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Another Question on Birdie
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Redmare
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 Posted: Wed Apr 2nd, 2014 11:03 pm
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Dr. Deb, I have a similar question as beautygirl, but different situation. I did not want to hijack her thread.

My mare seems to have trouble taking her birdie with her. She is content and 100% OK at pasture. I go to get her, and she comes to the gate when I call her. Usually, she turns to look at me as I'm coming to the paddock: I can see the point when I make the call to her, and her birdie flies to me and she starts to amble over. When I put her halter on (or sometimes even a few moments before), I can see her eyes get "distant"; she will look off into the woods down the hill, or maybe at the cows a couple hundreds yards away. She often turns her head slightly away from me. If I ask for her to come back, usually with a tap or a poke to her neck/shoulder or a jiggle on the halter if it is already on, she turns her head back, but I often see her lower lip "twitch"...not just a quiver, but actually scrunch up to the side. This is usually followed by a bit of licking and chewing. This is something she has done for a while, and I know it to be a sign of internal stress that the horse cannot rid herself of, and so it manifests in a physical way.

I can see, when I lead her to the barn, that her birdie flies ahead of her. She has the same worried eye and likes to try and walk slightly ahead of me. If I give her a bump on the nose or ask her to untrack, it appears only to agitate her more.

I have been observing her in this process the past few days to see how many details I could catch. I watched her in her stall yesterday as well as she was eating. Within moments of being brought into her stall and given a flake of hay, she got OK; that is to say her eyes got softer, ears went into a V, and I could "see" her birdie perched on her forehead. For a few minutes this continued, until another horse was brought into the barn and was being naughty in the aisle across the way. I could see the moments where her birdie would fly up and over to that horse, and her head would come up suddenly from her hay. Her focus would be entirely on the other animal. Her eyes got bigger, she may switch her tail a time or two. Then her birdie would come back, and she would return to her hay, but she was not as OK as before. I watched this for about a half hour before I had to leave and turn her back out, at which point I saw the same concern and general un-OKness as when I brought her in, until she was free to go, at which point she slowly turned and walked away from me, stopped a few yards out, gave a deep sigh and cocked a leg.

I finally got the current EH issue and read your article, and have a much better understanding of what "firming up" means. When you asked the question in Helen E's thread, my knee-jerk response was something along the lines of "get tougher", but I knew this was wrong and very much coming from a place in my "previous life" of horsemanship. I knew that it had something to do with focus, both on the part of the horse and the handler, but was muddled beyond that.

Given my new understanding, everything I've described appears to be a birdie issue, but my own inability to apparently "firm up" enough for this horse would explain why I haven't been able to get her OK in these instances. Have I deduced this right, or is there something else I am missing? As someone right along the lines of your description of an "educated person", "firming up" and how to do it is something I know I have and will struggle with and need to practice. What can I do just in these simple situations to help myself?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 08:54 am
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You're a good observer, Red, and I want to compliment you on that.

What you're confused on is learning to tell the difference between when the horse merely looks at something or pays attention to something -- like the other horse acting up in the barn aisle -- vs. when the horse MENTALLY LEAVES.

Of course every horse, and every person, can have inner equanimity -- this is when their Birdie is with them. You picture "inner equanimity" as what the statue of the fat Buddha looks like. There he sits, unmoved and unmoveable, rooted to the core of the earth; his eyes are half-closed; there is a faint smile upon his lips. He's cool with himself, he is with himself.

Then suddenly up walks a disciple, and the Buddha's eyes open. He pays attention to the student. The student has this big deep question that is this big complex problem -- or so it seems to the disciple. And the Buddha smiles yet more broadly and talks to the student about it, and the student bows and leaves. And the Buddha then goes right back to his initial state of inner equanimity.

Then it gets to be time to eat. For the Buddha, of course, that might be a month later; but still, it's time to eat. So the Buddha arises from his lotus-sitting, and he goes and he eats. The whole time he is eating, he is eating. The whole time he is sitting, he is sitting. The whole time he is talking to the student, he is talking to the student. The Buddha never leaves himself, even though he may need to pay attention to something external to himself!

Do you get this difference? Your horse isn't doing anything wrong; it's just being a horse, a normal organism, a creature adapted to life in the field and in the barn. It stands when it meditates, and it meditates a good fraction of every day. It also eats. And it lives in a herd. And it knows it is a horse, so other horses are of special importance to it. But it also knows that you own it, it knows that you are its person, and it sounds like it is OK about paying attention to you and is not trying to get away or hurt you.

So the only thing you now need to analyze is learning to tell the difference between when the horse is just paying attention to something outside of itself, but yet all the time still cognizant that it is with you, and all the time still with its birdie perched within itself, dwelling within itself -- vs. when it MENTALLY LEAVES. That would be when the Birdie flies completely "out". Nothing in your post sounds like mentally leaving to me. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 09:00 pm
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Thank you for both the compliment and the clarification!

I think I understand the difference. If I may further clarify, is "paying attention to something external from itself" the same, in or the same vein, as getting distracted, even if the horse "getting distracted" ends up resulting in the horse reacting negatively to the distraction? I can give the example I witnessed yesterday while grooming my mare, which was there was a rider in the arena whose horse, from what I could see, was generally OK. The wind caused the barn door to bang quite loudly, and the horse spooked and quickly popped into a kind of "silly" canter. After a few moments, the rider brought him back to a walk, and then back to the trot. He still looked concerned, but after a minute or two it was apparent the rider must have "firmed up" and he was back to being OK.

Is this a case of mentally leaving, or can horses stay OK even when frightened or surprised by something? To me, this horse didn't appear to be wanting to ditch his rider, which is what I would expect from a horse who has "left"...if anything, I laughed a little while watching because the expression on the horse's face totally read "SORRY SORRY PLEASE HANG ON!"

Sometimes I think my attention to detail can be a hindrance, as it makes it more challenging to see the whole picture...

Last edited on Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 09:02 pm by Redmare

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Apr 4th, 2014 01:05 am
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Red, no, it is not the same. "To get distracted" would precisely mean to leave mentally. To pay attention to something while retaining inner equanimity is like having the Birdie remain on its perch but just look out from the tree. Every creature has a right to pay attention to its environment. So you still don't get the difference, and this is particularly evident from the fact that you don't get how the horse in your present example made like a "yo-yo". Yes, the door banged loudly; yes the horse reacted to that as all horses always will; but yes also, almost immediately, the yo-yo that had gone out to the end of the string returns into itself.

All horses want, all the time, to be OK; it is the main thing they do want. Once you get this figured out, you'll have more success and more consistent success in training.

One thing you do NOT have to do is over-analyze anything. Observe, yes; over-interpret details, or worse, make up that you can tell things about what the horse's eye is doing or "saying" that other people can't perceive -- no. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Sat Apr 5th, 2014 05:38 am
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Thank you, Dr. Deb. I can see now how I was muddled. I'll be honest, I think part of the muddled comes from lack of confidence in being able to apply what I know theory-wise in real life situations...it's getting better, but I still question myself often, which does not help me or my horse. I have only recently found someone in my area who fits the criteria you outlined in the most recent article in EH (something I wish I had years ago..!) and whose teaching style I gel with. This has helped tremendously.

Re: your last paragraph, yes, I understand I do not have to over-analyze. It is something I come by naturally, and I am working on it pretty much all the time. I will certainly not make up that I can see things others cannot; obviously I can't.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Apr 5th, 2014 06:16 am
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Go see Harry, Red. Then you'll be able to, or get a start on it anyway. -- Dr. Deb


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