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Karen's Blog: Along the Pathway

My blogspot! As time permits, I post here about the horses that inspire me along the pathway - usually you fill find a training tip or two. Enjoy!

sofie

The Horse's "Inner Work" (Confirmed!)

Unreal!

Quick back story first. At the Festival of The Horse and Drum last weekend I had the opportunity to meet peer presenter, "booth buddy", and fine equine chiropractor Charles Weiss. We discussed a number of topics that really helped confirm some things I've "known" for some time are happening in what I do (but since I am not a formally trained body-worker, I was so grateful to explore this with a seriously pro pro - Charles is the real deal as anyone who knows him will tell you). This led to Charles kindly volunteering what proved to be a rather mind-blowing, impromptu tutorial with Ginger's horse "Casey" who was with us at the show.

One of several "quick" tips he offered was an alternative to "belly lifts" (Linda Tellington-Jones style) when seeking to raise/release the back. I was asking him about Sofie (right), a Lipizzan mare I'm working with who does not respond to these: her back has fallen away a bit for unknown reason - teeth done, feet reviewed, body checked by appropriate pros etc - so we were concerned that there might be something lurking somewhere we were missing (she does not appear to have a sore back).

I saw Sofie yesterday. I tried the technique Charles taught me, presented from her tail forwards. Her back visibly lifted about an inch or on both sides, one more than the other depending on which way her neck was off center, and through into the scapula.

But it's what happened next I could hardly believe I was seeing...

I had stepped away as we watched her, commenting on how this was so much more effective for her than a belly lift.

And as we watched... she quietly and Most Deliberately arc-ed her head past the point of shoulder to the left, while she brought her tail almost to where it "pointed" at her left stifle, stayed there for a few seconds. Then slowly moved her head and tail around to the right in exactly the same way. Then repeated this one more time to the left and to the right. Then she proceeded to "hang" her hip on the right, the whole "quarter", not just resting a foot, for a few minutes. Then slowly shifted to do the same with the left hip. Then put her nose in her salt bucket but it turned out it was her version of a safe place to go into an "integrating" trance of sorts - with tiny activations occurring across her body.

I reported this back to Charles, who simply said "Yes! Just never know what may be the key to 'unlocking' them!"

[Sounding familiar... anyone?]

As many of you have seen and/or experienced, this parallels one aspect of my work precisely and we do see some fairly unusual things occur. Sometimes planned (hoped for at least) and some triggered unexpectedly as a result of some small change in presentation of a request through release. This usually feels connected to a sudden inner shift the horse experiences when he was expecting a presentation of pressure that was not there. He finds his body following the release (feel of release only, no preceding pressure) in an "auto-response" through feel, as he produces the same move or maneuver without the more conscious "decision" to deliver the response that goes with a "cue". 

I observed a while back, with my good friend and client Beth's "Taco", almost the identical "routine" in Sofie's response to her back release. After a little creative work showing Taco how to arc on a circle without leaning to the inside or on the inside rein (he couldn't... it wasn't there :) ) he stood quietly, on his own in the middle of the arena, very deliberately going through the same sequence as Sofie, with one difference in his version: he seemed to be working down each vertebra in his neck in a careful progression.

(Um, So what Karen...?)

We see variations of this "self body-work" or "unwinding" all the time and the key aspect I find an ongoing fascination is the added interest (and marked benefit) that it is most often releasing long term brace (physical and/or mental and/or emotional) IN CONNECTION WITH and AS A RESULT OF a new presentation using the EQUIPMENT (halter/rope, bridle, saddle etc) that played a part in creating the "stuck" issue in the first place...

This is mighty significant because if your horse holds a residual brace to one degree or another connected with the equipment you use - whether inadvertently introduced ourselves or by a previous training or other experience, such as pulling back while tied etc - it can continue to "lurk" in your ride, despite your best efforts. This type of brace is so wide-spread it is "normal" and tends to remain largely unnoticed as a result. It can however be the very layer that needs to be "unwound" for true connection in the partnership to occur and/or brace to stop recurring in the layers "on top". Afterall, our tack is in essence the "interface" between us and our horse, through which or with which communication occurs - and generally speaking, this is true even when it is not there, because the imprint of its meaning for the horse is "in" him.

