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Question concerning liberty work
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Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2014 06:33 am
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Dr. Deb, back in April you told me to go see Harry to gain confidence regarding being able to read what the horse is saying/doing. While I didn't go out to see Harry, I did get the opportunity to see Tom Curtin when he came to New England in June.

One of the biggest things I took away was the important use of liberty work not only to help the horse gain confidence and focus on the ground before getting into the saddle, but also as a way to "test" where one's horse is at at any given time. I have started over the last month or so integrating at liberty work/round penning every day before I attempt to get on my mare. It has been tremendously helpful (and fun!) for both of us.

I have a question regarding some of our sessions. I like to use the round penning both as a "warm-up" without me on her back in lieu of any sort of lunging as well as getting her focus before I get mounted. Some days she is right there, will untrack easily and is willing and happy to follow. Some days she gets a little "stuck" and needs a bit more push and a stronger draw or "come" to untrack and then turn to follow me. This is especially apparent when asking her to untrack the L hind, which I think is stiffer and a bit sticky from compensating for the RH injury.

That is all well and good. My question is regarding this scenario: some days, I send her out and ask for a trot. About 3/4 of the time, I see, for maybe the first 30 seconds of trot, her shake her head/neck like a dog would when wet. It is not always a full shake, sometimes just a little bit of a head shake. It is never followed by any other threatening gesture, she has never offered to kick me or strike or bite, and the rest of the session goes without incident; she always later looks to "ask" to come in.

I used the Google advanced search to look this up on this forum, and found a thread where you mentioned that this gesture is usually the horse's way of flipping the person the bird.

Is this indeed always the case? I don't get a negative vibe from her the vast majority of the time, and our sessions to date have always ended pleasantly: sometimes I don't get on because it takes longer for her to get focused and I'd rather end there, and we spend plenty of time finding itchy spots. Many times I do get on after. Sometimes when I get on she is wonderful and focused, sometimes she loses her cool a bit and I get to practice firming up to get her back. We both have a bit of a checkered past together, but we have come so far in the past year and I have come to learn that horses really do not hold on to prior events, they live very presently. So I am a bit confused as to what this gesture means in the larger picture and if/what I should be actively doing to answer this gesture when I see it.

Any guidance you could offer is appreciated tremendously. Thank you.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2014 09:39 am
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Yes, the headshake, great or small, is always a sign of resentment. And in general, the resentment stems from the human doing too much, pressing too hard -- YOU may not think you are, but SHE is telling you that from her point of view, you are.

Our elderly teacher, again and again, on many occasions under varying circumstances, and with many different rider/handlers, would say: "do less." And then when the person did less, the horse would respond better and the person would be very pleased. Then Tom would say, "OK, now, we'll do that again, and this time I want you to cut what you're doing in half." And sometimes he had them halve it again, up to three or four times, before they were doing little enough to be truly effective.

If you subscribe to Eclectic Horseman, I suggest you review the last two months' issues with the articles by Tom Moates concerning Harry & friends' getting horses to "go on a true search", or what Ray Hunt would have called "hunting up." The significant sentence in there that really stuck in my mind was that, even when WE think the horse is loading in the trailer pleasantly, when WE think he's sending out at a trot or coming to call in the roundpen, or whatever situation: WE are often wrong; the horse is still doing it, and feels that he is doing it, under compunction, that it is not really his choice, that he is being made to do it under GUISE of free choice, but the choice is still not truly free.

This is the essence of what is meant when people say of Harry "he always gets closure." When the horse comes, goes, loads, untracks, yields, twirls, flexes, half-passes, jumps, steps up on the drum, or anything whatsoever else -- out of HIS OWN JUICES -- then you have closure. Tom said again and again: "you want to get it to where your horse would rather be with you than anywhere else."

