looking back 10 years out from now. It doesn’t necessarily make me smarter, but it gives me a sense of perspective and peace in my every day existence. Above all, it makes me want to be the most and the best that I can be.
Are there any experiences you have had on your horsemanship journey with your horse (let’s not get into the life ones!) that now, knowing what you know, would have made you a whole lot more peaceful at that time?! I think it’s valuable for you to share these. Many will learn from it and even me. I know that every time I invest an hour or much more with students at our courses, this subject becomes one of the most empowering elements of all. Thank you for sharing, and for contributing to the values and preciousness of life through horses :)
PS Glynn Braddy is hard to find… most likely on purpose. Apart from shaping my emotional and philosophical intelligence, he was my inspiration for Horsenalities (as a SC member you can access that story in the vault!)… and he also formulated Parelli Essentials, the biochemical stroke of brilliance that none of our horses would ever be without. It is way, WAY more than a supplement. It grooms the digestive system in a way that helps them get 10 times more out of their feed and supplements than you can imagine. If I was stuck on a desert island with my horses, and I could bring only one thing for them… this would be it.
As I write we’re enroute from Texas to Pagosa Springs for the summer, stopping tonight in New Mexico to visit the folks who gave us Vinny. By the way, check out Vinny’s new t-shirt, Texas T that is! Sue Lynn gave it to him “so he’ll always be a little bit Texan” – it even says “Vinny” on it – don’t know if you can see that. I took a photo of him in it at the rest stop we were at for lunch.
We had a great weekend in Beaumont, TX and visited with a lot of Savvy Club members and newcomers to Parelli. I love hearing your transformational stories and thanks for making me cry and then wanting a photo!! Our horses were super – Remmer is always wonderful for me – and Pat’s horses were spectacular when he rode one and had two others connected with him, one on each side. He also had his future star “Revlon” appear before a crowd for the first time, which she handled really well. Other highlights for me were Pat helping his son Caton get through his horse’s cantering issue in front of the crowd, the spotlights with some of Pat’s mastery students on Saturday, the Gold Summit connections on Monday, and the lessons with Pat and with me on Sunday!
Pat helped Barry, a young Texas cowboy who wants to train horses the natural way. He had a lovely, athletic palomino gelding that he has taken to Level 3 and competes on in roping, among other things. Pat helped him to slow down, to have some ‘silence between the notes’ which helps create music rather than just noise. So he started on the ground and then went on to riding, doing less to get more and helping his horse to put more weight on his hindquarters when going into the canter. Super stuff and Barry won all our hearts with the way he touched his horse and talked about him, apologizing for how he used to be… and how he chose Parelli because it was the only program that used Love, Language and Leadership to train horses. He said his wife talked him into applying for the lesson and having that experience and watching the weekend only deepened his belief in and respect for the program.
My lesson was with Lisa, who wanted help with being a better leader and whose Left Brain Introvert (LBI) had trailer loading issues. She would play with trailer all week, but after going somewhere he would not reload and people would end up helping and stuffing him in… which of course brought him back to square one again.
After starting with some leadership techniques, such as having a plan and directing Zone 1 better in the Touch It pattern and moving her horse’s feet before she moved her own, Lisa started looking pretty good! Then we went to the trailer and did some Touch It with Zone 1, 3 and 4. That was interesting and further improved Lisa’s technique. After that is was half circles around the trailer, and finally Yo-Yo’s in and out working on the thresholds: “come out… go in…. come out…. go in”.
I stepped in at a couple of points to help with the timing, but Lisa was doing a great job. Buddy really was afraid, but being LBI it was hard for Lisa to read his fear. I explained that when unconfident, LBIs will go RBI first, and that he wasn’t being stubborn or defiant and that’s why he was still having trouble despite all her practice. He would go in out of obedience, but it really was not his idea and he was not confident. So we allowed him to set the pace and each time he reached a threshold we would bring him out and ask him to try again… and when he crossed it in even the smallest way, we would allow him to stay there for a little bit.
By the end of the session he was ‘in’ the trailer, but he was not yet ‘wanting’ to be in, so we reconvened after the show – a number of people stayed to watch – and things went really quickly then. Buddy was in the trailer within a few minutes and now we worked on thresholds going deeper inside (it was a long trailer!). We finished with Buddy standing confidently way deep inside and then played approach and retreat with the door until he was relaxed about that too.
Here are some of the BIGGIES that the audience ‘got’:
1. It has to be the horse’s idea to cross the threshold, don’t push him over it in any way or you destroy trust and confidence.
2. Making him uncomfortable outside of the trailer only causes a horse to load into the trailer to get away from that rather than having him really want to be in the trailer. That’s why we don’t use that approach. It certainly would not be using Love, Language and Leadership!
2. “The next move is his”. So once he’s at the threshold, we WAIT until he does something – either moves forwards or wants to come out again. And if he stays there too long, we bring him out and simply ask him to reapproach.
3. Never push him forwards once he’s stopped, you can only encourage his thoughts otherwise you are forcing the horse. The bottom line is that the horse has to be able to TRUST that you won’t push him “over the cliff”, that you will allow it to be his decision to go there. When you can do that, your horse will try his heart out for you. He will trust you and feel safe with you, and the effects will be felt in everything else you do with him too. Anyone can force a horse to get in, the real art is in helping him to develop the confidence to load himself. Such fun, I love this stuff.