Charles Weiss said "I like to work as much as possible from the inside out. It has more value if they do the work themselves, from the inside"

Hear, hear!

I wonder what changes I will see in Sofie next week.

Pretty Cool Stuff.

Catherine and China

What is this about Yawning..? (Ugh Factor Be Gone!)

Ok it's true, we do tend to get pretty excited at clinics when we see a horse yawn...

So why then, is this so important?

"Is yawning always a sign of releasing concerns, or could there be some continued concerns still lurking?"

Here is a video from a live Q&A session recently...

More below... you might be wondering:

[Looking for the Katrinka video? Scroll to bottom of page]

Is yawning really that significant?

It depends, as the old adage goes. Afterall, horses do yawn simply because they are feeling mellow and relaxed. That's the kind of yawning that might seem more cute than holding any significance.

The example in the video was about helping  a horse through a big "knot" of fear about unusual surroundings that had her racing around on the end of her line - and how release was applied to reach her mind, help her change how things felt and therefore her perception about needing to run. She yawned huge yawns, found a mental and emotional ease that stayed with her and her handler.

But what about if there has been something "off" in your connection with your horse. Perhaps something that you can't put your finger on - say, something in your horse from a past experience, but it just seems to lurk in your partnership now. Perhaps it's a brace or resistance you hadn't really noticed was there before, but now you know more you, see more, are trying to be more discerning - but the brace keeps triggering despite your best efforts. Perhaps you know exactly what the "off" part is, because it's a not-so-good-feeling-response-especially-when-you-accidentally-built-it-in. 

The Ugh Factor

There seem to be infinite incarnations of this mild type of misunderstanding that has left in its wake a sort of a "grumble" in our horse or a "hum" of low grade concern that seems a bit s t u c k. That 'knot' we just w i s h  we could help our horses let go somehow. 

I have officially given this phenomenon a name: The Ugh Factor. Why? Because I've noticed that when these kinds of challenges have a label,an odd wave of relief tends to wash over those affected. I'm not sure why exactly - perhaps that sense of "Oh, you mean it's not only me...??" diffuses It somehow. Whatever the reason, it's a notable step towards the solution: for the horse to let go... we need to first.

If you have experienced The Ugh Factor, you may have wondered how these seemingly smaller challenges seem to erode your insides. Sure, they don't seem like that much, but.... BUT we feel the weight of them in the connection - which just happens to be thing we care about most. So that smaller thing becomes a big thing. We know consciously or not that i t ' s   g e t t i n g  i n  t h e  w a y - whether limiting the good feel in the connection or athletic performance or both.

Sometimes that can have us falling through the trap door into unconscious 'avoidance' mode (which also does a really good job of fueling The Ugh Factor). Alternatively, it may keep us awake at night wondering how to get things feeling better - but the next day if we (still...) can't seem to 'unlock' that Ugh spot, we move onto something else (as The Ugh Factor goes on to slow cook).

I have met two wonderful ladies in the past month who have been so affected by The Ugh Factor that they had stopped doing anything with there horses, other than care for them daily - and both had all but decided to throw in the towel on their passion.

My heart sinks, well goes thud would be more accurate when I encounter this - an echo of when I'd found the end of the road in 2010: a brick wall and no way around it. Until I realized the door was right there, and had been all along. I   j u s t    d i d n ' t    k n o w.

There is something else I didn't realize for a lot longer too - when I was under The Ugh influence, my horse felt the connection the same way.

Ugh.

Banishing The Ugh Factor

Yawning' in the context that quietly sparks such great excitement in this approach, is the doorway appearing in that brick wall - the 'knot' unravelling, the "portal" opening and the horse and person about to step through it to a new place of mutual understanding and an exquisite sense of Flow.

