Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Power of the Pause

Silly pink pony

My girl Storm is shy.  Parelli would call her a "Right Brain Introvert."  She's low girl on the herd totem. She has never spooked with me, she is very calm.  

But when something overwhelms her she "goes to her happy place."  This looks like this:

Storm (backgrond) demonstrating her "happy place pose".

In this photo I'd brought in an odd object (the red chair from an earlier post).  In the foreground you can see my two left-brainers checking it out.  In the background you can see Storm:  "I'm unconfident about this, excuse me a sec."  She adopts this posture at that exact angle - 5 degrees away from my butt is to you.  She'll cock a hind leg and look like she's half asleep.  

It's her "I can't deal with this right now."  It generally lasts a few seconds, depending on the level of the pressure.  Then it's like she's waking up out of it, and she'll cock her head around "What's going on now?" and often come back and check in.

That's when I click and reward her.  And give her a few seconds.

With this type of equine personality profile (which, for the record most closely corresponds to my own personality), they need processing time.

So, what if I had a lead rope on her?

I see this response WAY WAY more often at liberty.  If you've got an RBI I highly suggest you work at much at liberty as possible.

Here's what went down today:

I fed the horses, and groomed Storm a bit.  I put a neck rope on her - just a loop of rope that rests in front of the withers.  This means "I choose you today."  (since I don't have a very effective and safe way to separate out herd members.  

Then I showed her the bridle (I never wrote a post about the cross-under bitless I got.. need to get to that.  For now, suffice it to say we are working in a simple rope hackamore).  Oh boy, was the response I got, and she wandered off and went to her happy place. 

That's cool, I said.  I'm going to sit in the tailgate of my van and play with this here bridle.  5, 4, 3, 2, 1....  head comes around.  "What are you doing?"   "Still here, me and this bridle..."  

She can't resist.  She comes to check it out.  Click.  Treat.  Rub.  Hold bridle up.  She pokes it with her nose.  I get up, hold up the bridle.

She goes away again.  We repeat this sequence probably five or six times.  Here's the really important part:  give time to process AFTER the click/treat, after they've come back, before you put back ANY kind of pressure.  The key here is excruciating patience.  And leave the ropes off.  Because if I'd had her on a lead rope I wouldn't have seen any of this.

What would have been the big deal about not seeing any of this?  Well, trust.  Humans are very direct thinkers.  "I'm going to go to the barn today, and we're going to go for a 30 minute trail ride/practice that side pass/run some barrels."  We go, and we throw the tack on, mount up, giddyup and off we go. At any point in this, did we ask?  Did we say "Hey my girl, how's your day been?  What do you think about  a ride today?"

I asked.  I asked over and over again, at every point in this process.  "Hey, what do you think about this brush?"  "Hey, how about this bridle?"

Her answer was no.  If it had been a firm NO WAY, NO THANK YOU I'd have respected that and I would not have ridden today.  It was more of an "Oh geez, I don't know... give me a sec."

And every time she came back, I gave her a really good reason to come back again.  It took probably 10 minutes to get that bridle on her, and since it's a rope hackamore, and my "saddle" is a bareback pad, I don't hang on to her for dear life when it's on - she follows me voluntarily, and she goes away if he needs to.  If she decided to hell for leather across the field and roll in my pad, so what (unless I'm on, that's another story!).  I'd wait till she came back (she always comes back) and get my stuff off her.

The other reason it's important to not push an RBI is because if they go to their happy place and you miss it, and you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, eventually THEY WILL EXPLODE.  These are the horses that get labeled unpredictable and dangerous.

Anyway, 15 minutes later, bridle on, she DID leave.  She wandered out to the field.  That's cool, I said. I'm going to come along, and I'm bringing this lunge and whip, and I'll play by myself.  And I wandered around, 10 feet away from her, playing with my rope, kicking the dirt.  She came over.  We did some friendly game.  I won't bore you with the details -- when I say excruciating patience, I am not exaggerating.  The fact that I am an RBI myself helps a lot.... if I was an exuberant extrovert this would be a painful process.  I think it wouldn't be any less necessary.  If you like a nutty fun horse, get yourself an LBE.  If you've got an RBI and you love them, I'll quote one of my favorite Parelli-isms:  "Take the time it takes, so it takes less time."  Next time, if we do this on a regular basis, everything goes a little more quickly.  If it happens to be winter and you don't ride that often, it might take a little longer.  

She was pretty poky and sluggish today, which is fine by me any day I'm going to ride since I don't want a bronc ride, but I asked her for a few trot circles on the lunge line, and then I asked her if the bareback pad was cool, and it totally was, no wandering off.  So I got on and we had a beautiful ride. 

Enjoying the view

That doesn't mean I let her do whatever she wants.  You develop a language after a while.  My horses live on a peninsula between two rivers.  We rode to overlook one river, then back to overlook the other, and then back to the barn.  When I asked her to go into the back paddock, she told me she'd pretty much had enough, and tried to turn around on me.  Nope, I said, let's keep going.  I rode her to the back of the paddock, hugged her, and hopped off, and let her walk home without having to haul me there - in fact, I left the pad on but pulled the bridle off, and she just followed me back to the barn.

And then allll over the place.  After our ride I thought we'd do some "No-Agenda Time" and I'd just go hang out with her and do what she wanted.  We walked into the field with the other horses.  "Hey, want to run?" I asked her, and I ran.  She trotted along beside me, keeping pace with me right at my shoulder, and we turned, ran, stopped and moved as one.  In a lot of ways I find this experience, which horses are masters at, more moving than riding.  She followed me all the way back to the river, and by then it was sunset.  I wanted a picture of my pretty girl with the sunset behind her so I pulled out my phone and sat on the ground.  She made a general pest of herself, nuzzling my head, poking at my shoulder, unzipping and un-velcro-ing my jacket.  This is all really left-brained stuff for her to do, which is pretty cool.   I didn't get a great picture but the one at the top is decent.

Funny thing is, while we were sitting there, who came over the hill to see what was going on but Vee, ears up, terribly curious about the weirdo human who sits on the ground.  

She has a perfect V on her forehead and she looks lovely in sunset colors.

I'll have to post about Vee another time -- I'm sure I've talked your eyes off enough in this post -- but suffice it to say that this is a very reactive, abused mare who avoids contact with people like the plague.  She has gotten to the point, just over the last few weeks (I have known her 4 years) where she will eat out of my hand, but only when I'm about to give her her grain.  She has been very interested in what I'm doing lately and mean to Storm - jealous maybe? - and she will follow me around, but at a distance.  She came this close and stayed, and it was pretty cool.