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.

Walk Softly and Carry an Orange Stick, Part I
This may be a two-parter b/c Nashville Star is on in twenty and I am not missing a minute of it.

Well. After staying up til almost 4 am last night blogging myself up to date, rising before 10 just wasn't an option. Besides, it's Saturday! I woke up around 11:30 and hoped that someone had the foresight to put WF out despite my affirmative response to Karen last night when she asked if I wanted her left in. (Someone did, so WF got out around 12:30.) I rolled into the barn around 2:00. The lot was full! I actually had to park on the grass. Everyone and their brother was there and a couple people trailered in their friends. Very busy day.

Nicole was playing with Makona in the round pen. Julie was playing with Doc in the neighboring barn's corral (no mares). Beth and Erika were waiting for Rita and Nora to return from riding Beth and Erika's horses (Benny and Ransom). Nic's daughter Sara was playing with Weapon (Bruce M's horse). Bruce was out. Karen was out. All kinds of people. So I figured I'd have a long wait for the pen. Didn't matter. Yesterday went so well I didn't feel the need to worry today.

So today was more like a Barn Social for me. I talked horses with Beth and Erika until Rita and Nora arrived back safely. Nora is looking for a horse to part-lease. I went and got Cheerios for her to meet. Because so much was going on, I just didn't feel right saddling him up for a try-out so she just got to be around him for a while. She'll have to come out during the week when it's less crowded so it's more safe. I talked with her for quite awhile to garner her level of savvy. Hmm. She might have some jumping lessons under her belt, but honestly, judging just by her stories, and these were recent events, she may not be the kind of rider for him. (A lot of people think they know how to ride, or know horses, but don't know that they really don't. "You don't know what you don't know—but horses know what you don't know."

I'll have to wait and observe how she handles him in hand and under saddle before I can make that determination. Talking to her, I have my doubts. But I'll keep an open mind until then. She hasn't even said for sure she wants to do it.

After they all left, I took Cheerios with me to watch Nic play with Weapon. It was a good experience for both of us. Weapon has a "you and what army" attitude about moving his feet; he is very stubborn, aggressive, and has been known to strike out and rear when he doesn't want to do something. Bruce M, his owner, wears spurs to ride in b/c he didn't think he could get Weapon to walk on unless he had them on and used them. Bruce also "lets Weapon decide where he wants to go and how fast". So Bruce doesn't really ask much of Weapon and Weapon walks all over him. Bruce had a lesson earlier this week on how to ride bareback w/o spurs and how to ask your horse politely to go and stop and it's had a positive effect on his riding. However, he's still got that male pride thing going and isn't ready to own up to what he doesn't know.

Anyway, the whole point to that is to highlight Weapon's attitude. Nic had to use a very strong Phase 4 to get a response from Weapon. That meant the carrot stick was slicing through the air with a very audible aggressive whipping sound—the exact thing that makes Cheerios' eyes bug out and makes him lose it. So it was quite a test to be standing inside the barn, peering over the gate, calmly stroking Cheerios' neck and acting as if the sound meant nothing and breathing deeply to counteract that awful vibrating butterfly feeling I get in my solar plexus when his nerves kick in. It's so tangible you can almost touch his fear. I allowed him to drift backwards but kept stroking him. He did ok, he didn't try to bolt or run me over, but he wasn't happy about it.

So Nic finished up with Weapon and asked if I was gonna play with Cheerios. I said "Actually, I was hoping YOU might want to." She happily agreed.

Nashville Star is about to begin so I will continue this later.

Nicole stepped in to help me out with some of my games today and it really improved us. I felt like I was at a plateau. We were getting somewhere, but not really anywhere in particular, and I felt stalled. So when Nic showed me where my deficiencies were in my games, for once I appreciated her "butting in". Basically, I was not really meaning it when I asked for something. I had just enough ambiguity that WF would hesitate in her response b/c she was trying to figure out what I meant. Luckily for me, her confusion is expressed as "uh... you want me to... uh... oh, wait, maybe it's THIS you want? It is? Oh, good, ok." Cheerios' is more like "WHAT?! WHAT!! I don't underSTAND!!!! waddayawantmeto DOOOOOOOO???!?!?!?!! OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod she's gonna KILL me if I screw up OhGodOhGod--" and meanwhile I'm terrified thinking he's gonna kill ME. It's a cycle.

So she reminded me to be a bit more direct and serious. Horses want us to be certain. They hate uncertainty. They'd rather have us say NO!!! that is not what I wanted and get it over with than to hear "well... I think maybe you could go over there... if ya wanna..." It's still hard to touch my horse with the stick very hard. Especially around the eyes—I'm always afraid I'm going to poke an eye out or something. I realize that horses are very very brutal with each other and they seem to survive, but still. It's a psychological thing. And I know from past experience that if you touch them once with a good Phase 4, you probably won't ever have to go to Phase 4 again. She's always following me around after we're finished, so I can't be doing any harm.