I will never tire of seeing an "Ugh" expression  l i g h t   u p  like the sun from behind a grey cloud, glowing with the inspiration of what could... can... now be - the realization that it was never not possible afterall, it's just that you can't pressure a block out of a horse, nor out of a person. You can get things moving and improving from the outside, but the wall will keep showing up until the "knot" is unraveled from the inside. The Feel of Release is all about working with the horse from the inside... through, well... release. 

The Master Key

When this yawning occurs in the context of the "knot" and in direct response to the rider/handler's Feel of Release - that "knot" is not only unravelling, it's unravelling within the context of the connection  with the person  and the  e q u i p m e n t  (if in use) that contributed - in most cases, usually inadvertently - to the "knot".

And  when that happens... the "knot" and associated Ugh Factor  g o  a w a y. Poof.

And that is why we get pretty excited when this characteristic yawning shows up. 

Katrinka video tutorial excerpt:

Catherine and China

What is all this about Yawning..? (Ugh Factor Be Gone!)

Ok it's true, we do tend to get pretty excited at clinics when we see a horse yawn...

So why then, is this so important?

"Is yawning always a sign of releasing concerns, or could there be some continued concerns still lurking?"

Here is a video from a live Q&A session recently...

More below... you might be wondering:

[Looking for the Katrinka video? Scroll to bottom of page]

Is yawning really that significant?

It depends, as the old adage goes. Afterall, horses do yawn simply because they are feeling mellow and relaxed. That's the kind of yawning that might seem more cute than holding any significance.

The example in the video was about helping  a horse through a big "knot" of fear about unusual surroundings that had her racing around on the end of her line - and how release was applied to reach her mind, help her change how things felt and therefore her perception about needing to run. She yawned huge yawns, found a mental and emotional ease that stayed with her and her handler.

But what about if there has been something "off" in your connection with your horse. Perhaps something that you can't put your finger on - say, something in your horse from a past experience, but it just seems to lurk in your partnership now. Perhaps it's a brace or resistance you hadn't really noticed was there before, but now you know more you, see more, are trying to be more discerning - but the brace keeps triggering despite your best efforts. Perhaps you know exactly what the "off" part is, because it's a not-so-good-feeling-response-especially-when-you-accidentally-built-it-in. 

The Ugh Factor

There seem to be infinite incarnations of this mild type of misunderstanding that has left in its wake a sort of a "grumble" in our horse or a "hum" of low grade concern that seems a bit s t u c k. That 'knot' we just w i s h  we could help our horses let go somehow. 

I have officially given this phenomenon a name: The Ugh Factor. Why? Because I've noticed that when these kinds of challenges have a label,an odd wave of relief tends to wash over those affected. I'm not sure why exactly - perhaps that sense of "Oh, you mean it's not only me...??" diffuses It somehow. Whatever the reason, it's a notable step towards the solution: for the horse to let go... we need to first.

If you have experienced The Ugh Factor, you may have wondered how these seemingly smaller challenges seem to erode your insides. Sure, they don't seem like that much, but.... BUT we feel the weight of them in the connection - which just happens to be thing we care about most. So that smaller thing becomes a big thing. We know consciously or not that i t ' s   g e t t i n g  i n  t h e  w a y - whether limiting the good feel in the connection or athletic performance or both.

Sometimes that can have us falling through the trap door into unconscious 'avoidance' mode (which also does a really good job of fueling The Ugh Factor). Alternatively, it may keep us awake at night wondering how to get things feeling better - but the next day if we (still...) can't seem to 'unlock' that Ugh spot, we move onto something else (as The Ugh Factor goes on to slow cook).

I have met two wonderful ladies in the past month who have been so affected by The Ugh Factor that they had stopped doing anything with there horses, other than care for them daily - and both had all but decided to throw in the towel on their passion.

My heart sinks, well goes thud would be more accurate when I encounter this - an echo of when I'd found the end of the road in 2010: a brick wall and no way around it. Until I realized the door was right there, and had been all along. I   j u s t    d i d n ' t    k n o w.

There is something else I didn't realize for a lot longer too - when I was under The Ugh influence, my horse felt the connection the same way.

