“Attunement”

20170628113955 whinny whinney(1)Thank goodness, things have turned a corner for Galahad and me. Actually, of course, I’m the one who has turned the corner; he’s still his own horsey self.

I’m working differently with him the last few weeks—not so goal-focused, mostly just being with him, either in the pasture or taking walks, sometimes spending short amounts of time in one or the other of the arenas but not drilling anything. It’s been almost entirely about what he’s willing to do, rather than what I want him to do. I ask him to do something, and then wait to see what his answer is. If it’s “no,” I might ask once more, in a different way, but I don’t argue (except about going back to the pasture—that’s a different issue entirely, alas!).

It’s making a big difference. Galahad seems to be more relaxed, and I certainly am. He’s much more “with me” than he had been—checking in with me as we’re walking, coming over to check on me when we’re in the arena (where he mostly grazes along the sides, at this point). The other day he actually told me when he was ready to leave the arena—he came over and pointed to his halter, then stood for me to put it on him.

So that’s wonderful!

Things have been kind of crazy at the barn this last ten days or so, though. There are three new horses—two mares and a gelding—in the pastures, Stewart (the small-but-fierce pony) is back in the geldings pasture after a couple of months in a stall, and the dominant gelding has left permanently. The boys are in an uproar with all of these changes. The mares, other than all being in heat, have settled into their usual peaceful state.

The biggest issue in the pasture is actually not the new horses, though—it’s “Hans” the Fjord, who’s just a bully. He was a real pain in the hind end when he first arrived, but over the course of a couple of years he’s mostly settled down. Now, however, he’s reverted to his aggressive, nasty self in spite of the grazing muzzle he’s been forced to wear for several months. He chases all the horses away from the mares, attacks the new gelding, and in general keeps everyone riled up and stressed. Darn guy.

All the commotion has made me even more glad to have discovered this new way of working with Galahad. Like all the geldings, he’s been upset by the changes. He’s had a very hard time paying attention to me the few times he’s been outside the pasture, because he’s been so focused on what’s going on back with the boys. That’s not like him. I’ve never heard him whinny so much in his entire life as he has in the past week–check out this video!

For a couple of days, Galahad seemed to be “making his move” in the pasture, thinking about becoming the Big Man On Campus and being just ridiculous about it. That was while Stewart the Pony was still in the west pasture for six hours a day. I got Galahad OUT just fine, but when I went to put him back (we have to walk across the west pasture to get back to the east side where the herd is), Stewart kept threatening to charge us, and they got into quite a yelling contest (“I’m gonna stomp you!” “No you’re not! I’m gonna stomp YOU!”) and I ended up having to call the barn staff to come get Stewart.

While waiting for that to happen, though, I had to take Galahad back to the arena—and he did NOT want to go. He shifted, strutted, barged into me, and threatened to go up on his hind legs. That’s the moment I really discovered the value in this new way of staying attuned to my horse.

The Natural Horsemanship requirement in that situation would be that he pay attention to me, that he “respect” me, and that he obey my commands. There would have been a lot of running him back and forth in front of me, making him circle, or various other things, but all of it would involve “moving his feet,” making him put his attention on me and do what I was asking.

If I had tried that (I could have done it, no question—I’ve done it many times when he’s been “bad” or “opinionated” about something, or when he didn’t want to go back to the pasture and tried to block me) there would have been a lot of drama.

What I did instead was require him to be mindful around me, so that I wasn’t in danger. I did that, in the moment, using a stern voice, grounded energy and body language,  and bumping his nose with the halter a couple of times to get his attention, when he was threatening to go up on two legs or turn around and run back to the pasture to beat up Stewart. But the big voice, the bump on the nose, and me saying “Cut it out NOW! You’re scaring me!” worked just fine. I calmed down, and so did he. Almost immediately. Then we walked on.

I could feel that he was still really excited, but it brought him back to himself without pain or threat or any drama, and with no requirement that he obey anything other than basic manners to keep me safe. He was still prancy, but it was OK—it accomplished exactly what all the other stuff would have done, without the drama. I was afraid, and I told him so—“You’re scaring me. Cut it out!” (bump bump)—and he knew exactly what I meant.

