Respecting Thresholds

Dear Friends,

I had an interesting chat with a friend the other day who was expressing a little frustration about her horse getting spooky again.

After some discussion, she realized that she had become a little direct line again with dressage and was not helping her horse’s confidence by respecting thresholds and doing enough on the ground with longer lines.  In fact as we talked about it, she kept saying “yep, I did that, I did that…”, all the right things, but then we came to something she should not have done – she would walk the horse up to the one part of the arena that was spooky and get him see that there was nothing there.

It is so easy to think that horses will respond to logic, but they don’t!  In fact, they do much better if you ignore what they are spooking about, focus on an exercise or task, don’t cross thresholds and use the principle of retreat.  For example, say you are riding in the arena and you can feel your horse worrying as you approach that spooky end.  Instead of pressing them forwards and over the rapidly mounting thresholds, turn away.  Go across the arena to the other side, or do a 180 turn and go back the other way.  Do it as soon as you feel the threshold or even better do it before the threshold… which is easy if you have already experienced where that is!

This is how retreat and reapproach works.  You just keep avoiding/retreating from that spot until suddenly your horse doesn’t have an issue any more and soon you’ll be able to go a few feet further before turning off.  Then one day, your horse will actually want to take you over there.  It’s amazing how that works!  Of course you can do the same on the ground, do it on long lines – preferably a 22 or even a 45 line.  That way they are further away from you which helps grow their self confidence… and most importantly, don’t just send them there.  Play long distance Squeeze Games and changes of direction on the circle, a lot like you would do if riding.

Here’s why it works:  your horse’s fear will subside instead of escalate, and he will start to have more confidence in you!  I think of thresholds being like the edge of a cliff.  The closer you get, the more the fear escalates and if you push them over the threshold it’s like pushing them over the cliff.  Sometimes the horse’s fear reaction is terribly violent and horses and humans can get hurt in the process, so it’s just not worth it.  And it does not make horses better to push them over thresholds, it gets worse.  Sometimes you don’t even notice it until all of sudden, “for no reason at all” your horse blows up.

It’s not about the spooky spot, it’s about your relationship and your leadership.  When your horse knows he can trust you, he will stop being afraid… but it is your job as leader to look out for him all the time, only then will he start trusting you and not worry about things like he used to.

Some of the biggest thresholds I’ve had to get Remmer over in years gone by have been to do with being in foreign environments, such as going on trail rides… even on or around our property!  But when I started to really respect them, he changed and kept building confidence and more trust in me.  It’s wonderful how I can take him anywhere in the country now and he doesn’t turn a hair… but if he does, I do the right thing, right away.  If I don’t he can be pretty explosive, and that’s not fun to ride but worse still, it’s awful for him emotionally speaking.  And… I totally get that it is my job to take care of him or why should he continue to trust me as his leader?

In the end, I told my friend that she can’t just be a rider… she has to be a ‘trainer’ too.  That means that when your horse has trouble you need to forget trying to work on the things you think are important and work on the things your horse thinks are important.  When your horse is calm and confident you can do a lot of things, but when he’s not you can’t… so fix it or you’re in danger.  What does Pat say?  “Take the time it takes so it takes less time”.  Otherwise you find yourself dealing with the same thing over and over and over again.

What have been some thresholds you helped your horse overcome?

Yours Naturally,
Linda

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On the road home from Lexington…

Dear Friends,

Our first event of the year went very well. The team was super-organized, even quickly remedying a computer crash as the doors opened, and the horse crew had all the horses ready for the big entrance.

This year we decided to do something very different, to start with horses as being horses, and turned them all loose in the arena to play for 15 minutes before Pat came in. It was very cool as you could see them playing dominance games, separating into groups within the herds and keeping the ‘strangers’ at bay. Pat came in and talked about what they were doing, pointed out the different games they played with each other.

Then Pat called in his group of mastery students and they sent the horses galloping around the arena to the fabulous John Denver song “Eagles and Horses,” performed by The Killens, who also produce many of our DVDs and TV shows. It was spectacular, and then spell-binding as each student in turn stepped out and called their horse back to them. What a great way to start, to show horses in their natural state and then partnering up with humans.