Ugh.

Banishing The Ugh Factor

Yawning' in the context that quietly sparks such great excitement in this approach, is the doorway appearing in that brick wall - the 'knot' unravelling, the "portal" opening and the horse and person about to step through it to a new place of mutual understanding and an exquisite sense of Flow.

I will never tire of seeing an "Ugh" expression  l i g h t   u p  like the sun from behind a grey cloud, glowing with the inspiration of what could... can... now be - the realization that it was never not possible afterall, it's just that you can't pressure a block out of a horse, nor out of a person. You can get things moving and improving from the outside, but the wall will keep showing up until the "knot" is unraveled from the inside. The Feel of Release is all about working with the horse from the inside... through, well... release. 

The Master Key

When this yawning occurs in the context of the "knot" and in direct response to the rider/handler's Feel of Release - that "knot" is not only unravelling, it's unravelling within the context of the connection  with the person  and the  e q u i p m e n t  (if in use) that contributed - in most cases, usually inadvertently - to the "knot".

And  when that happens... the "knot" and associated Ugh Factor  g o  a w a y. Poof.

And that is why we get pretty excited when this characteristic yawning shows up. 

Katrinka video tutorial excerpt:

From "Temper Tantrum" to Deep Inner Shift: a client horse Co-pilots his way out of Past Trauma

How realistic is it, really, to pitch our physical strength against a horse to bring his attention to our plan when it is crystal clear he has his own and you are no part of it ... w h a t s o e v e r ?

Have you ever wondered if there is a way to get things back on track when "stuff" happens, without confrontation?

Or have you wondered if there is really a way to apply "Feel" in this type of scenario?

Isn't "Feel" or the "Feel of Release" pretty much only something you can realistically use when things are running smoothly?

Answer: categorically.... nope :)  

In fact, I have not found a limit to the capacity a horse has to get with a person through feel - even when things look pretty dicey to say the least. And every time I "feel" my way through to the "other side", I am moved by the true spirit of the horse and forever reminded, over and over, of Bill Dorrance's insistance that "it's in a horse's nature to get along".

Take for example, when a powerful Quarter Horse has a well-practiced "bustamove" triggered when he leaves the mare in his pasture, and leads, basically, to complete havoc...

The "bustamove" triggered after a few moments in the arena alone

A quiet Quarter Horse certainly reveals a different animal when he launches his muscular body at speed, spinning around on the end of the rope, while screeching to a halt at intervals to look for the mare over the half door to the pasture. Feeling helpless or uneasy on the end of the rope when, in addition, the horse's attention is firmly and completely directed elsewhere is fairly natural, I would say. Particularly when this type of move comes on top of a habit of "pushy" or "pet" behavior, there is good reason to feel fear. Unfortunately this is the perfect setup for a horse to come over the top of you: "pushy" or "pet" habit + triggered "flight" instinct = high risk of injury to the handler.

The lovely owner had called me to help with this precise challenge. She just felt lost and did not know what to do when he did this. To make matters worse, the beautiful, quiet boarding place she had so carefully selected was just that - so quiet that usually no-one was around, and no other horses were in the arena or barn when she came to enjoy her horse. This can really raise a person's awareness around personal safety. The alternative was to come when other riders were there too, however the door to the pasture was in the middle of the long-side of the arena (used as a run-in at times), so the risk of causing inconvenience to others didn't feel much better. A real Catch 22 when it comes to having FUN with your horse. 

The end result, when it came right down to it, the lady was really only enjoying her horse when he was stalled along-side the other horses. This lovely lady clearly had strong feelings for her horse-buddy, and had sounded frustrated, at a loss and somewhat depressed on the phone. I think we all find ourselves in the "Abyss" at times, I certainly have. I hoped I could help her find her way back onto the pathway.