The concept of a consequence vs. the phases was brought to my attention as well. WF was starting to do what Cheerios does (but very much less aggressively), which is to come too close to my personal space to try to control how well I can use the stick or any other requests. I hesitate to do anything about it b/c the way Cheerios reacted when I did that is in the back of my mind (he freaks, he rushes towards me, he snorts, eyes wide open nostrils flaring). My reaction has been to Porcupine her back with her nose a few steps and yo-yo her in phases. Well, that's not sending a strong enough signal to BACK UP and not come into my space. Now I know what to do. Send a strong wave down the line, snapped like you're throwing a frisbee. Real quick, then drop the energy. I tried it and she backed off and after a couple of those she stopped at a polite distance and only came into me when I asked.

Nic had me work on direct vs. indirect rein and indirect rein vs. lateral flexion. Big BFOs for me. (BFO = Blinding Flash of the Obvious) I'm still not completely sure, but I'm getting better. My legs were so sore from the previous day that I could hardly ride her bareback. Ouch. Nic also gave me pointers on my FQ driving and on the Sideways Game.

Now for a non-PNH sidenote. I ran into an old friend at the barn today.

It's feeding time, and all the horses (42 of them) had been brought in. I'd let WF go eat and stopped by to say hello to Cheerios, then went to finish a conversation with Nicole about the clinics. Then I came back through the barn. Imagine it: a huge old-fashioned red wooden barn, with four rows of stalls—two aisles, one down each side, a tack room in the center, above which is the hay loft. I'm coming down WF's aisle to say bye-bye before heading for home. Now, about a week ago, a couple new horses arrived whom I'd only seen from a distance. Both geldings, they looked like Arabs. One afternoon I'd watched the interplay between them and the other horses. Well, I'm walking through the barn and I stopped short at the stalls where the new guys were and backed up and did a double-take, then looked at the name on the stall card.

I recognized one of them.

I almost fell over. It was Spock! I couldn't believe it. When I'd first got the riding bug three years ago, I'd found a stable across the border in Michigan to ride at and after a few weeks of nose-to-tail, decided to take lessons. I may have mentioned this in an earlier post. The stable housed three types of horses: the trail string, boarders, and a few belonging to a horse rescue that was operating out of the barn. Some of the boarders would allow their horses to be used for lessons or trail rides in exchange for lower board fees. It was a grab bag as to which horse would be the lesson horse, but most of the time I'd been with Dublin (yes, ironically, the horse belonging to my current barn's manager Erin).

I'd been taking lessons for awhile and one day Dublin wasn't available so my instructor debated before picking out this bay horse with a dorsal stripe whose ears had splits in them. He'd been sold at auction with tags in both ears, which nasty horses ripped out, leaving splits in his ears when they healed. So he'd been named Spock. Spock had a reputation for being very particular in who he liked. If he liked you, he liked you. If he didn't... best stay away from him. I did not know that when I saddled him up for my lesson. I liked him right off and felt sorry for his ears.

It was an interesting lesson—he wasn't about to listen to me and gave me a run for my money, whirling and stuff but I was laughing. I thought it was fun! I stuck it out and told the instructor I wanted to ride him again. She gave me the wierdest look. And from that point on, I fell in love with Spock and every time I went up for a lesson or to trail ride, I'd stop and pet him and feed him goodies. The instructor was surprised b/c he actually LIKED me. I thought he had personality and spunk. So when I decided I was gonna buy my own horse... I inquired. Spock was one of the rescues. He'd had it pretty bad. I forget the story now b/c it's been almost four years but it wasn't pretty and he had some emotional problems b/c of it. Well, that just made me more sympathetic.

So I asked about adopting him (you pay a fee and board and after a year you can keep him if the adoption is approved). The rescue lady told me, "you don't want that horse". Apparently everytime he went to a home, he was sent right back b/c he was so uncooperative with the new owners. I recognized elements of my dearly departed cat Vincent in that, b/c Vince also was sent back from several potential adopters b/c he arrived and wouldn't stop growling. They thought Vince was a mean cat. He wasn't. He was just scared. And untrusting. And he growled for a couple weeks with me, too, but I just let him growl it out of his system.

Then one night, I grabbed him at his food dish and held him down despite his protests and talked to him in a soothing voice and petted and petted and petted and petted him until he finally gave in, relaxed and the growl turned to a purr. He eventually fell asleep in my arms. I'd proven to him I could be trusted and bonded with him and he was my best friend for the rest of his life, until he died of cancer six days after our ten-year anniversary. I was betting Spock's story was similar. Most people just don't know how to gain a traumatized horse's trust. They think if they can dominate him, he'll listen and calm down. Not if he's been traumatized, he won't. A traumatized horse needs the opposite of domination.