My session with Remmer was next up. I love to tell my story about the difficulties I was having that drew me to Pat Parelli for help. My favorite line is, “You can imagine how desperate this dressage rider had to be to go to a cowboy for advice!” Then Remmer comes in, I tell a little about how he came into my life and then we play. But here’s the part I really want to tell you about – the Friday before the event!

While we were driving to Virginia, Pat asked me what I was going to do. I said I wasn’t really sure yet, so he said he thought I should ride bareback, with a halter, and jump the picnic tables and barrels like I so often would do. The only problem was…I hadn’t done that in over a year!!! Uh oh, now Friday was going to be about figuring out if I could do that or not!

First, I played with Remmer on the ground; and I take it really slow and easy, don’t ask too much. (I’ve learned that because one time I asked for a lot and the next day he didn’t offer me a thing!) So we looked like we were doing a lot of nothing. I didn’t even jump him. Then I got on, bareback and in the halter, and what happened next was awful! Walking was fine, but as soon as I went into a trot, I was bouncing all over the place. So I figured I was just rusty from not riding bareback for such a long time, so I asked for the canter. Well, he wouldn’t canter! I asked again and he cantered, and sure enough I ruffled the hairs on his back. No wonder he didn’t want to canter he knew what was coming! Yuk. Hmmm. What was I doing wrong? Suddenly I realized that I was riding him as I had been practicing so hard this past few years in getting back to dressage, I was all ‘collected’ in my body and yet that was not what I was expecting him to do. So I changed my focus, settled back onto my balance point, loosened my legs and everything changed. We cruised around, took the canter easily, everything felt wonderful.

Now, the jump! I slid off and sent Remmer over the upright barrels to see how he would take it – he didn’t even hesitate which was great because I hadn’t jumped him since his abscess back in October/November last year. So I got on, cantered off, headed to the barrels and sailed over with him. That was it. I got off and gave him some cookies.

When it came to our performance on the Saturday morning, everything went beautifully. We were in perfect harmony and as we approached the picnic tables (which we didn’t do on Friday) I could suddenly see that we were half a stride out. Remmer saw it at the same time and I felt him sizing up the jump and checking in with me, but I mentally told him “it’s your call,” either take off early or pop in half a stride. Remmer was feeling great so he took off early and we did this HUGE jump over them. Oh my gosh! I felt like one of those avatars from the movie! He landed and I looked up into the audience and laughed and then he arched and twisted into some exuberant bucks. Luckily they weren’t very big – he looks after me these days! But I pushed on his withers anyway and went with him. As we rounded the corner, there were the upright barrels and I thought “Oh well, might as well take them rather than do another circuit!” Remmer didn’t even hesitate and soared over them. On the other side we came to a walk and I dropped the reins. When I picked them up again he offered me passage so I took it and we pranced around until we got to the pedestal and he stood on it.

As I said to everyone there, “I used to dream about being able to play with horses like that,” and Remmer and I left the ring with a wonderful feeling of connection and unity. Later in my signing line I met many students who said it had brought them to tears and I told them, “Me, too.” It really moves me to have such a magnificent animal as Remmer give me, offer me, so much.

The rest of the day was super. Pat had his Mastery Students come in and demonstrate the Seven Games in 4 Levels, on the ground and riding. So much fun to see the scope of what can be achieved, where it starts and where it can go – they brought the house down!

Savvy Club Sunday was really interesting, for me especially. Pat coached a Level 3-4 student with goals of competing in cow horse events, and I coached a student who’s horse had a tendency to get very fearful and rear up. Pat ended up riding with Jason, doing Clover Leaf’s together and working on more “collection” with Yo-Yo Games played at the canter, while Patty, my student, learned how to manage her energy and maintain her focus with her horse while mastery students bounced balls, dragged tarps and rolled barrels around the arena! The end was spectacular; after I did a simulation with her to point out how she was grabbing instead of holding the rope when asking for disengagement, her horse completely changed and softened, responding to the slightest suggestion from her.

