Thursday, November 18, 2010

Horse Who Chooses Me

O.R.I. Blu-30 minutes-morning

I will have to update tomorrow. I have it all written on my tiny notebook-got it recorded while I rode the CATA to class and home from class and finished it while I waited for my meeting at work to start. Long story short, Blu was following me all over and he was backing (no legs) with just my seat and I have figured out a way to cause him to enjoy having his face pet when in ask for lateral flexion (with no leg or rein, just my body).

Tah tah for now, will update asap!


Blu was just heading out to the back again from getting a drink. When I called out to him from the barn, he stopped and looked for me. When he spotted me, he shifted his weight toward me, but that was all. He glanced back at Ginger, who was just inside the Middle Earth pasture. I smiled to him and began to walk out there. When he would look at me, I would stop. The way I walked was open, meandering, and friendly. Blu finally chose to walk to Ginger. When I got to to gate of Middle Earth, he came right up to me.

I pet Blu and gave him a cookie. Misty got a cookie as she passed us. Then I lead Blu away by his mane, but after a few steps, I decided to see if he would follow at liberty, which he did. All the way to the gate separating the North and South pastures, he did not even pause to look back at the girls. He just came right behind me. At the gate, he waited patiently by me as I closed it. That is the kind of thing that the liberty savvy is about; it's the truth revealed. Blu was choosing me over being with other horses and eating in the back pasture. That is very humbling, because Blu is a wonderful horse and I don't know that a mere me deserves to have such loyalty from a horse like him.

My dad and I were going to put up the light on the corner of the barn so I could play with the horses after the sun was down. While we did that, I gave Blu a small pile of hay, which he was content with. Unfortunately, my dad and I just spent 30 or 40 minutes looking in the barn for the electrical cable. In the end, we couldn't find it, so he went home to determine how much we had at home and then to the store to price out the cost of what we would need for the project. So, I got started with Blu!

Blu had finished his snack and was wandering into the arena I'd made the other day. When he saw me (with two unstrung carrotsticks) coming toward him, he followed the rail and met me at the corner. I stood with him, scratched his chest, and relaxed for a while. Then I drove his forequarters around 270 degrees by just walking at him and walked away. It was a nice pivot, but it surprised him, I think because he could have had a nicer facial expression (just a head raise, lips tense, and ears slightly back). Anyway, he followed me as soon as I started to walk off then stopped with me.

He was standing on the fenceline and I was ready to commence my mounting ritual. First I wait for him to be relaxed while I go through the motions of getting on. If and when he tries to bite me or swing his head at me, I give him a treat. Second, I go from a standstill, ask permission to get on, and swing on. Today, he was much better about the whole thing. The bouncing and swinging around took a lot less time. In fact, it took me several minutes to find a way of pretending to swing on that agitated him. He did not try to bite me, just swung his head a few times. Once we were through that, I asked permission, swung on . . . but only made it to his side. I am working at getting better at mounting while carry the carrotstick(s), and this was a failure. Blu was great, though. He didn't walk off or swing around to tell me what he thought of my clumsiness (as I clung to his barrel), he just raised his head and tensed, then relaxed. Finally, when I asked permission again, he was still game!

Once I was on, I rubbed him and gave him a treat. Tomorrow (or next time) he will not get a treat. Just to keep things switching up. I asked for lateral flexion in each direction, got him straight again, then asked him to go forward. That first start was slow and not very responsive, but it was just the beginning of our session, so I did not fuss over it.

Follow the rail, as a pattern, has a lot to do with focus. It tells the horse when to turn the corner, how straight to back up, etc. In general, today, I was very aware of my focus, whether we were backing, taking a corner, or walking down the fence line, I was using a ton of focus. Sometimes it can be hard to think about where you are looking because it is easy to become distracted. But it's an important riding aid because strong focus translates to lightness. It's especially important in jumping and gymkhana events (barrel racing, for example), but your horse's sensitivity to focus is harbored in patterns like follow the rail.

