Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Steep Climb

Today was one of the most interesting days I think my horse and I have had together...ever.The last several weeks since I had my instructor out have been fun. I've played online, I've ridden 5 times and had some great undemanding time with my horse. She's meeting me at the gate and when we finish our sessions she is staying with me.

Every few weeks my instructor is out to see our progress. I just love these days because they always remind me that I can always aim higher and find ways to get my savvy to a whole new level. Get my good better. I'm not sure if I have any "better" that I'm working towards "best" with just yet.

I think since I've not yet completed the entire Levels program that I am not always sure what I should be doing, when I should be doing it, and for how long I should do it for. Some days it's tough! I get to the barn with one idea, see the horse that I have and everything might change based on what side of the stall she woke up on. Some days my own baggage weighs me down.

TODAY however, my horse met me at the gate, we saddled pleasantly and I drove her in zone 3 to the arena to get started and to meet my instructor. The last time she saw my horse, Amara was flying around on the line unable to stand still and accept the friendly game. I was so excited to show her how much we had progressed with this! So much so that we quickly moved through it and were on to the next thing. I couldn't believe how sluggish my normally forward horse was today. Once we popped the cork off the sluggish did she ever come out to play!

I saw expressions on my horse's face that I know I've never seen before. Bright and alert to her surroundings (but not panicky or adrenalin-ized), I saw exuberance, I saw her apply herself, and asked questions coming by the mouthful! I also saw her lick so much I thought her lips would fall off!

What was so wonderful about this was to see how my horse literally woke up (in a good way) to the handling my instructor was demonstrating for me. Thanks to today, I have a very solid picture of the different faces my horse is making when trying to tell me she's either "okay", "not okay", "panicking", "content" and/or "accepting" of what we are doing.

Today I learned how to really make it game out of it all. I am astounded to see myself write this (did i somehow miss this was my job? I thought I had been doing this all along) but one thing that my instructor wanted me to hear loud and clear is to set things up so that she is asking questions about what I want. I had gotten her to be obedient but she wasn't really asking me if she was right or not. She was just following my instructions. It was sooo cool to see Amara asking so many questions. Questions I can simply reply "yes" or "no" to when I am teaching. easy is that?!

Today we sent her to a target on the ground and she learned to put her feet on it. I've done this with other horses but I hadn't been able to really do this with her. To get her curious to want to touch things with her nose and her feet. Usually she avoids things and even when we drive to something she'll stand there and look at it without asking me questions. Today we put a chair cushion on the ground and through the course of a conversation she learned to put both feet on it and stand. Sounds simple enough, but when you have a horse who tends to be flighty getting them to stop flying around and think about what they're doing can be a challenge.

Turns out she needs a lot of physical release before she is mentally/emotionally ready to ride. My sessions might look like 1-2 hours of prep for 15 minutes of ride time right now. WOW.

I think my favorite part of the day is that we found 2 itchy spots on her!! This is the first time I've been able to scratch my horse the way she likes to be scratched and see her lips quiver and have her stretch toward me for more. I may have gained some ground with friendly today too. Perhaps it's just because I've been working so hard on getting a bond with her that it means so much to know I can scratch her and have her like it.

I wonder if she'll come and greet me tomorrow? :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's all about the "ahhhh!"

Friday marked my fifth consecutive day with Amara and a new pattern I'm hoping to establish that helps my horse want to be with me! Amara lives with a herd of 4 other horses and she's probably 4th and sometimes 5th on the totem pole depending on the day. Lately I show up and she's leaving the herd to come and greet me! She will follow me too and I can also now lead her gently with my fingertips. :)

We mosey together to the grooming area which is probably a 20x30 fenced area. I open the gate, she goes through, disengages, turns and waits for me then we go together over to where I keep my grooming supplies. I usually have a little something sweet in a bucket that she eats and when finished, she politely halters herself and then proceeds to stand ground tied on the mat for grooming and saddling. I've noticed that during saddling and grooming she's really relaxing! Her leg is cocked and she's just patient and soft with her body language.

Our last five sessions online have really convinced me that the Horsenality information is bang on! I'm so glad that I can really begin to see what she is trying to tell me and then adjust myself to give her what she needs. The big blowups that we had online are not happening now at all. When she's loose from me (If I fumble or drop the rope etc.) then I can draw her back without much difficulty.