So after a huge success learning how to lead him through release outside - despite the distraction of the other horse and the GRASS (!), followed by another big moment between them as she successfully released his offer (changed his thought from digging his toes in and thinking about the mare and the grass ! to offering up his feet as he watched her with curiosity, magnetized to her feel - woohoo that's the stuff!) to walk through the narrow door from the green, sunny pasture to the (relatively) dark arena he associated with feeling trapped, the lady almost melted into the ground when she his trigger went off a few moments later.

It was good - in a way - that this more extreme behavior was triggered in him. It gave us the opportunity to work through it in a different way: that is, in a way that could begin changing his outlook from the inside of him, rather than having a confrontation that produced a safer situation. The latter is useful of course, however, unfortunately that approach seemed to be loading his trigger more for the next time. Why? Because he "stuffed" a real concern he had each time, so his response was building. 

The real question in my mind was what his concern actually was.

At first, I limited what I did to the use of the inside-to-inside feel of the "wave" down the rope that the lady had just used successfully under those easier circumstances outside. I just applied it differently. Instead of  sending the "wave" through him to activate his locomotion from his back foot, I sent a grounding feel within that "wave" in time with his back foot landing. This feel went right through him, instinctively connecting with his "braking" system and visibly caused him to shift his weight to his hips and collect himself a little, vs. running around headlong, unbalanced on his forehand. After a few more tries, he came down to a walk and a stop. This was terrific progress because he had been able to tune into my feel, despite his heightened concern and distraction. He was able to stand for a while, even licked and chewed briefly. It served well for the lady to see how the skill she had just learned (this was our second lesson together) might be directly applied in a trickier situation, with a little more practice. 

With a behavior this well practiced though, it was no surprise that he couldn't quite hold his apparent calm. I say apparent because he was standing still, but he was far from still on the inside. There was much more to do there. 

As I saw it, to truly help this lady and her horse, we needed to create a true shift in him from the inside, in deeper. The only way I know to do that in a way that builds something useful (begin a foundation for "re-wiring" such a practiced response) is for the horse to co-pilot his way to a true feel of stillness IN him - for him to find his way to *actually* being *at ease*. 

The "imprint" (of prior handling) on this Quarter Horse became clear after I'd watched him for a bit. This habit was not so much about his concern for the mare, as it was an attempt to avoid the confrontation he had learned to anticipate.

How is this different and why is this important?

Because a "conditioned" flight response is very different from an actual, instinctive need to flee. A "conditioned" flight response was built-in through repetition of a handler's best attempt to fix the issue within a presentation that confronts him on the outside: it is a patterned response, learned through reinforcement (despite the best intentions of the handler). An instinctive flight response is triggered in the moment through a naturally wired, inner response to an outside concern: prey animal instinct in the moment. It is not learned, it just is.

They are related of course: in both cases you have an animal in flight! However, noticing these "particles of feel" is worthwhile because it opens up possibilities in terms of handling that might not seem obvious on the surface. What follows is not a "method" to apply, but a description of how allowing the Feel of THIS Horse in the moment to adjust my Feel of Release in the moment relative to his changing feel GUIDED him into co-piloting his way through some internal shifts that brought him to a changed state of mind.

What do I mean?

This horse's response to run was the learned kind, not an instinctive need. So when he flew off again after he couldn't hold his "stuffed" standstill a moment longer, I repeated the same "releasing of his brakes" to bring him back down to a stop, then I got 100% clear that I knew he could and expected him to stand still - away from the door, without the mare in view. How could I reasonably expect this? Because he was running from an anticipation of pressure from me, which 1) I was not presenting and 2) I had no plan to present at any time. My job was to convince him that he could drop his anticipation of such moves from me - if he could do that, he would be well on the path to a new discovery of stillness on the inside.

Why? Because a horse will only expend energy running if he perceives a need to do so.

How? By being 100% clear that stepping into the space 10 ft ahead of *US* was 100% out of the question. This presentation is essentially the opposite to using pressure to "keep him behind the line". The point is, please don't miss this nuance, as it is critical to the result. If I present through pressure, I introduce two things: 1) a mental and physical gap between us and 2) I short-circuit his ability to slow down and think, in this situation. This other presentation does not direct pressure along the rope to his head or body in any way whatsoever: it is simply a presentation of clarity about space and where to be (together) and where *not* to be.

