Saturday's Adventure in Horsemanship

December 08, 2014

I love how relaxed these two are
When I bought Tank 10 years ago, I had hazy ideas of what we would do together. I knew I would ride, of course, maybe jump some low obstacles, and I wanted just to be able to hang out with him, to be near my very own horse. My lifelong dream. For a while, riding casually and hanging out was enough. Then I saw a demonstration by a group of people who used the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program—the things they could do with their horses, on a lead line, under saddle and at liberty (with no tack)! Both people and horses looked like they were having fun. My curiosity piqued, I started learning about Natural Horsemanship and my relationship with Tank became infinitely better.

But it’s been a couple of years since the last Parelli infusion and we’ve become too set in our ways. When I’m not planning to ride, I’ve gotten into the habit of only hanging out—pleasant, but not the best use of my barn time if I want to strengthen our bond and be able to do more things together. I’ve become lazy about coming up with games to play with him. And playing with Tank is good for his mental and emotional stimulation, as well as cementing my role as leader. I’m pretty sure right now he whinnies when he sees me because he knows he’ll get snacks, not because he can’t wait to see what we do together! (Hey, it’s a start. At least he likes to see me coming.)

So hoping for inspiration, Saturday I attended the first day of Pat and Linda Parelli’s Future of Horsemanship Tour in Tampa. This was my second time at a Parelli event (see “Mind: Blown”). This event was smaller than the one I attended in 2012, and not quite as packed with information. Most of the presentations were different, however, and this year they had a brief demo of Cowboy Mounted Shooting by Jesse Peters—which he performed bridleless—way cool! The photos aren’t very good because he was going so fast, and yet he was able to navigate the course and slide to a stop on a dime. Amazing partnership.

Jesse Peters
I won’t get all technical with you, but I did come away with some new ideas for playing with Tank, and, of course, some other little life lesson-y tidbits!

“When you take off the lead rope and halter, you’re left with the truth.”
When you take away the external controls, will the horse stay with you or wander off? What kind of relationship/partnership do you have? In my horse world, the truth is that sometimes Tank will stay with me and sometimes he won’t. I’m not yet the most interesting thing in his world. Applying this principle to the rest of my life, I ask myself what would I do/say/eat if I didn’t have external controls? If I were trying to please only myself and honor my deepest beliefs and wishes? How would my life be different?

Ernie following Pat and Slider
Use psychology to improve training.
One of my favorite segments was the one on horse personalities—or horsenalities (since horses aren’t people). The Parellis have broken horsenality into four categories: left brain introverts, left brain extroverts, right brain introverts, right brain extroverts. (Tank is a left brain introvert.) This is important because each type of horse needs a slightly different approach in order to learn. This goes for people, too, however you want to divide and categorize them. Communicating with spouses, children, coworkers, family members and friends can be enhanced by understanding their personalities and choosing the communication techniques most likely to get through.

I want to become a better horsewoman, and in order to do that, I need to put a bit more time and thought into my horsey activities. I’ll have to rebalance my other activities, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. (For instance: to go to this event I had to miss my library’s annual holiday book sale!) I believe it will be worth it. And now, to the barn!

What do you want more of in your life? What, if anything, will you have to give up or change?

Linda and Hot Jazz

Everyday adventures

Mind: Blown

December 07, 2012

Pat Parelli and friends

I’m sorry I didn’t post on Monday. I wanted to, but I was suffering the aftereffects of a weekend spent having my mind blown.

My friend Marianne and I attended the Tampa stop of the Parelli Horse and Soul Tour Dec. 1-2. We spent two days perched on uncomfortable bleachers, trying to absorb all we could from each session. Sessions included information on the Parelli program’s Seven Games, “Horsenality” (personality types of horses) and rider biomechanics, as well as “spotlights” featuring Parelli-trained humans and their horses and a couple of “horse makeover” segments in which Pat or Linda Parelli worked with an individual and her horse to overcome problems they were having. We saw some remarkable examples of horsemanship, both on the ground and in the saddle. I won’t go into all the details of what we learned, but I will share with you three concepts/lessons I took away.

Para-Olympian Lauren Barwick 
Lauren is paralyzed from the waist down
“Where knowledge ends, violence begins”
Pat Parelli said this in one of our first sessions and it was easy to see how this is true of more than just horse/human relations. When we don’t understand someone or something, we can become afraid. And when we’re afraid, anger and violence too often follow close behind. The more I learn about horse behavior, particularly my horse’s behavior, the gentler I can be with him, and the more he will trust me. The more I understand other people, the gentler I can be with them as well.

