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Moving fast forward- by standing still!

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  1WebThis month started well, Jay did his first BD Dressage competition, and won points as well as being placed on his first outing. He would have done better still if his mother had not taken the wrong course, the FIRST TIME I have EVER done this!

I reminded myself that the only place “competition pressure” can come from is <BLOG_BREAK>myself (or connections), and my friends and family only care that we have a good time, and I only care that we have a good time, and,......... Jay and I BOTH had a good time, so we are all happy.

I have really been enjoying the new “bounce” that Jay has to his trot. I have a photo at a third dressage, at Sykehouse. In Fact Jay was a bit cross at this one as he had just been dragged out of his field not 45 minutes earlier, but he still looks well, and shiny.
Image1r

Then, we had some “setbacks”, life seems to be hell bent on having me apparently standing still. But then they may not be “setbacks” at all, I have made the discovery that maybe I need to stand still to know how to move forwards....

Firstly my new jump saddle came for Jay, and it looked OK, but Jay told me he was not comfortable with it. He would hollow, trip behind, become easily upset by outside influences, and generally be unhappy. This was a close contact saddle, and I have always suspected Jay is not a “close contact” shaped horse, however much I like them.

The saddler has been great, he had a second attempt to get the saddle to be a comfortable fit, but when this was not achievable, he is taking the saddle back and building Jay a jumping saddle on the dressage saddle tree.  With the dressage tree the panels are better padded, and the points are further back. I am awaiting this new saddle with interest.

Then, I had a problem with my left hip, it is often a bit grumbley, but after a particularly hectic weekend it became very angry indeed! So, I am “resting” for a couple of weeks, riding Jay for just half an hour a day or less.

Far from feeling frustration at the new delays, Jay and I have been having a great time. We have had a riot of play, with videos too.

The first is Jay and I playing with his Fitness ball, it shows what a long way he has come from when he first met the ball and did not want it to touch him... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WWUdaT5dKk&feature=g-upl&context=G2cc3a8eAUAAAAAAAHAA

Then we had a slightly more serious play with an umbrella, where at first Jay was happy to touch it with his nose, but not with his body, but in 11 minutes he was talked around, and was happy with it all over. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYtRaRyW_Fk&feature=g-upl&context=G280f6ecAUAAAAAAAGAA

After all that serious stuff I let jay have some free time playing with his BIG ball, this one is just funny, particularly when Jay gets a bit too involved and “goes over the top” in every which way! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyvx14auM3s&feature=g-upl&context=G27d37bdAUAAAAAAAFAA

Then, well I was not riding much as I was resting my hip, but I wondered what Jay would be like to ride bareback and in a loping halter..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bxE3XuIpPQ&feature=relmfu

FINALLY, I decided to see if I could play with the ball when mounted, so “Jay learns to catch”..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wDLnCpMgbc&feature=relmfu

Playing, it is funny but so many people have looked at these videos, and then said how much they wish they could play with their horses...... I am perplexed. I don’t really understand why they don’t play either! In fact I think playing is a much underdone thing in adults. It is a safe place to be free, experiment, look silly, try new things, fail and laugh at it, achieve things, not achieve things.......

I do advise that play with horses is done with a whole load of consideration for SAFETY, for instance I wear a hat, am in a gated safe environment, and I am making small progressions to what we can do. The first time in a loping halter I had a bridle underneath just in case Jay did not understand the new signal for stop, and the bridle did not come off until he understood and was happy (up there for thinking!). Also we did not attempt the ball game MOUNTED until Jay was happy and confident with the ball bouncing all over  his body. 

Carefully done, it is FUN to experiment and work with your horse, learn about pressure and release, what keeps him happy.

And THAT is what my final learning has been this month. By co-incidence I saw American Horseman Buck Brannaman interviewed on BBC Breakfast TV, for his new film that is coming out. I took notice as my friend Cordy has ridden with Buck for many years. Buck was the inspiration for the Robert Redford film “The Horse Whisperer”.

During the interview Buck was saying how when he was just 3 years old he suffered abuse, to such an extent that he did not know if he would live through the day. He commented that many horse owners do not realise that this is how horses (prey animals) live their lives, in a state of being alert for fear. His perspective is that horses seek one thing, that we can give them, and that is peace. If we have peace inside us then we can give it to the horse, and that is 100% important to them. He believes that horses will gladly exchange some physical effort, or “work” for that peace.  