It was fascinating to observe what he did next.

I was a several feet in front of him in his left eye. He kept his right front foot firmly planted a few inches forward "in reserve" - a hint revealing his real thought to be 100% ready and prepared to bring that left hind on my side up to push off at any moment and shoot off away from me. So I micromanaged that right front foot quite a bit from my position 5-8 feet away from him - again not driving it back, but causing him to offer it back due to the clarity about the space 10ft in front of that foot. If we were at a wedding and I alerted you to the cocktail tray coming in from behind you to your left, you would likely step to your right in a natural, light move relative to your interest in the tray or your grace in making way for the server to come by with ease - it would be a bit anti-social were I to do this by looking at you eye-to-eye and pushing you on your left shoulder; I just draw your attention by indicating the presence of the incoming - oh look out, WE need to step away from THERE. 

For this horse, the feel he got from me "speaking" directly to that one "ninja" foot he "took over" with as he stood there, preparing to leave, seemed to surprise him - who had told me his secret! We repeated this part of the conversation a time or two and he realized it was not a fluke.

And let's be real here. It is so very much easier to place one foot from a standstill than four in full flight. 

By doing this a time or two, he then had a genuine thought to be stopped instead of a plan to leave. Interestingly this shift caused him to start throwing his head and neck around has he confronted the pressure - except that the feel in the rope I offered was still, and on a float. Why did I offer this in response? Because I wanted it to be obvious that I wanted him to be still and on a float. In this case (because he didn't really need to run) all I had to do was step that right front back each time he inched it forward for him to re-consider staying. So we went around this loop a few times. His head and neck moves got bigger and bigger as his habit sought out the pressure in the rope. By offering float and stillness, there was absolutely nothing to empower this huge brace he kept launching. On the other hand, there was a feel on offer that felt pretty good. 

He started to notice this good feel, for short moments, at intervals. Those moments started adding up to the point where he tuned into that feel I left "on the table" like a dance invitation. Eventually he got cautiously confident that the pressure was not forthcoming.

That is when everything began to shift. He dared to feel of my feel.

This opened the door for him to shift from a patterned reaction (to anticipated discomfort that wasn't actually there) to considering the actual feel present. I should perhaps point out that my feel was not "neutral" but pro-active in the sense of offering all this time, what I call an inside-to-inside feel - a quiet feel from my core to his. 

As he "felt of " this inside-to-inside feel I offered, he took a big breath - the first so far. After that he was able to start operating from the inside out. He began biting at the air as he threw his head and neck around. Aha. Now the "stuffed" emotions were starting to come up to the surface and OUT. In this case, a good thing, and a good thing that I was standing out of reach too :)  So I could continue to offer heart and stillness in a good "inside-to-inside" feel. 

He thought to move that right front foot a time or two during this "loop" of releasing emotion. In this case - I stress this because there are plenty of scenarios where this would be the wrong thing to do - I asked him to set his foot back and stay with me in that stand-still. I looked at him and said out loud, more for the owner's benefit perhaps, "Oh yes indeed, I have higher expectations, yes... you my friend, can in fact do this".

Again, in this case, given where we had reached at that moment, the resulting re-newed commitment he offered to staying and "hanging in there" caused him to go inside another layer.

Soon after that I could see in the midst of his neck throwing and bites at the air that a yawn was 'lurking' in how he moved his jaw, if he could settle himself a tad more. I walked slowly to his hip as he stood there and put my hands on his back and rump in an "inside-to-inside" grounding feel. He glanced at his owner. Aha. I asked her to come over and step in for this part (she had learned this feel in the first lesson a few days before... and it was very natural for her once pointed out).  We stood well back at his hip (he had shown no action back there) as he now flung his head far around to the left and then to the right,  in a vague biting motion. He didn't really have a plan to bite US, but it certainly was best to stay out of range and (in this situation) allow him to let this stuff "out". As the lady stepped in to ground him with her familiar feel and newly added 'dimension' of "inside-to-inside", his biting into the air gave way to huge yawns as he continued to throw his neck but with less gusto. Eventually the big motions slipped away and his "mellow" came through as he softened, blinked, wiggled his ears and that hallmark look of peace came into his eye. 