It was different—it’s hard to explain, but it felt really different. It was the same thing I’d have done with a human friend if they had been being nuts and putting me in danger—I’d have grabbed their arm and said, “Cut it out! You’re scaring me, and I need to be safe. Stop it!” And that would have been it. That’s what I did with Galahad, and it worked. He walked with me, but making the choice to control himself.

What I sense from Galahad more than anything these days, honestly, is appreciation. I think he appreciates that I’m not asking of him more than he can give. Does that make sense? It’s like I’m acknowledging his perspective—“I know you’re distracted, and I know you’re having a really hard time coping with all this and paying attention to me too.” I just feel like this way is good for our relationship where some of this other stuff would not have been. It might or might not have damaged it, but it certainly wouldn’t have furthered it in the way that I’m looking for.

So I’m so glad to have that understanding at this point.

 

[Disclaimer: I’m studying online with Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement in Australia. I make NO claim to deep knowledge of her methods, which I greatly admire. Anything I say about them here in my blogs represents my own current understanding. I highly recommend that you take a look at her site and consider signing up for her courses!]

 

Such different horses!

20140417 Deb adn Nevada6(1)Had an interesting encounter with Nevada yesterday afternoon. It was cool and overcast when I got to the barn around 2:30 or so. It didn’t look like they got as much rain out there as we got here at the house (just under 3”!), so it wasn’t especially muddy, thank goodness.

Nevada and the mares were grazing toward the east side of the pasture, keeping an eye on one of the barn staff, who was trimming bushes along the fence. She acknowledged me when I arrived, but didn’t offer to come over, and declined to walk with me back to the fence where I’d left her food (out of sight). I stood around with her for quite a while, just watching and being in the moment, matching her movements and hanging out. It was so pleasant outside for a change!

After ten or fifteen minutes, I checked again to see if she’d come with me—nope. So more matching/mirroring for a while longer. Still nope. So then I decided to move her around a bit, to get her more in the mood to follow my lead. I kept her going, slowly and gently and in no particular direction, but wouldn’t let her stop and graze.

After a little while I began to direct her over toward the west fence, away from the herd. She went, but stopped every few feet and moved as though to turn and go back to the others. When she did that, I just pointed toward the fence and gently raised the tip of my stick (if I hadn’t had the stick, I could have just signaled with my hand). She’d then walk along a few more steps and stop again, asking if I had changed my mind.

I think she thought I was going to take her out of the pasture, and while she would have gone with me, she wasn’t too much in favor of the idea, for whatever reason. But when we got near the gate and I motioned away from it and toward where I’d left her feed pan, she figured out what was going on. Then she was more than willing to move with me. Food!

After her dinner, I walked back with her toward the rest of the mares. She moved easily in that direction, but stopped every time I asked her to, so it was clear that she was walking with me, not the other way around. Halfway across the pasture I asked her to stop. Then I backed away to break our connection, and sent her away quickly. She trotted off with a little toss of her head.

Good girl!

Galahad, on the other hand, came over to me from way across the pasture almost as soon as he saw me. I met him halfway and we walked back to the fence together. He also stopped whenever I asked him to.

Galahad wanted to go out, though. As far as he is concerned, all the fun stuff happens outside the pasture, and he hasn’t been out for a while…too hot for this old lady! When I tried to send him off after he ate, he kept running off and then circling back to the gate. “Out, Mom! Let’s go out and play!” I never did get him to actually go away. Eventually, I just laughed, called him over, and did a few minutes of moving around and backing up. Then he got the last carrot and I left.

Love those horses! Every day is different, and the two of them have such different personalities. It’s exciting to be around them, and to just let them be themselves like this.

Nevada….

20150706093440(1)It wasn’t quite as hot yesterday as it has been lately, and a thick overcast helped a bit, too. It was nice to be able to head for the pasture with Nevada’s feed pan and not feel overstressed from heat before I even climbed through the fence.

The mares were huddled in their house, avoiding the ever-present flies. I could see Nevada’s white blaze from quite a distance as she watched me, wondering if it was worth coming out to see me. I had left the feed pan by the fence, so she didn’t know it was there.

I was in no hurry—it was pleasant just watching them and listening to the birds. Eventually, she shouldered her way through the other mares (Nevada always commands the best spot, way in the back) and stepped out. Everyone else followed, and then one of the other mares headed off, away from me, to graze near the south fence. Nevada stopped and looked at me. I asked her twice if she was sure she didn’t want to come with me, but she turned away to follow her friends.