In the last session I gave a demonstration of my latest breakthrough with Remmer in the Game of Contact. He was incredible – round, powerful, enthusiastic. Students and instructors who have known Remmer and watched him over the years could not believe the transformation in him. Even his body looks different, he looks more like an athlete. That was pretty exciting for me, and the first time I’d talked about this and demonstrated it in public. :)

Then the Gold Summit Monday – a more intimate day with Gold Savvy Club members who asked lots of questions, dined with us and got some peeks into the future. I also had some photographs up on screen so I could point out posture issues when it came to discussing the finer points of fluidity.

And now we’re on the way home. I didn’t want to tell you all the details of what went on, but I thought you might find it fun to know that it was a little challenging for me at first!

Best of all, it is always so wonderful to connect with you all in person. Even though we don’t necessarily all get to talk, I see your familiar faces and love your smiles and enthusiasm as you get new ideas or are re-motivated to take your horsemanship to the next level.

How does it go? Good better best, NEVER let it rest!

Maybe some of you can tell me what you learned over the weekend? Tell me one thing that was an “AHA!” for you.

Yours naturally,
Linda

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Filed under Events, Horsemanship, Remmer

On the road to Lexington

Dear Friends,

Pat and I are currently on the road to Lexington, VA for our event this weekend. People have asked me before, “What do you do to prepare for a show?” and that question was on my mind as I sat down to write today.

The best thing about doing our shows is that I don’t “practice.” My role is to be real, to show what it is I do every day and can do at a moment’s notice. I don’t think of this as a performance, I think of it as a time to showcase the relationship I have developed with my horses (in this case, Remmer). So what you’ll see is me playing with him, talking about my difficult background with a dangerous horse, how Parelli changed things, our history (how Remmer came into my life), what it means to put the relationship first and how achievable this is for ANYONE.

One of the things people have told me they love is seeing when things go wrong, and Remmer and I can do that! In performance situations things always go wrong in some way, but you have to cover it up. And unless you really know what to look for, most people don’t even notice…but the rider does, and the horse especially does! So what I do is keep it all open and transparent. I want people to see the flaws and to know what to do when it happens, to not fake it for the horse or for the audience. In fact, over the years, that is what I get the most ‘thanks’ for…for being real, for showing what happens in reality and not being so ‘perfect.’ Perfection is an illusion…and horses hate it! We need to learn to be perfectly in the moment, to be ready to adjust for the horse in whatever way is required to keep him safe, confident, engaged, playful and connected.

Remmer and I are doing some awesome things. Our relationship is the best it has ever been, and we’re also able to do some pretty advanced things both on the ground and riding. So I revel in that, but even more importantly, I’m always thinking about how I can make the next person’s journey even better and even easier.

Hope to see you in Lexington,
Linda

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A Horse’s Association Span

Question: I am a Level 2 student and Savvy Club member and I realized this weekend that I did not know the association span of the horse. For a dog the association span is 3 – 5 seconds in which you have to attach a positive or negative action to the dog’s action. This is a really important part of timing and overall training, too. How long is the association span in a horse? – Pamela R.

Answer: Hi Pamela! This is an interesting question, and given its scientific nature I have sent it to Dr. Miller for his thoughts.

In the meantime, here is a perspective from me: I think that the very next thing you do will let the horse know if he was right or wrong. Even people who do it a little slower get the right response from their horse eventually, but of course the quicker you can let the horse know he was right, the better.

Letting the horse know he was “wrong” is not the game, they don’t understand that – not in terms of punishment anyway. Punishment is not a constructive method with horses (prey animals). So in that case, if the horse doesn’t ‘do’ what you expected, you should either slow down and reiterate (making sure you were giving the right message), or stop and start again, take a fresh start.

But here’s the best thing to do – the moment, the MOMENT a horse tries to do what you want, give him a release. Some different ways you can give a release are: stop the stimulus, relax your energy for a moment, smile – your horse will read the change of energy, open your hand/hands on the rope or reins, or go to neutral (there are many ways to do that! You don’t always need to “stop”).

