Saturday, May 23, 2009


Perceptions are amazing things.  These are the things that color our thinking and as such our reactions to actions.  My friend's mom - who has been an avid student of natural horsemanship for years, who has attended a variety of clinics given by a variety of instructors who utilize a variety of the natural horseman guru's techniques - seemed surprised when I came to her for help.  You see I'm only in kindergarten when it comes to the natural horsemanship stuff.  She - to me - is in high school.  

I wanted to have the opportunity to learn from her.  To have her coach me.  As anyone who has done any sport knows, when you practice too much alone, you tend to miss things that someone else sees.  Being a perfectionistic goal driven person I like to do things right.  And I'm willing to work at it.

One of the things she noticed is that my timing is off.  Timing is a big deal when working stock dogs and I'm discovering a nice transfer of information when working with the horse on the ground.  You see a good stock dog handler is able to read the stock's body language, the dog's body language and make minute, timely and appropriate adjustments in their body language or commands.  This concept holds true with horses.  I just need to practice more and stay focused on what I'm trying to accomplish.

The other thing she noticed I wasn't even aware I was doing.  Over the years I've worked with a number of challenging horses.  As a high energy, focused person I've learned to become still.  Quieter if you will.  When working with the animals, (I know I do this with the dogs too.) it's as though I become focused internally, I slow my natural rush mentality.  What I also do is walk softer, quieter and with less dramatic movements.  It's not as though I'm intending to pussy foot or tip toe around the horse (don't get me wrong, I accomplish training goals).  She called it sneaking - no sneaking allowed.  What I need to start focusing on is movement with purpose.  To move to the side of the horse with a natural stride and do what I need to do in my normal manner of moving, with normal energy.  I'm guessing this may pose a challenge for me.

My perceptions during this process are also changing.  What I took to be annoying and obnoxious behaviors she views as fear and anxiety driven.  So Buddy's primary goal is to get him buying in and then working on showing him there in nothing to be afraid of.  Of course, after she left I took the opportunity to practice some of my new skills with Roxy and Whiskey.  

My perceptions going into the practice sessions were that Whiskey would be easy and Roxy would be more difficult.  My reasoning being that Whiskey and I have developed a relationship and she's a very willing horse.  Whereas Roxy is only a yearling and half wild when she wants to be.  Can you guess which horse posed the larger challenge?  Roxy bought in quite quickly.  Her natural curiosity made my neutral body language (me standing in the corral, one leg resting, arms crossed, head resting on the arms, which were resting on the stick) almost irresistible.  She wanted to know what I was doing.  The hardest part was in getting her to face up, and once we mastered that she followed me quite willingly and easily.

Whiskey, on the other hand was almost disturbed by the strange new game we were playing.  When she was boarded at an arena I'd often turn her loose in the arena and just play with her.  We'd play tag, or dodge (she'd "cut" me), or I'd set stuff up and try to get her to go over or around it.  I'm fairly confident I confused her today.  I took her halter off and she took off like a shot.  And I stood there in my neutral.  So she began running laps around the pen, occasionally stopping to look at me suspiciously.  Eventually I wised up and dropped the "carrot stick" (nope can't say that with a straight face - think a modified lunge whip).  This made her relax considerably.  I had forgot that I never use whips around her - she generally never needs that kind of encouragement.  

But it still took a long time to get her to face me, and an even longer time to get her to walk to me.  In part I think because she's been so conditioned to stop and not turn to me.  She's also very used to being walked around and could care less where I am.  This is the horse whose belly my farrier crawled under, just because he could.  But I'm persistent and I'll keep working with her.  If anything it's a good mental exercise for her.  

Perceptions.  Interesting aren't they?  What perceptions do you have?


jacksonsgrrl said...

Very interesting post...lots of good points too. I have had to learn to talk more quietly ( I'm al loudmouth:) and not make sudden movements around horses which comes very hard for me. Once it became a habit I did much better with it. It's still hard when I get really excited and happy because Jackson doesn't always perceive my loud mouth and gestures with joy! We are getting more used to each other tho' and he just gets more amazing daily. I hadn't even seen that you left me a reply way back in Feb until today....sorry, but i will put you on my blogroll!!!

Country Girl said...

lol! You don't have to do that! I like to check out stuff now and then. :)