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The more complete story

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Complete story
The first idea I played with on returning from America was the idea of giving a strong enough signal that the horse can find the release. That was a nice safe topic to start. I also observed and thought about something else I observed. The cutting trainer had a whole stable full of lovely horses, all active, soft, athletic and full in their ability to express themselves. I observed this man on a green horse, and that horse was attempting to “play out” his ideas on what he should or should not be doing.

This horse’s ideas did not be a match with the job in hand, but the rider did not become upset or tense, he showed the horse what was required and got out of the way to allow the horse to comply. He did not STOP the horse forcefully <BLOG_BREAK>from doing what it wanted to do, he just stayed soft, went with, and corrected. At one point Cordy even asked if the rider was intending to do the strange things as he stayed so relaxed and happy with how the session was progressing. The horse always found the correct answer in the end, and “submitted” without losing his dignity.

The ride was an education to watch. The rider was relaxed and focused, but I think the biggest word to describe it was present.  I realised that the rider had detached himself from the outcome. Now, the rider did care what happened, he had a job for that horse to do, but in the moment he allowed the horse to move, to make the decision right or wrong, and then corrected what was not right. I guess the ego of the rider was taken out of it, he was just present with the horse and in the moment, not present with other concerns. The other thing I observed was that the horse stayed soft in his mind, even when he was trying to “lock up”, because the rider did not join him in that drama. The horse then stayed free enough to see other options.

This idea of detaching from the outcome has been presented to me by Sherlock, most notably in his loading. For a while we had a problem with loading, after he had slipped on the ramp one day he decided that he did not wish to go up the ramp. For the “big session” after the mishap  it took 3 hours, and it was a journey for me of epic learning proportions.

We did the normal things of establishing boundaries, so he would not run into me or pull me back, and in a big way that put me in charge. We quite quickly got to the stage where we could walk to the foot of the ramp, and get a foot on, the two feet on, all with small requests and rewards. We even moved to three feet on, and even four feet on the ramp. With most horses this would be enough to step by step help them to understand loading.

With Sherlock that day, even though we had achieved this first part step by step, and calmly, there was a mental block to actually going UP the ramp. I found that if I upped the pressure any then Sherlock would go to his left, and behind the loading gate, so he could not enter the ramp from there.

I know that if I take all pressure off to re-straighten Sherlock then I will have taught him that the release of pressure will come if he goes off to one side, I will have rewarded him for the wrong thing, and he would have gone off to that side each time. So, I realised what was happening, resolved to be  consistent, and even when Sherlock went around the side of the lorry I kept my request to come on inside. I think I should point out that for Sherlock "extra pressure" amounts to a small "click" with my voice, or a slight lift of the rope. He is very sensitive to signals, and only small requests are necessary for him to respond.

Sherlock did not like this added pressure, his evasion had failed. I managed to keep myself calm and without emotion, and continued the request. Sherlock reacted by running through a whole list of silly things to do, such as standing on the ramp from behind the loading gate to rearing up high and clacking his front feet together. I stayed with the idea that this was just him acting out his options, and just consistently asking for him to join me from inside the lorry, with pressure on the rope that released whenever he made a move in the right direction, either mentally or physically. I was also pleased that although he was “acting out” his options, he did not pull on me or barge me at all, he stayed exploring his options within the preset boundaries.

In the past with other horses this run through of silly things to do is the time they are deciding that they will in fact comply, they are just exploring their options, and when they realise that the place of calm, and softness is inside the lorry then they will load. Sherlock though had one final test for me.

For Sherlock to load that day it had to be very important to me. He had one last test, and that was that he could put himself in danger of injury. There is a small triangular gap between the loading gate and ramp, and he decided to try to post himself sideways through it. I mean he slanted his head, squidged his legs up, and tried to sideways, belly following, post himself through. I was horrified. I could not immediately think that I could allow this, but I also knew that if I stopped what I was doing then he would repeat this behaviour whenever he was asked to load. By releasing the pressure now I would have “taught” him that this silly move was the correct answer to my problem.