So timing is a big part of this – the sooner you can let a horse know he’s right, the sooner he will shoot for that. And the longer a horse is wrong, the more he thinks he’s right. But that does not mean you should punish him, it just means you should do something about it – such as maintain your original objective, stop and take a fresh start, or redirect his energy and focus on that until he finds what you’re looking for.

Yours Naturally,
Linda

EDIT 4/20/10: Dr. Miller did get back to me about the length of a horse’s association span. He believes it is about 1 – 3 seconds for a horse.

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Getting Ready for Lexington!

Dear Friends,

It’s so exciting to be heading to Lexington, VA for our first Parelli Across America event this weekend. Last year we restricted our events to Savvy Club members only, but this year we are opening again to the public and there are a LOT of people signed up to be there!

We’ve called Day 1 “Share Parelli” because we are going to share what the Parelli Program is all about – developing savvy with horses in 4 distinct areas: On Line (with varying lengths of line), Liberty (the round corral and beyond), FreeStyle (riding without contact) and Finesse (riding with contact). It is such a complete program and it’s hard for people to really know what it encompasses – even though there are hundreds of thousands of people doing this all over the world! So we have a great program in mind for this, better than we’ve ever done before (in my opinion anyway!).

Day 2 is called “Savvy Club Sunday.” It is for members only, and that includes brand new members. This is where we get more personal and interactive. Pat will do something that shows what he’s been working on (a glimpse of the future for sure) and I will show the new breakthroughs I have with Remmer. Then both Pat and I will coach a student – at different times of course! Pat will work with a Level 3 – 4 and beyond student and I will work with anyone! So I don’t know what I have in store yet, but it could be Level 1-2, 3-4, solving problems, etc. I can’t wait :) For sure you will see something that really speaks to where you or your horse are at and how you can improve your approach or your horse’s connectivity and enthusiasm.

Day 3 is a Savvy Summit, for Savvy Club Gold members. We decided to feature them at each event so they would be more accessible. This is an opportunity for us to get into smaller, more intimate situations and discuss personally topical subjects as well as visions of the future – little things like changing the world! :)

As we head out on Wednesday, Pat and I will be focusing on all the details of how to make this our best show yet. And, of course, Vinny will be there!

Yours Naturally,
Linda

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Breakthroughs with Walter

Dear Friends,

Every time Walter is here it’s thought provoking and challenging! One of his mantras is, “to the limit, but not over the limit” and speaks of constantly challenging yourself to improve. If you only do what you know how to do and stay comfortable, you really don’t improve very much. So it’s funny that just when I think I have achieved something and want Walter to ‘notice’ it, he pushes me to the next boundary. It’s a good lesson in humility, because even I find myself wanting to show him what I’ve accomplished and can get a little tight because now that he’s pushing me towards the next limit, I feel that he’s only seeing me having trouble again!

Of course, the truth is he can see the changes and the improvements, but this is not a time for me to show off to him, it’s time to learn! Our time with Walter is so precious and moments like these remind me to keep focused on where I’m heading instead of trying to feed what’s apparently left of my ego (I had a big ego-ectomy the first day I did a Parelli clinic!).

So this last time I had a GREAT compliment from Walter, two in fact. :) The first was that he could see the big changes in my horse since my breakthrough in contact – I wrote a little about this to you before, but I’ve written a big article on it that will be published in the May Savvy Times magazine; and the second was that he read my article manuscript and said, “You got it. And you’ve made it so simple to understand.”

So here’s what he saw in me and Remmer on the first day of my week of lessons – Remmer was round, relaxed and ‘through’ in the contact: active hind leg, up in the back, reaching way under himself, and steady in the contact. And I was more relaxed as a rider because Remmer was doing his part – acting like a partner instead of letting me work harder than him. Of course, all the details on this are in my article! So everything was smoother, more ‘up,’ more powerful and athletic…and it was the first video tape of my lesson that I felt good about – all the others I’ve watched and learned and seen what’s wrong (as well as what has improved) but never wanted to show anyone!