I pestered and pestered the lady. I really wanted Spock. Weeks went by, and I was also pestering my Dad to come see him, help me adopt him, but neither side was budging. So I made an impassioned plea to the stable owner to talk to the rescue on my behalf. It was agony. I was trying to convince my Dad to let me have him, and telling the owner that I was certain I just about had the financing, and everyone was in limbo. The stable owner got tired of my stalling and wanted my decision by the next day. Dad wasn't sure about him. Then he finally caved.

But I never got the chance to adopt Spock. The next morning, when I called the barn to tell them that it was a go, I could finally have Spock, I learned that the rescue lady and the barn owner had had a big blow out the night before, and the rescue horses were leaving. All the rescue horses were being redistributed to new foster homes immediately—including Spock. Because the ties between the stable and the rescue were severed, all pending agreements between them were dissolved. I was devastated. NO!!! They're taking Spock away!!! I'll never see him again! I jumped into my car and raced up to Michigan, hoping to stop them from taking Spock away, to beg them to let me be the last person at that stable to adopt a rescue. He had been so close to being mine! But as I turned the corner, I passed a trailer full of horses. Spock!!! my mind cried out. I knew he was in there already. And I was right. They hustled him out of there first so I wouldn't be able to get my hands on him. The only horses left were the rescuer's personal horses. I was so utterly devastated. And noone knew where he'd gone. Or they weren't interested in telling me.

Not long afterwards, I stopped riding up there b/c the weather got bad (winter came) and then I discovered the team roping barn and took lessons there for a while then found Cheerios and moved out to my current barn. Ironically, a few months after I arrived, the horse rescue people moved in! But Spock wasn't with them. My old lesson horse Dublin was and still is, a big quarter-draft cross mare owned by the girl who is now managing the barn (she used to help with the rescue but a few months later, she had a falling out with the other girl). They said he was doing fine with the girl who adopted him. It was a small consolation but at least I knew he was safe. But I missed him. Eventually I got all caught up in my drama with Cheerios and memories of Spock drifted away. Then the rescue lady ran into some financial trouble (it was just too draining to care for all the horses dropped on her doorstep using her own money) and the rescue eventually dissolved. Horses left yet again.

So when I saw those ears today, and realized my Spockie had come home, I nearly fainted from joy. I rubbed him all over and I don't know if he remembered me, but he was calm about it, seemed to enjoy it. I was standing by his stall, absentmindedly scratching his cheek and one of the boarders (sometimes some help with turnout and feeding) was very surprised and made the comment about how he either likes you or hates you. Poor Spock! His reputation preceded him! I said he was an old friend. And I watched the quizzical expressions of four people who were uneasy around him who were perplexed that I was so happy to see him and that he was letting me scritch him. (In fact, the other horse that came in with him was also from that barn, Mocha, but I didn't have much experience with him.) I guess I must've bonded with Spock long ago. Hell, I didn't know he was supposed to hate me!

Apparently he and Mocha might be up for sale again. I guess it's the same old story. Either he isn't working out for her, or her finances are in jeopardy like everybody else in the world. They were moved to our barn b/c our barn is relatively cheap compared to the other barns (we are not a show barn, we don't have an indoor arena) to see if she can manage to hang onto them.

Gawd, if I could win the lottery. I'd buy Spock in a heartbeat. Probably Mocha too b/c they are bonded tightly. (Yeah, four horses to put through the Levels, just what I need! One good stable one, one with an attitude problem, one who's nutso, and one that's just an Arab. j/k) Well, at least I get to see him again. I hope they stick around for a while. I'll try hard not to get attached again but he's so cute in such a funny way, poor thing.

Funny how the high points of my days involve horses. And the low points involve men—or jobs.

So now we are up to speed. Two years in the life of me as a horseowner. The years before weren't nearly as interesting b/c all the horses were "safe" horses. Well, there was the Nugget incident back in high school I'll have to recall sometime, and the Arab at the trail string barn that ran off with me over the manure pile...

But back to the present. Today was a very good horse day. I headed out around 2:00. It was a little chillier than it looked like it should be; I actually had to wear my fleece shirt buttoned clear up under my heavy barn coat. My barn coat used to be a casual outerwear coat. It's kind of cool—it has a windbreaker part made of khaki fabric (that new stuff that the rain just rolls off of) and an inner part that really warm. The inner part zips into the outer part, and it's reversible. So you have four options. The whole thing, plaid cotton interior. The whole thing, plain green fleece interior. The outer part only for warm breezy days; the inner part only (either side, so I guess that's five options) as its own jacket. I wore it to the barn a few times and got horse-slobbered and that pretty much sealed its fate.

