Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Preparing Boundless for the Blanket (Originally printed in the Feb 2015 Savvy Times)

Occasionally in our journey with horses it may be appropriate to put a blanket, sheet, cooler or fly sheet on our horses. In this moments it is almost always better to be prepared  than to wish you were. As Pat says at nearly every event where he speaks (taken from the 45+ ‘P’s”) “Prior and Proper Preparation Prevents ‘P’ Poor Performance.” Another great thing about preparing horses for the blanket is that it can help prepare them for their first saddle and/or help you see how the horse’s confidence is with “things” that wrap around the whole horse. To set horses up for success we can take our time with the blanket preparation and help the horse become a more willing and confident partner. The following steps are some ways that I think of preparing a horse for a blanket and the photos are of my new weanling filly who needed this lesson in preparation for winter (just in case).

The first thing and most important for this exercise is to help our horses understand friendly game. As Pat has so often reminded us: “A horse doesn’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care.” 

Here we are going to play friendly game in two forms; accepting us the human and accepting our tools (carrot stick, string, blanket, etc.).For safety reasons it is often best to start friendly with the stick, this way if the horse is feeling defensive and we misread the situation they will hit the stick not us. Begin by checking that the horse is confident with the stick being rubbed in all zones (neck, legs, belly, tail, etc) and that they don’t have any “yeah but” spots (these are areas where your horse says “You can touch me anywhere but there”). Using approach and retreat build the horses confidence until they are calm with the stick and might even enjoy it, like another horse grooming them.

A great thing to check out next is the horse’s acceptance to friendly game with the stick and string in all zones. This will help prepare them for the motion of the blanket when we toss it over their back and the motion they will feel when trotting or cantering with the blanket on. While playing with this more active friendly game we need to be sure our energy stays friendly, this is how the horse will tell the difference between friendly and driving games as you advance.

Now that the horse is prepared and we feel as safe as possible with the friendly game it is important we can play friendly with our hands. After all it will be our hands reaching between the hind legs for the straps and positioning and adjusting the belly straps! With this in mind it is a great time to over prepare our horses for this reach. Play a little exaggerated friendly game with your hands, rub with some energy and be sure your horse is accepting particularly in zones 3-4.

Another great preparation for the “just in case” situation is porcupine game specifically with the legs. This is great for preparing horses for a malfunctioning blanket that falls partially off, or drops a leg strap. By preparing horses for the possible and probable we can often avoid injuries or emotional trauma in our horses. Using phases for porcupine and a 12’ or 22’ line we can ask our horses to follow a feel/porcupine on legs off of steady pressure from the rope. By using the rope again we get a little more space in case we need to allow our horses to drift or they get a little concerned. Keep in mind even with your hands on the rope it is important to use phases; 1. Hair 2. Skin 3. Muscle 4. Bone and to release for the slightest try. The goal in this exercise is to help our horses understand how to follow a feel rather than do what is natural and push into it. There is some great information on the Savvy Club Website about leading by the leg.

The next preparation or “test” before blanketing can come from using friendly game with a towel or saddle blanket to toss over your horses back. This tests out the horses acceptance of friendly game with our tools (things that are an extension of us, like our carrot stick and string). Applying the same approach and retreat method used for friendly with the stick and string or saddling we can now prepare our horses a step further for the blanket with a towel that falls off much easier (just in case they take a fright). Using a towel also allows us something small enough that we aren’t getting tired “heaving” it over the horses back. Also, sometimes in the winter static can build up between the horses and blankets/towels, if this happens a quick spray of water or water with a hair moisturizer in it will help tame the static so that the horse is not getting shocked!

Our goal is that by the time we get to blanketing it is easy and that we have over prepared our horses for the situation. After all, the quote “Take the time it takes so it takes less time.” Is nearly a Parelli anthem. This way horse and human can relax when it comes to blanket time and trust that the preparation has laid the foundation for success.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Happy Moment of the Day

Laying in the shade beside a hot mineral springs tub in Pagosa Springs, CO with my arm floating in the water and Luke snoozing on my tummy:-)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Traveling with an OTTB!

We spend much of the summer on the road traveling from state to state teaching clinics and camps. It is a great oppertunity for our horses to get exposure and become confident in many different environments. Occasionally however the miles of travel take a toll on the horses particularly our more sensative Thoroughbred. So, last month we experimented with a slightly different approach on feed and had success maintaining his condition plus the feed took up less room in the trailer AND it helped keep the horses hydrated!
We chose to feed a combination of our usual alfalfa hay with some Standley alfalfa pellets and Standley alfalfa cubes, we also added a bit of beet pulp.
The great thing with traveling with the compressed hay cubes is that it is easier to manuever in the trailer and we had less waste from dropped bits of hay. Also, because we soaked the cubes/pellets VERY thoroughly the horses almost had a mash to eat and therefore were taking in more water to help them hydrate, a definate plus when traveling.
The other thing that worked out well was the addition on water, beet pulp and a second type of forage really seemed to help keep condition on the OTTB (Off The Track Thoroughbred). Overall it was a successful experiment and we are continueing to carry cubes/pellets with us as we travel.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Joy Blog!

I just stubbled across this great website and this was the most recent blog posted - I really enjoyed it and though it was worth sharing! Hopefully you enjoy it too and you can check out the website for yourself here:

See the things you do not as work, but as opportunities for joy. Put the power of joy into the entirety of your day, into the whole of your life.
You can always choose your perspective, no matter what may be going on around you. Living from a perspective of joy and positive presence gives you great power to manifest that joy in the world at large.
Don’t limit the joy in your life by thinking of it only as something you must find or acquire. See joy as one of the greatest gifts you have to give, to yourself and to all of life.
You don’t have to live in a fantasy world or deny reality in order to be joyful. Simply release joy from the limitations and conditions you have placed on it, and it can always be a very real, and realistic, part of your experience.
The place to always find joy is in your miraculous existence. Allow that joy to flavor each moment, each situation, every effort and every choice.
Live your life with the power of real, true, uninhibited joy. And live the great treasure that is always yours.
— Ralph Marston

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Attitude of Justice - Parelli Principle # 5

It sounds simple and we know our attitude is vitally important on our horsemanship journey! Then, why, does it sometimes feel so hard to carry out the attitude of justice?