Dressage is so hard to do well and to have the horse enjoy, too. My greatest breakthrough between my January and March lessons with Walter was finding the key to my horse’s mind – getting Remmer really into it instead of just being obedient. Walter’s comment was “Goooooood! You’ve been working hard since last time!” Yep, but mentally hard more than anything. I was determined to figure out the mental game of collection and contact for horses. :)

Oh, I just remembered the third big compliment while Walter was here – after reading my article he said, “maybe tomorrow I will just watch as you ride, and let you know if there is anything you can improve.” That’s HUGE! Usually he is coaching me every step, every moment. Now he believes I can feel what I’m supposed to feel, and for him to direct anything will be too late. In fact, the lesson the day before was a lot like that; he kind of stopped talking, just kept saying “goooood, gooooooood” and so I started doing things (transitions, shorter, longer, etc.) because I felt Remmer was waiting for the next thing.

I cannot wait for my next sessions, breakthroughs are so cool no matter how dark the hour is before the dawn!

Yours Naturally,
Linda

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Cavalia

Dear Friends,

Seeing Cavalia again, for the third time, was every bit as riveting as the first. What an incredible show and organization; it is inspiring on every level.

We were there for Pat’s birthday with his parents, Walter Zettl and his wife Heide, Patrick Handley (my co- creator of the Horsenality-Personality work), Julia Ryman (Parelli Instructor), Amy Book (now Bowers) and her husband Nate. Of course when we there, we met up with other Parelli students – some Savvy Club members and some Externs and Mastery Students. We also met up with Jeremy (one of the dolphin trainers from SeaWorld).

With Pat’s parents, Jack and Doris Parelli

With Pat’s parents, Jack and Doris Parelli

From Left to Right: Cavalia Creator Normand Latourelle, me, Pat, Heide Zettl, Walter Zettl, Benjamins's wife, Benjamin and their baby.

It got even more fun when Benjamin Aillaud, Equestrian Director of Cavalia, and Normand Latourelle, Cavalia’s owner and creator, showed us around the stables and explained all the complexities of the staging. It was just awe inspiring! I hope you get to see Cavalia, and if you’ve already been, you know what I’m talking about!

The highlight again for us was the liberty with nine horses (mostly Arabians) performed by Silvia Zerbini. She’s an eighth generation circus trainer and very, very good. If you want any inspiration for your liberty, you have to see this! During the stable tour she showed us a new black Arabian that she’s developing. Talk about Left-Brain Extrovert! He has a huge play drive and how she talks about teaching him was interesting – she said he is such a fast learner and very exuberant. Hmmmm, how interesting!

Yours Naturally,
Linda

Vinny helps Pat drive to Cavalia

Vinny helped us drive there!

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A Day in the Life…

Dear Friends,

When Pat and I are preparing for a tele-seminar, our team in Pagosa sends a call for questions to our club members. One of the questions asked for a recent tele-seminar was, “What is a day in the life of Linda Parelli like?” I didn’t get to answer it “on the air,” but I thought it would be more appropriate here on my blog anyway…

The first thing I do is feed my horses. It’s so important to me to do this because I get to interact in a non-demanding way, build the relationship and check on their health. Then I’m back inside writing articles, or this blog, or developing new teaching materials. Most of my day is spent writing, writing, writing! I try to play with my horses but don’t get to them every day sometimes. Walter Zettl is here right now, so I’m riding every morning in a lesson.

I always make lunch, and sometimes Pat makes it back to the house to join me. I also cook almost every night. I care a lot about what I eat (some would call me a food snob!) so I love fresh salads, nuts, avocado or soups for lunch. Dinner is always a creative process for me, a way to relax and unwind…mmmm, getting hungry just thinking about it.

About once a week I’m with the Mastery students doing coaching sessions, and then I also stop in at the school and visit with the students in an open Q & A session. Our faculty is so good these days, it’s very rare that I get called in to help with a difficult horse.

A little while ago I was asked to think about tweeting, but the tweets were so boring we decided not to do it – What are you doing? I’m sitting on the couch writing an article on my laptop, and Vinny is lying beside me. Later that day…what are you doing? I’m sitting on the couch writing another article on my laptop, and Vinny is lying beside me!

