Friday, May 29, 2009

Learning to Communicate

After many ups and downs of late I am finally on a more comfortable path with Scout. The path we are on also seems to appeal to Scout. Although I am still reading a lot of materials such as Mark Rashid, Linda Kahonov and Carolyn Resnick, I have chosen to take aspects that appeal to me and move forward with my horses in my own style. This will be a style that allows me to feel pleased with whatever has happened when I leave the paddock each day. It is in no way conventional and I will be forever learning but I will be able to sleep soundly at night knowing I have in no way pushed my horses where they don't want to go.

All this came about after a long conversation with a long term friend of mine who also happens to be one of the best dog trainers in this country in my opinion. She has renewed my confidence enough to get started and so that's what I have been doing.

So on Wednesday I went to the paddock to see Scout and decided to work on asking her to pick up her hooves. She does not respond comfortably to the pressure/release way of training so I decided to use treats to train with. I have many years of previous conditioning with horses to unlearn and I found myself put my hand on her leg and when this did not elicit a response, I lightly squeezed her chestnut slowly adding more pressure to absolutely no avail. I stepped back and reassessed. One point in my personality that I am thankful for is that I have A LOT of patience when it comes to animals and at the moment I have a lot of time. I put these two points together and moved ahead with this in mind. I approached Scout again, this time lightly placing my hand on her leg and I waited. We stood like this for a little time until she started thinking and trying to work out what I was doing. Eventually she lifted her foot and I immediately rewarded her verbally and by giving her a treat. From then on things seemed to flow easily for a while. She knew what I was asking and as I was asking politely she was happy to oblige. Once she was comfortable with this then she started testing to see how lenient I would be when it came to earning the treat. I was asking for her offside front hoof which she gave me and then promptly started pulling away and pawing at the air. I stood back allowing the behaviour however not rewarding it. Next time round she stood nicely and gave me her hoof therefore earning her treat. I left that session there and intended to do the same the next day.

On arriving at the paddock the following day, I thought to myself that I was still a bit uncomfortable with having a halter on her to do this training. It is a strong desire in me that my horses have free will to make a choice as to whether they feel like training or not. So I have decided to proceed for the time being at liberty. That way Scout chooses if and when she wants to be with me for training.

I approached her and asked for her leg which she gave me nicely. I had not yet worked on the hinds and I progressed to asking for this. She was not overly thrilled with the idea and walked away. I turned my back to her and allowed her to leave. Within seconds she was back again asking for a tail scratch. I again asked for her hind foot which she lifted and I rewarded her with the rub she had asked for.

There have been times during these sessions over the past few days where Scout would push on me at which I would respond by simply walking away and leaving her alone. I went for a walk around her paddock with her watching me very intently when I turned around to head back over to her she let out a little whinny and came to stand beside me.

We are also working on a cue where I raise my hand and she comes to it. My brumby has learnt this and I find it a wonderful way of asking my horses to come to me particularly at a distance. The difference in training this way with Scout as opposed to the way I trained my brumby Sienna, which would be considered by most to still be very gentle however she didn't have the absolute freedom of speech that I am allowing Scout. If Sienna decided she didn't want to do what I was asking, I would allow her to leave and circle me in the roundyard until she decided that what I was asking was the better option. This took away her free will and freedom of expression. I no longer feel comfortable with this method of training. I sometimes see the resentment that Sienna now has if I politely ask her to do something. I can only put this down to the fact that I have not been sensitive enough in our past training and I intend to attempt to change this with her also. I have a strong bond with Sienna but I know life could be even more comfortable for her.

Here is a link to a video my friends daughter kindly recorded for me yesterday. It was going to be a video of what we are doing training wise but a sudden unexpected rain shower came through. It shows some snippets of what we are doing anyway.

My goal is for Scout and I to create our own language which is comfortable for both of us to live by. I feel we are on our way.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Honesty Brings Connection

I was listening to the teleseminar series from 'The Path of the Horse' in my car all this week. It is full of so much wonderful information that I am finding very helpful. We have had a huge amount of rain this week and the roads were flooded preventing me from getting out to Scout till late afternoon. I thought I might not make it out there at all with how severe the flooding was. Whilst I was doing all this driving, I was also listening to the CD and letting it all sink in. When I finally made it out to Scout she was eager to be fed as always. I fed her then turned my back to her and leant on the stable looking out to the mountains in the distance and enjoying the sound of the river rushing just down below her paddock.

