Saturday, April 26, 2003

Walk Softly and Carry an Orange Stick, Part II
Ahh... well IMHO, Buddy Jewell has already won Nashville Star, but it's up to you, America, to vote him in. This is your last chance, so VOTE BUDDY JEWELL FOR NASHVILLE STAR.

There. Now I may step off my soapbox.

Back to the round pen... Nic had me lead Cheerios into the round pen and take off his halter. I did so and left the pen. The object of the day was to let Cheerios think about what he can do that will cause the predator in the center to be calm and relaxed and take the pressure off of him. It was purely about proving to him that he can get through scary things and survive, and to help him work through his fears. It looked like Circling at Liberty, but Circling was not the object.

She put the halter back on him and played the Friendly Game with him without the stick. She rubbed him all over until he was calm and accepting. Then she asked him with an extremely soft Phase One to back up a step. She did this until she found out where his level of tolerance was by experimenting with the level of Phase until he snorted off. She allowed him to run around until he felt comfortable and she remained neutral in the center. Eventually he slowed down and turned to face her and then walked up to her. She allowed him to do so then quietly asked him to back up a step or two until he was just out of carrot stick range. Then she dropped her energy and waited.

The object was to allow him dwell time to think about it. If he took a step toward her, she'd immediately yet still softly but with clarity ask him to back up to the imaginary line. This was repeated until he began to understand that as long as he stood quietly behind that line, the predator (Nicole) was calm and relaxed and he didn't have to do anything; but when he crossed it, she brought up enough energy and pressure to make him slightly uncomfortable (but not afraid) and asked him to do something (back up). He caught on very quickly.

Next, she sent him off in a circle, akin to the Circling Game. But she wasn't asking for two perfect laps at a trot; she didn't care about the gait, maintaining the gait, or number of laps. She wanted him to move his feet when she asked. Of course, being a nervous nelly, he shot off at a full snorting bucking gallop and raced with hard-boiled-egg eyes around the pen the moment she lifted the c.s. in the air. She didn't even have to touch his personal space with it, just lift it and he was off. But she followed through on Lead It, Lift It, Swing It, Touch It so he would have to make peace with the sight and sound of the stick. Oh, he was panicked. He raced around and around then finally screeched to a halt and whirled to look at her. She smiled and waited. He stood there, panting, nostrils flaring.

She calmly walked out to him and gave him a rub, then walked backwards to the center, inviting him to follow and come into the center. He did. He stopped dead on the boundary line. She let him have some dwell time. She told me to always go out TO him for praise, don't let him come into me. He must always ASK for permission to come into me. And if he asks and the answer is "no", and he says "OK but I'm coming in anyway", say NO and MEAN IT. Not in a scary mean way, just with polite firmness so he knows w/o a doubt that No Means No. Consequence, not Phases.

This process went on for quite a while. He began to see a pattern of being sent out left, then right, and would stop, wait, then turn and bolt in the other direction. She let him go until he started bolting with less energy and was more relaxed with the idea of the cs as a directional tool. He eventually figured out that he was not going to get whipped or beaten or killed for making a mistake, and relaxed considerably. I'd say it took a good hour or so. Maybe it just seemed that long.

Once she started connecting with his mind, you could see the wheels turning. She began to ask him to circle then to stop by disengaging. The first time, he wasn't sure what to do and whirled around and headed in the other direction. Nicole ran toward him flogging the ground loudly with a very strong Phase 4 directed toward Zone 2 until he turned a 180 and bolted in the other direction, and she countered with the same move in the opposite direction, then tried to disengage again. I think they went back and forth a handful of times. He pivoted to face her and started to do what he always would do with me, head in toward her at a fast pace. She jogged toward him while gently but firmly driving him back with the stick and he stopped and backed up to the Safe Point. (Note that the stick is pointed downward and the driving is done near the ground.) She immediately went neutral. He thought about that for awhile and began licking his lips.

She went to him and played Friendly and let him dwell, then invited him back in. He took about three steps in then turned and bolted. She drove toward Zone 4 for a disengagement. He whirled to a 180, then checked himself, slammed to a stop, spun to face her (almost tripping over himself in the process) and stood there. I could see the wheels spinning rapidly in his mind. Nicole remained neutral. He was thinking hard. Again she walked out to him and was Friendly.

This is the bulk of the day with him. She continued with the Circling and Disengaging until he was Sending fairly calmly, maintaining the gait, not bolting, dropped his head, and appeared relaxed. He began to disengage properly. He learned that it was ok just to stand still. When she finally got two good calm laps and a nice disengagement, she stopped and invited him into her. She spent a very long time rubbing him and being Friendly. She eventually softly laid the stick on his back and rubbed him with it then let it lay there.