So, I do have a working day and can’t always put my horse time as first priority. We don’t travel as much as we used to, but I can still be away for a week or so, such as when we were in Pagosa a few weeks ago for planning meetings and filming for Savvy Club. In just over a week now, we’ll have our first event of the year, in Lexington VA. I’m so looking forward to that, it’s always fun to connect with avid students!

Yours Naturally,
Linda

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Q&A: Catching Game with a Right-Brain Introvert

Question: I have a question about Horsenality – my Haflinger mare “Blondie” is a classic Right-Brain Introvert: does not like to be approached, is hard to catch, skeptical but obedient, pulls back when tied, etc. Her nickname is “runaway pony.” When I enter the pasture, I turn my back to her at the gate, relax, ask her to come to me and then wait and wait. Most of the time she is at my shoulder within 5 minutes or so and ready to snuggle. I wonder if that part of her Horsenality could change over time despite her being a Right-Brain Introvert. If you don’t mind me asking, what does Magic do? Does she come running to Pat at the gate? If yes, what did it take?

Answer: Yes, it will change. Magic comes over the moment she sees Pat, but she doesn’t necessarily run. Even though your horse is an Introvert, you still need to bring the exuberance out in her and have her feel trusting and connected enough to do that.

Have you spent any undemanding time with her? I would highly recommend this; it’s one of the most powerful things you can do with a right-brain horse because anything you think or want feels like pressure to them. We have our students do it here at the Campuses and the breakthroughs usually happens around day four. Students tell us incredible stories of how their horse suddenly came over and started nuzzling them after he (or she) had been ignoring them for three days. One told us how the horse came over and lay down next to her when she had never been able to get near him in that position before. After the breakthroughs, the horses couldn’t wait to come to them – not necessarily running, but they would start whinnying, nickering softly or looking intensely over the gate at them…things like that. It’s all a start and you’re doing a great job by recognizing her need for you to wait. It will only get better. Well done :)

Yours Naturally,
Linda

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Be prepared for the unthinkable, by thinking about it!

Today I went to visit the class at the Parelli Center here in Florida and spent an hour with them talking about their breakthroughs and realizations.  We ended the class with a great question and answer session.

As the result of one question I was able to tell the story of how I helped a student at our Colorado Center make a breakthrough.  She took part in our weekend Parelli Games days and everything went wrong.  She was upset, frustrated and now felt stuck.  She was afraid of things going horribly wrong again the next time and wondered what she had done wrong.

In talking with her I found out that she’d had great expectations of what the day was going to be like – she’d do the tournament tasks with her horse, have a lot of fun and really be able to show how well things were going.  But the opposite happened, everything fell apart and her horse went crazy.

So I told her what was wrong – she had been expecting the best and when things went wrong she didn’t have any strategies to automatically put into action.  She needed to do the opposite – instead of visualizing how perfectly and positively everything was going to go, she had to imagine everything going horribly wrong and in great detail.  She was shocked – how was that going to work?

Simple.  First of all you won’t be taken by surprise, and best of all you’ll know what to do if things start to go awry.  You see, you have to think about what could go wrong and then mentally rehearse what to do about it.

That’s what Pat and I do.  We think about the situation and then prepare for it.  We mentally prepare for every single stupid thing that could go wrong and by doing that we know how to avoid it or address it quickly before it turns into anything big.  Most of the preparation is done way before we get there – we work on ourselves and we play with our horses with the destination in mind and an awareness of all the potential problems along the way.

I once heard the expression that a straight line is nothing but a curve with a series of three degree corrections.  Same with horsemanship, you’re constantly setting it up, fixing it, preventing it… it’s not like sitting on a train and expecting to arrive at the destination without exerting any effort!  That’s why it’s called riding and not sitting… and it’s also why the pursuit of true horsemanship is an art.  That’s why this is way more than riding, way more!  It’s a mental, emotional, physical and philosophical journey of self discovery and growth.  I don’t know about you, but I LOVE this journey.  Every day I wake up and feel a sense of excitement about what I might learn today.

Naturally Yours,
Linda P.

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