CLINIC RECAP MAY 2008
These are my notes from the PNH clinic Cheerios and I participated in this year.
MAY 10-11, 2008
Jesse Peters, 2-star PNH Instructor Trainee
Advancing L1/Intro L2 Clinic
Evergreen Lake Stables, Whitehouse, OH
Cheerios and I made it through our first ever clinic together. I almost didn't go because of the tentative money situation, but I'm so glad we did. Then we almost didn't make it because Cheerios didn't want to go into the smaller bumper-pull trailer my barn manager originally wanted to use. Tough decision. Skip it, or have her hook up the bigger trailer. (It is heavier, so more gas is used, so my hauling costs are higher now.)
He hopped right in.
My concern was that Cheerios would freak in the clinic setting. We didn't bring in the horses until the middle of the afternoon—plenty of time for it to gnaw at me. We started with lecture on horseanalities, strategies, solutions, etc. We had lunch. Then we did simulations with each other (Conga Horse—three people make a "horse", and one person plays with them to get feedback).
Then we brought in the horses.
Instead of being a Right Brained Extrovert like I anticipated he'd be (kite on a string in a high wind storm), Cheerios went Left-Brained Introvert, which was easier to manage. He was looking around like "Uh... OK... this is different... I'll just stand over here quietly and look around"...
Jesse's a great instructor. He had us hang out with our horses and just scratch them all over to relax them (and us) before we did anything. I patched up a lot of my "holes", fixed a lot of issues, learned a bunch of stuff, and was surprised in a good way with Cheerios.
Cheerios was REALLY intrigued by all the obstacles we were playing with. Cones, barrels, platforms, tarps, stuff to go over, around, between—the challenge was to be imaginative and play the Seven Games with the obstacle at hand for a bit then switch obstacles with another student. Jesse made it more interesting by having us stand on these white things (I think they're bases for jumps) so we couldn't move from our spot. Makes you figure out how to be more effective without moving your feet.
I'm thrilled with our progress.
Cheerios also was not the "worst" horse there. A mare who could be his twin was a nightmare (behaving like I was expecting Cheerios to behave). Cheerios got a little freaked out at spots, but not for long. He did great.
Jesse's policy is that each student gets a free 20-minute private session to work on whatever they want to or need help with. Mine took place at the end of Day One.
My private lesson was mostly Extreme Friendly Game (EFG—flogging the ground with the string on the end of my carrot stick, which makes a whip-like noise) with a bit of assertiveness training. I learned that I can be assertive without fearing for my life. Cheerios just needs me to be a STRONG leader.
- We made headway in EFG—Cheerios' job is to read ME and see when I'm asking something versus when I'm just relaxed. Turns out, it's MY energy. It never went totally off, I was carrying tension in my body. Big change.
- we fixed Sideways and it was AMAZING
- He got his FQ on the platform (see below—it was fascinating)
- He backed around a barrel
- He got the first half of the Figure 8 around a barrel (Driving game)
- We learned new strategies for Driving game (short range)
- I fixed my Send on Circling. Hard to explain, but the simulations fixed it
Jesse, like Bruce Logan, goes about it a lot tougher than I do. I don't know that it needs to be THAT tough. But then, once Jesse did it, Cheerios listened up.
One of our many fun tasks is to teach the horse to put all four feet on a platform (like a circus horse). We had a platform at the clinic. Most people have trouble getting one foot up there, let alone two or more. While waiting for my turn with Jesse, I was playing with the platform, teaching Cheerios what I wanted. Very quiet. Very gently. Very subtly. Cheerios was riveted, trying to understand what I wanted. I was riveted to see him so riveted.
The platform taught me a lot about the learning process for Cheerios. I was soft—very very soft—while teaching him what I wanted. He was curious and engaged for quite a while. He seemed to figure out that I wanted his foot on the pedestal. He did put one foot up there a couple times. But not both. Then suddenly he lost interest. He wasn't being a butt, he just stopped responding, standing there like "hey, I put my foot on it, I'm done". We had ended the teaching phase and were ready for the reinforcement phase (you know it, now DO it) but I wasn't seeing it yet.