More and more she's in a learning frame of mind and the results are beginning to come quicker. we are riding in the round pen (for my own comfort) and today I checked off all the things on the self-assessment she can now do quietly and without tension. She is almost a solid Level 1 with her skills. We still need work on a few things but more and more I'm finding in myself that it's not about the task. I struggled a lot with patience before getting into this program. When I would hear Linda P. says she hardly ever gets frustrated with horses, in the past I would scratch me head over this. Now I GET IT! The more you give your horse what they need, the quicker the results come, the more you can start to do which all = less frustration for both you and your horse.

To's all about the "ahhhhhh" which is my word for relaxation. My RBE (LBE cusp) mare is starting to do things like try and eat grass during our passenger lesson at the walk. I was a bit surprised by this and wondered if I was doing something wrong. I watched the old L2 (2005 version) yesterday and heard Linda discussing that for the extroverts it's a good sign when they want to try and eat grass with you on them as it means they are truly relaxed. Wahooo!

This week alone by making the friendly game the most important game on my list I watched my mare go from confused (and sometimes freaking out) to calm and understanding moving towards acceptance of extreme friendly game in certain zones.

I just can't wait to go and play with her again!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To The Drawing Board

My PNH instructor came out to meet Amara today for the first time. I recall that Pat says some horses have a decrease in their overall performance by as much as 20% when under pressure. I'm tempted to say that I think mine goes down by about 35% when in the presence of PNH instructors who know more than me. LOL.

After giving my instructor Amara's history and then a quick rundown on our games I realized I hadn't made nearly the progress with her that I was under the impression I had. It was quickly brought to my attention that my friendly game lacked the rhythm necessary to distinguish it from driving. Oops!

My instructor took Amara to demonstrate and much to my dismay my horse EXPLODED all over the place when some bounce and rhythm was added to the friendly game. Oy. This turned into a 10 minute "freakout" session as she called it with her backed up to a fence while Amara ran back and forth trying. My instructor stayed steady with her game and when Amara would stop and face her and keep her feet still she would quit playing immediately. This would last about 10-15 seconds and then it was back off to the races. After about 5 minutes she would pause longer and longer at the fence before turning and leaving again. After 7 minutes she was waiting at the fence for Linda to send her the other way.

When the game was over I had an in-depth conversation with my instructor. The bottom horse has A LOT of baggage. Insurmountable baggage? No...but baggage enough that a student of my skill level 2++ moving towards 3 may not have the skill to help her get past it. That was not what I was expecting to hear.'s time to hit the drawing board. I'm considering many options (extern program for her, weekly lessons etc) and hoping to select the one best suited to help my horse grow and learn quickly. thoughts?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

My last post was nearly over two months ago. So much has happened since then with Amara that I'm not sure where to fact this may just turn into a bunch of babbling. It's taken me nearly four weeks to decide to post this but somehow I just feel better sharing my experiences, failures and successes with other Parelli folk - somehow we're all in this together!

I just went back and re-read my initial posts about was a delight to see how much I obviously enjoyed her right from the start...perhaps we were meant to be together. Shortly after that post I watched my great pal and one of my mentors have an interesting ride on my horse. That ride would first be looked at as "how interesting!" and would quickly shift into a pattern of behavior Amara displayed when she felt (what I realize now) somehow blocked.

I recently purchased the Parelli Humanlity/Horsenality Match Report (what a fabulous purchase and treat that was!! More on this below). There was hours of material to sift through, and I'll never forget coming to one section that said you may never necessarily know why something happened but what is important is to know how to read the situation and decide what to do about it. To be flexible enough in your mind and body to be what the horse needs rat the moment that they need it. Boy that stayed with me for a while!

I'd spent the last 45 days wondering how my quiet, unassuming, friendly, extroverted horse who seemed confidant most of the time could suddenly start rearing under saddle. Yes, you read correctly, I wrote rearing.

When I purchased her she going well under saddle, had been under saddle for over a year but without "concentrated" riding other than the last 90 days. She was being ridden with contact and in a dressage frame that to describe it I would say is appropriate for Training Level. What this means is that she wasn't being asked for much other than to go forward, turn right and left, bend somewhat in her body and follow the feel. She appeared to be pretty well started and confidant. What I didn't know (and neither did anyone else watching her) was that deep down she had begun backing off under saddle. The more she was asked to go forward "into the contact" the more she backed off. One afternoon she executed a very slow left brained buck which when she was then asked go immediately pick up her head and go forward then turned into a right brained rear to escape.

