Help Her Feel Smart

"Try to lighten your phases and help her feel smart" - the advice given to me by 2* Parelli Professional Jenny Trainor in regards to my continued struggle with the figure-8 pattern.  Aspen was varying between being impulsive and shooting around the pattern or getting stuck in the turns, once that got a little better she had a not so nice expression on her face.  If I kept her on the pattern until she softened she'd go back to being stuck, if I rewarded her in the middle of the barrels, as had helped with her impulsion issues, it wasn't addressing the dirty look she was giving me.  What's a Parelli student to do?! 

A Parelli student takes a step back and realizes that the horse gives instant, honest, and perfect feedback.  They understand that somewhere the issue probably lies within themselves - whether it's mental (attitude), emotional (energy), or physical (posture/body language, time, space).  Then the Parelli student starts back at the beginning - isolating, separating, and recombining all the elements between her and the horse and the game - looking for the broken or missing piece, filling in the gaps, and making the silence between the notes a little sweeter - after all that's all that music really is, the silence between the notes, and this is supposed to be a dance between horse and human...

So, go back to the beginning and use lighter phases, allowing and helping Aspen to feel smart - that's all I had to do...and that's all I did, just back off a bit and watch her flourish.

Our figure-8 pattern is improving steadily and so is everything else we've been playing with since I took this piece of advice from Jenny and put a lot of thought and effort into how I can use it in everything else I do with Aspen.  The rewards have been HUGE.  For the first time Aspen came trotting to me yesterday in the field and today from nearly 50 acres away she saw me and came to meet me.  That's the farthest away I've ever influenced her and the farthest away she's ever bothered to notice me and then offer to put effort in to get to me.  Not only that but she has followed me across all that pasture back to the arena at Liberty both days.  I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time today when I saw her heading my way with intention - what a compliment, what a monumental and unspoken gesture on her part. 

Every time Aspen did the right thing I did my best to time my release just right, therefore teaching her what I wanted.  I made the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.  Didn't those things help her feel smart?  I never got mean or mad, I tried to be effective and fair and understood.  For a while I wasn't sure what else to do to help her feel smart.  Then it dawned on me - I needed to listen for her ideas more and accept anything positive that she was offering to me.  She's a whole living being - mind, body, and spirit - when I stopped to listen a little closer I realized that she had been trying to offer me more this entire time.  Her creativity in looking for answers as we play together is growing by leaps and bounds.  All of a sudden it seems like she's learning things at the speed of light and is putting together different elements from the games to create whole pictures finally.  The games and patterns are actually becoming games that we win together - it's a give and take where we're both on the winning side.  Exercises we haven't spent much time on are improving exponentially, such as disengaging the hinds, rolling the shoulders, and sideways without a fence.  All of which I can do with barely, if any, use of my reins and very light aides from my legs and body.  Where did this come from?  Helping Aspen feel smart has helped me become a more lateral thinker and puzzle solver myself as I develop new ways to try and communicate with her that involve us in a conversation rather than me telling her what to do (no matter how polite I ever was, I was always telling her what to do).

This brings putting the relationship first to a whole new level for me - being a little lighter and helping Aspen feel smart has paid dividends back to me.  Not only do I have a horse that now puts effort into getting to me when I arrive but when I'm done playing with and riding her and go to turn her back out in the pasture she doesn't want to leave!  She comes right back through the gate into the arena and wants to hang out with me instead.

There is nothing more special, more rewarding, or more addicting than the feeling of your horse really wanting to spend time with you.  Take the time it takes so it takes less time and put the relationship with your horses FIRST!