The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back to Basics

Yesterday, I asked George to turn his head, and he did. It was kind of a big deal.

I have all these grand ambitions for George - you know, fancy moves like walking forward, turning, backing up. But I also have found a quiet, peaceful place with George which I would like to preserve undisturbed while asking these things. Sometimes this can be quite a contradiction.

Yesterday, I went into the field to spend time. I put the halter on George. I re-discovered that he really doesn't like to have me touch his chest/neck/shoulder with any kind of intentionality, other than friendship. This gets back to the scar, put there by an angry pasture-mate, who was fed up with George being so stubborn about refusing to move his shoulders over, the scar which George's previous owner likes to point to as evidence of how much force is needed to make him understand the necessity for capitulating on this point.

I understand, from my limited exposure to Parelli, that the system works by breaking through such barriers in the horse. If you discover an area of resistance, you work through it. Again from my very limited, and possibly not very typical, experience of watching Parelli work in action, it looked like the resistance was broken through more or less by force, albeit mild force. In other words, the horse was not given a choice. Lack of choice = force.

Yesterday, every time I put my hand on George's chest or shoulder, he pinned his ears and looked very sour. My intention in putting my hand there was to ask him to release his shoulder in order to move toward me with a lengthening back. He trusts me quite a lot, and yet it was too much to ask.

I didn't insist. How can you insist on a release anyway? Instead I stopped to think. I stood by George's shoulder and pointed to it. I said, "Look, I'm only pointing, I'm not touching."

I applied a tiny amount of pressure on my end of the lead rope and felt a concrete barrier on the George end. I could tell that if I brought his head toward me, his shoulder would come with it, the whole head/neck/shoulder one big piece of fused hardness. So instead, I put my hand on his nose, and said, "You need to release this, so that when you turn towards me, your shoulder can release away, so that your back can lengthen - and it's all about the back, right? You want your back to feel good, don't you?"

After spending a little more time deconstructing the situation, I touched my finger to his shoulder while thinking about his head. George's shoulder melted away from me as his head curved towards me.

It was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes.

I took the halter off, and we spent time together in his favorite pose, with me on his left side. Afterwards, he was very nice about letting me go and interact with Rose and Bridget.

When I left, he followed me and kept looking at me after I'd gone.

So, gosh, things like, I don't know, a collected trot seem to be just a little bit far off. However, I remembered something KFH said in, I think, What Horses Reveal. He said that if you're doing it right, the result will be beautiful. Although you can't aim directly for the result, if you don't get the result, then you're doing something wrong. He says that when a toddler performs ballet even though the execution is simple, and maybe a little awkward, it can have a beauty of its own, appropriate to the level attained by the young dancer.

I guess George and I are in the just-learned-to-walk-never-mind-dance group of toddler babies, dressed in our bunny costumes - but yesterday, George offered something that, in its own way, was as lovely as a dance can be.


  1. I agree with you that the Parelli system of pressure and release still amounts to force. Also, I think the release is often not enough to negate the damage done by the pressure. I feel the same about round penning. Setting yourself up as a predator and then taking taking the pressure off only creates a vacuum that the horse will turn into because there is nowhere else to go. I think KFH explains that very well in his new book.

    I think you just found a wonderful way to communicate to George what you wanted. And he came back to you at liberty, where it was his choice! Who forgets their baby's first smile?

  2. Oh, you've read the new KFH book? Tell us more!

    I think the sort of pressure and release used in Parelli and round penning is basically a punishment/removal of punishment technique.

    I think maybe it gets confusing for people because there's a pressure/release that can work - similar to if you put your hand on a friend's back to steer them in a certain direction. In that case, a mild pressure is, anyway, probably more coherent and meaningful than a strong pressure. Like what Widdicombe talks about. Also, horses are so aware of when you're asking them to do something, and they really try to figure it out without coercion, don't they?

    I still find "herding" to be a helpful way of catching a reluctant horse - like yesterday I had to put Rose's eye ointment on, and she wasn't in a mood to come up to me. I think one reason sometimes Rose doesn't want to be caught is she thinks George will chase her for stealing the attention. Maybe herding her gives her confidence that I can be relied on to protect her. I think - hope - that herding feels different to the horse from chasing.

  3. I think because horses are so good at reading our intent that the key is to be very clear in ourselves what we want from them, and then, as you say, give them the time to figure it out.

    In a round pen, when the human stands in the middle there is nowhere else to go but for the horse to run around the perimeter and that is very predatorial. Herding is different. When I herd Cassie, I position myself in the same position where she would be when she herds Minnie. That has never brought her adrenaline up and she knows what I'm doing. I'm sure that if I positioned myself in the middle of my picadero and chased her around, she would explode.

    The new KFH is brilliant. I'll do a review when I've finished it. You have to get it. Actually, I would like to have 2 myself. One to underline things in and 1 to keep nice.

  4. No, you need three copies - one to underline, one to keep nice, and one to give away! I've given away two copies of Empowered Horses and one copy of What Horses Reveal, so far!