Monday, August 09, 2004

Eating the Elephant... bite at a time.

Thursday, August 5th:

Figured out where the problems were with Wildflower. First, I was too agressive with her, starting around Phase 2 or 3 instead of Phase 1 and not allowing her a fair chance to respond. So I softened up this time.

Well, I softened up a little too much. I was giving her good Phase 1 and 2... but not being consistent with going to Phase 4 when necessary. Not only was I hesitating to go to Phase 4, but I was being so inconsistent. What I mean is, if I was firm (yet kind) about going to Phase 4 while we were working on that particular Game, say the Driving Game on the FQ for example, I was wimping out when I asked for a FQ turn when it wasn't the Game.

Say she was facing me, and now I wanted to move her over to the fence so we could do Sideways. First I would need to reposition her so she was facing 90 degrees away from me, facing the fence. Then I could proceed with Zone 1-Zone 4 down the fence for the Sideways Game. Well, since she'd done a great job with responding to the Driving Game earlier at Phase 1 finally, I eased up when I asked her to move her FQ away from me toward the fence. So I'm going Phase 1... Phase 1... ahem... Phase 1... nothing. I kept up Phase 1 then Phase 2 until finally, out of sheer annoyance with me, she'd move reluctantly.

My problem was losing sight of the fact that even when we aren't specifically isolating that Game, I still need to be consistent with my Phases EVERY TIME I ask her for a response using a Game's technique other than the Game we were currently playing. What I should have done was ask her to move her FQ away from me toward the fence with Phase 1... and if she didn't move soon enough, go Phase 2, 3, 4 in quick succession until she DID respond, being mindful to pull back on the Phase when she mentally began the shift and not being afraid to go to Phase 4 if she ignored me.

So this session was more helpful to me than her, I learned more than she did.

Friday, August 6th:
Having studied the L1 video over and over and studying the first L2 video over and over then reading the Stage 1 booklet very very carefully and taking copious notes (which I brought to the barn with me), and having compared this information to the previous night's session, I set new goals for myself, one being to go back to L1 Games and tighten up everything that was wrong. Make sure both of us are clear on what each Phase feels like, get the responses to happen at Phase 1 or 2, and make sure I am clear on my positioning. Break each Game down again, step by step, and make sure each step is where it is supposed to be. Clean it up. Stop being lazy. Now that I'd studied my lessons, I knew what needed fixed, I recognized my lazy spots, and I set out to fix them.

Part of what I'd done the previous night touched on this, which is why I was in too-soft Phase 1 land. However, we did have some success in re-teaching her the Games. I was very conscientious not to push her, but to stop when I got the appropriate response from a Phase 1 or 2, regardless of how far the response went. If I got a nice mental response and turn in the right direction off of a nice Phase 1-2, I stopped there.

Some of the Games were beautiful. The Yo-Yo Game has really improved, and that's because I spent a couple sessions with her focusing on it intently (this was before my study sessions began). I knew Yo-Yo was the precursor to Bring Back, and both are precursors to Changing Directions during Circling, and since that was my next mission, to teach the change of direction and I was having trouble, I went back each step until I isolated the problem. It was our Bring Back. It was sloppy (on my part ) and hesitant (on hers). So we isolated that, and discovered the Yo-Yo was the source. It was sloppy (on my part) and hesitant (on hers) (see the pattern?)

She would yo-yo backwards fine, albeit dragging her feet, but wouldn't stop until she ran out of rope despite my wanting her to stop halfway. Then she wouldn't come in. And when she finally did, it'd be all the way in, right smack into my personal space, despite my wanting her to stop three feet away. Isolation time. Be more obvious in my body language. Use all the Phases if necessary. After a little while, she began to understand that when I pivot my feet 90 degrees from her position facing me, spreadeagle my legs, stand so that I'm leaning towards her, point my finger, grimace (mother in law face) and wiggle my finger, it means back up. When I relax my face and posture, and return to my original position facing her and stop leaning in, that means stop right there and wait. When I curl up a little, smile, and motion to her to come in (open hands face up rolling toward me waist high or a wiggled "c'mere" finger), start approaching me and stop when I change back to relaxed mode.

Now, it's improved in a few short days to where we've progressed from really lousy beginning Level One Yo-Yo to my being able to ask her to back up over a pole, bring one front foot forward over the pole and stop, with the front legs straddling the pole.... then ask for the other front foot to come over and stop... then one hind foot... now back up hind foot and one front... and so on. I'm controlling individual feet. In just a few days, by isolating the Game step-by-step.

That's what we did Thursday, with the other six games.

Friday's goal was to find the balance between too soft and too hard. It began to gel. There was still some variation over the line; sometimes I got a little too hard and sometimes too soft, but the responses were becoming more like the end of L1 beginning L2 where they should have been last August after we passed. Again, I made sure to stop when I got a good response.

