Saturday, August 16, 2003

Knowing the Way of the Horse (from log 05.23.03)
Today, I spent 5 or 6 hours with WF working on all the Level One assessment tasks. She was very much in Pissy Mare mode today because I made her wait in the arena yesterday and today instead of walking out to get her in the pasture. So no grass grazing for WF! She was not happy. I wouldn't feel so bad (she's on 24-hour turnout and only comes in for grain twice a day) except night turnout is in the arena. Only day turnout is grass. I'm so mean. I actually had to play the Catch Me game with her today before she'd pay attention to me! That game wears me out b/c I have to run too. I have to keep her going until I say OK come on in. It took several go rounds before she finally gave up and said FINE. I feel like I ran a marathon, then did serious weightlifting and aerobics afterwards. I came home and passed out sitting up on the couch.

She did very well, though. We went through all the tasks tightening up the sloppy spots and right now, there is only one task that absolutely is not working—riding sideways. She's confusing my Direct Rein with Sideways actually the other way around—I ask for sideways I get a circle. I'm screwing something up but I'm not sure what just yet. Gotta read my booklets again. Other than that, she was amazing, even backed through the round pen gate with me on her, and we did some riding in the arena (that's why I hurt) in the halter and lead rope (single rein). Jenny was out and took Red for a ride then went to lead her through the arena to the pasture but Red got distracted by the hay piles put out for the two horses living in the arena (one's a mini; the other is a mare the owner can't catch in the pasture) and wouldn't go. So Jenny said to me can ya herd her out for me?

I learned that I can: guide my horse with a single rein in a halter with one hand while swinging the tail of the rope rein at another horse's Zones with the other hand, maintain my balance, change directions, and maintain gait (trotting) all at the same time. In other words, I am ready to learn how to rope a cow b/c I have an independent seat! I no longer depend on the reins for balance, nor do I need to be looking right between her ears to stay aright, and I'm confident!

I felt like a cowgirl for the first time. Man. This week has been nothing but breakthroughs! Playing all 7 Games with Cheerios w/o an emotional outburst from either of us; all the little things WF has surprised me with; finding out that PNH works on non-program horses and that I can ask a strange horse in the pasture to move sideways off of rhythmic pressure in the correct zones (shaking my fingers at them) (but of course I can't get my OWN horse to do it half the time ); the whole cowgirl incident; and the best one: taking a stab at Catch Me with Rita's horse at her request (the one you can't catch—she asked me for help catching her and I tried to show her how to fix the problem) in the round pen and feeling like a true horse whisperer when it worked and she started following me around like a puppy.

Oddly enough, that mare, Casey, runs from her owner who is a perfectly nice lady but knows nothing about horses except how to ride very basically and this is her first horse and the poor mare is 6 years old and has never ever been trained to do anything (until recently, after Rita sent her for 60 days of training)—well Casey still bolts when she sees Rita or anyone else coming toward her, but she stands stock still for me when I approach and even follows me around a bit. I don't know if Rita has noticed that yet or not. I'm kind of hoping she does, and then starts to put 2 and 2 together and gets interested in PNH.

The sad thing is, she's convinced that the trainer really taught Casey everything the horse needs to know and has yet to realize that the reason Casey's regressing to her bad behavior isn't because the trainer failed or the horse is bad, but it's because Rita herself hasn't been trained yet to know what to do. She's all wide-eyed amazement at how fantastic Bob is as a trainer. Yeah, he is; and that's exactly why Casey responds to him and why she won't respond to Rita. Casey knows Rita doesn't know anything. That's why Pat Parelli stopped training horses and came up with a way to teach people how to teach horses; he got tired of fixing problems, sending them back to the owners and having the problems reoccur because the owners didn't have any savvy. That's why PNH exists!

In her case, they NEED it to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. You have an untrained horse and an equally clueless owner—bad mix. I know from personal experience. But you can't force PNH on someone—it's like trying to sell them on a different religion and you know how that goes! (Ask any Jehovah's Witness!) Seriously! Traditionalists, or "normals", as we call them (yes, I joke about it's being the Cult of PNH), tend to dismiss the program, laugh at it, roll their eyes and smirk and wait for the day "those crazy orange stick people who ride in a string halter and lead rope and bareback in the woods" have something spook their horses and get themselves killed. So we are forced to lead by example. It catches on, though. More and more orange sticks are appearing in the neighboring stalls and barns.

The irony is that in most cases, especially at our barn, which caters to recreational trail riders (some of whom haven't been out to even visit their horses since before the snow melted), it's going to be them that falls off and gets hurt, not us. We know how to stop our horses with one rein, how to sit the horse naturally and ride with them regardless, and we've established ourselves as the leader and protector through the games we played prior to ever going out in the woods so when something does happen, we can ride through it and calm our horses down—if they even bother to get upset.

I've noticed while out on rides in a mixed group (PNH and normals) that when a "catastrophe" occurs (deer flies out in front of us on the trail, for example), the PNH horses don't even flinch, while the Normal horses lose their minds and their owners start yelling and getting upset ("Stop that! It's nothing! You stupid horse...") which only makes the horse more nervous. And if the deer flies into the herd behind a PNH horse and that horse does get excited and moves his feet, the rider immediately knows how to deflate themselves and pull with one rein to bend to a stop; the Normal horse bolts and the rider seesaws or yanks back with both reins on the bit, tensing up and squeezing the horse's sides while yelling WHOAWHOAWHOA and wondering why their horse won't settle down.

I just read all of that and thought to myself, when did I become so knowledgeable about horses? Not that I'm an expert; I'm not. But just basic stuff—it's a wonder that people can have horses for years, not know any of this, and somehow manage to stay alive and ride fairly happily. Then again, most people seem satisfied to live with what I call "tolerable levels of disrespect" in their horses. The horse walks off the moment they mount; that's escaping at a walk. They accept it; I know it's a sign of disrespect and should be fixed before you even go out for a ride. But that person's lucky, because for the most part, that's the worst sign of disrespect they get, aside from the occasional ears back look or undesired change of gait (usually on the way home, when suddenly even the sleepiest horse decides the race is on). And they are satisfied with it. But I'm not. I want more; from myself and my horses. Total respect, control and confidence. I don't like surprises on the trail. I don't like being caught off guard by an irritated hoof that could have been prevented. Ya know? Some people take their horse-related injuries in stride and wear them as a badge of honor; there's even a saying, you aren't a true cowgirl until you've fallen off seven times. I beg to differ! I say you aren't a true cowgirl until you've proven that you won't come off no matter what!

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