ANyway... WF was very much into following me today. I walked into the arena where the poor mares are still stuck until the pasture grass grows, and was carrying my tack over to the round pen. She saw me. I smiled and said hello to her. I deposited my tack (hung the saddle and blanket on the fence) and turned and Oh! There she is, right beside me. I rubbed her and said I wasn't quite ready and walked back into the barn. She didn't know what to make of that. Came back out with more stuff. Right there, following me. I opened the gate, and she walked right in. Another horse named LaDeDa tried to follow her (she always seems like she really wants to be included, too) but I gently turned her away.

The whole session was very good. I was out there for FIVE hours. Half of it on the ground, half mounted. My mission was to Mean It today. One time I accidentally meant it a little too much on Zone 4 (her butt) and she jerked back, let out the beginning of a squeal and bucked her hind end up. Oops! Had to really rub her to make up for that mistake. She forgave me. Ironically, she started disengaging much better after that. I worked on Driving the FQ (still a bit iffy but there's improvement), yo-yoing with determination, circling and changing gaits (MUCH improved especially on the Send and maintaining until I say stop), and even got some Sideways out of her. I was excited. I'm still working on asking her to go over there and put her butt over that way, but it's starting to fall into place. I can see the beginning of it. I can also see how far we've come: from standing in the center of the pen to moving around in it effectively. Oh yeah, we did the Squeeze Game too. That's a no-brainer for her b/c all it is is half the circling game between me and the pen with a quick disengagement of the HQ to change direction. She's really good at that. And we picked up all four feet from one side very nicely.

Riding portion: POLITELY saddling from the Indian side (do I need to change my rigging? Pat has his rigged like everyone else does, he just puts the saddle on from the opposite side); practice mounting from both sides, bouncing 3x with my foot in the stirrup before standing up, bellybutton pointing towards the horse's head (NOT toward the saddle), wait, ask for permission to mount, then swing the leg over and politely descend into the saddle (way harder than it sounds); hurry up and wait; direct vs. indirect rein; indirect rein vs. lateral flexion; and "patience, my dear, I won't let you miss dinner". We work on that last one a lot. No matter how early I hit the barn, I'm always there for feeding time. It went VERY well. Even going into the barn was good. She was anxious to eat, but she waited for me to ask her to enter the gate, and willingly let me lead her past her hay- and grain-filled stall to the cross-tie area by the tack room so I could untack her; then she politely went into her stall and disengaged her HQ w/o my asking much, and though one eye was on her food, she contained herself politely and tipped her nose to me when I took her halter off. I asked her to wait just a moment before I released her.

She still pulls away a little quicker than I'd like, but she is improving. She's beginning to realize I won't let her starve, I won't torture her, and if she waits until I give the signal, I give the signal faster and she gets to her food a lot faster than if she yanks away from me. If she does that, she's found out that I'll just pull her away from her food, put the halter back on and do it again, as many times as it takes until she waits for my signal. Oh, the frustration! It's just easier to do as the human asks the first time.

Karen was in charge of feeding tonight b/c Erin is on a long weekend camping trip she looks forward to every year (with her horse). I helped out since it was only the two of us. While Karen was finishing up putting the feed in, I groomed Echo's head. Poor Echo. She always has her ears back so everyone thinks she's mean. But she's not. Well, she is to certain non-savvy individuals... but not to me. She's figured me out. I'm ok in her book. Her hair is still long—like it hasn't shed out. I'm concerned that it's Cushing's Disease; I got my shedding blade and curry comb out. Her forehead (and Redbird's too) was just icky, fuzzy with unshed hair and greasy and dandruffy. Red wanted to rub so bad on my arm that I let her b/c she's miserable. So I took to Echo with the shedding blade. She was a bit wary at first but I approached and retreated slowly, letting her sniff it, and touched her neck gently a couple times until she realized not to jerk away. Then I gave it a stroke. And another. Echo's eyes went from the usual coldness to brief surprise, then they softened and half-closed. That is the first time in two years I have ever seen Echo with a soft eye. She leaned into the blade and I worked out some of her hairs. She seemed to be mentally thanking me for scratching that nasty itchy forehead of hers and loosening up some of the hair. Poor thing. I'd love to get ahold of her and give her a good grooming. I don't think her owners come out much.

Do I have a soft spot or what?

We let the mares in, then we let the boys in. Cheerios came right to me; Spock and Mocha had to be walked in b/c they didn't know the routine yet and everyone was scared to go into a stall with both of them (they go into one stall together to eat, they are joined at the hip), except me. So I offered to walk them in. Oh, there was a minor situation when two other horses came trotting down the aisle before I had them in their stalls, and I know now that my mistake was. I had a lead rope around Spock's neck. I went to put him in first. Mocha followed. Oops. While I was trying to get Mocha to come out, Spock came out and started going the other way. So do I go after Spock, or keep Mocha from eating Spock's food? Then the other horses came in, and everyone was headed my way. Then Mocha got out of Spock's stall. Oh, geez. Impending disaster. Four geldings with attitudes, two freaky ones and two who know the drill, in an aisleway with me with nowhere to go.