WOW. What looked like an "all of the sudden" moment was actually the culmination of events that now placed us at the point that even the slightest request to go forward meant that she would rear to get away from the rider.

I'd spent the first 6 weeks playing the 7 games with her before each ride and learned that she was more right brained than I originally suspected. I also learned that she could be very challenging to read. I learned over the course of last four weeks how deep that fear really went.

She is much farther down the road to accepting the human when motion is involved, has accepted the saddle, and the rider when they stay in a "passenger" fashion, but had reached a place where she didn't accept the human as a leader under saddle.

I also learned how limited her exposure to simple things under saddle like disengaging the hind quarters, turning, stopping (she really had no stop, all of it was forward). At some point my wonderful horse had decided she was deathly afraid and although I could read her better and better on the ground each day, I realized that I was NOT really listening to her feedback under saddle. By the time she reared the first time she had already melted down internally and then exploded to get away from the rider.

So you're probably wondering who I had riding her and of my dearest friends who is an accomplished rider of many disciplines, a complete advocate for horses and one of the most talented and "natural" people I know around horses. If Parelli is a brand name that is something we practice/study and actually have goals centered around, then she doesn't practice Parelli (although she has some of the tools). She has a healthy appreciation for those of us who do (that is so nice!!) and for seeing how much Parelli can do for a horse. When I say she is "natural" what I mean is that she does many things that us natural folk do just by instinct alone.

So how then was this wonderful person, one of the only people I would ever trust my horses with after being in this program, a part of the meltdown my horse was having? I'm not sure we'll ever really know to be honest. What I am coming to know is that this behavior was developing long before I purchased Amara. It was developing in subtle ways like head shaking (left to right) that I recall noticing on her purchase video but overlooked as feedback (BIG mistake!). When she came to me and I began to do Parelli with her and open that door to tell her I cared about her opinion, she REALLY told me what she thought of people riding her - NOT MUCH.

When the rearing began to be part of every ride regardless of my online session with her and how much of a "thinking" or left brained state she was in I began to become afraid. My mind goes back to reading an article in a Savvy Times issue on Unconscious Incompetence by Terri Sprague. Terri wrote..."the challenge was not so much what was happening with me and my horse, but what's going on in my mind. My thoughts kept getting in my way. Instead of feeling for my horse when she presented confusing behavior, I got wrapped up in blaming myself for her past and doubting my future."

I didn't blame myself for Amara's past since I hadn't hard her very long (2 weeks at this point) but I was certainly doubting her future. When I purchased her my thought was always that I would do Parelli with her on the ground, and perhaps explore the freestyle riding and definitely liberty. After all, Parelli is great for any horse and handler team. I just never realized that a behavior Amara exhibited would suddenly open the Parelli door for my in a way that I'd never really done before.

I hit the Parelli website and searched for rearing. I actually came into a section of the website that I'd never seen before. New videos of Pat discussing specific horse problems...tada! There was a video for rearing. I think I've watched that video about 10 times by now at least. I've been a Parelli student for 5 years but although I have tons of confidence on the ground, my confidence isn't as strong in the saddle. This was not a problem I thought I could solve on my own.

It hit me however when I watched that video that I am not alone! Somehow, somewhere in the back of my mind and heart, the knowledge, patience, timing, skills, understanding, and psychology of horses I've learned through Parelli has been with me every day, every time I interact with any horse.

I bounced around the Parelli site for hours, reading blog posts from Linda and other Parelli Central members and came to one that discussed Pat & Linda's latest event in Europe. It talked about their opening ceremony and that Pat & Linda came out into the arena accompanied to Katty Perry's "Firework." I like the song, I've listened to it many times, but I'm not sure I ever really heard it until later that morning driving to a friend's stable to work with their horse.

"...Maybe the reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightening bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time you know

You just gotta ignite the light, and let it shine,
Just own the night like the Fourth of July..."

For a long time I had yearned to really try and follow Parelli as a method of developing my horse, but for some reason I held back. Driving down the freeway that day listening to that song I realized I was staring at this exact situation. The doors I had originally thought I would walk through were not open to me right now.

I decided right then to give myself and my horse over to Parelli completely. When I heard the next part of the song it really sealed the deal:

"Boom, boom, boom,
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time you let it through-ooh-ooh..."

It was true! Parelli had always been inside of me...wanting to come through. It was the strangest sensation but all in one moment I felt like I had Pat and Linda in the car saying to me it was time to really let what I had learned from Parelli be the light that would shine through. I was crying so hard by the end of the song I nearly had to pull over off the freeway!