There was a time when I would have been disappointed by this, and would likely have tried to beg her to come with me; I might have gone to get her with a halter. Yesterday, I just walked away from her when she moved off.

It’s a wonderful thing to build the kind of relationship I now have with my horses. They feel comfortable saying no when they want to, knowing that there’s no punishment for expressing an opinion. There may or may not be consequences to their decision, but it’s never punishment. The “worst” that will happen is that they may have to move their feet when they’d rather stand still, but that’s as far as it goes.

The benefit for me is huge! When the horse does something I ask, I now know without a doubt that it’s because they are willing to do it, and it’s not that they feel coerced, or fear punishment. And even more important, they say “yes” way more often!

So yesterday I just went partway across the pasture and hung out, watching bees and wasps, pulling a few weeds, and listening to the birds. It was lovely and peaceful. I could see Nevada watching me, and sure enough, after a few minutes she ambled over to see what I was up to.

Eventually she noticed her feed pan across the fence. That got her attention! She started walking that way, but stopped when she noticed I wasn’t following. I waited a minute or two, then asked her to walk WITH me, not ahead of me, over to the food, and she did.

NO fuss, no effort, nothing but a pleasant interaction between friends. How wonderful is that?!

NOT Riding Galahad…Again….

Rodeo redux 1Well, my dream of riding Galahad is going to have to wait a while. He still remembers how to crow hop. Fortunately, I still remember how to stay on. And after the “event,” we went out and had fun, with me safely on the ground, in the jump arena.

A crow hop, as I understand it, is not really bucking. There’s no kicking out behind. The front end goes up first, usually, and all four feet stay pointed at the ground. Someone described it as “riding a pogo stick.” Yeah, pretty much. Not a lot of fun for the rider, IMO.

Some of this rodeo was captured on the video I had running, expecting to show us calmly walking and trotting around the arena. I’m glad to have the video, because it shows part of what happened, both before and after the event. He did manage to scoot into a corner where the camera couldn’t reach, though. Smart lad.

The good news is that somehow, I didn’t get scared, and didn’t even raise my voice (you can hear my quiet “Whoa!”). Didn’t lose my stirrups, didn’t yank on his face, didn’t go into the fetal position. Didn’t bail, either, when he stopped. Instead, I made him disengage his hind end in both directions and back up nicely before I hopped off.

Galahad is a spoiled brat, there is no doubt about it. And yesterday, he didn’t feel like having me ride him. So he threw a tantrum.

I posted that first paragraph as my Facebook status last night, and the responses of various people in my horse community have been interesting. A sampling:

A good friend and trainer said, “Time for school Mr. Galahad… Naughty boy!” I had to laugh, and a large part of me agrees wholeheartedly.

Another friend advised, “Why wait to ride him again? He’s a young horse, they play games. You rode it out (literally) and reminded him what behavior won’t be tolerated and asked for what you did want, and he listened. That’s what it’s all about. No reason you can’t start fresh today.” A valid perspective, and probably the one most of my friends would advise.

One friend reminded me of a chapter in Carolyn Resnick’s book Naked Liberty (a book I highly recommend—it’s been inspirational for me!) about Carolyn’s “naughty” little pony Pepper. I found it very helpful indeed—more about that later.

So what to do now? This, really, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where my intention and my resolve are tested.

It would be so easy to get a trainer—and I know several really good ones—to get on him and remind him what being a “good horse” is about. And he would do it. He did it before (most of the time).

I want with all my heart to ride my beautiful horse. I ache to ride him again. But here’s the thing: Do I just want to ride my horse, or do I actually mean all the pretty things I’ve said about liberty work, about him having a choice, about never doing anything that wasn’t health-related that wasn’t fun for both of us? Can I stand my ground when it really counts?

If I “make him do it,” then I’ve broken my word to him, and more importantly, to myself. That, and the fact that I’d always wonder if he was doing something with me because he wanted to, or because he had to. It’s taken us more than two years to get to this point in our relationship.

If I continue with the liberty methods, then riding him will take longer, and might not happen at all. With liberty methods, I have to be able to accept that possibility.