You don't have health insurance yet, my mind says.

Don't remind me of that right now, I reprimand my subconscious.

Well, it all ended well with everyone safely in their stalls w/o snorts or incidents, but what I should have done was lead Spock as I was doing; send Mocha into his stall and shut the door while keeping hold of Spock, THEN lead Spock into his stall. OK, so I learned something. After everyone was in and happily crunching, I bid my farewells to my horses. Wildflower got a handful of her carrot treats. Cheerios got a few apple treats. I kept one for Spock. He happily accepted it and nodded his head as he chewed. I'm so glad he's here. I wonder why, after all this time, he has reappeared in my life?

It is 3:34 am. I cannot believe I'm still up typing. This was supposed to be a quick notation in my PNH (b)log, but turned into more. I started at 1 am. Man, I'm pooped!

From Log, 04.01.03
It finally warmed up, so I've been spending the majority of my afternoons with my horse(s). The bond between me and Wildflower is developing beautifully, and she's picking up the Games really well. We've had a couple of great rides; hoping today I'll get another one. As for Cheerios, well, I thought I had finally found a leaser for him but the girl's parents' financial situation suddenly changed so we dropped it. Too bad, cuz she was perfect for him. She already had her own horse, a 2-year-old colt she's training, and needed something to ride for the next year or so. She's a great rider, has done eventing and jumping and had nerves of steel plus patience.

So I took another stab at showing Cheerios the Games and although it started out fine, by the time we got to our previous stopping point (Circling), it had disintegrated again. He still scares me when he blows up; not AS badly, but it's still there and I don't think it's gonna go away easily. So I suppose he'll be finding a new home for real very soon. The interesting thing is that after a few months away from them, then working with Wildflower, it's very apparent that they are two different animals and that I like WF much better. Cheerios just isn't a very nice horse! Cute, yes, and he loves me, but he has absolutely no respect for me and nothing I can do can convince him otherwise. (Kind of like the men I tend to date.)

I had an awesome ride yesterday but was concerned WF might cop a 'tude today because I was sort of rude with her. I basically marched out to the pasture, dragged her reluctantly into the barn, hurried up and saddled her with only a perfunctory dusting off of shavings and dirt with my hand (no time to brush, my buddies were already saddled and mounted when I arrived unexpectedly at the barn and they said come with us) and hopped on. Her whole attitude that ride said "I feel so... used... not even a CARROT or a brushing harrumph". She even gave a little buck when we cantered (and for the first time ever, it didn't even phase me).

She did her best to challenged my authority quite a bit by turning around every now and then, but I maintained my calm patient firmness and had fun anyway. I basically ignored her attempts at challenging me, made light of them, and just politely put her back in the direction I wanted her to go in. So I was expecting her to turn her butt to me and run off today.

I was fully prepared to play the Catch Me game with her, but she surprised me. She came right up to me! I must've done something right to earn her respect. My jaw was dropping all over the place today because I didn't even put the halter on her, she followed me right up to the round pen and went in the gate when I pointed. (This Parelli stuff is working!!!) I probably spoiled her dinner by filling her up afterwards with carrot treats.

Something must be changing in me, because even Cheerios acted differently today. I watched the geldings for awhile—about half the male herd, maybe 12 horses or so, were having a race. They were galloping furiously from one end of the pasture to the other, bucking and kicking, snorting and farting. It was unbelievable. Back and forth several times. I was standing right by the fence and they were whizzing past me no more than two feet away; the ground was shaking from the thundering hooves, and they'd eyeball me as they passed. After they finished, and were standing around recovering, I noticed Cheerios had a hoofprint on his shoulder—someone had kicked him a good one! So I called him over to the fence and he came right up. Then this big ol' seal brown gelding shoved himself in front of Cheerios to hog my attention, and gave Cheerios the Look (My. Space. Leave. Now.) and my poor baby slunk off, looking pitifully at me. So I did the Driving Game with the seal horse.

I stood straight up, flicked my fingers at his face. He flinched. I flicked harder (increasing the pressure in phases). He looked like he was considering moving... so I kept going until I was flapping my arms at him and stomped the ground a couple times and then imitated a horse's snort warning. The horse's eyes got big and he decided he'd best leave. Once he turned, I dropped my energy to passive and beckoned to Cheerios. Cheerios looked so surprised. He blinked a couple times then walked toward me, looked at the seal horse a couple times, saw the other horse had clearly deferred to me, and came to me with a complete submissive posture ("You are my master, O Mighty One, You have scared away the Bully and I am your dutiful servant."). He behaved perfectly when I haltered him and brought him in to have a look at his wound (superficial). His respect for me went up a notch and all I had to do was show my dominance (or leadership) over the one that dominates him. Is that all it takes?