The longer we live this, the deeper it cuts, the more it demands of us. Nonetheless, just as you say, what you've been doing since seeing Tom Curtin is much more fun and relaxing and productive than how you had things set up between you & your mare before, and this is a very reliable sign that you're on the right track. I also very much appreciate Tom C's suggestion that the quality of your liberty work is a measure of the quality of your relationship with your horse; and also a test to find out how your horse is feeling about what you're asking of her and the way you're asking it.

So go read the articles, if you haven't; play a game now to see HOW LITTLE you could do and still get a response from your horse, for whatever sending or calling; and don't take your mare's negative responses, if any, personally. She shakes her head because she can't understand WHY you're being so crude or needlessly forceful or maybe hustling her to do it sooner than she can get all her bodyparts prepared, and yet she forgives you, which you know by the fact that she does nothing else except "frown" for a few moments. Keep us pegged as to how this goes in the next few weeks, and go have some fun working out your improvements. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2014 10:04 pm
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Thank you! I do have both those issues of EH, I will find them and review them this week. I can already feel more questions brewing, but I will hold off and see what the next couple of weeks bring: my mare may answer them for me, as I have a feeling she will.

Redmare
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 Posted: Wed Sep 10th, 2014 03:25 am
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Dr. Deb, I'm coming back to report a bit sooner than I anticipated: I wanted to ask if what I'm seeing (and not seeing) is possibly the result of some other source of resentment. Or if I am just not being successful at how "small" I am getting.

I have been playing with seeing how small I can get when asking my mare to move out, change directions, etc. at liberty. Most of the days, I continue to see some form of head shaking. In it's smallest form, it's just enough to cause her ears to waggle. In it's biggest, it's a brief, but full, shake. Either way, it's still there. I have been trying to get as small as possible when I ask for anything: for example, when I ask her to go from a walk to a trot, the signal I WAS using was bringing my arm up to a 90 degree angle from my body and pointing my index finger in the direction I'm asking her to move in. After a few seconds, if I didn't see a rise in her energy, I would add a bit more impetus by making one slow twirl with the lunge whip in my other hand. By then, she would bump up to a trot, but I would see the head shake almost immediately.

Now, I see how low I can keep my arm. I do not extend it fully, I leave it at my side and extend my index finger and lift my wrist slightly away from my body. I wait a few seconds. If that does not elicit a response, I might bring my forearm slightly away from my body and leave everything else the same. If still no response, I give a bit of an air tap with the whip, but only by moving my wrist slightly. That usually gets her up into a trot, but the head shaking in some form follows after.

I had mentioned this a while back in another thread, and I wanted to ask again: I have noticed lately, with this mare, when I go to bring her in from the pasture, that I hear her breathing. It is soft, but there. I know this is the first sign the horse is becoming not OK. Is it possible that I need to take a step back in what I am doing with her, that my "pushing" as she is seeing it is coming from my mere presence? This mare has not once done anything dangerous or threatening, but I can see she is troubled, and I want to start where is necessary to get her OK.

I also wanted to ask this: could head shaking/resentment come from being in physical discomfort, i.e the mare thinks "you are asking me to move, and it isn't comfortable for me to do what you want, why are you still asking me?" She is still in the process of building strength and even-ness in her hind end from her tendon injury about 18 months ago, and there are days when she moves more stiffly than others. She is on magnesium and Vit. E to help with muscle soreness and recovery, but I see occasional stifle catching on both sides, to which she always responds with an "Ouch!!" Just given her history over the last couple years, it occurred to me there might be something physical going on, but I didn't know if she would use the head shake to alert me in this way.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Sep 10th, 2014 05:45 am
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Red: Yes, the physical rehab side of it does matter to the mare's feelings of positiveness or resentment. You show me that you pay good attention to physical symptoms; now you need to show me (and yourself) that you can not only predict how sore or off the mare is going to be on any given day, but most importantly, that you can meter the level of the work so that you never elicit any "ouch". This is the important part: you need to not only observe the horse, but listen to her and respect where she's at on any given day, and then flex to meet that.

