Still on the first morning! Our first activity was working with Trevor on a 12 foot line. He asked the question “How do you lead your horse?” Because how you lead your horse around on a regular basis is going to affect how well your liberty is going to go. Is your horse really “with” you as you lead him? The challenge he gave us was to lead our horses on a loose line and encourage them to bring their withers nearer to our shoulder. Basically, you would be leading from about zone 2 or 3 as you would if you were playing “stick to me.” Those of you who were at the Jonathan Field presentation last year may remember he referred to this as the sweet spot. Next, Trevor challenged us to turn this into a circling game where your horse is still mentally with you. To do this, you would ask the horse to continue to bend his body around you as he circles as opposed to pushing his ribs or shoulder into you in a brace.
Yeouch! This is a real challenge for Dolly and me. This is one of those intangible “things” I have been trying to figure out since I started Parelli. How do you get your horse to bend around you on a small circle at liberty? I see videos of people circling their horses at the trot and canter at liberty. The horse is on less than a 20 foot diameter circle and his body is bent around the person in a sort of moving bear hug. I got Po to do it, but the darned thing is: I Don’t Know How! I’m beginning to think it is not really a behavior as such at all, but an outward manifestation of the quality of the relationship. You can’t really teach the horse to do it. You just keep plugging away at the ingredients long enough and building the relationship of trust as you go until one day, the horse just wants to do it. (At least that is how it was with Po–one day, he just somehow “got it” and that was that.) So what Trevor had us doing was working on the ingredients, but the actual “hug” may not come for a while.
Dolly and I were quite successful at walking with her in the “sweet spot,” because we have been leading this way ever since seeing Jonathan Field talk about it last year. We are also good at bending her around me while leading because this is something I have been doing since I first audited a Karen Rolfe clinic. But when we try to turn this into a circle it all falls apart. Dolly immediately goes “bad banana” on me. I can almost feel her pushing that inside shoulder against me as if to shove me aside even though she is at the far end of the lead. This is how she will do it at liberty also—if I can even get her to stay on a small circle. It is more like a weird sort of triangle. We start with the send… I get about a quarter to a third of a circle-ish segment, then she drifts out…I partially disengage and she says:
“Fine, you want me close, I’ll give you close!” And here comes the shoulder.
I say, “please get that shoulder out of here.”
She says, “fine, you don’t want me close. I’m leaving!”
Partial disengagement, lather, rinse, repeat…
I have had limited success using a neck rope for this. The idea is “look, I have nothing on your head, but you still need to stay on this small circle!” Dolly is not convinced. But since Dolly and I have just reached a new level of trust and understanding this year, I am willing to be patient. This, too, will happen. Right now, we will work on ingredients.
As we played (struggled really) with the circle at the clinic, I heard Trevor talking to another participant about asking the horse to move the ribs away to help achieve the proper bend. I have been doing this previously, but decided maybe I should be doing more. I got more assertive about asking her to move the ribs away and she leaped into the air. But she did achieve the proper bend for a few strides. Hmmm… Later Trevor made a comment about how I have a lot of energy in my body (really?). In the next segment, Tara made the same comment, which really made me think. Hmmm…. Either they are telepathic, or maybe… maybe I have a lot of energy in my body. And is this perhaps contributing to the brace? It kind of feels like somebody handed me a diving belt right now. If you’re a scuba diver, you need a heavy belt to counteract your buoyancy and hold you underwater long enough to see interesting or important things. Without the belt, you would just keep popping out of the water before getting a good look around. (Kind of how I feel at clinics sometimes.) So now I have this belt and I’m wandering around in the murky depths trying to see something interesting or important—I know there is something really profound out there, but I am still groping around and trying to make sense out of it. How is my energy causing the brace and what do I have to change to make the whole picture change?
I’ll tell you if I ever get there. I have played with the circles a few times since the clinic, but still without much change. I try toning my energy down and Dolly moves like she is swimming through molasses—if at all. (And she still braces the shoulder). I know I am expecting too much of myself right now. We have gone from being absolutely unable to do liberty because she would just panic and run and run until I simply had to walk away, to having some nice things happen and having some good trust and communication between us. So my mantra now is “ingredients, ingredients, ingredients.”