4. It really, TRULY, is NOT ABOUT THE TRAILER! It’s all about the trust your horse has for you as his leader.
Our next event is in Oregon. I’m looking forward to seeing you there, meeting new horse lovers and seeing who we have for our lessons on Savvy Club Sunday.
Keep it natural,
Yesterday I went to visit with the two week class here in Florida, and it’s always fun and enlightening for me. This time especially because the course is about confidence and it’s my favorite subject! Overcoming fear is something I love helping horses and people to do.
So as we were talking, the phrase “It’s not about the…” came up. So I asked, “What is it about then?” The answer came back quickly – “It’s about the relationship”. So in that sense, it’s about what your horse needs given the situation, its horsenality, especially. So we talked a bit more and then I said “but you know it’s actually not even about the relationship as much as it is about YOU.” That’s why we hear so many wonderful comments about how this has changed their life, how you use it in your business and family life too.
Now what do you do with that? You can’t just get around your horse and keep thinking ‘it’s about me, what should I be doing?, etc.”, because that’s the underlying element that will come through. So here’s my advice: Put your horse’s needs FIRST. You put them before what YOU want to do or accomplish, but you start by asking your horse to do something because that is what leads to the conversation or recognizing that you have to attend to your horse’s need. Know also that those needs are usually of an emotional nature – fear, trust issues, boredom, etc.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are working on your Figure 8 Pattern for Level 3 and your horse suddenly hesitates, loses willingness or getes focused on a buddy or the barn. In that moment you would recognize the need and address it instead of doggedly trying to get your Fig. 8 accomplished at the canter.
If the horse hesitated, you would hesitate then wait to see what their next move was. If they just took a breath and then continued, you’re fine. But they might back up or start thinking about home, in which case you would play with that as a threshold – head towards home a lot or a little, then come back to the pattern, playing with all the thresholds that will most likely appear on your way back!
Taking the time to do this will have an amazing effect on your relationship because your horse will feel that you made his feelings important. The next time it will be way better – everything will be better actually because your horse’s trust, confidence, respect for and belief in you will improve. And if it’s not better, it may mean you have to do it a few times before your horse believes you, especially if there is a long standing pattern of arguing with your horse.
So that’s how it comes back to you. It is YOU that will need to overcome your judgement about your horse’s action, your impatience, your direct line thinking and making your agenda more important than your horse’s needs. When you learn to do that consistently and without having to fight your own emotions, the changes in you will be felt by your horse… and you’ll make it up the next rung on the ladder of becoming the kind of leader your horse deserves. It will also increase your confidence because the more a horse trusts you, the more trustworthy he becomes too.
Take a moment and think about what happens to you in this light sometimes. How do you feel when you are practicing something and all of a sudden your horse doesn’t want to do it? And if you’ve learned about putting the horse’s needs first, why don’t you share a few words that might encourage others to do what it takes to take care of the horse’s needs first.
Last week, I posted a blog about respecting your horse’s thresholds. Reader Linda Reinhold left a great question and I thought the answer would make for a great follow-up post. Linda asked:
“Last weekend I went cattle sorting, nothing serious, just for fun. It turned out to be anything but fun! My horse is fairly athletic but was his head was totally out of the game because he was more concerned about his “trail buddy” horse outside of the arena. I am thinking maybe instead of trying to work him down and keeping him away, I should have done something different. Was this similar to being “spooky”? Did I cross a “threshold”? Should I have done the approach and retreat letting him know he could always return to the other horse? What I was doing never helped!!!”
My response: Yes, you’re right! When a horse has safety issues, it’s almost impossible to do anything else because all he can think about is self preservation. So your horse wanting to be with his buddy was his sign that he didn’t feel safe in that environment. He wanted to be with his herd and he saw his buddy as that more than he saw you as that.
In everything we do, the ultimate goal is for our horse to value being with us more than another horse because they truly trust and respect us as the leader. They know they will be safe in our presence. Of course this is a process and some people will get there sooner than others, say comparing how quickly Pat can get that to happen vs you or me. So it is a matter of savvy and something you are never not working on.
The situation you describe is a difficult moment because when faced with that, you can only do your best under the circumstances. What you really need to do is more preparation beforehand. That in itself is an article, but for now think of it this way – “What are ALL the things that could go wrong, and what do I need to do to prepare myself and my horse so they don’t happen?” This may be things like extreme Friendly Games, ‘weaning’ games with your horse and another horse, being around cattle or simulators, etc. But as your horse gets more confidence in you, he will trust your judgement and look to you for guidance and reassurance. That of course is what the Parelli Program teaches you to achieve, step by step and level by level.
Now, when it comes to dealing with the situation you describe…. you would be playing with thresholds but in “reverse” because your horse’s thresholds are about moving away from the other horse rather than moving towards something. So when you feel your horse’s threshold, turn away and return to his buddy, then come back again. Keep doing this until that threshold disappears and then work on the next one, and so on. The fact that you keep returning to your buddy will finally cause him to stop panicking and then he won’t worry about it anymore – but you have to take the time it takes. And know this: the more you keep him away, the more his fear will escalate. That’s exactly what happens when mares and foals are weaned abruptly. The emotional panic is quite severe and often the cause of sickness and colics associated with weaning. The grown horse has the same instincts because, being herd animals, bonding is a very important part.
I hope that helps, and it seems that you realized it afterwards!