I began to think about the things that I had heard on the CD. I looked inside myself at the feelings I was having regarding Scout and my need for connection with her. Rather than trying to change these feelings or trying to act on them at all I merely went into a space where I looked at them without judgement. I watched what was going on for me from a meditative space and in that moment Scout left the stable walked around to where I was leaning and turned to face me and watched me. She moved close and positioned me at her shoulder and turned to look at me again. I started rubbing her and we stayed this way for sometime. I think I am learning how best to be with her which as it turns out is equally comfortable for both of us.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reassessing Self, Life and Relationships

It has been a little while since I last posted. During that time I have been assessing a lot of things about myself and my path with horses. My journey with Scout has pointed out a number of things so far. The main one being that we have not truly bonded. She has only been here a few weeks so that is to be expected. The main epiphany in all this though is that I am always trying to get things right for the approval of everyone else in my life - horses included. This is off-putting for both people and horses and it sometimes makes me inauthentic.

Scout is always excited when I arrive at the paddock as I bring her food and this is her most favourite thing. When I sit somewhere else in the paddock that is not near the feed area, she will watch me intently for sometime but has chosen not to yet venture down and connect. If I am up by the shelter she will stand with me usually hinting to get her food or asking for a rub.

I have no doubt that I will bond with her and very strongly, however the last week has been such a learning experience for me through the realization that I was misreading the situation and that I was not worthy in Scouts eyes. This bought up a lot of old fears that I have not looked at deep inside myself. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of confrontation.

Yesterday was the turning point for me. I asked my trainer friend to come and do a lesson with her as I was severely blocked in my mind when it came to Scout. Number one: She is a dream come true for me and I am placing immeasurable value on getting everything right with her. Number two: She has cost me a years wages so I have placed a monetary value on her in my mind which also makes me treat her differently. Number three: I am focusing on the differences of the Spanish Mustang and the unfamiliarity on where to start with the relationship forming process that I keep doubting and questioning everything I do. The end result - Scout said you are not a worthy companion and has blocked me.

In my eyes - the horse is ALWAYS right. Scout is showing me all my insecurities smack bang right there in the forefront of my mind and I have to look at them and work through them before our relationship can become honest.

So anyway, my friend came and asked what I wanted to achieve and I was a bit blank as to why I had asked him to come. Eventually I said that I would like him to just work with her and I would stand back and watch but I did not want him to have to be hard on her. What happened throughout the lesson was extremely difficult for me. Gavin had to get extremely hard on Scout in order to get what he was asking for. He said she is a stoic mare and she will take a lot before she will give. Without going into detail, within 15 minutes he was sitting on her back with her not batting an eyelid. I was given a stern talking to for making her dull by allowing her to get away with too much and be pushy. I took this all on board and came home my mind working overtime. I understood all that he was saying however my heart was telling me (as it has for sometime now) that none of that way of training is right for me or my horses. There is a better way to achieve these things and in the end is that submission really what I want to achieve? I like my horses to maintain and grow their self esteem and personality not the other way around.

I then came home and talked to my good friend Carmen about all this and that night we sat down and watched the DVD 'The Path of the Horse' . I had watched it a couple of times previously and am always deeply affected by it as I am when I watch my Klaus Hempfling DVD's and Nevzerov also.

I made a decision to honour myself and my horses and to follow this path only. I have been wavering in and out of this thought process over the past year or more. The main reason for the inconsistency being - what will everyone else think? I have received some strange looks from friends when I discuss the way I want to be with horses - no pressure, no riding if they choose that, just a true mutual love and honouring of what is needed to give them a full and happy life.

I am going to be true to my heart and follow my instincts on this one. It will not be an easy road as it means re-learning everything and starting from scratch however I have had some amazing experiences with my horses, the type that I will remember for a lifetime. Interestingly all of these incredible experiences have not been riding but connecting with my horses from a childlike space.

I fondly remember taking my Arabian mare Jade to the beach for a few days in winter. I spent hours walking, sitting and being with her in the paradise that is the Noosa North Shore beach. It is quiet there in Winter and she was the only guest horse there. I took her down the beach this particular day and it was deserted. I took the lead off her and we walked together freely for 3 hours. She would never stray more than 10 metres from me and when we got to the river mouth where the river meets the ocean we ran together me laughing and then jumping into the water. Jade joined me in the play and splashed me, laid down in the water near me and then we walked back to our accommodation on a deserted beach lit by a full moon.

These are the experiences that make my life whole. Unplanned moments of pure love and joy - uncomplicated by fears and thoughts. This is the path I hope to continue on with my girls.