Somewhere in here during the month of April (I got a little sidetracked), I spent a good part of every day playing with WF (we're talking three or four hours a day), gradually improving her games and having breakthroughs everywhere. I got her to go Sideways for about three steps—trouble is, I don't know if she was paying attention b/c she was very busy munching grass. The mares aren't allowed in their pasture for a month while the grass grows up, so they are stuck in the dirt arena and bored and grassless. So any stray blade is attacked by a horse.

I got into Bruce's L1 Holy Toledo clinic next week, and in Carol's L2 providing I pass 90% of my L1 before then (shouldn't be a problem, I hope). If we can get a truck, Nicole will cart us to Cleveland the 23rd of May for the Advancing to Harmony and my assessment.

Went to the barn today. Dad wanted to see my horse and see what I've been doing with her. I was a little nervous, performing for him. He doesn't really understand what some of the games are supposed to accomplish (yo-yo, for one) but he thinks I'm doing really well with her. I played Games 1-5 with her and she did the most beautiful circling game. I started to get her to figure out that rub means stop. She was getting better at that too. Then I saddled her Indian side (Dad didn't get that one at all). OK, I was a doofus at first. Couldn't figure out where the lead rope went, (arm closest to horse when facing horse, at beginning rope is behind me) had trouble hugging the saddle (very heavy). Mounting got better, but I mounted from the Cowboy side only (I'll work on both sides when I don't have an impatient audience). I have to switch my rigging to Indian side I guess. Or do I?

I know I have a LOT of work to do with my direct and indirect reins b/c she does lateral flexion really well but does lateral flexion when I ask for indirect rein. Not sure what I'm doing wrong, but that'll be fixed in the clinic. That's WHY I'm going. I changed to the natural hackamore and left the round pen. It was a test, b/c all the mares were milling around but she listened pretty well considering it was near feeding time. We did figure 8s at a trot, and then I cantered her and bent to a stop. Whoooo! First time w/o a bit and bridle. Yay! There was one point where she was cantering and didn't listen to my direct rein request, and came perilously close to running into the round pen. I had a moment of "OH CRAP" then remembered horses know not to run into it and relaxed. Good thing. She kind of slammed to a stop, avoided the pen with a sharp turn and changed direction (U-turn). I stuck it out. Unphased. Gettin' better...

Also gettin' better at fluidity riding. I'm tired now b/c I was workin' my legs with her trot, and moving my arms with her canter. But I'm beginning to get the gist of how it works and melting into the horse. Of course, I'm trotting naturally and my dad calls out Sit Up Straight...

So there were some new things and some breakthroughs and I'm happy overall. Plus Dad decided he's supportive of my career plans. He asked over dinner if the program would be eligible for student loans for when I go to the ISC in a year or two. I don't know... gotta find out. Gotta find out how to support it. Good news all around.

From Log, 02.23.03
Spring IS planning to arrive this year, isn't it?

I finally got out to visit my poor neglected horses—twice in a week! First for a since-postponed farrier appointment (they didn't need it yet, we were early) during a 3-degree wind chill (that was fun) then this past week when it was gloriously 40. They appreciated it. Cheerios remembered me right off; Wildflower, my new horse, wasn't sure at first, but I spent a good hour with her the second time in the pen getting reacquainted.

I went on my first ride in months with Nicole. It was 45-degrees and sunny. Nicole rode Makona with the halter/lead rope/bareback/carrot stick combination. I stuck with standard Western tack on Wildflower. It was wonderful! It was a pleasant ride, my first in snow. Mostly we walked, did a tiny bit of jogging. Had a few minor spook incidents and one major one that nearly unseated me (we crossed paths with a lady who was x-country skiing with her wolf-dog and I'm not sure which freaked Wildflower more, the skis or the dog) but for the grace of God and better riding skills. It almost replicated what Cheerios did the year I sprained my back—but this time, I stayed put, went with the horse, and recovered well. That Bruce Logan PNH clinic I went to last fall really changed my riding mindset and that proved it. It's a good thing because it was like coming full circle and I think I'm over my fears now. For the most part, anyway.

Bad Mare Day. (Well, that's what it says in my journal!)

It was gorgeous today. I still can't believe I was riding the trails in short sleeves. SHORT SLEEVES! OK, there were a couple shady spots where I found myself wishing I'd grabbed a jacket, but it wasn't shivery. The park right now is basically mucky woods with ice rinks (trails) running through them. The horses didn't wear their blades; it can make for an eventful ride when they negotiate whether that's solid slidey ice, crack through it ice, slushy ice or not gonna go through it gonna jump it watery ice. (We hit all four today.) No major spooks, but Wildflower was grumbling under her breath the entire time. We went out with Erin on Dublin and Kathleen on Matazer. They are a fun bunch to ride with.