In fact I was thinking of that sentiment when I was playing on some of those videos.

Then, as Jay and I were both “resting”, I made time to go and see a seminar held by Australian behaviourist Andrew McLean. That day has still left my head spinning with learning so much.

Andrew remembered Jay from our lesson last September. I was able to tell him that all as going well, aside from just one thing. That one thing is still the confounded grooming issue that suddenly appeared at Christmas, where Jay went from a horse that enjoyed grooming to one that did NOT want to be groomed overnight. I have instilled into Jay that he must BEHAVE during grooming, but he is still not happy, and an unhappy Jay means an unhappy mother......

I think Andrew has the same way that he slants his seminars towards what you need to hear, without it being overt, that I have also observed in Horseman Mark Rashid when I have ridden with him. A lot of the horses had the same tale, they are just great, all apart from this one, random, “thing”.

Andrew took me back to basics. His perspective is that if a random “thing” occurs then yes, we could “habituate” the horse to become tolerant (of grooming, of crowds, of water trays, of the side of the arena- we had a range of “random things” in the beautiful horses that were our models for the day), but that most often the random “thing” is a symptom of something else.

For a horse to display random behaviour then Andrew believes that somewhere in his training there is an instruction/ aid/ command that the horse does not understand, creating confusion. In point of fact if the horse does not understand and it is not righted, then from the horse’s point of view we are the ones acting in a random manner.

To overcome most random behaviours in horses we could do with checking the 9 main responses. But, to make most progress for least effort, even if we only checked out “stop” and “go” responses, and cleared them up so the horse will respond in a light and soft manner, then this would be of  more benefit than specific “desensitisation”. I watched the horses be worked, and saw how much of the confusion was in fact cleared up easily and simply, often from the floor in ground work.
I love Andrew's work with clarity and the attention to detail, and was actually glad that clearing up this area would have great benefits. I have felt a little uncomfortable with some of the desensitisation that I saw. I do a lot of desensitisation, see previous blogs and videos above, but I use a advance and retreat approach, where the horse is not stressed, or adrenalised much.
Andrew has many approches, some of them allow the horse to get adrenalised, and he will work at keeping slow feet and no distance so the horse learns that fight flight behaviour does not have any gains, then it will settle down to the idea of whatever is being introduced. One of the auditors at the clinic specifically asked a question about one of the techniques that Andrew uses, that of "flooding". I am glad she did, as his method of flooding was different to my own.
I use "flooding" in, say, a case where a horse has anxiety, but not phiobia around something, like, for example a plastic bag. For a phobic horse I would use a very soft advance/ retreat scenario, but for the merely anxious I have observed that the horse will be more anxious if he is presented with just one shavings bag in an arena, rather than if we "flood" him, with say 26 shavings bags distributed around. With the bags in place we will do normal work, not "confronting" the bags, but making our work very important as to the responses of the horse, his speed and direction. This is similar in method to Andrew's "overshadowing". I have found that after just one session the horse will feel quite good about working amongst bags.
Andrew described flooding as where the horse is so scared he thinks he will die, and can no longer think. But, if he can be worked through that then he will learn to stay slow feet and no distance. In fact he showed a video of a horse who could not be clipped, and it was held tight as the clippers were applied, just so the horse could realise that clippers do not hurt. I do not argue with Andrew's success, but I do wonder at all the other horses, where less skilled owners do not have the same result.
Take clipping, I am sure many horse owners know of people who have tried to physically restrain horses to clip, with less than optimal results. For me, right now I would prefer to desensitise through advance/ retreat. Clipping is a good example to me, as I did this very exercise with a previous horse, who was absolutely phobic with clippers, even when drugged and highly restrained. I blogged about it then, see "Sherlock's clipping diary" on www.upbeatequestrian.co.uk/sherlocksclippingdiary.html
You will see that the process took 2 weeks, but it was stress free, and the horse was easy and relaxed to clip from then to this day.
I think the method of confronting the issue with restraint works for Andrew as he is so clear. He is a very calm person, I guess he has the "peace inside" that I heard about from Buck. He is also a master of clearing up confusion for the horse.
I can see that both methods can work, I just prefer the longer road at the moment, I believe that for me there is more margin for error, and more space to build a relationship with my horse.

