Thursday, June 14, 2012


I have been a lousy blogger. I've also been off my feed for a long time. (Little horse pun there.) After a hiatus that lasted far too long, I finally returned to the barn yesterday. I'm almost mortified to admit that I'm on hiatus from Savvy Club, too (though that can be reinstated when I'm ready).

Why the hiatus? Well, there is always a break for winter; though ours was mild for Ohio. OK, the honest truth is, money. Money owed, money spent, money I couldn't put in the gas tank, then during the few months money was being made again, the issue reverted from money to time. The irony is, I feel like one of those "bi-annual horse owners" I used to criticize: they never go out to ride or even see their horse, just to meet the vet on Vax Day or when the horse needs a trim or is in trouble.

I now understand that sometimes, Life Happens.

For me, it has happened too often in the past 10 years. I seem to be gung-ho with my horsemanship for a couple years, closing in on my goals, then just as I'm about to ascend to the next Parelli Level or take a major step (like doing the six-week intensive that I'd scheduled for January 2006 in Ocala—delayed indefinitely), Life Happens, and I go on hiatus.

As it happens, I've been on the verge of delving into Level Three and amping up my professional goals again, once I've passed L2 Freestyle, so of course. Is it coincidence... or fear?

Not sure.

But I finally got out there and remembered how to be a horsewoman again and it was FANTASTIC.

Fine. I'll admit it. The reason I went out, despite warily eyeballing my bank account (during yet another "hiatus" from working, thank you Temp Agencies) and my gas tank, was because I've been leasing out Cheerios during my hiatus. But the gal who'd been leasing him had two things happen (got her horse back, then fell off and broke ribs) so she's no longer leasing him. Another girl was half-leasing and wanted to discuss the possibility of moving him to another barn next door to her home.

Now, I knew the other lady already, so there were no qualms about the lease. This other girl, I've never even met—the barn manager hooked us up. I figured I'd best go meet her before agreeing to something that quite frankly raised about 100 red flags.

The outcome of that? No details necessary. She's a perfectly nice girl, seems to ride well, seems somewhat in line with a method of horsemanship similar to mine. But no decision has been made due to Life Happening on her end, so I get a hiatus (there's that word again) from worrying about visiting the "new" barn and meeting the barn owner, and having to consider the ramifications of leasing my Parelli Partner to someone who wants to "train" him to do contesting. (Not real keen on that; the ONLY reason it was up for consideration was, again, for financial reasons.)

So that's a non-issue at the moment. What I did get to do was play with Cheerios a bit (since it's been so long, I tested the seven games the way Linda did on the Savvy Club DVD) then I actually got on and rode him. Bareback. Trotting.

Why is this significant? Well, as you recall, I'm still getting used to riding him bareback, let alone at the trot. In addition...

I didn't even RIDE last summer. I saddled him up once, but he was so irritated by the saddle that I didn't even ride. I spent the summer doing groundwork and liberty, and playing with other horses at the barn (training in exchange for board decrease). Because his saddle no longer seems to fit him and he'd laid down during the last Carol Coppinger clinic (oh, hello fear—forgot you existed), I felt leery about riding.

Yes. It's been that long. What is WRONG with me.

But it felt so natural yesterday, and he was in such a calm, quiet mood I knew he was rideable. It was amazing. I didn't really DO much beyond getting reacquainted, but it was so good just to do that.

Then I helped with barn chores, feeding, turn in/turn back out, and then the barn manager asked if I felt like playing with one of her new horses.

I said "sure", even though the sun was halfway set and it was getting darker. (There is a little light from exteriors on the barn but not much.) 

And so I played with the Yellow Mare. Of course she has a story (they all do). The important point is that she was shown in halter classes, then ignored and left to live in a stall 24/7 for a couple years until the owner had to sell and the barn manager bought her for a brood mare. Pretty but really skinny Palomino with a blaze and a ligament issue up front.

It would seem nobody taught her much more than how to lead and stand still, and she didn't even know how to live outside. 

My first guess would be RBI, based on her wariness at our approach and her stance. However, I'm reserving judgment on that. She's very calm. She leads well. She knows what she's supposed to do and she's very polite and quiet about it. You might think LBI just from that. But she has her ears back in a worried position, though her breathing is regular. Still reserving judgment. Her demeanor suggests she's a bit concerned, but she doesn't seem spring-loaded.