What if I can never, ever ride him? Dunno…. That thought is painful.

But yes, I am going to keep my promise. He’s a dream on the ground—willful, yes, and not easy. Never easy. He has a lot more to teach me, for sure. But we’re in this for the long haul.

I have a lot more to say about this, and lots more to process…but that will have to wait for another blog.

Love how liberty work works!

20150505 one pile in pasture G (7)Well, what an interesting day! I invited two of the women who will be attending Teddie Ziegler’s clinic next month to get a refresher lesson on moving a horse away from them and setting boundaries around their personal space. Both of these skills are necessary to be safe around horses at liberty.

These two women are very nice, easy-going, and fun to be around. They both have good instincts around the horses—they move forward when a horse approaches, not back and away, and they seem to have good natural boundaries in spite of wanting to hug and love on the horses—which they did NOT do.

We met with Nevada in the indoor arena, and she was very well behaved, though also a bit confused about why we didn’t want her to come close. (She WANTED all that loving and hugging!) Then we took her back and went out into the pasture to meet Galahad, who gave us the perfect demonstration of why liberty work is a very good thing:

When we first arrived, he didn’t want to be bothered with us, for whatever reason—he indicated that he preferred to be with his buddies, and pretended not to see us. So we stood around, halfway across the pasture, and talked among ourselves for a five or ten minutes, really and truly ignoring him. And what happened? His curiosity got the better of him, and he lumbered over to see what we were up to.

We then spent a few minutes working with him, mostly having him back off and stop mugging my two friends for treats (which we didn’t have anyway). After a bit, because he was being a pest and wasn’t actually staying away when asked, I sent him off in no uncertain terms, and chased him to the point where he didn’t come back to us. Then we resumed talking among ourselves.

After a while, we noticed him standing with his buddies, but facing us, head up, very interested in what we were up to. I signaled him to come over, and he did, slowly and attentively. About 15 feet away, I asked him to stop, and he did. There he stood, watching, until I invited him in. And he approached with a lot more respect than he had exhibited earlier. I was so pleased!

So he showed us some of the wonders of liberty work—thing that make no sense at all to people who don’t really understand horses. Ignoring your horse makes him “easy to catch” (in fact, he “catches” himself) because he wants to be with you. And sending your horse away strongly makes him want even more to be with you, but at the same time makes him pay way more attention to how he approaches when you do ask him to come back, and to how he behaves when he gets there.

Pretty cool!!!

Can’t wait for Teddie’s clinic!!!

Leading “Tarkin”

20150504092825 (2)I so enjoy my days at the Rescue Ranch. These days I’m creating the adoption videos, and it’s such fun capturing something of each horse’s personality along with documenting where they are in their training and how they move.

It was an especially interesting today. Little “Tarkin,” who has come SO FAR in the last few months since his rescue (he was a little stray stallion, apparently never handled), is now learning to trot under saddle. He is much calmer, but not quite comfortable around people other than Sarah, our trainer, and the apprentices. I’m still a little scary.

After Sarah finished their ride and stepped off, I asked Tarkin if he was ready to say hello to me yet (the good old “cowboy handshake”). No, not quite yet, he said. So I backed off. As I backed away, he took half a step forward toward me for whatever reason, so I asked for another. No, not so much…too scary to approach directly when asked.

Sarah handed me the reins. Since they were attached to a bit, and he’s very new to bits, I made sure to put absolutely no pressure on the reins, other than the fact that I was balancing them on one finger. Then I asked him to step toward me (by backing up from directly in front of him, leaving my hand where it was so as not to pull him). No, he said, that was still too scary, so I dropped back to stand near his withers.

From there, I took a couple of steps back and to the side, to draw him toward me. That, he felt like he could do; and once he took a couple of sidesteps in my direction, I used my body language to suggest that he might walk forward with me. And he did!

Slowly, at first. Then I said “whoa,” which he knows, and stopped my feet. He stopped right with me. After a few seconds I suggested with my body that we walk forward again, and he was willing to do that, mostly. I had to draw him toward me to the side a couple of times after we’d stop, but then he decided walking and stopping was just fine.