All right. I have to be more disciplined in keeping track of my hours and efforts with Level One. Today, I took a work day because rain was predicted. Nothing much came of it but I had four clients to satisfy so I stayed home and designed. Let me see if I can back up...

Cheerios was trained for one purpose: to cut cattle. I tracked down his breeder in Arkansas and he told me that he breeds Paints for color; Cheerios came out solid so he was trained for cattle and sold. Apparently his full brother is a loud flashy show horse. Anyway, Cheerios was taught stand still while you're saddled, stand still until the cow breaks, then run full speed after the cow and screech to a stop when it's been caught. He never learned to transition into a trot or between gaits, or how to longe properly or how to come down out of a canter to a nice trot. The result has been that he doesn't know how to slow down from a canter, and has gotten frustrated and bucked when asked to move from canter to trot. His canter is like flying on air; his trot is like a jackhammer BUT I've gotten him into a nice smooth trot by accident a couple of times so I know it's possible. I'm still learning all the riding techniques so I don't understand how to ask for a transition.

He knows the first three Games. We got stuck on the driving game because of the carrot stick. I'm not the most agressive person, so he has no reason to fear me; but when he sees the stick, he panics and flies off into a full gallop around the pen. All I have to do is raise it a little off the ground and his eyes bug out and he snorts off, even if I'm at the other end of the arena. A few of these incidences and I realized I needed help. Higher-up help than my fellow PNH enthusiasts at the barn could give me. So I went to the Parelli site and started searching for an instructor in my area who might be able to help. That's how I found Bruce Logan.

Bruce handles the Young and Difficult Horses and is as of this writing a 3-star endorsed instructor and a Level 4 graduate. He was doing a clinic near Cleveland in early October 2002. I figured I would email him for advice, and see if I could get into the clinic. Although I was hindered by the lack of horse transportation. Bruce emailed me back with a few suggestions but said it would help if he could see it in person.

Because his fear of the carrot stick (mainly the sound it makes) is so strong, Bruce agreed with my feeling that it might not be a good idea to put Cheerios in a ring with a dozen horses and snapping carrot sticks until he's more relaxed about it. Well, it didn't matter anyway, because I didn't have a truck or trailer, and I found out there was a 12-person waiting list for a Level 1 rider spot. So I gave up on that idea and decided it was time to start horse-shopping.

The fun thing about shopping for horses is that the information is presented in the best light but sometimes you'll get there and realize the horse is a nut. Look at Cheerios—he's a good horse, he has a wonderful personality and lots of it, and he's affectionate and loves to be petted, groomed, and socialized with. And he is absolutely beautiful in the summer after a bath and a good brushing—he shimmers like copper and he has "presence". But he can be a pain under saddle. He bucked me off while on a trail ride during a trot the first year I had him and I was laid up for half the summer with a sprained back and a sudden overwhelming fear of horses that I eventually overcame thanks to an understanding patient friend with an ancient mare. He also is highly intelligent, so you have to be one step ahead of his thoughts.

Cheerios and I had to rebuild our bond from the ground up because we were both afraid of each other after my accident. My friend with the mare temporarily traded me horses and tried working with him to settle him down and teach him transitions and he decided to try bucking her off, too. I've had him examined by the vet (nothing physically wrong) and had a full massage treatment for him, looked at his saddles, tried all kinds of equipment (prior to discovering PNH) and now we're into PNH.

We had just gotten back to where I could trail ride him again, and in January 2002 we went out for a short ride and he bucked all the way home from Harry Hughes Equestrian Center. It is a credit to my riding ability that I was able to stay on. However, I have continued to play as many games as possible with him and just hang out with him so he doesn't go wild. I'm just not confident enough to get back on him yet, and I'm very careful about who I will put on him at this point. If an old cowboy or cowgirl or someone who's experienced with young horses comes out to look at him, I'll let them mount up but I don't feel comfortable letting a 4H-er or novice (other than myself) take a chance. He probably wouldn't do anything bad, but it's my liability if he does. He's not a dangerous horse, and he's not mean—just green and headstrong and too young to be conscientious of taking advantage of someone who isn't experienced.

So. That's him. He needs someone who would be gentle, patient and firm who has prior experience with a strong-minded youngster and the desire and knowledge to do what it takes to develop him into a great horse. I know he has the potential; I just don't know if I have what it takes to bring it out in him but because of my love for him (and, I suppose, my pride), I keep trying.

Been horse-shopping. I dunno if I'd be worse off keeping Cheerios or buying a new horse, judging by what I'm finding.

I've had one wild experience already. I answered an ad for a "lovely Appaloosa mare" who was the right age, had kids ride her, the whole bit. Drove clear out in the boonies to see this wonderful specimen. She was a nice-looking leopard appy. The 12-year-old daughter saddled her up. I was watching her and I got the feeling the kid wasn't completely comfortable doing it. She seemed a bit nervous. So I requested that someone else ride her first so I could observe how she moved. The horse moved fine, but the kid had this barely-contained look of panic on her face and was visibly relieved to dismount.