That was the moment I decided, really decided that the best way to help Amara and myself was to give both of us over entirely to the Parelli program. To go beyond using what I'd learned to fix issues I had with horses along the way and to live it. From that moment on, my confidence SOARED. The self doubt disappeared and even though I'm taking it day by day, suddenly the pressure of having to "fix" something disappeared and what was left in its place was an opportunity to take my horsemanship to the next level. I'd always had it but somehow I had just never really let it through.

That day I drove home and completed the Horsenality/Humanality Match Report on myself and Amara. It was amazing how answering some questions about myself and my horse could unlock so much personalized information! I felt very empowered.

At the end of the post is a snapshot of Amara's horsenality profile (as of April 23rd) as shown to me in the Horsenality report based on the questions that I answered. WOW. Thankfully, what also came with it was a TON of information including what type she is primarily (RBE/LBE cusp). If you haven't yet purchased this report for yourself and your horse, I HIGHLY URGE YOU to do so. It's like having Pat & Linda sit with you and decode you and your horse together. You get answers to questions like, how you fit? What are the great things you'll bring out in your horse? What are the pitfalls to watch out for? Check it out here and choose from the Printed or the Digital report. I purchased the digital for $99 and had mine within minutes. OUTSTANDING!

So as my friend and I are driving in the car the other day she turns and says to me "today is the first day of the rest of your life..." I have to remember to tell her just how right she was!

Monday, March 7, 2011 interesting!

It's been just over 2 weeks since I posted the first time about my new main squeeze Amara. She is a delight to have in the barn and has settled into the herd just beautifully. Yesterday she went out into the large pasture with her 4 stable mates - she is definitely the bottom of the totem pole for now. She can be easily driven off but she doesn't go far before returning and settling just on the edge of another horse's space "bubble." Everyone munched grass happily and we all shook our heads...when it's meant to be, it just is!

I've been playing with her about 5 times per week and our sessions have been varying in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours with "downtime" sprinkled in. What a wonderfully smart, perceptive and sensitive mare! Thankfully we I am able to expose her to a lot of areas on the property (4 acres total) and we cover much of it each day. Sometimes we play in the pasture, the corral, the stall or just hang out together - no matter what it's always interesting. I leave with at least a couple moments each time where I find myself saying " interesting!!"

More to come soon!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A New Adventure

Last Wednesday I took another leap and purchased my next partner. Her name is Amara SF and she is a 2006 Trakehner Mare.

My overall goal is to develop a life-long partnership with her and to explore continued horsemanship studies with Dressage as our specialty. Amara has not been previously exposed to natural horsemanship and is somewhat a blank slate. Unlike a few horses I've worked with, she doesn't really have many negative habits.

It has been fun getting to know her and putting her Horsenality chart together. She has the majority of her dots (4) in the Left Brained Extrovert quadrant, but also has a sprinking of dots of in the other 3 quadrants as well - 2 in LBI; 2 in RBI; and 1 in RBE.

My first couple play sessions with Amara were very light...some friendly game, yielding the forehand and hind quarters, rubbing everywhere and simply introducing myself. She practically folded herself in half to look at me when I would just stand and stroke her hind legs. I could practically see her thinking "this human is strange!!"

Today was our 3rd play session since last Wednesday (it rained all weekend). Nothing like 2 days of a cooped up horse after rain and cooler temperatures to really show you what's under the hood! Today Amara was 100% extroverted, sometimes confidant and exuberant, and other times fractious, high headed and very, very forward.

It's been a while since I've played with an extrovert. My paint gelding was a solid left brained introvert who when nervous/scared would go right brain introvert FAST. Those of you who work with RBI's know that with that horsenality it's retreat, retreat, retreat! We slow down and wait for the horse, doing otherwise can blow things sky high. This session was a great lesson for me because although I was studying at L3 online with my last partner, I've had to go back to a teaching ad controlling (vs. refining) mode with Amara. Sometimes when I teach I have a tendency to slow things down....I can slow them down too much. Today, I quickly realized that my horse needed me to speed up and get control of the situation when she was right-brained and then quickly change strategy gears when she was left-brained.

Although she changed quadrants several times during our session, I find later looking back that I was right there with her! I think one of the greatest things Parelli has given me is the increased ability to read the horse and a strategy to go with it. As she would change, I would change my strategy to match her and give her what she needed; to be the best leader I could be at that moment. We were definitely living in the moment today!!