I was really happy, for a couple of reasons. First, because this was NOT natural horsemanship, the way I was taught. There was no deliberate “pressure-release” here, but rather, communication in the way horses communicate with each other. I’d make a request, and he could decide whether or not to comply. What really delighted me about this was the fact that I’ve learned enough to be able to facilitate this dialog.

Yes, a horse who’s learned to follow a lead rope and/or reins and bit will naturally be more inclined to follow a moving person when he’s wearing a bridle than he might otherwise. Would he have followed me as willingly if he’d been at liberty? Probably not. But I bet I could have persuaded him, given a little time for him to get used to me. And how cool this little old lady was able to do it at all!

The second reason I was so happy about this little interaction was just the fact that I was able to bypass my “natural” tendency to “make it happen” and, instead, just let things unfold. It’s taken quite a while for me to get to this point. As I’ve said often, natural horsemanship techniques come easily to me because that paradigm was the way I was raised. Un-learning something so basic isn’t all that easy after 64 years of practice and reinforcement!

So the fact that this spooky little guy would feel comfortable and willing to come along with me with only suggestions (made in a way that he instinctively understands), just pleases me to no end!

Woohoo! The old gal’s learning something!

Courting Nevada

20140417150946 (8)The vet came out to see Nevada the other day to check out some possible causes for the violent itching that she’s suffered from, off and on, as long as we’ve had her. It wasn’t pleasant for her—it involved shaving squares on her neck, skin scrapings, worming, shots. She stayed calm and willing during the interaction, which seems amazing but is normal for her.

The next afternoon I went out to the pasture to get her. True to form after an unpleasant experience the day before, Nevada let me know she hadn’t enjoyed it. She’s always been this way—never complaining during whatever the not-fun event is, but being hard to catch the next day.

This time, she came to me in the pasture, all right. She quickly checked me over to see if I had dinner or treats (nope). Then she was willing to follow me, without a halter, to the gate of the summer pasture and go through it into the winter pasture. Once there, though, she wouldn’t stay with me—she trotted off toward the main gate to the barn and arena area, where I usually feed her before we work on anything. I just let her go.

When I didn’t follow her to the gate, she watched me for a while (I was walking the other way, pretending to ignore her). Then she ran back toward her girlfriends, whinnying. I didn’t chase her, but just kept on pulling weeds and “ignoring” her. She stopped near the fence between her and her buddies and started grazing.

I’m beginning to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to get my horse to want to follow my lead, especially when they’re “not in the mood,” distracted, or disinterested, without resorting to making them do it in the natural horsemanship way. That way is effective, all right, but this one is way more fun. “Courting” is a great Carolyn Resnick concept; Linda Salinas, one of Carolyn’s certified trainers, has a blog post on the topic here.

So I decided to court my mare.

After pulling weeds at the other end of the pasture for ten minutes or so, I walked slowly toward her, stopping every time she twitched an ear or looked up at me, in order to show her that I understood and respected her boundaries. She didn’t move her feet.

Finally I worked myself around to the front of her and went up and said hello, offering my hand. She snuffled me willingly enough, but she went back to grazing, and I backed away. A few minutes later I greeted her again, and again backed away. At that point she started slowly and casually taking one step at a time toward me while she grazed, and each time she did, I backed up an equal amount. I wanted to draw her to me, but not in an obvious or insistent way. This felt respectful: I wanted to wait until she was ready and wanted to come to me.

Finally she put her head up, looked at me intently for a few seconds, and walked over so I could put her halter on. It was her idea at that point, not mine, and after that there were no problems between us.

It was such an interesting and rewarding experience. It felt like a real conversation: She got to tell me how displeased she was with what had happened the day before, and I could respond that I understood and didn’t blame her for it. Once she felt “heard,” she was willing to come to me. I’m certain that’s not exactly how Nevada perceived it, but I do believe her version wouldn’t be too different.

It feels like magic to relate to my horses in this way. There’s no confrontation, no force, no “well, that’s fine, but you have to come with me.” They always have the option to say “no.” Sure, there are times (vet visits, for instance) where I will have to override their wishes, but that won’t be a problem, because in the majority of instances, they get to choose. I can always pick a different game, or a different approach: one that will be easy and fun for them to get involved in.

I’m so happy about the way Nevada and I handled this situation. I think it will make a big difference in our relationship, and that’s wonderful!