Instead of always putting him back on the rail, if he was drifting too far from the rail or not going back to it with a light phase, I would just circle in a loop back to the fence. It's a way of taking his idea and going with it. For left-brained introverts, it is also a great thing because it has the added bonus of making it too much of an expenditure of energy to not stay on the rail. One lap is 300 feet, but one lap with lots of circles along the way could be upwards of 1000 feet. This also kept us using light phases and away from opposing forces.

Speaking of opposing forces, one of the puzzles I had to solve was Blu's distaste for having his face pet when I asked for lateral flexion. Now, the plan is for me to someday be able to bridle Blu from his back with as little effort as possible. I decided that the path to that goal is to have him accpet me petting his face while he holds the flexion. But how do you cause him to stay that way? Simple. I put my hand on his forelock and slowly ran it all the way down his face until we get to his nose. Tah dah, he gets a cookie when I pet him. This will continue to develop, but it was a very important door to have opened.

This was obviously a very successful approach for Blu. However, I noticed a few times that his lateral flexion to the left was of lower quality than to the right. I played with that a bit to raise the quality of the bend to the left and got him to accept my hand on that side. I will keep an eye on that over the next several sessions to be sure that they develop evenly.

Blu was also having difficulty with this one corner (the Northwest one), as in, he kept cutting it short. So, one time I went straight out it, followed the rail on the outside, then reentered at the next corner. The next time we hit that corner, he went high into it. Sweet!

Moving right along, literally, after Blu decided to halt of his own accord, he chose to continue at a nice lively jog when I did ask him to go again. This from the snail-pony at the beginning of the session. Good stuff. When we got to the midway point of one of the long sides, he halted perfectly on cue and then backed up with the wiggling feet (phase two). Earlier, we'd been doing the stop at those two midway points and I had refined the back up to just the seat. He was going so straight, too. Only once did he step his hindquarters inward, and he was able to correct it with just my torso moving and he kept backing as he did it. So, I wanted the back up from the trot to be better still--to match his walk-to-back-up quality.

After one more lap, he went from the trot to the back up with just my seat! As I continued from the midway point on the east side and turned had already decided to end up in the middle ("X") by way of the dressage style "at A, continue down centerline. At X, halt . . ." At the middle of the south side, we turned right and went trotting right down the centerline and between the midpoint cones on the long sides, we halted and backed with only the seat!

I dismounted by laying on my stomach then sliding down his butt. He has really improved with that from when I first started and he would do little buck-hops! Today, all he did was raise his head. I stood and pet him for a bit. I also did some TTouches. He was bothered by the Lick of the Cow's Tongue back by his flank. I changed to the exploration TTouch and played the friendly game until he could accept touch there.

Blu followed me to the back. He stopped along the way to, ahem, eliminate, but I kept going. when he began walking again, I turned to him and tried to encourage him to trot to me, but all I go was a faster walk. I tried turning and running. That worked. He came cantering. Once I was in the Middle Earth pasture, I turned to watch him. I wondered if he would get high on adrenaline and run right past me to join the herd, but he slid to a halt right in front of me on the slick ground.

I laughed happily and pet him. Then I began the walk and jogged to the Back pasture. Again, I wondered if Blu would decide to rush ahead and join his compatriots. But he jogged or walked right behind me. Once we were out there, I stopped and, AGAIN, he did not go meet the others. Now they were right there. But he was not even eating. I walked to the other horses and he followed, but when I left . . . SO DID HE.

Blu followed me all the way to the edge of the brush in Middle Earth. From there, he stopped and watched me. It felt so good. Blu was choosing me over things that are really important to horses. That was sweet of him.

These are the days I live for.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

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About Me

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I am a young horsewoman with a million things on my mind. I have been a student of the horse all my life. As a little girl, I had a desire to understand horses on deeper levels. I believed that there was no such thing as a bad horse, and I believed that all horses were beautiful. One might say that I was a naive child, but I guess I don't have an excuse anymore, because I still believe all of that, and Parelli Natural Horsemanship is helping expand on this perspective.

What We Are Currently Playing With

  • Moving Close Circles at Liberty
  • Soft, Balanced Canter on 45' Line
  • Zone 5 Driving