Second: what in the world would you ever be doing with a longe whip? Throw the cursed thing away and learn how to use body language alone. Once you've mastered that, then -- maybe -- you can pick up the whip. Expect this to be ten years or more from now. "Getting small enough to be effective" is simply not going to happen when you come in there with any sort of stiff rod, which is a personal energy focuser and amplifier.

Again: go read the articles on 'getting the horse to hunt it up' or 'true search' that Tom Moates has been putting in The Eclectic Horseman. It takes VERY LITTLE to indicate to the horse that he's doing the right thing, or the wrong thing. It takes VERY LITTLE (one flick of your arm with your back turned to the horse, while seated in a chair) to tell the horse that he's standing in the wrong place or has made some other wrong choice.

Finally: pay more attention to what I previously mentioned about being in a hurry. It isn't just too much pressure in terms of sending too much energy to the horse that provokes resentment; it's also too much pressure in the sense of demanding that they respond RIGHT NOW. The horse's body is larger than ours and, unless it is the horse's own idea, its nervous system simply cannot get the signal from the eye to the brain to the feet as fast as you can get a signal from your eye to your brain to your feet. You must allow several seconds of time, at least, after making any request or demand, for the horse to be able to apprehend what was asked and then get its body and its feet arranged so that it can execute the maneuver.

Sometimes, in fact, it's actually the next DAY before it happens. Think this over, as to why that might be -- especially in a horse that's been somewhat resentful -- please. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Sep 11th, 2014 08:31 pm
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Thanks for your quick reply, Dr. Deb.

I will no longer use the lunge whip.

I am thinking (and seeing) that this mare is dealing with a great deal of muscle soreness and stiffness, more than I anticipated, and based on her conformation (long back, somewhat weak coupling, hind legs that are proportionally too long) I can see that I very well may have been overfacing her. I think I also, as so many vets recommend, have been following a "one size fits all" program when it comes to introducing increasing degrees of "difficulty" in her rehab. I have not listened, as you said, to her nearly enough.

I am sitting at this very moment with the two EH articles you told me to find. I had read the first one before my response to you a couple days ago, but I had to get the second half from a friend who had borrowed the publication. I see now why you asked me to find these. You said something to me higher up in this thread, in your first response, about how "The longer we live this [the goal of getting the horse to the point where he wants to be with us over everything else], the deeper it cuts, the more it demands of us". I have been feeling this for some time, a couple of years now. If I am following you, setting up a search for my mare is something I need to do.

I can also see that it doesn't end with JUST "setting up the search" for the mare. The "search" should bleed into ground work, under saddle work, and all other interactions.

As to the question you left me with...I have thought quite a bit about this. I have to admit I'm stumped. The only thing I could think of relates back to the Tom Moates articles: there was mention of Harry once setting up a person in the round pen with their horse, and a trailer was backed up to the gate. The idea was to send the horse on a search and eventually get the horse into the trailer. The horse did not step in, but did eventually go to stand by the trailer. The horse knew what was wanted but still had reservations about getting in the trailer. Could it be that a horse who has some level of resentment will take as long as the next day to give the desired response because of the depth of distrust, dislike, etc with either the person or task being given?

Yes, I'm floundering a bit, but I'm trying...

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Oct 17th, 2014 02:38 pm
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Red, yes, you've gotten the most important thing out of that article. The story about the mare getting the idea that she ought to (at least) go over and stand BY the trailer (even if not quite ready to actually get in it) has a lot of meaning which I think anyone could benefit from thinking about deeply.

We have no way to know how much "resentment" there may or may not be in a horse, and I don't think  you need to beat yourself up at all over that part. Horse training is always a conversation, and it's always a FRESH conversation: you say 'a', the horse responds with 'b' (or 'x' or 'q' -- one never absolutely knows), and then you respond to 'b' or 'x' or 'q'.