I saw Andrew last year, and went home with the intention of testing and clearing up Jay's responses, starting with work on the ground. When I tried some of the work back home with Jay we ran across a problem. His “stop” was sticky, and could be easily cleaned up. His “go” was sticky too, but when I tried to clear THAT up he had a really over the top reaction, just to me touching or even pointing at his ribs from the ground, with or even without a whip. I mean he would kind of lose it, the normally genteel Jay  leaping around, or backing away, or shooting sideways. So, I left it!

I know that at the time this was the correct thing for me to do, as I did not feel that I had the tools to do the job, not enough knowledge or experience for the apparant totally over the top reaction. I bought Jay as a troubled horse, with a history of over the top reactions where he would "lose it". I reasoned that to open that particular Pandora's box then I had better be very certain of myself. Besides, Jay is a sweetie to handle, if I am not annoying him at his ribs then he is a doddle, relaxed and happy.

Hmmm, ribs, that is an area I can’t groom easily.

Hmmm, even though this problem around Jay’s “go” has been with him since he came (he used to be very lazy and one paced), he was good to groom until Christmas. I think I may know why that is too. I know that when I school horses sometimes a horse can become responsive to a light aid, and then if an inexperienced rider gets on it is upsetting, even though the horse could cope with confusing aids before. I guess once a horse has been educated he knows better, and what was just general “white noise” before becomes intolerable confusion. For instance in a highly trained horse, if a less experienced rider loses balance they will be giving a whole load of unintentional leg, weight and rein aids.

Jay’s general schooling has come on in leaps and bounds, ridden now he is light and responsive off the leg. This particular thing around handling his ribs as a "go" signal from the ground is one of very few things I have not tackled. I wonder if it is because he has more clarity in most of his life now, that this makes an area where there is still confusion light up like a beacon?

I only did the seminar on Friday, and already we have had two in hand sessions. The first one he again blew up, was SO upset, just because I was pointing at his ribs with intent (just the intent that he go faster!)..... But this time I felt that we could work through this. Jay just need to know that this was a signal, to GO. So I stayed calm and methodical, kept staying there with “peace” inside when he shot forwards, and in fact with peace within even when he was doing some weird random leapy things, and after just 10 minutes or so he started to get it. Jay got external peace too when he moved forward. We finished the session with Jay able to trot from a signal to his ribs, with no panic.

That day I then rode and he went the best he ever has done, responsive, soft, everything you could wish for.

Today we did our second ground work session, and he was again upset, but not to half the degree as before, and again he went well ridden.
When riding I have also become aware of how important it is to Jay that I concentrate entirely on the feel I have in the NOW. Usually I have some specific task (like canter transitions), or a pattern (like a 3 loop serpentine) in my mind, and if Jay was to, say, get a bit heavy in my hand then I would fix it for next time, thinking about the finished task. This last couple of sessions I have been more in the “now”, and if, say, Jay has been a bit heavy in the rein I have transitioned down straight away to rectify the confusion.

I think that sometimes the task is of vital importance, but that maybe this should wait until horse and rider are at a stage where basic misunderstandings are cleared up already. Then we can go do a dressage test, right through. Then if any misunderstandings have muddied the waters then we can go back and clear it up again.

From Andrew’s experience riding in a clear way, from awareness in the moment, will lead to less random acts like shying, spooking, and not being groomed.

So, That’s me, apparently stuck and not making “progress”, but actually having great fun, learning loads, and building better foundations.

 What’s next?

Well, next month Mark Rashid is in the UK, so I plan to take a day out and watch his clinic. He has different methods and explanations than Andrew, and I will enjoy making sense of both horsemen’s work, as they both have amazing results. But, before that I am having a few days away, in Spain, with my Mum!!!

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  1. D Bradfprd Arnold

    Just watched Jay with the Big Ball. I don't think he was putting it away at the end. Looked like he scored a goal, to me..........

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  2. Gail Fazio

    Wonderful observations for you to share! It is difficult to have to "step backwards" from where we were headed, but as you point out, sometimes it is just that pause that allows you to make progress! I think some people would say that Jay has a hole in his foundation training (regarding the rib cage and forward) and it sounds like your recent work will help to put that block in place. You've done so much with him! Enjoy your time in Spain, and I know you'll enjoy seeing Mark again. I rode with him in February and love his perspective!

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