Unfortunately, I had to teach her not to run off the moment I remove the halter. She braced the moment she felt me untie it. I made her wait... tried to slide it off slowly but she bolted off. I considered waving it away, then thought, no, that'll teach her to do that. So I walked over to her, disengaged her, and put the halter back on. She wasn't happy about that. I lead her back to the gate. Told her all she has to do is wait for me to tell her when to go... and we wouldn't have to do this again. She waited... as best as she could, and snorted off when I told her to go. Well, it was progress.

Saturday, I got trapped in my bedroom when the doorknob broke, and almost missed Bullriding at the fair. After trying to MacGuyver the door for 45 panicky minutes, cursing the fact that I procrastinated about installing a phone in the room, cursing the fact that my cell phone and keys with garage door opener were on the kitchen table downstairs, cursing the fact that I'd locked the front storm door to keep out burglars (and the key was on the table), fearing broken bones should I try crawling out the window onto the garage roof and jumping to the driveway pavement below, and being very very pissed off after all the hard work I'd done restoring the room and painting the door, I finally resorted to kicking a big hole through the damned thing so I could get out. When I returned from the fair, I removed the doorknob (the rod between the two knobs that turns the latch had worked its way out of the inner knob), and used duct tape and a scrap of banner vinyl I'd scammed from my former employer last fall during a short-term project and covered the hole to prevent uninvited midnight cat visits. The hole is still there. One of these days, I'll get around to buying a new door and knob set.

The bullriding was great; a few big injuries, but they all walked away (stiffly). The highlight of the evening was when the Roman Rider performed. This 17-year-old girl, Dusty Lynn (wish I could remember the name of the trick riding group she rode with), rode two horses at once, bareback, barefoot, one foot on each horse, around the bullriding arena at a fast canter. She changed foot positions, switching between horses; she did the splits sideways across their backs; someone set up six poles in the center, and she rode between them serpentine style, then rode with one horse on either side of the poles and the line of poles passing beneath her crotch (so she was straddling them, had about three or four feet of air between the horses). Then, she did it again, but this time they were lit on fire! So she straddled flames! Then, as if that wasn't enough, a guy ran in and set up a long piece of PVC tube vertically from the corral fence to a support. I thought, "no way... she's not going to JUMP that way, is she?"

By golly, SHE DID! Clean as a whistle, cleared a two-foot jump that way. I'm still looking for my jaw. I figure, she'd qualify to be Parelli Level 8 or something (I just looked it up, and Levels 7, 8 & 9 are True Unity, which involves more than one horse). That alone was worth the price of admission. Even my dad was impressed.

Sunday, August 8th:
Scary day at the barn. I set out to improve even more and was hoping to get in some riding time. Well, that all went to Helena Handbasket. First I got waylaid by Nora (Cheerios' leaser), some young girl who had on a Parelli shirt and is studying Level One (finally, like-minded people), Beth, and others. Had to chat with the gang, ya know.

Just as I got up to collect my horse and begin, something awful happened.

I rounded the corner into the barn. Someone wondered aloud where Erin (barn manager) was; another said they were out on a trail ride... "and here they come now, I can hear hooves". Yeah. Then suddenly we all could hear hooves. Loud, thundering, full-on galloping hooves. Heading for the barn. Shouts and screams. I dropped my stuff on the ground and shot back out the door as Dublin, Erin's big half-draft mare, came barrelling down the lane and round to the front of the barn, with a saddle dangling under her belly.

Not a good sign.

At the same time, there were screams and shouts and a loud whomping sound. Chaos and commotion. Six had been on the ride and four came back mounted, and two riderless horses charged to the barn (one being Dublin, the other, Erin's other mare, Roxy). I ran out in front of Dublin to slow her down and she did but went round to the other side of the barn. Someone took charge of catching her. Another grabbed Roxy. That's when I saw, over top of the gravel mounds, the sight of Erin, face down in the grass beside the lane, and realized she'd fallen off.

I think I said "Oh My God!!!" and that alerted someone else in the barn, I think I might have said something like Erin's fallen or something, and a couple of us rushed over to her to see if she was ok. She wasn't. She wasn't moving, she was crying, she was moaning in pain and I said "DON'T MOVE!!! Just lie still!" and the rest of the riders came up, except one was missing. One lady turned to go find her daughter, who had been riding Dublin. Erin had been on Roxy.