HOW you respond will be a matter of who you are on the inside. Partly this is philosophy, partly it is factual knowledge, partly it is experience, partly it is attitude, partly it is habit. People who are in the HABIT of being crude, thoughtless, or self-centered will find that, even when they say they have come to a point where they want to make changes in their way of doing things, that when the situation actually arises, when they are in there with their horse and in the middle of this flow of conversation, that they are liable to respond with more crudity, thoughtlessness, or self-interest than they had intended. It is difficult to change habits.

So also for your horse. You and she have known each other for a while. Just as much as you are in a pattern, she is also in a pattern, and it will take time before her first reaction is to do the right thing. That's our approach here: the human is in a position to consciously decide to make the necessary or desirable changes; the horse will then, at their own speed, follow suit. The beautiful thing about horses, though, is that once they do make a change in the direction you were hoping, they will trust you that this is what they 're going to be rewarded for from there on out. You do need to see to it, therefore, that that is what happens. The very fact that horses are so trusting greatly adds to our responsibilities -- still doesn't mean you need to wallow around in regrets for not having done perfectly before. Just start fresh today, and go on with the conversation from there. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Oct 21st, 2014 04:44 am
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Dr. Deb, I wanted to come back and say that I have read your most recent reply many times over, and printed it out to post on the inside of my trunk at the barn. Those are words I need to see again and again and again. Thank you.

I was able to set up a search for my mare. It took her about one hour and 45 minutes before she decided to come to stand by me, and she tried many, many things before she got to that point, but when she made that decision, her body language was notably lighter and more relaxed. I need to do this several more times, I think; I have changed barns since my last post, and finding open arena time is more difficult, but I am committed to allowing her to come to this decision as many times as I can.

I do have a question, as usual: my work with this mare has progress now to under saddle. There are still days when I choose, even after tacking up, not to get on. She lets me know when she is not in a working frame of mind, and I have learned more quickly how to tell. My question is this: when I bring her into the arena, I can still see she gets quite tense, through the body cues she gives me as well as her breathing. Up until that point there is no issue. I can still work with her under saddle, and she has gotten progressively lighter and more responsive to my leg. But that underlying tension remains. Is this part of that "pattern" you refer to? I am trying my best to stay soft, to support her while still saying "Hey there, I need you to pay attention to me" as she gets quite "lookie", and when I many times I have felt her say, tentatively, "OK" and she will offer to stretch into my hand and come a little rounder, even if it's brief. I give her lots of praise in those moments, and usually end soon thereafter.

I know this may take a while, but I wanted to make sure I am still on the right track. Is her tension under saddle a part of this pattern we are both in, and is it reasonable to expect that, given enough time to come around to the idea and enough reward on my part, I will see more frequent and more prolonged "offerings" such as the one mentioned in the prior paragraph? That the mare will, with time, not only get softer physically, but softer mentally?

Last edited on Tue Oct 21st, 2014 05:15 am by Redmare

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Oct 21st, 2014 07:22 am
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Redmare, physical softness IS mental softness.

Without mental softness, there can be no physical softness. This is called "the greater path," in other words, the horseman (and I've only ever known one in the fullest sense) who can directly address the horse's mind, already, by that very fact, also has perfect control over its body.

Without physical softness, mental softness is "confined" by the physical tension. Both of our teachers used to say that when a horse would get tense physically, then he would also get tense mentally. You could get a horse to be not-OK, or more and more not-OK mentally by bothering him physically. The "bother" could be in the form of an irritant, i.e. as in the story of the "stupid" fly that keeps coming back despite many tail-swats, who eventually drives the horse to buck or run or perform any number of airs above the ground, and we have all seen this. Some trainers are so "smart" that they think the point of this story is that if you just irritate the horse in small ways persistently enough, he'll do anything you want.