Playing the Sideways Game at liberty (with no lead rope)
“Let the horse make the mistake”
Instead of micromanaging the horse, trying to prevent him from doing the wrong thing, allow him to make a mistake. Then correct him and teach him the right thing to do. (Parelli pointed out that micromanaging is really like nagging.) This really struck me because I know I sometimes micromanage Tank. Ask, wait, correct if necessary. That’s it. Don’t ask, ask, ask louder…

I easily see how this can be applied to how I deal with myself and with others. How do I feel when someone nags or micromanages me? I do this to myself all the time, because it seems like I have a pathological fear of making mistakes and doing things “wrong.” I have to remember that making mistakes is necessary for learning. I need to relax about them, allow them to happen, and then learn from them without browbeating myself in the process.

Linda Parelli with Hot Jazz
“Use lateral (not linear) thinking to problem-solve”
Linear thinking follows a step-by-step process, essential if you’re putting something together or cooking a complicated recipe, for example. Lateral thinking uses creativity and an indirect approach, like when you’re brainstorming ideas or actively problem-solving. Lateral thinking is essential when working with horses because every problem that comes up is different because every horse and human partnership is different. If you ask a horse to do something, and he either doesn’t do it or freaks out about it, you’ve got a problem that needs lateral thinking.

I’m not very good at lateral thinking. I’d rather know that if I do X then Y will happen. So often I do X and Q happens and I’m not sure what to do next. Maybe I should try B or Z or even 7? I want to develop creativity and flexibility in my thinking, both with my horse and in the rest of my life. (It’s easy to think of other situations that need lateral thinking—perhaps motivating a teenager to do something he doesn’t want to do?)

Last weekend reignited my passion for playing with my horse and building a stronger partnership with him. I always enjoy my time with Tank, but now I can’t wait to get to the barn. In fact, that’s where I’ll be this morning! Trying out my knowledge and lateral thinking, and letting him (and myself) make mistakes. 

Has anything blown your mind lately?


Three Little Words

February 07, 2011

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m learning natural horsemanship techniques so that I can be a better leader to my horse and have a closer bond with him. While watching one of the Parelli Level 1 DVDs recently, something one of the instructors said resonated with me. She posed the question, when someone asks you if you can do something you’ve never done before, especially something hard or scary, what should you say? Her answer:

“I don’t know.”

Not “I can’t.”

Because, really, you don’t yet know if you can do it or not, because you haven’t tried. You don’t know what is possible.

Some other alternatives she came up with included: I haven’t up until now. I haven’t done that yet. In the past, I haven’t tried that.

These phrases leave the door open, instead of slamming it shut with an “I can’t.” I’ve found “I don't know” very helpful when I’m offered the chance to do something that scares me. I don’t always rise to the challenge—but sometimes I do.

What are some things you say to yourself when faced with a challenge?

What's to be scared of?

Everyday adventures

The Reward in the Journey

May 21, 2010

Tank and I have been playing Parelli games for about five weeks. So far the main thing I’ve learned is: I am very impatient.

The first day I practiced with Tank I realized I was simply moving too fast. I wasn’t watching him closely, and I was pursuing my own agenda without regard for him. Since he had done so well with the clinician, I expected he would do the same with me. Ha! Apparently he wasn’t convinced I was a worthy leader, and though he is a very gentle and kind horse, his attitude was basically, “Make me.” Out the window flew all my hopes of zipping through the games and showing off with my super responsive horse.

You talkin' to me?

Aside from learning about my impatience, the other important things I’ve learned include:

  • Pay attention—both to Tank and to myself. What is Tank’s body language saying? Is he paying attention to me? How do I feel? Am I tired? Distracted? In a rush? If I’m not wholly present, how can I ask Tank to be? My attitudes and feelings will be reflected in him.

  • Slow down. Don’t expect he will respond to me as he does to the Parelli clinician who has years of experience working with horses in this way. It may take me a few tries. This is not a race. I’m not trying to get my horse to do tricks—I’m building a respectful and trusting relationship, in which he views me as his leader. I came to see a successful session as one in which I was sure I had clearly and firmly communicated what I was asking of Tank, whether or not he responded “perfectly.”

  • Try something different. If what I’m doing isn’t working, try signaling it a different way. And if something really feels off, take a break. Let Tank graze, or watch my friends work with their horses. Go back to it if I feel like it. We’ve had some very successful sessions this way.

To quote John Strassburger, performance editor for Horse Journal (a sort of Consumer Reports for horse owners), “With horses, the reward comes from the journey with them, not just from reaching a destination. The fun comes from figuring out and developing the horse as an individual and as an athlete. The fun comes from the relationship we develop with those horses and seeing them mature, progress, and (if we have them long enough) to become senior citizens” (“Invest in the Horse, Not the Destination,” March 2010).

The Parellis often say this is not a system of training horses; it’s a system of training people. I’m beginning to see what they mean. I now realize what I’m learning here can be applied to every area of my life: Paying attention, slowing down, trying something different…and most importantly, enjoying the journey.