I didn't do much teaching today, as I was dealing with sometimes fractious but always forward, it wasn't without its strides. By the end of our session 30 minutes later we'd done lots of partial disengagement, some full disengagement (hide your hiney!) and while she was still moving her feet, she was offering to walk calmly in a circle giving my rhythm, relaxation and contact.

Today I played to safety and comfort with a final result of Amara showing calm, soft and blinking eyes, able to stand still, with soft ears and head low to the ground. It was an all-around great play day!

Monday, February 22, 2010

What It Means to Have That String

I had a day last week that was so confusing that I ended up in tears - well let's be honest, it was a full scale meltdown. I love my horse but sometimes he confuses and frustrates me! I'm sure many of you will understand how that feels, especially if you're not new to horsemanship. I didn't say horse ownership since some work with but perhaps don't own horses.

I would say that in the last 3 months I've probably easily spent 180 hours with Jayden working on our relationship and building our skills together. I've seen MANY things improve in fact so many that I don't think I could list them here. I'm talking about improving skills in the area of lateral thinking and confidance that most people may not even consider or have land on their radar. Some are so minutia that no one would ever notice them while others are very visible.

This day however it seemed like not only was my confidant solid Level 2 (moving to Level 3) horse not there...the horse I had was the one I started with 3 months ago! WOW. That was an eye opener of sorts. It seemed like no matter what I did I was losing control of my emotions and perspective and it was going to hell in a handbasket pretty fast.

One thing Parelli has defnately taught me was how to be particular without being critical. I remember the first time Linda Green was out however and said this needed to be part of my aim in my sessions. I think I responded with "huh?" What it all boiled down to was not to get greedy.

Latelly I had been uping the ante on Jayden; really asking the most of him and myself that I ever had on the ground. I received a 45 foot line just after Christmas and kept looking at it and thinking when will I be good eough for that?

I think I was pushing so hard for perfection on the 22 foot line that he came out that day, thought I was being greedy - to which he resonately said "talk to the hoof!" - that's the polite way of putting it anyhow. At first I was so frustrated that I couldn't even hear what he was saying to me. I perceived him as emotional, overreactive and complety out of control on the ground. No matter what I did I could not bring the change through to my satisfaction.

Thankfully my good friend was present during my meltdown and pointed me to an article in this month's Savvy Times that really helped me get some perspective. It's written by Teri Sprague and it's called The Joy of Conscious Incompetence - what an eye opener! Her article mentions the Steps of Change: Denial, Blame, Anger, Chaos.

On this day I whizzed past blame and anger and went straight to chaos! As I sat melting down in my wash rack all I could think of was the hours spent with my horse and what I had possibly done to ruin the respect and rapport I had worked so hard for. I overanalyzed it until my brain hurt.

Terri's article was something that really opened my eyes. I swear she wrote that article just for me! She talked about a session she had with her mare and Linda Parelli that started her out on a steep learning curve journey. Terri wrote..."the challenge was not so much what was happening with me and my horse, but what going on in my mind. My thoughts kept getting in my way. Instead of feeling for my horse when she presented confusing behavior, I got wrapped up in blaming myself for her past and doubting my future."

The learning curve is represented on the graphic chart that Terri believes shows the Horseman's Journey. A journey that rather than being puntuated by peaks and valley (which is what it FEELS like) is really punctuated by a slighly upward line and steep climbs that eventually level off.

It TOTALLY blew me away. At the times when we feel the lowest of the low, we are on the steep climb to the top and making the most progress.

After calming down and letting go of some of the pent up frustration I had, I went to my overflowing mailbox and brought in a ton of mail. After sifting through the pile a package was revealed and my heart started to pound. I opened it to find my Level 1 Red Savvy String and Certificate from Pat. Official recognition of the hard work, love and patience that I had put into my journey with my horse.

In that moment, my eyes moved to the collage that I'm putting together of many of my horse moments that are precious to me. Amongst them is the Level 2 Online Certificate Pat emailed me after passing Level 2 Online in January of this year. I remembered then how far I've really come and heard my friend Beth's supportive words from earlier that day... "you inspire me" in the back of my mind.

What it means to have that string is that I have learned, loved, climbed, grown, had success, experienced defeat and failure and that I am firmly in a place of Conscious Incompetence - always seeking that which I know I do not know. I will never give up.

"Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again."