But that isn't the point. The fly is just a fly -- it isn't a horse trainer. It doesn't have a plan and it is too "stupid" (read instinct-driven) to quit when enough is really enough, that is, when the point has been made and the horse gets the point. The fly stings, the horse makes a reasonable adjustment, but the fly just keeps coming on anyway. Many, many, many so-called "upper level" horses are trained by humans who have no better approach than the fly. I see the Parellioids exactly the same also: they see very clearly that you do have to pressure the horse in order to get a change. They do NOT see when they are coming on way stronger than necessary, nor do they see when they should have quit. They drive the horse to perform in order to defend himself.

So these are perversions or mistaken ways to use what we call "the lesser path", which is the law that says that certain actions that the horse makes or can be encouraged to make with his physical body have emotional and conceptual meaning for him. The classic example is untracking, stepping under the body-shadow with the inside hind foot: your asking him to make this movement simultaneously, and automatically, causes him to become better mentally focused and to feel more submissive.

Thus, the avatar or embodied angel who is able to use the Greater Path addresses the mind and emotions and that results in a change toward the better in the physical body. The rest of us -- normal caring people -- use the Lesser Path, by which we address the physical body in order to obtain a change in the mind and emotions.

But notice! They both wind up in the same place! For when you have used the Lesser Path and the horse thereby softens mentally and emotionally, he is just as soft mentally and emotionally as if you had been able to address the mind and emotions without first going through the physical body.

I also want to tell you that "they both wind up in the same place" in another sense also: don't ever go out of the arena thinking that the session you've just had with your horse did not affect YOU as much as it did him. The more you work at seeing how little it would take, physically, to get the mental and emotional change, the better your "hearing" will become. You will know perfectly well, and well ahead of time, how your horse is going to react. You will know what his level of physical tension is and you will know just what, and how much, to do to help relieve that tension, to help the horse let go of it. Harry Whitney talks about the horse "letting go of a wrong thought" -- you're working on his body to help him let go of thoughts that fly out of his head and go over the edge of the pen. In short, over the long haul, you will get to where you can also, at least to some degree, use the Greater Path. Tom Dorrance used to say, "I don't have anything that anyone else could not have."

Hope this helps -- I'm encouraged by all that you report. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Oct 21st, 2014 06:28 pm
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Wow, this has certainly given me a lot to chew on! I remember you discussing the Greater and Lesser paths in the Birdie Book, which I had to dig out this morning and take another peek at.

I had another question, but I think I answered it myself by re-reading...after reviewing the Birdie Book and thinking about what you said above, I have finally understood what some of my mare's other physical cues, like the lip flapping, mean (I have only seen the head shaking once since I started this thread, and I know exactly what I did to elicit it). In the "Stereotypie" section of the Birdie Book, you discuss horses who wring/stick out their tongues, and list a number of other stereotypies, including lip flapping, that essentially mean the horse "has lost what inner OK-ness is, or how to find it". I think this is my mare. You say the mission then becomes to ignore the stereotypie completely, to focus not on eliminating the behavior but focusing on getting the horse 100% OK (at which point the "behavior" will cease to exist). So it seems this is my mission, too.

So, with everything you have said in mind, I would like to ask this: it makes sense to me that, if the mare is like I stated above, that "setting up a search" multiple times for her would be necessary, or even crucial? That she might need that chance to decide many times before she truly believes it? It seems that only then would I be able to be truly effective on her back, because right now I feel like I'm maybe halfway there: I am "practicing" correctly, but I'm on a horse who is still stuck trying to make herself feel better, and who cannot really be deeply influenced by the Lesser Path until she finds that "trust" that we have spoken of a few times in this thread. Does that make sense?

I'm thinking back to the last year in working with this horse, and I can think of several instances where I have gotten her focus on such a depth that, when it came time for the work to end and us to stand by each other (and while I was chatting with the gal who was helping us), she would cock a leg, her ears would "V", her eyes would shut halfway and she would enter into a nap! This was wonderful to see, and I want to repeat this, but wonder if I am complicating things for myself by thinking too much, as I tend to do.

Last edited on Tue Oct 21st, 2014 06:31 pm by Redmare


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