In my path of helping humans learn about natural horsemanship I am often repeating the need for the ‘attitude of justice’ while demonstrating a technique or concept with a horse. In answer to this statement about ‘justice’ I am greated by blank stares or nodding heads with little to no change to how the student is handling their own horse. What I have discovered is that this response comes from a core difference in belief on what “justice” and “natural” actually mean. So, I’ve looked up a simple and concise definition from Wikipedia to help us get on the same page:

Natural – “existing in or caused by nature, not made or caused by humankind.”

How interesting! . . . What does it mean to be natural? Often when people hear the words natural horsemanship they think, “oh good, I can think great thoughts about my horse and they will do what I want just because I am thinking it” or  “I will never have to become effective to be understood and my horse will become a willing and safe partner”! Somehow when people first hear of ‘natural’ their minds travel down a thought pattern of believing that actions no longer have consequences. However, if you take the quote above and think about things in nature – things “not made or caused by humankind”. How many actions in nature do not have consequences?

If, for example, an ant colony gets lazy and decides not to go out to gather food, what happens to the colony? If a horse herd leader can’t outthink a predator, what happens to the survival of the herd? If the herd picks a leader that isn’t aware, effective, and smart, what happens to the herd?

Just for the sake of argument let’s say that same herd chooses to have no leader, in fact every horse is equal and has a chance to “voice their opinion”. Now imagine, this herd full of mares, foals, yearlings, and a stallion ranging all the horsenalities LBI, LBE, RBE and RBI. They are all eating grass happily enjoying their equal opinions and contributions. They hear a rustle in the trees. The LBI’s say, “oh it’s probably nothing, let’s wait and see what happens”. The RBI’s say “ “ (nothing – they have frozen for the moment). The LBE’s want to go check out what made the noise, maybe they can play with it and the RBE’s are running circles around the herd, they want to leave but don’t want to leave the herd. At this stage they agree to have a meeting to discuss what should be done about the rustle in the bushes and who’s opinion they should follow. After several minutes of deliberation they have come to the conclusion that they can not act on any ONE opinion and are better off not reacting at all so as not to offend the horses feelings that were voted down. So, at the end of a lengthy discussion they have chosen to do nothing. This time the rustle turns out to be a squirrel and everything is fine, but what about next time when it is an approaching group of wolves/lions? Will the herd loose a few members? Does this system really work in nature? Of course not! The herd needs a leader, right or wrong the herd can follow the leadership and have a better chance of survival. It makes sense if you think of nature. Nature has laid out a perfect system, one where without humankind intervening their feelings and opinions the species survives.

 Now here’s the interesting part, somehow humans have decided that our way is better and that everything should adapt to suit what we ‘think’ is best. Some examples of this specifically in the horse world range from not allowing horses to interact with each other; so they won’t get hurt. To never allowing horses to experience consequences for acting inappropriately in the human environment, until they are so uncontrollable we have no choice but to put them down because they endangered themselves and others. Perhaps we should put children in a bubble wrap suit with an air purifier mask and have them walk around in a little bubble. This way they can’t get hurt, they won’t get any germs and the bubble will protect them from getting to close to other humans, just in case the other humans say something ‘mean’. Also, the bubble will protect the other children in case the perfect little angel is mad and feels like hitting or slapping someone. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? The funny thing is that to some humans this does sound perfect, this way we can control everything that happens to the individual and be sure no one is ever hurt, but is it natural? Is it natural to keep horses separate from their own species? Is it natural that their actions have no consequences in our human world, until it is too late (doing more later instead of less sooner)? Is it natural for humans to think we know more about what horses need then horses do?

To me the attitude of justice isn’t about punishment it’s about cause and effect. If you touch a hot stove - you get burnt. If you stick your hand in a fan blade - you get whacked. If you don’t look and pay attention to where you are going on uneven ground - you fall. Plain and simple – no emotion involved, it is just natural. It is the most natural part of learning. Cause and effect is how we learn. If you text while driving in traffic you could crash – simple, no emotion, if you choose one path/action there are reactions put into motion.

When I talk about being effective with horses and using the attitude of justice all I am saying is to be natural. Sounds simple, however, this doesn’t mean that it will be easy. Many humans get into habits of living and ways of acting that are supremely unnatural, this can cause the shift to becoming natural again challenging. To be successful this new and natural journey must be filled with thought, decision and purpose. One doesn’t just wake up and say “I’m natural” and then go about their day as usual. Becoming natural requires a conscious choice and many choices along the path until natural becomes our new way of being, of living, until it makes more sense than all the other ‘stuff’.

In the end studying natural horsemanship may be a different picture then some had originally envisioned but if you are dedicated to becoming truly natural, it is a never-ending journey worth taking! One filled with discovery, awareness and a feeling of peace to experience “existing in nature”. The horses give us a window with which to peer in to the world of natural. The love for the horse gives us the motivation to go against the flow and learn how to become natural. The attitude of justice is intrinsically natural horsemanship. If you can remember and internalize what natural truly is, your horsemanship journey will proceed with more smoothness and fewer stumbling blocks. So, if you endeavor to take the journey, keep ‘natural’ in mind and see what unfolds!