I kept trying to coax him gently while wondering if I should get more firm with him.
Lesson here: trust my instincts.
Cheerios' balking timed perfectly with my lesson time, and Jesse came over and showed me NOW is the time to be firmer. He's got the concept, now let him be aware that when you ask, he responds, please. Jesse got firm. Cheerios got a little upset but then he put the foot up there. Voila. Two feet on the platform, then off. Jesse handed him to me with instructions to play with that for a minute while he took a moment. I did as instructed.
I was a little more insistent about what I wanted (not nearly like Jess though) and...
OMG he got onto the pedestal! TWO FEET!!!
I was ECSTATIC!!!
I immediately released and stood there petting and petting and petting him to let him know that was the best place to be. I was still doing that when Jesse returned. (He probably knew that's what would happen if he left.)
Then we worked on EFG. I'm tense. That's the problem. And uncoordinated! I had to, simultaneously, keep the string going and keep him out of my space and breathe and relax and smile. By keep the string going, I mean Friendly and light on the horse, strong on the ground. We made it. Took it out of me keeping track of the blocks and where he was, but we made it.
My send issue? I stand there and point my finger like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
I need to keep my arm no higher than shoulder height, elbow bent, palm down, and guide his nose. Slowly. Jesse demonstrated the difference between guide... yank! and guide gentle. Oops. Well, now I get it. Changed it, and boom. Horse responds. Amazing. I don't even have to pick up the carrot stick.
Sideways: More energy!!! TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP!!! Make it MEAN something! Yes, I've heard this before but it didn't sink in last time. Well, he was trotting down the side of the wall for me once I really asked.
Might've helped that the wall was STRAIGHT, too.
Anyway, great day. Eye opening.
These clinics, they are like... personal growth on 11.
Horses tend to have moments of near meltdowns right before they make a breakthrough...
I think it's the same with people.
The clinic was AWESOME. What most people outside of Parelli have trouble grasping is that it's only partly about the horse/riding/groundwork. It's really more about the person. I swear, it is group therapy with horses. Seriously. Because the horse is our mirror.
What's meant by that is that how you are with your horse tends to be how you are in life (as I rediscovered), and your horse SHOWS you who you are. It's bizarre, I know. But I learned a lot about myself this weekend. Fixed some bigger issues—well, not fixed just yet, but got enlightenment on them, and received strategies that I can now use to overcome them.
Fear was a big one. I still had a little left beneath the surface, and it was inhibiting me because it kept me from being as firm as I sometimes need to be with him in order to be clear about what I want. So I was backing off, being too wimpy (they say "less effective") and confusing my horse, which lead to his being frustrated, which lead to him having a meltdown and doing the things that scare me. It's a paradox, a catch-22, a vicious cycle. So I learned to be more firm when necessary (without getting mean or mad), to be clearer, and wow. Immediate change. Cheerios gained a lot of respect for me.
Then there was the whole life review part that I experienced. It was huge and personal and the full meaning of it didn't hit me until I was having coffee before Day Two. On Day One, Jesse (instructor) was helping me with the above issue and pointed out I was giving up too soon before getting the response I wanted.
Jesse looked me in the eye and said "Don't ever..." and waited for me to answer:
Don't ever quit. Keep going until you get the response you're asking for.
Well, the next morning, I realized, that's how I've been living my LIFE since my parents died (maybe before). Hit a roadblock, try a few things, get nowhere, give up. Try something else, give up. Viewing every roadblock as a sign that I'm on the wrong track rather than finding a solution to it. Nothing gets fixed, nothing gets done, I get nowhere except frustrated and depressed.
We had a remuda (debriefing session) in the morning before Day Two where we discussed what we'd learned the day before, and I was fine expressing it until I got to the part about Jesse telling me not to quit and I lost my composure explaining that I'd lost the two people in my life who'd always told me not to quit during those times when I was on the verge of giving up, but nobody had told me that since they died and I hadn't realized how much I needed to hear it until Jesse said it to me.