Took her to the round pen, ran the quick seven game test. She was unresponsive. Period. If she wasn't breathing, I'd say she was dead. 

Friendly game: not bothered by the helicopter, rope slap on the ground, savvy string around her neck, legs. Not catatonic, just not even paying attention. Not upset. No ears back. (Maybe they "sacked her out" well.)

Porcupine: no response. Didn't move, didn't even acknowledge me. I mean I went to Phase 4, and I went slowly. It's like her hide is made of Teflon.

Driving: turned toward the source of it when I used rhythmic pressure. I've yet to have a horse do that and I can't recall ever seeing any horse on the Parelli DVDs doing that. Puzzled by that one.

Yo-yo: no response. Will come toward, but no back up.

Circling: obviously she'd been longed, because she understood that. The send sucked. The bring back sucked. The allow was okay.

Sideways: wasn't even worth trying, because she didn't comprehend or pay attention to driving OR porcupine. (I tried. It wasn't worth it.)

Squeeze: she did that okay, between me and the fence on a Phase Two. 


Still not sure if she's RBI, LBI, or what she is. Calm and willing usually indicates LB, but as Linda says, "don't let 'quiet' fool you—an RBI can be calm on the outside but inside, ho-ho..." I decided since she seems wary of people but "trained", I'd assume RBI so as not to cause her to implode. Strategies can always change mid-stream.

I started with Porcupine on the nose. Following Linda's pattern/goal, which was to release when her head was in the position best for backing (so release when she brings it up slightly, even if her nose touches the ground; release only when her nose is straight; following her nose when she turns away and rubbing until it's pointed straight, etc), I was surprised at how quickly Yellow Mare grasped the concept of holding her head in the best position and backing up from a light Phase 2. Her expression (from what I could tell) was a little less worried, but still not sure.

I didn't want to stress her by pushing too hard, so when I got a couple of nice Phase 2 back up steps, which took only a few minutes, I moved on after giving her a good long think.

Yep. Took a long time for her to lick, and she kept her mouth clamped shut. That's RBI. But I'm still not labeling her AS just yet.

Tried the rope around the front leg. Good thing I'm patient. Took ages to get the slightest loosening of her kneecap that said she was thinking about releasing. I moved on. Briefly showed her how to yield FQ and HQ. From the speed at which she picked it up, and because she didn't seem bothered by moving through things rather than repeating them, I'm now thinking, maybe she's LBI, just wary. Still reserving judgment.

It was getting dark enough that I was glad she was a light-colored horse. Before I ended, I wanted to see if there was a bond yet. So far, she hadn't seemed motivated to leave, but she wasn't motivated to respond, either. Is that LB? Still confused.

I unhooked the lead line and walked off, checking to see if she was following. She immediately turned and ambled in another direction. Ah. So she was just being obedient because she was imprisoned on a leash, not responding or bonding. Time for a strategy change.

Let's play the Catching Game.

I must say, this was the slowest version of it I've ever played. Usually, the minute I slap the string hard on the ground once, they've wheeled out of there.

Not this mare. Three slaps, and a tag on the rear, and she wandered off around the circle in a slow trot like she'd done this a thousand times. She slowed to an amble, went about halfway, then stopped.  Didn't look at me. Just stood there. Her expression: tuned out, unconfident. Not catatonic, not wild-eyed, just... not present. Awake, but not present.

I did the thing where I arc around toward her then swoop in.


I tagged her.


It's like she was a robot, and she'd hit the off switch. What happened next was that we played at this for a good hour or so in almost complete darkness, with only the light from around the corner illuminating one third of the pen.

Well, I couldn't just stop, could I? I was invested. I'd committed to this game, I had to see it through until I got SOME kind of response.

The barn manager was sitting alongside the pen watching wordlessly (except to say "I tried doing a lot of this type of stuff with her, too, [catching game/chase her around the pen until she "joins up"] and got nowhere"). I wonder if she was about bored to death watching the paint dry?