At that point we turned him back out. He is apt to race off down the field to the other horse, but he "stealth grazed" as he wandered around very slowly: if you watched carefully he wasn't eating anything, just working his jaw as he continued to absorbe this experience. He looked over to the mare the other side of the field a time or two, but decided to stay for a while. 

After that, he walked off as peacefully as could be and joined the mare to graze.

"This I know I can do"

The very best part came next though. The lady had been very quiet as she watched. She had also made some highly astute observations. She too had been absorbing what just happened. I had just apologized for "taking over" the horse for that whole interval and empasized that the plan was of course to build her own skills, while reducing the challenge he was presenting, so they could meet each other on the pathway.

"Not a problem" she said, "I had no idea what to do. This has been as good for me as it is for him. I truly cannot believe what I just saw happen. The only way I have seen this handled is through a degree of force that is so uncomfortable for me to watch, I have always known I couldn't deliver it, so I have felt helpless... until now. I just would not have imagined this to be possible. You just guided him and he stepped up to actively participate in his own process. It gives me such deep satisfaction to see you working together. I get an utter sense of relief watching this very different style of leadership - through release - and where it leads. And... this is something I know I can do." 

'Twas a good day.

 

 

 

 

chasementorWeb

Part 2 - "Thicket Riding": Collection and Beyond?

I promised to write about another thing that revealed itself in the "thicket-ride" in that last blog post... 

While we were riding around in the woods, it started to feel a bit claustrophobic as we kept 'bumping into' blocks across the trail. Chase's life was 'up' in a way that felt super-charged with impulsion - any maneuver possible sort of feeling - and yet curiously (and delightfully) grounded at the same time. Having said that, the grounded feel felt like it could slide out from under us without too much trouble. Naturally I did not want to trigger Chase into his previous overload or 'overexposure'. 

We came to another fallen tree. It was not huge, but definitely a jump and it had a branch sticking out at an angle one would need to avoid getting caught on. I couldn't see if there was a sensible place to land on the other side nor was I 100% convinced we could stop within the short distance to another 'squeeze' between trees! On the other hand, I did not want to turn around again and the 'life' in him meant another 'thicket ride' on top of the others might have sent him over the edge. A 'tight rope' moment, you could say.

"Well Chase, how about we just go and see if there is a somewhere to land the other side". He walked on in the most collected walk he's probably ever offered (I note in hindsight), went Precisely where I assessed a plausible angle to be as we approached to avoid the poky branch, stopped when I thought we needed a moment to look, waited like a rock while I scoped out the other side. Then I held his mane, in anticipation I suppose of a less than comfortable jump from a standstill, and thought "Ok Chase, go for it" at which point he cleared it by a margin in the most yummy, smooth as silk jump, landed softly and stopped in the next stride as we pondered where exactly to go next. 


As I follow my own advice and "replay the good tape", it is sinking in why I was so buzzed about this otherwise simple ride in the woods: Unity under 'edgy' circumstances at best. And also because it inspires another topic to noodle on: 
Collection.

Leslie talks about collection in the sense of 'natural collection' - the kind you see when a horse collects himself to come down a hill. I've also learned about collection defined as mental, emotional and physical balance. And collection as a function of relaxation, straightness, balance and impulsion from the classical world. I believe I've experienced these along the way at different times. Never though, have I experienced the collection Chase offered so effortlessly on this ride. I don't mean the halt, jump, halt in itself - we used to do things like that in Pony Club to prepare for the more challenging turns in a jump off. It wasn't like that either. 

It was weightless, yet grounded. He wasn't thinking ahead of me (like my eventer mare lol) or behind or away, just, well, a mind meld!  His full athletic capacity in 100% readiness yet ready to wait - available to unleash into the air or into a stop with a simple, clear thought. Oh my. Exquisite. I don't know what other word to use. There isn't one. 

