I have a friend who went to a Parelli horse clinic this last weekend, Hilary and her horse, Susie. She has been sharing some of the things that they did together, some of the stuff they had trouble doing together, stuff they needed help with, followed by the BREAKTHROUGH! Must admit, I am a bit green with envy. Not necessarily the clinic part as much as what it feels like to get to the breakthrough. That moment in time when the look on your horse's face as well as the look on your own is..."Holy Cow! I get it!" It's priceless.
While I was reading my friends notes on her clinic adventures, my mind kept going back to a particular day with Pip. I had a different pasture set up then and was able to get Pip and Chloe into separate areas. It was too large of an area and it wasn't round but when I got Pip into the smaller lot at least Chloe couldn't keep coming up and biting her on the butt.
We had mastered getting the halter on. That had been a helluva task considering that her previous "halter training" had boiled down to trapping her and forcing the halter onto her head. I am not set up to trap. I can't wrap my mind around it. Pip has to willingly put her head into her halter. Nothing less will do. So after the halter, Pip had to re-learn leading. Then we played lots of friendly games so she could accept touching. Then on to what Parelli calls porcupine games. These are so you can move the horse in particular ways... maybe just backwards or a front end yield or a rear end yield.
Pip tends to plant her front end so we were going to start with an easier rear end yield. I started with my stick so I would be out of the kick zone. Placed the tip on the flank right in front of the hip bone and began steady pressure. Gradually the pressure increased. Then Pip got agitated and her first thought was to lean into the stick. Of course, that made the pressure worse. The stick was bending. She was going from one foot to the other, not sure what the answer was. Then I lifted her lead rope slightly. Her face was hard and her ears were back a little. The lift on the rope kind of looked like it gave her the idea that turning her head and giving me a good bite was exactly the answer she was looking for. But for her head to come to me, she had to swing her butt away. The second she stepped away, the pressure of the stick stopped. The stick dropped. I went into a relaxed posture, smiled and let out a breath.
If you aren't a horse person, then you think that a horse's face, is a horse's face, is a horse's face. But when you are familiar with them, you see the same realm of expression that you see on another human. I got to see several expressions in rapid succession on Pip at that moment. She got it. She had her "Holy Cow!!" moment. I was so excited, so jubilant and in that moment I was addicted to trying to get the expression back. I think she got kind of addicted too, probably not the same way as I did, but she seemed to think it was pretty cool that she could evoke that response from me.
Pip is an incredibly fast learner. A couple times through something and she has it. That is why I have been knocking myself out with the fence. It isn't just containment. It's about having the area set up to create puzzles and tasks, because once Pip gets it, we need to move on. Once we start, we are never going to stop again.
Our goal is never ending self improvement and with that in mind I have volunteered to be an obstacle judge on an ACTHA ride this next Sunday. I hope to bring home lots of ideas and inspiration. It won't be like a clinic. I'll be going alone so there won't be any "Holy Cow!!" moments for us, but it's a start. It's a direction. I want to be doing, not having anymore "green with envy" moments.