Then I took him back to the pasture. That almost became a nightmare. I don't know why, but while he was perfectly calm with Nicole, he shifted to a perked up attitude the minute I took over. All of a sudden he was jumpy and vibrating. By that I mean I could feel/sense the shift in his energy patterns because when he is afraid his energy pattern seems to vibrate, almost quiver and the sensation goes straight to my solar plexus no matter how hard I try to avoid it. It's not my own butterflies I feel, it's his. His feel different than mine. His quiver. Mine roll. So I practiced deep centered breathing in hopes that he'd pick up on my energy. Of course, I'm still not the Alpha horse in our relationship, so he wasn't sure he could trust that.

When we got through the mare's gate into the lane, I tried very hard not to flash on a previous incident where he reared up out of fear of God knows what and struck my arm with his hoof at that very same place, under similar circumstances, then flew down the lane with the lead line flying behind him. I allowed him to graze a moment. Then he stepped on the lead rope. I very very gently asked him to back up a step. He ignored me. I kept asking, increasing the energy so carefully I could barely notice it. He kept ignoring me.

Then suddenly he jerked his head up and lifted his front feet off the ground a couple inches. I guess I must've found the point where he listens! But I did not back up. I did not cower in fear. I relaxed and laughed and said "Oh, come on, Cheerios, don't be silly, did you scare yourself?" and turned and led him to the gelding's gate as if nothing happened. Inside, I was a little high on the adrenalin rush, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it would have been last year. It surprised me, not pleasantly, but I was not the nervous wreck I used to be. He went in the gate. I started to untie his halter and he made an eyeball at me and pulled his nose up like he was preparing to bolt away the moment I untied it. So I stopped. I repositioned myself to be standing by his withers. I asked him to tip his nose into me, which he did, and his expression changed to "Oh, man, you mean I can't get away with that anymore?" and I calmly took off the halter and asked him to wait until I released him. Surprisingly, he waited. I gave him a couple rubs, then walked away. He paused for a moment then sauntered off.

On the way back through the barn I said hello to my poor forgotten Wildflower, who came up to say hello several times and could not for the life of her understand why I wasn't coming to collect her. Well, that's tomorrow. I figure after Friday, she deserves a day off for good behavior.

I know that I'm not ready to play with Cheerios quite yet, and I'm savvy enough to admit it. Now if I can just convince certain other people, like my Dad, that keeping him is a good idea even if I'm not riding him yet. It's very important that I "win" the Games with him someday and overcome MY fears. Besides, he's too good of a horse to just dump. I realized what a diamond in the rough I have on my hands; he is a different class of horse than the bulk of his herdmates. Most of the horses out there are perfectly nice horses—however, they are comprised mostly of horses who didn't quite live up to their breeding potential (as a performer or show horse), or who are past their performance prime and retired from the ring, or they are older or mixed breeds. Cheerios is papered. He was supposed to be a loud, flashy well-bred Paint Stud, but his genetics didn't get the memo and he came out Solid. Apparently that doesn't sell semen, so he was gelded and taught to chase cows.

He is extremely athletic. Watching him today, I realized just how promising he is. He is fast, strong, graceful, and a beautiful horse to look at standing still or in motion. He really "shows". He is undeniably very intelligent and very very energetic. Plus he's affectionate and friendly. He moves like a cutting or reining horse. The rest of the horses out there don't move like that. They move, yes, but not lightning fast, 360 pivots, stops on a dime switch direction quicker than you can think about it. He has fire inside of him. If I can learn to harness and properly direct his energy, we will be able to do things most of the people at my barn only dream of. I was completely in awe of him. He needs to compete, I think. He needs me to be able to keep up with him!

So my job is to get there. I'm working on it. He is much more horse than most people realize. These girls that think they can ride, who look at him and see how cute he is and see only this calm friendly dude who wants petting and cookies, who think he'd make a fun trail riding horse, they have no idea the sort of engine that's underneath that hood. It's like the difference between a Porsche and a Yugo. They don't have any idea how to handle him. I'm not sure I do, either, but if I think I want to A) train horses B) be a PNH instructor or C) seriously get into cutting or reining, then I have no choice but to LEARN how to handle him.

At best, I'll get there and be the horsewoman he needs me to be. At worst, I'll learn my limitations. Either way, having owned Cheerios will have improved my horsemanship tenthousandfold. After all, if it weren't for the challenges he's provided me, I'd never have had a reason to search for the answers I've found in Parelli Natural Horse•Man•Ship.

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