Apparently, they'd had a great ride, were in good spirits, feeling a little keyed up, and the girl riding Dublin (Rachael) decided to canter down the lane along with two other young girls. Rachael noticed her saddle slip to the right a little, and tried to shift it to the left to counter balance it. Didn't work. It had loosened up or something had gave way. The saddle started to go, Rachael along with it. Rachael was thrown, at a canter, and landed on her back. Dublin realized there was a monster attached to her belly (the saddle), and panicked. Roxy heard her coming up behind her; Erin turned to say "slow down a little on the lane" and Dublin rushed Roxy, who spooked, and whirled, and launched into a panicked canter herself. Erin, already off balance from turning to look back, went flying when her attempts to pull back and stop Roxy failed. From what she said, she fell and rolled, landed on top of her left arm. Now, it hurt terribly to breathe.

She protested about us calling 911 because she isn't insured. But all of us were worried, about broken ribs puncturing lungs, internal bleeding, concussions. She took a long time to get up after reassuring us that the only thing that really hurt was her side. Her friends finally convinced her to go to the hospital. She went well past her golden hour, though.

Karen (another boarder) was there, and together with Nora, we organized the feeding ordeal. We grained all 38 horses, provided supplements to the appropriate ones, brought them in to eat, spread hay for the geldings who would be in the mud lot at night, hay for the mares confined to the arena due to sand colic, turned them out, and closed up shop while Erin attended her injuries. Rachael got off easy with a sore back.

By the time we finished, it was 8:00. I escorted Wildflower to the round pen anyway, and made good use of the hour of daylight remaining. For all the awfulness of the day, our session was wonderful. I upped the ante and requested L2 solid Phase 1 responses and was very consistent every time I asked for something. Politely persistent in the proper position. We only got up to the Circling Game because I chose to teach new parts of Circling.

First, though, I worked on winning the Friendly game. Stay relaxed, and work up to flogging the ground really hard, see how much she can take before her head goes up, back up one step and back off a little on the pressure until her head comes down, keep it up until she drops her head and relaxes. Then quit. Wait a bit. Begin again. I got some results. Onto Porcupine... well, it still takes a lot of Phase 3 & 4 to get her response. So I pushed that a bit more than usual. Got really firm with the Phase 4, I absolutely insist that you respond when I ask. When I began getting quick responses at Phase 2, I stopped that Game.

Onto Driving. Same thing. Asked politely, and went to Phase 4 if necessary. One big problem: a new tendency for her to move forward, even when I am up by her head driving the FQ. I changed one thing from the way I'd been doing it, and that might have confused her. What I used to do is place the non-driving hand on her withers and drive with the other hand. That got a good pivot. I took the wither-hand away bc that's not the way it's done in the videos, and I need to be able to use that hand at her girth line for individual feet later on, so I've been placing it there for Porcupine, and not using my non-driving hand at all unless I'm Driving with the stick held horizontally up by her face. If I'm Driving with the stick rolling toward her, that other hand is hovering either by her neck or her girth.

So I switched it up. I held the rope in that hand and backed her one step, then drove. Back, then drive. Back then drive. Well well, there's the pivot I've been looking for. When I got the pivot and a step or two, I stopped. Her HQ pivot was sucking too. She's supposed to disengage off of a look, in a 361-degree circle. Same problem. Swing around a few times, then move away from me. Or she'd move a step or two, stop... step or two, stop... so I had to correct that. More use of rope to indirect rein her while driving and insist she continue until I rubbed. It improved, so I stopped.

Yo-yo: more work on over the pole. That game's good.

Circling: worked on my Send, her Allow (not stopping or changing gaits until I asked), and the Bring Back (which is beautiful). Worked on getting her to trot into me on the Bring Back. Majorly improved the Send. Then, I taught her Change Directions. She did pretty well on that, so I didn't push it, left it with a good try on both sides. Next I taught her Change Gaits. Trot to walk first. One side was good very fast, the other took a while. She has the tendency of wanting to turn into me when I request the slow-down. Fixed that, enough to where I could move on to the Trot-Walk-Trot change. Quite good at picking up speed off of very little suggestion. Slow-down got a little better. Once she did a nice execution on both sides, when I got what I wanted, I stopped. That was it.

I let her sit for a bit, then gave her back and belly a good scratching. I lead her to the back pasture, and told her to remember the other day, that she needs to wait for me to tell her OK go. She started bracing as I untied. I had the rope around her neck for support. She pulled as if to leave. I pulled her back and said "waiiittt...". She sighed. Harrumphed is more like it. I took the halter off painfully slowly. She jigged slightly. I held fast to the rope. Told her, wait for the signal or we'll have to do this again. Slowly lifted the rope over her head. As I got to her ears, she leaned hard to bolt and I pulled her back. Once she harrumphed again and relaxed slightly, I took the rope off... and she waited, braced. I waited a brief moment, then turned away from her, took a step and said OK, GO! And off she went. At a trot. Not a gallop.


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