Jesse, God Bless Him, wasn't the least bit freaked out by this. He handled my blubbering quite well. I apologized for turning it into group therapy. He reassured me (as did the other sniffling students) that it was perfectly appropriate and how interesting it is that PNH is more about us than about the horse and that the growth we experience in clinics is more about us, too. Then he got up and gave me a big hug.
Day Two was phenomenal, we made ENORMOUS progress. Cheerios is doing stuff I didn't even know he could do—and FAST!
Next day, while warming up, I took Cheerios to the platform and... he promptly plopped both front feet on it nice as you please (receiving huge kudos from Jesse and the students). But now, every time I take Cheerios to an object he thinks "Oh, she must want me to step on it". It's funny. Now, my job is to teach him when to step on it, when not to step on it, when to step over it, etc. But it was huge, and he was REALLY intrigued with all the new things. He's so smart, he needs this. I had to get really creative with the obstacles in the arena.
Because of the trailer issue we'd had on the way to the clinic, I asked Jesse if he would load him for me. Cheerios went on but was a tad right-brained—my homework is to make a program of trailer loading for the next five weeks so that he loads up quietly from now on.
When we got home, Cheerios was a bit right-brained and whinnying. He could have bolted off in a clattering rush, but I had already decided that I was going to insist he respect me. I wanted him to wait until he was calm and I'd invited him off.
Well, that clinic must've made an impression on both of us. I attached the lead rope, and he anticipated being let loose so I gave him (as best as I could because he was still attached to the trailer) a little yo-yo reminder and he backed up a half step (as best as he could because he really couldn't move much) but he listened. He knew I was there and in charge. I detached the trailer line. He made a move like he might bolt and I yo'd him and relaxed exaggeratedly when he stopped moving. (I really have to exaggerate my YES! relax response right now.)
I waited a moment. I invited him to turn. When he bolted (ever so slightly) I yo'd him to back up. It only took a couple of these gentle reminders before he got it. He stopped shaking. I guided him one step at a time until he was lined up to walk off (big trailer, doesn't have to back off) and I waited. He looked at me. I stayed relaxed when he was relaxed, asked for a step backwards when he tried to lurch forward. He finally relaxed and waited. I backed up. He stayed put. I stepped off. He stayed put, watching me. I very gently invited him to step off.
He actually waited until he was sure I was leading him, then stepped off nice as you please, calm, quiet horse.
Big BIG changes.
He's listening better than ever. Now my job is to reinforce it. Consistently. Every time. And don't EVER quit.
The facility where the clinic was held is so Parelli-oriented that I'm considering moving him. The clinic host invited us to move there. She's at capacity right now... but there are boarders who may be leaving in time and she is very particular about who she lets in (because she's a Parelli student, too). What is surprising is that the price is about the same as where I am now (it would be a tad higher but not by much) but it is a stunning facility, well-kept, new, big stalls, they have a staff, they have opportunities to work off part or all of your board, there is a HUGE indoor arena full of "toys", half the boarders are Parelli students, there is the trail access, and Jesse comes in for lessons and clinics every few weeks.
It's very tempting. I'm happy where I am now, because it's Parelli-friendly and they're following Shaveya's treatment plan to the letter, but... winter is coming... indoor arena... and it's tempting. I miss the trails. I'd love to be around a group of PNH students all committed to the same goals.
But if I do, I will have to find Shaveya a new home. If I do this, it's because I'm prioritizing my PNH goals and if I do that, I want to focus on one horse—my partner, Cheerios.
Shaveya, God Bless her, is not a suitable partner for this program. It's unlikely that I'd get her to Level 3 because she's not physically capable. I think I've done as much for her as I can. I've gotten her on a great health program, I've brought her to as sound as I can get her—but her 100% is not sound enough for the physical demands of the program—maybe not even for trail riding.
Her ideal life would be primarily pasture buddy with a lot of grooming and loving on, and maybe a small child who just rides at a walk around the back yard and loves on her. No competition, no shows, no heavy duty rides. Retirement. And if my PNH goals become my priority, I need to focus on my partner and having a pasture puff is not possible anymore. I'll also eventually need to bring another horse to L3 and it'll have to be one that can actually DO L3 tasks.
It's a big decision. So I'm thinking on it.