I thought, well, I don't know... but then if a little girl can handle her, I'm bigger and stronger so I have that going for me so I mounted up. Boy-OH! She took off like a shot, and I decided right then that I was NOT cantering her—it was all I could do to keep her in a trot! We went around the paddock twice. The first time around was brisk but steady. The second time around, when we passed the cornfield, the wind picked up and the corn rustled and the horse sidestepped about 10 feet and tensed up her back. I thought my god, she's gonna buck me off or something, so I aimed her away from the cornfield, whoa'd her to a stop in front of the owners, dismounted, handed them the reins, said "thank you very much" and walked off.

Methinks they did exaggerate her qualities a bit in the ad.

I just don't believe it was a wise thing for them to knowingly put a stranger on a questionable horse. Everyone says they can ride; but only those of us who've had to deal with "real" horses (not the zombies they have at trail riding outfits) know that there is a difference between riding a horse and riding a horse. It's just scary to me that so many people unknowingly take their lives in their hands when buying horses, and that sellers can and will in good conscience allow it to happen! Have you ever heard any buyer's nightmares where it ended tragically? I haven't yet, but I'm sure it's happened. It sure isn't like buying a car.

09.23.02 I found the perfect horse! (and it's all detailed in the previous POST! Excuse me for being a bit out of order in the history...)

10.09.02 Gettin' Savvy!
Nicole and I attended a PNH Level 1 & 2 clinic in Cleveland with our horses. In two days of intense training, I learned all the Seven Games plus riding techniques. I've made remarkable progress. My confidence is built up and my savvy is better. I'm more confident and in control of my horse and know better how to ask for what I want. The instructor was Bruce Logan, a Level 4 rider and Endorsed 3-star PNH instructor, a cowboy who grew up on a cutting horse ranch who knows how to deal with difficult horses (which is why Nicole took her bolter with her). He was riding a 2-year-old stallion who was better behaved than most old plugs. Amazing.

Nicole's been working on Levels 1 & 2 for almost two years now; the only things holding her back from passing her Level 1 assessment were her inability to laterally bend her horse to a stop from a canter (he always went into panic mode and ran off with her) and holding the trot in a figure 8. Well, this guy discovered the problem was that Makona was escaping even at a walk by not standing still. He taught her how to correct it at the walk, trot and canter and how to hold the gait, and she passed Level 1.

I've had a couple of inquiries about leasing Cheerios, but no buyers yet. Oddly enough, we're getting along better now. Maybe it's because the pressure's off of me with him for sale. Oh, well! I'd love to keep him if I can because when I get to Level 3, I'll need a difficult horse to work with, so pray that either my web design biz takes off, I get a killer job, or I win the lottery.

The PNH clinic was very informative—I learned more about horses in two days than I thought possible. Of course I was there for six days; watched the advanced clinics and lessons to see what I have to look forward to. Wildflower and I are off to a great start. Cheerios is a pasture puff. So far, nobody's responded to my horse for sale ads although a couple of young girls are interested in leasing him. I don't think he's right for them, either. Not gonna be responsible for killing a teenager. He needs an assertive man or a very manly woman to ride him.

Wildflower is an awesome horse. My niece's reaction was that she's a bit like their former horse, Chessie. She has a similar attitude: "Oh. You wouldn't be trying to get me to move, would you? Well, you're going to have to ask me the right way. Until then I'll just stand here. Nope, that's not it. Nope, not that either. THERE. *sigh* Now you've got it."

I attended my first Success With Horses Tour in Battle Creek. Nic & Julie went up together and I went on my own. For some reason, since I became really serious about PNH, my friendships with certain people have become strained. Some seem to view me as "competition" (which I don't understand, because PNH is all about improving your SELF, not who's better at communicating with their horse or gets their red string faster); others view me as completely insane, pursuing such a gimmicky "training" method. So it's almost as if I'm being ostracized by both the people IN my group as well as my former group. Personally, I don't see why we all can't be friends and just share knowledge.

I still can't get over all of the amazing feats the Savvy Team were performing with their horses. I know that most of us probably won't ever get to that level, but to see it, and to imagine the possibilities, it's just awe-inspiring. Some of it brings tears to my eyes. I wish my Dad could have seen it; I'll have to take him with me some time.

Wildflower and I are getting along beautifully. We're doing pretty good with the first six games. Our sideways needs lots of work. But in time, it'll get there. We went on our second trail ride last weekend to see the fall colors and it was wonderful. I just wish the fall colors weren't the precursor to frigid winter weather. Now that I have Wildflower, I'm ready to ride.

It took me a couple of days to decompress following two full weekends (and then some) of Parelli Natural Horsemanship!