Saturday, April 12, 2008

Awhile back, I snagged the Parelli Liberty & Horse Behavior Course-In-A-Box as solace for missing the Six-Week Intensive I was supposed to participate in during the Spring of 2006. (I'd had to cancel due to Dad's fall and being needed at home.)

The blurb from the website describes it better than I ever could:

This high powered course was based on an effective program taught at the Parelli Centers. It was produced for home study due to the overwhelming response. Liberty & Horse Behavior teaches you one of the greatest skills a horseman can have, "being able to read horses." This course delves deep into the equine mind and teaches people to understand how to interact more effectively thus gaining greater perceptions around how and why communication via the Seven Games works. This course teaches the skills of Liberty through excellent On Line preparation leading to very high levels of execution.

Since Life settled down a bit, I resumed my studies during the winter months. I watched L&HB almost all the way through. There are 10 DVDs: six of them are the L&HB coursework; the other four include problem solving and expanding the Seven Games. (There is a really detailed outline HERE.)

For those who've picked up the Success Series DVD on "Horseanality", the L&HB Course goes FAR MORE DEEPLY into the concept. In brief, there are four distinct Horseanalities. Horses can have a mixture of horseanality traits but most tend to lean towards one of the quadrants. They are:
  • LBE (Left-Brain Extrovert)

  • LBI (Left-Brain Introvert)

  • RBE (Right-Brain Extrovert)

  • RBI (Right-Brain Extrovert)

How one handles each of these horseanalities is the subject of the course. Horses can move very quickly from Left-Brained (confident, dominant, playful, exuberant) to Right-Brained (unconfident, submissive, shy, quiet) and from Extroverted to Introverted. Flexibility is the key, as is understanding how to read what shows up at any given moment. The process can be subtle shifts or it can swing wide across the extremes, depending on the horse.

Some horses can become unconfident when they are learning new things. Depending on the horse, he might be OK with a lot of variety (Extroverts) or he might prefer consistency (Introverts). If you use the wrong approach, you can unwittingly send your horse into an unconfident state pretty easily. Their response to this can range from becoming fractious ("misbehaving") to shutting down.

The extreme manifestation of unconfident and introverted is when a horse goes catatonic. He completely shuts down and, as Linda Parelli puts it, "goes to his Happy Place". It's often a response to stress. Linda has a horse (Allure) who will go cataonic when he eats a cookie. In one segment, she feeds him a cookie to demonstrate for the students what this state looks like (without having to create a negative situation to put a horse under stress).

It's bizarre.

Head drops. Eyes half-shut. Horse looks like he just smoked a fatty. Totally checks out. Lower lip goes all floppy. Stands perfectly still. Doesn't respond to anything. He's far, far away. I mean, he LOOKS like what you'd think catatonic would look like. Linda just has to wait it out until he decides to return to Planet Earth. It's like sleepwalking—the worst thing you can do is wake them up suddenly—you have to kind of let them be.

I've been out with my horse Cheerios before and I've seen him act "weird". I thought I was boring him because he'd just seem to lose interest and take a nap in the middle of my trying to teach him something. For years, I've thought I had a definite LBE—pushy, friendly, domineering, assertive, exuberant, smart, curious, playful. I thought he was full of confidence, sometimes misbehaved, and treated him as such.

I've been misreading him.

He's half LBE and half LBI. That's right. He switches. He'll be extroverted, then introverted. I've just recently figured out that his "misbehavior" is actually a lack of confidence!

Wednesday I played with him. Because I'm now so goal-oriented (I know, principles before goals) due to the upcoming clinic, I decided to get him "up to speed". Let's see how much we can get through today. Let's try transitions (changing gaits) while Circling, and changing direction, and get that Sideways working, and maybe we can do a bit of Seven Games With An Obstacle. Then I'll ride. Yup. Big day planned, big checklist.

Circling sucked. He snorted off at the slightest suggestion. Became fractious when I asked for transitions or change of direction. Pulled back, tried to pull the rope from my hands. General snottiness. I thought, "OH BOY". Then suddenly, he became very quiet and refused to move. He couldn't look at me at all, and he appeared to be going to sleep. I tried to wake him up. He ignored me. I looked at him a little closer.

That's when it hit me—


I felt SO bad.

I thought, "what does he need right now?" and remembered he needed safety... or maybe comfort, I couldn't remember which. I had a 50-50 chance, so I opted for comfort. What gives a horse comfort?


So I played a little game. I watched him as I retreated. Slowly. First I leaned back slightly. His head moved ever so slightly towards me. I leaned forward. His head moved away from me. It was like his head was attached to my body with an invisible string. I stepped backwards, quietly and so subtly you could barely see it, one step—pause—one step—pause and watched as his head swung back towards facing me with two eyes in the tiniest of increments. With every step, he was looking at me a little more.

But he wasn't SEEING me. His eyes were still Stoner Bud glassy. He was looking at me with his spidey sense but not with his eyes. It was strange.

I backed all the way out to the end of the 22' line before he could give me two very glassy half-shut non-focused eyes.

I waited and watched for a bit. Then I thought, maybe I can unhinge him gently and bring him back. I took a step sideways, planning to make an arc to one side in much the same manner as I'd backed up. I stepped. His head raised slightly. OK, I'm on the right track, because his head is down too low so if it comes up he'll wake up, I think.

I was right. I took just a few sideways step in my arc when his eyes opened a bit as his head raised. He followed. As we walked, he woke up.

Needless to say, I apologized profusely. I changed tactics and became as clear as possible in my communication, and gave him more time to dwell and stopped expecting too much. He improved. We ended on a good note but I didn't ride (he wasn't rideable yet).

All this time, I've been treating him like a LBE horse, and forgetting about the LBI part I wasn't aware of.

No wonder so many people had trouble with him "misbehaving". We need help, that's for sure. I need more arrows in my quiver to deal with his bi-polar LB horseanality.


Yesterday, we had 70-degree temps but very strong winds. Tornado watches and thunderstorm warnings. When the horses don't want to go out, it's too windy. So I mucked and that was about it. The horses stayed inside.

But maybe that was a good thing. After Wednesday's venture into the World of Catatonia, maybe not playing was the best thing. Instead, after finishing the barn, I hung out with my horses in their stalls. They are right next to each other and Shaveya's stall is technically in the corner but her gate is adjacent to his. So I stood in the corner with my back to the stalls, Shaveya's head on my right shoulder and Cheerios' head on my left, both of them blissed out as I scratched their cheeks.

I was blissed out, too. Those quiet moments of horsey love are better than anything on this planet.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Hi! I found your blog when I search for catatonic, my horse is too a catataonic and it was nice to read about your experience with it! Thanks alot! =)/From Sweden