I have found this a few times with Sherlock, to really be a person who is worthy of leadership you have to be prepared to stay consistent through lengths that most horses would not dream to push you. But once I have made the extra mile, then Sherlock is happy, and will stay happy with my leadership in that area for the future. He is a more extreme case, with Charlie the very fact that I ask him for something is usually enough that he complies. Most of the time with Sherlock that is true too, but when I rub up against one of his more strongly held beliefs, then we have to work it out together.

That day, this was his last test. He groaned as if I was asking him to lie down and die, I stayed level, and asked for him to come into the lorry. I had looked at the loading gate, it was solid and fixed firmly, he could test it and I did not think it would give, so I asked Sherlock to come into the lorry. He did. Just like that, I had stayed focused enough, and he realised that he had explored freely his options, he just got down off the ramp, stood straight, walked to the base of the ramp straight, and walked up the ramp. Like “OK, this is a job that is very important, needs doing, and I will do it now”.
With the horsebox, and with my general riding (1 1/2 hours of "test" on the beach one day, at the end of which he tucked his pretty little head in and did whatever I wanted), and with every other "thing" that we had this situaton occurr then we have had happiness and calm with the subject from that time on.
So, to “keep” Sherlock I know I have to give him his freedom to explore his options, even to allow the possibility of losing Sherlock. I never did write the blog on “Sherlock’s loading diary” as this idea has taken some processing, the diary was too difficult to do. The idea of losing Sherlock is not one I can readily comprehend. But for him to really trust me he is a horse who needs his freedom of choice enough that this is an option that had to be explored.
I find this idea of allowing Danger difficult to think round still. I certainly do not advocate that everyone put their horses in danger, it is our responsibility to keep them safe from harm. With most horses they simply do not push the matter so hard. I struggle with the idea, but Sherlock has shown me that for him, this is how far my objectivity has to go. Until I do have this safe in my mind then I guess there will always be some horses that I do not be wholehearted enough for. At present I am happy to know that for now I am limited!
 I still struggle with this concept, I am still missing something, and watching the trainer in Arizona has helped me to realise some links.
I have known for some time that when I work horses belonging to other people I get better results than when I train my own. It is a frustration to me that I can take horses with less physical talent and make of them horses that are a delight to ride. I believe this is all part of the same thing. Sherlock is so significant to me as my only horse that I do not allow the idea of making mistakes. I do not set tasks that will test us, and when we are tested I do not allow mistakes, I try to protect him. This ties in with the subject of my last blog. Sherlock needs to make mistakes for me to explain that this was the incorrect answer, so he can continue to try options to find the right answer. In my constant quest to protect him from mistakes I am almost correcting a mistake before it has even been made, which must be very confusing. I am giving him so much “Chatter” that he cannot see the lesson I am trying to teach.

I guess this is a bigger version of the novice rider who nag nag nags to keep the horse walking, then that rider will wonder why the horse does not move off a light aid. How is the horse supposed to have learned that lesson?  If that rider would give a light aid, and if the horse does not give the right response then that rider were to give a big enough cue that the horse can move forwards, then the confusion will quickly be cleared up. The same idea in a bigger way, in every part of training.

The big thing for me as what I said in the previous blog, that before the rider can “train” the horse to good effect then that rider has to firstly be still in body, poised and relaxed, and then also still in mind, poised and relaxed, in the moment. This for me included in the mind being detached from the outcome, the horse free to explore the options. This is a lesson Sherlock has been trying to teach me.

In that Arizona desert, that cowboy was a living example of that. Oh yes, he HAD a desired outcome, and he guided the horse towards that, but he did not try to take over that horse’s mind and spirit to achieve it.  I guess he had accepted the ideas that maybe this horse will not make it, but by accepting that possibility he then he allowed the horse the best opportunity to indeed make the connections and make the grade. And to do that with spirit and dignity intact.






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  1. Gail Fazio

    Ruth - That is a huge thing to recognize! Keeping the emotion out of our work with our horses, letting them make mistakes to learn instead of micro-managing through it .... hard for competitors, A type people, dressage riders, I could go on and on .....

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