Not me. I was absolutely fascinated. Riveted by this mare. She's such a puzzle. Somehow we got maneuvered over to the "light" side of the pen, where I could just make out her silhouette and the slight suggestion of her features.

This is where it got REALLY interesting for me, because I couldn't SEE her well enough to look for the small signs—I had to SENSE them.

Everything inside of me shut off. All my thoughts. Everything. I was just hooked into this line of energy connecting me with this horse, feeling for her, reaching out to her, trying to make the connection jumpstart something in her.

It was down to the most minute little shifts. Where she angles her head about one degree toward me, and I retreat one degree away; then she angles away two degrees, I approach two degrees. A silent, slow, almost imperceptible dance of fractions of space and time.

I'm standing still, watching her head. It's... twitching. She's like a bobblehead. It seems to me like she's trying to get the neurons to rewire, debating whether to acknowledge this odd reality. She didn't seem to know how to process the concept of having a human/predator try to bond with her. I watched her head twitch up and down a few times, then side to side. I had the sense that I should just wait and see what happens next.

Then... she blew out.

Not a big huge one. It was like she'd never let out the tension before, and when it came out, it surprised her and she tried to suppress it. 

I removed pressure and arc'd away. I noticed when she looked at me. Her expression had changed. She was more present! She had two ears and two eyes.


I kept up this dance, with more of her head turning toward me each time I arc'd around, and my retreating more obviously when she did look at me. I could make out her features enough to see that when I backed off, her expression returned (she became present) and when I approached or put pressure on (even casually), she pulled inward and began to shut down.

I backed off and waited.

And waited.

Cue theme from Jeopardy.

And waited some more.

And wai—


She shifted her weight and cocked her leg. Her entire body let go of muscle tension.

I couldn't SEE this, other than the silhouette shifting, but I FELT it.

So I pivoted away from her a quarter turn. I looked back. She was looking at me, alert. Curious. I reached out my hand to invite her along, took a step forward, and waited a moment. I took one more step, and...

She turned. I took a few slow but deliberate steps, intending she'd follow, accepting if she didn't. I got about five steps further away, and I heard her trudging behind me. I stopped at the other end of the pen.

She stopped right beside me. Well, three feet away and just out of reach. I heard her lick her lips.

Most people at this point would run up and pat her now.

I didn't. I extended my hand. I wanted HER to reach for ME. I didn't want to grab for her.

Took a long time.

I'm patient.

Played that dance, you angle your nose toward my hand one iota, I pull it back one iota; you angle away, I move closer; repeat.

And then... she reached for me. She made contact.


Her expression had completely changed. In the moonlight, I could see she was relaxed. Not quite ready to be all over me, but confident about letting me be just out of grabbing distance, but most of all... she was PRESENT. And she stayed present.

A brief game of stick-to-me, just to confirm she was really "with" me, not just coming because she's supposed to. She mirrored my every move at just-out-of-reach three feet away, and I knew I'd had an impact. We ended there after a little love session. I pet her softly. She moved toward me, and put her head into my hands as I stroked her chin.

No fireworks, no big wahoo moments, no excitement. Sad to think how many people would have been so bored to come see a "horse trainer" at work, and wind up seeing "nothing happening", when EVERYTHING was happening.


I don't know if I always do it right—but I do my best. I'm still holding out judgment on her horsenality. But I'm still utterly fascinated by what transpired, and I know I made a friend... and I know I changed something in that horse. Something small but significant—and I can't wait to get back out there and do more.

I wish I understood why I keep going on hiatus and avoiding the barn, when it's clear to me that THIS is what I want to do with my life, for the rest of my life, even if it's crazy, unconventional, no guarantees, and a huge risk. It's what I LOVE. It's what fascinates me to the point that my entire train of THOUGHT stops. THIS IS MY PASSION. What must I do to PROVE it to the Universe, so it'll unblock the obstacles that put me on hiatus, and let me DO this?

Even though I woke up sore as hell from the hips down, after a restless night with feet that threatened to cramp every two seconds and an ache that went from my big toe up my leg to my back; even though I was utterly worn out today; I STILL WANT TO DO THIS.

I've nothing else left in my life with my parents gone—AT LEAST LET ME HAVE THIS.