We weren't travelling 'with the hand-brake on'  (as Kate Sandel so aptly puts it) or with hand hovering over it lol - and that was true of both of us. There was a pure feel somehow of no reservations from either side. 

I'm newly inspired to think that this effortless and truly out-of-this-world feel of collection felt rooted in something very simple: unreserved trust (I'm reminded once again of the ease Ginger has in following Fred's feel ref: photo on my home page) + open spirit (as in "the other 80%" as it relates 'right brain' and instinct, session 3). Yum.

I wonder, given that the third key of 'The 4 Keys to Harmonic Flow' is to carefully 'meld' to that same source - open spirit - while building a new depth of trust that becomes feasible with our "inside-to-inside" feel, are we 'freeing up' a different kind of 'natural collection' under saddle? Imagine if trust, lack of reservation and spirit were the underlying qualities of collection in the arena, as we had there in the woods. It seems entirely plausible suddenly.

It seems that as we travel along the pathway of "refining our own patterns" and flip our role from being 'the reliable source of pressure' to 'the reliable source of a good feel', it frees us up on both sides in ways I had not really thought about before.  

I took that pic of Chase a few hours after the ride. I admit I was still basking in this fine experience and wandered out to him. That look he has? He's gazing over to the woods. He seemed to be glowing about our little 'adventure' too! He's been 'lingering' differently ever since. How far this is beyond what I imagined could be in our partnership from the vantage point of our journey down the rabbit hole to "The Abyss". And yet here we are.

What's next, I wonder.

Happy dance.

 

chasementorWeb

Part 1: 'Thicket Riding': A Mutual Trust Revealed

Some of you will remember the story of Chase and Bug barely making it out of the woods for trees falling behind them during a storm a while back... and the normally bold Chase thereafter  immediately losing his cool (aka leaping up and down in amongst trees, not so great to ride) when the trail petered out and he wasn't 100% sure where to go....

WoodsWeb

Well, I am enjoying a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling today after riding in the (very un-tended to) woods, where there isn't much difference at the moment between the "trails" and the deer paths... we soon came up on a fallen tree blocking our way. I rode 'off road', definitely no trail, closer to riding through a thicket with branches crossing at chest level and barely room for my knees as we wiggled through. We had to go a ways like this as it turned out "into the unknown".

He has long legs, is fairly tall and was in a slight hurry about this predicament. Just a bit fast for sensible maneuvering in the circumstances.

For a moment I did wonder if this was a bad plan, but then I realized to my utter delight - he was with me, going exactly where I asked unless I hesitated for a split second, at which point he did not, and chose the next 'squeeze', so took over momentarily BUT with such CARE: never bumped a knee, never got caught on a sapling, he never put a real branch in my face (only the soft leafy bendy ones!) and I did not bump my head on a nearby tree as I ducked under a few branches either. 

It was rather exhilarating in fact, to feel this connection - his MIND so totally focused on our shared goal, despite his slight concern (given the history) and the other horses calling him to boot.

For those who were on our recent on-line course session re: teaching a horse to slow down, think and feel back to you within a confining feel vs. speed up and react - here is an example when it meant the difference between Chase hanging in there and not. His mind was available as he applied himself most carefully and the feel of the connection remained present - despite him 'co-piloting' at times - because we remained totally in sync with a shared plan :)

So all in all, just a ride in the woods really! But I am posting to hereby make note - notice! which I have historically missed more than once (and in so doing, Not been Present to the connection Chase was offering at times for far too long, nor Receiving his true offer) - where we actually are Today, what we have clearly Moved On from.

It did not feel like or even occur to me we might have a problem - except for a brief moment when the 'Head Advisor' suggested I was off my rocker. The 'Head Advisor' was easy to over-rule and in fact served to bring a wonderful level of awareness - and in the moment 'Receiving' of -  the absolute mutual trust we had in each other 'on the job'. And that... felt Awesome :) 

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle