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help me to understand why my horse likes to grow roots
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devvie
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 Posted: Thu Jan 17th, 2019 02:39 pm
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It is as good a time as any, I guess, to ask a question about the horse I ride and work with that's been on my mind for a while: as his owner says, he "grows roots" when he stands still and often doesn't move off willingly or follow when asked to. It's not an issue for me, but I am not even close to having a handle on what insight I might be able to gain from his behaviour. He'll do this coming in from the field, leaving the barn, leaving the arena or ring, going into the arena through the doorway (after I whoa him to open the door to enter) leaving his stall, leaving the grooming area to go to his stall or to turnout -- doesn't seem to relate to whether we are going to the herd/leaving the herd, which seems odd to me as he is one herd bound beast. Now that I understand the concept of "raising the life" I'm able to do so and get him moving that way, or by activating his hind end in some way, instead of tugging at his reins or lead rope, but he's unlike most other horses that I have encountered in how much he stands where he's planted.

At times I have, for example, taken my time bringing him in from the field, i.e. spending some time with him right where he's planted to try to sort of see what's up with him, but even when I spend say 5 or 15 minutes just hanging with him while he's got his roots in the ground, he still moves off sluggishly. He's always easy to catch and sometimes walks towards me to meet me when I go out to bring him in for a session.

Under saddle (as addressed in other threads here) he can be balky, spooky, and will (yes, it's still a work in progress to sort out) sometimes go backwards or up instead of forward when asked to, but he doesn't, it seems to me, grow roots in the sense that in these instances he is moving his feet. I won't say too much about that here, just now, except to say that the working concept of "the biggest try with the smallest ask" (I know i'm paraphrasing Dr. Deb here but have not got it quite right) has been conceptual and practical GOLD in working with this horse.

I look forward to gaining some insight and hope the question is clear enough. Thanks everyone!

Last edited on Thu Jan 17th, 2019 02:44 pm by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 17th, 2019 06:30 pm
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Devvie, what you're describing is also called "falling in love with a spot."

Bullfighters know the phenomenon well; certain bulls will be very difficult to draw, i.e. get them to charge, because they will see or smell a spot of blood on the ground of the arena and then refuse to leave that spot. It isn't that it is blood, just that it is "something" that the bull can readily focus on. If the arena had stones, it could as well be a stone.

There was an occasion some years ago when there was a clinic at a ranch near here, where both Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt taught that clinic. Ray led the horsemanship ride, but Tom took a few of the horses that didn't seem okay enough to get a lot out of participating in the horsemanship.

One of these was a big Appaloosa gelding, fully six years old but just barely started under saddle, which belonged to a student of mine. She brought him to Tom at my urging, because really she was not capable of riding such a green horse without getting both the horse and herself into serious trouble. Happily at this clinic there were a lot of good cowboys, good horsemen, students of Ray and Tom and dedicated to their approach. What would happen with this gelding was, the cowboy would mount him in the arena and then try to get him to move off from that spot, and the horse would buck violently. He was a big, powerful horse and this was no joke, some of those guys went six feet up in the air above the horse's back before they crashed down in the sand. More than half a dozen men attempted to ride this horse; they bravely volunteered to get on him in order to help the owner, who was the first one of all to crash and burn, but every one of them also got bucked off.

Tom was holding Harry Whitney in reserve that day. He let all the other men who wanted to, go ahead and give it a try, but at last he gave permission for Harry to mount the horse. Here is what Harry did that was different than what any of the other riders had done:

1. He led the horse to a spot of his own choosing, not the horse's choosing; a different spot within the arena than he had stood at any time earlier that day. At this spot Harry set him up to mount, adjusted the cinch etc., and then mounted him.

2. As soon as he sat down, Harry urged the horse into a walk and this was easy, because the horse did not really want to be where Harry had stood him up. Where the horse wanted to be was the spot that he had fallen in love with, which every other rider had not noticed, which was at another place in the arena.

3. As the horse approached the beloved spot, Harry would not permit it to stop. He would permit the horse to go by the spot but they went "right by", as if carried by momentum into overshooting the mark. Of course as soon as the horse passed the spot he would slow down, and as soon as Harry felt this he did not kick and pound or whip on the horse or slap it with the reins; he just took what momentum he still had and turned the horse into a loop and went right back toward the spot! But as soon as he was facing once again toward the spot, THEN he pounded on the horse some, urging it into the biggest possible walk, so that once again the horse sailed right by the spot.

The lesson being taught to the horse here is -- you can have SOME of what you want -- or what you think you want -- but whenever you are facing your beloved spot there is going to be pressure. On the other hand, whenever you are facing away from your beloved spot, there will be no pressure.

This is exactly the same technique you can observe Buck Brannaman using to cure herd-bound or barn-bound horses. The horse is freely given its own choice to make: face the herd and there will be pressure; face, or better move, away from the herd and the pressure goes way down. There is still enough pressure -- only the very light use of the leg which NORMAL riding requires for purposes of communication -- to tell the horse, yes I do want you to walk (or trot, or canter); and there is enough communication through the reins to direct the horse's energy.

Note how this is the exact opposite of what the naive rider would naturally be inclined to do: when the bloody horse "refuses" or "resists" going away from the herd, the spot, or the barn, then what they want to do is pound on him, up the ante, increase the pressure, to "force" the horse to go in the desired direction away from the beloved place, and sometimes in their mind also to "show the horse who is boss" or "show him he can't take advantage of me" or "keep him from being spoilt". All of which is very fallaceous, nonproductive thinking -- really just rationalizing the fact that the horse not doing what the rider wants has made the rider frightened, frustrated, and angry.

So to summarize again, anytime you are going toward the beloved spot, you hustle the horse, you pressure him, and if at all possible then you use whatever momentum that generates within him to zoom right by the spot. When you get to the other side of the spot, he will slow down. You then either let him stop on the far side, facing AWAY from the spot, and confine him to LOOKING AWAY from the spot -- that being the only command or imperative you impose, that he will not be permitted to turn his head toward the spot. Or else, you can not let him stop, but loop right back toward the spot as Harry did, and zoom by it multiple times until the horse realizes he will always be permitted to have "some" of what he wants, insofar as he is permitted to go back toward the spot, but not "all" of what he wants, because he will not be permitted to stop there.

Now, with some horses when they realize this, they will move the spot; and if that's what yours does, then you just go with that flow and ride by wherever the new spot is.

What you DO NOT ever do is let him stop ON the spot and then try to kick him off of it. This is what got the Appy's rider and all the other cowboys bucked off.

All of this is gone over in detail in the Birdie Book, because indeed it is a prime example of the power that the horse's birdie has, and how necessary it is for you, the rider and handler, to understand that metaphor and work with it. The horse bucks hard, he bucks desperately, because TO HIM when you try to kick him off his beloved spot, you are trying to kill him; you are threatening his very existence. Do you have a copy of the Birdie Book? -- Dr. Deb

devvie
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 Posted: Sun Jan 27th, 2019 01:16 am
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Thanks for your very clear reply. I do not yet have a copy of The Birdie Book . . . it's time, I guess! I've felt that I have a lot to absorb from your first two series of DVDs and from this forum.

Last edited on Sun Jan 27th, 2019 01:16 am by devvie

devvie
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 Posted: Sun Jan 27th, 2019 03:15 pm
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Well, I've been re-reading and thinking about this and also working on it in the saddle. In the indoor arena or the outdoor ring it's easy enough, as the spot is of course the arena door or edge of ring close to barn, and he's not particularly intense about this spot, he just likes to go towards it if given his head but willingly passes it by.

What if I don't know (exactly) WHERE the spot is on any given day? Reading and re-reading your post, I wonder if it's acceptable to apply some pressure by turning him back from an area known to (sometimes) be a "spot" before we get there? Riding him past it seems a tall order: he'd go back or up before he'd go by, esp. at first. Best I've done in this regard in the early moments is turning him away from a spot, then back towards, then away, then back towards, and if we do get past it sometimes there's another spot waiting on the other side and we're then quite stuck between the two! Many times I have had to dismount to lead him past a spot when he's overcome by fear and I feel myself in danger because of his rearing/mental absence. He's always, no surprise, much better when I'm on the ground. Some days certain turns and directions and departures on the farm he's OK with and other days he, as you say, falls in love with a spot/wants to go somewhere other than where I'm asking him to go. I don't know until I'm out there and I ask.

I can happily provide a long anecdote and details (and I have video of him not going where I ask him to go), but I'm not sure it's necessary: for now, let's just say that he's drawn like a [insert swear work] magnet to the neighbour horses who live in a field just north of his home farm, especially if they are near the fence line and not up working on their round bale further away. It's an especially interesting and revelatory time right now because he's currently the sole gelding on the farm, turned out alone (his buddies went south for the rest of the winter and his new pal hasn't yet shipped in, so we have four horses on the farm instead of our usual seven).

In the past, with other riders, he's been treated just as you wrote, as though was resisting or refusing, and indeed has been pounded on, treated as though he is just being bad, and had the pressure put on him even at a young age: He was not started well, and his owner has admitted that he probably was pushed too hard when he was young. My teacher here on the ground (who knows I am also studying with you all here) thinks he has the equivalent of PTSD (she doesn't think highly of him as a riding horse). When he's learning something new the fear response is right underneath because he expects that with learning comes, at some point, punishment and fear and conflict . . . so he checks out sometimes, and those are the toughest moments. I've been working very hard at getting better at using pressure and releasing pressure to communicate with him.

Another obvious example would be leaving the farm to ride alone, where, using the birdie metaphor, his birdie is back at the barn with the horses/stretched as far as it will go, which will be a different spot each ride: sometimes nearer the farm and sometimes further.

Last edited on Sun Jan 27th, 2019 03:38 pm by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Jan 27th, 2019 08:07 pm
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Devvie, you need to do two things:

(1) Obtain a copy of the Birdie Book and study it.

(2) Attend a Buck Brannaman or Harry Whitney clinic as a spectator, as soon as possible. And don't bother writing back to tell me how this is not good with your schedule, or you're too poor, or it's too far, or anything else. If you own a horse and you want to train it and yet do not know how -- and that's you, Devvie -- then by definition you have the time and the money to go be with the teacher.

Sometimes, the only way to learn something well enough to actually be able to do it is to learn it "live" from an expert.

Because you don't really understand the Birdie metaphor -- because you have not yet studied the master textbook on that, which is the Birdie Book -- you misunderstand what your horse is really doing and why he is doing it. And then you compound the problem by turning to his unfortunate "past" as the reason why things aren't working out right -- whereas, no horse in our school (we consider) has any past at all. His previous experiences, apart from medical issues which may have an ongoing impact, have no force of importance at all. The one and only thing that counts is the PRESENT dialogue, i.e. you suggest "this" and he responds by doing "that" and then you respond to "that" with whatever, out of our toolbox, is required. The PRESENT dialogue is all that there is because it is the one and only place where a skilled horsewoman can teach the horse what he should know. In short, Devvie, the reason the horse fails is because you yourself have not made yourself able; you do not own the toolbox. Before you can help your horse, you must fix that.

From your above post, I believe there are two things of importance that you will have to learn how to deal with:

(1) There is a Birdie issue, i.e. your horse does seem to be herd-bound. You need to learn how that "magnetism" works and again, you do that to begin with by studying the Birdie Book, and then after your eyes have been opened through that study, go spectate Buck or Harry and you will, at last, be able to "see" what they are doing. I assure you -- they are not just performing actions.

(2) There is a problem with you as authority. Your horse does not regard you as an authority, and does not hold you in awe as he should. This goes back to your not understanding what the standards are and not being able (or perhaps willing) to insist, kindly but firmly, that the horse live up to those standards. This will relate, initially and quite practically, to how this horse 'goes' at a walk. Are you in the habit of schlepping at a walk, as I suspect? This is why you can't seem to steer very well. What you should have is the horse walking at 9 kph (7 mph) at all times in the arena or on the trail, other than when actually slowing to halt. But again -- you will not understand why this is crucially necessary, absolutely central to all subsequent training and to all success, until you study the Birdie Book.

Now, I'm not going to mention the BB again because I've nagged you pretty heavily in this post and you know what to do. However, until you do study the BB I will also not be willing to answer further questions from you -- in other words, this is your assigned homework and I insist that you do it. The fifty US bucks that the BB is going to cost you I feel no guilt over, because Devvie, the BB is worth easily ten riding lessons and yet costs you the same as one "private". You'll have to decide where you want to spend your money to get the most bang from your buck.

Cheers -- Dr. Deb


devvie
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 Posted: Sun Jan 27th, 2019 10:58 pm
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Thanks for your response. I'm definitely, definitely aware that there's a problem with me as authority so there's no surprise or sting in hearing you say so.

Regarding clinicians, Josh Nichols is a lot closer (coming to within two hours of me in May for five days in a row, but I ended up on the waiting list despite trying to sign us up within days of the announcement of the clinic) . . . but if you think that Buck or Whitney is what I really need, then so be it.

He's not my horse but I really want to find the "keys" to success with him and other horses, and, as my post makes obvious, I don't have clarity, or, as you say, the tools. The one thing that I do have, thankfully, is the ability to study and to learn, and the knowledge that I don't know how to solve this, only how to work around it, and that's not good enough for me. I could let it go and just ride this horse in the ring, or avoid that fence line or trail or find an easier horse to ride, or whatever, but I won't learn what I need to that way. The last time I rode this horse along the fence line and got stuck there because the horses came and put their heads over the fence (this was after your initial response above) I tried to put your advice into practice and gave him the option of facing his buddies in the field, but with a contact on the reins and nothing more, with my hands pressed into his neck so that when he pulled because he wanted to stretch his neck down he pulled against himself, OR the option of turning around and walking away on an entirely loose rein with light leg contact. It took several minutes of standing there with the same pressure, and, I think, two tries, and in the end we turned and we walked quietly away: he sure did have his attention on me there for a few minutes as we stood there like that.

It wasn't my goal, in mentioning it, to blame his past for his actions today but I take your point. He's an interesting fellow . . . many times some little thing he sees gets his heart pounding so hard in his chest that it's the easiest thing in the world to feel it through his entire body: it has got to be very hard to be him sometimes.

Thanks again for both listening and responding. In regards to your question about our walk . . . I wouldn't call him a schlepper at the walk, but when we're in the indoor I don't think we're quite hitting 7mph . . . he steers off the leg . . . he slices, he dices . . . until HE decides not to and I'm so much chopped liver on his back . . . there, we've come full circle back to the issue that's still staring me in the face despite my efforts to learn. Cheers back!!

Last edited on Sun Jan 27th, 2019 11:35 pm by devvie

devvie
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 Posted: Mon Jan 28th, 2019 12:43 am
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Videos are OK here, yes? So why not, here's a video of horse taking matters into his own hands. He is of course freaked by the videographer, who we had just ridden away down the hill from after walking out to the field together. I'll find out, when I read the BB, if this is the illustration for "horse believes he is about to DIE." All the best!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxHmI-XsCZc

OK, I've just edited this to add: I just had the thought that this shows me doing exactly what I should NOT be doing and illustrates my problem. I'm not posing a question because of course I have lessons to complete before I will hear from Dr. Deb, but in this video I clearly take the pressure OFF (see the end where I just let him stand there with my leg off looking at whatever he wants?) when he faces where he wants to be facing (and where I think his birdie is) and put some pressure on -- even if sometimes through my imbalance and ineptness and incorrect reaction to his action -- when he turns away from what has his attention. I put my leg on and don't get the reaction I'd hoped for, and then I take it off and release the pressure despite that.

(edited one more time to add one more thought) And because I had an agenda here of wanting to get some pictures of horse trotting up the hill towards the camera, I didn't stop and sort this out, maybe even at a distance from the photographer that was more comfortable for the horse, and I basically set him up here to fail and put him in a place where he didn't feel confident in me. If I could go back and have a redo here, though, I can't be 100% clear on what I might do and why. Let's hope I can come back soon with some better ideas and point out all clearly all the birdie-related things going wrong here. Thanks again.

Last edited on Mon Jan 28th, 2019 01:09 am by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Jan 28th, 2019 02:16 am
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Devvie, yes by all means Josh is also on our 'A' list. When you show up at his clinic, please say 'hello' to him from me and tell him I sent you.

In the video, which I could stand to watch for all of five seconds, honey, listen to me:

(1) You begin by being way too far from the barn. Read the BB and you'll see why or what this causes. The horse is in such distress that he is in fear of his life, and you are extremely DULL to this. He is far more distressed than you realize.

(2) The horse is entirely out of control the entire time. This is not what horseback riding is supposed to be about. It is not safe. You should not be riding this animal until you read the BB and go see Josh and ask many, many more questions.

Your film is an excellent example of ACCEPTING SOCIETAL NORMS AS IF THEY WERE VALID. The societal norm says that "the rider who gets on a horse knowing that the horse is distressed, and knowing that the horse is exhibiting signs of distress to a degree that he is dangerous -- the rider who KNOWINGLY gets on such a horse is a better rider." ABSOLUTE HOGWASH. The rider who knowingly gets on such a horse is merely STUPID.

The great Tom Dorrance, our teacher, used to get horses like the one in your film, who were in essence not even broke, and yet somebody had been trying to ride them or get some work done with them. An impossibility, of course, because you cannot fix these things by CONTINUING ON trying to ride him. So Tom would get the horse in the roundpen or the small arena pen, and we would do a few things with him, and after a while Tom would ask the students who were there -- "OK, what's your thought? Is this horse ready to ride now?" And some people would say 'yeah, Tom, he's good to go', and others would say, 'Ummm, I'm not so sure about that', and still others would just laugh and say, 'no way, not yet'. And Tom would smile and nod at the last group, and he would then say: "You see that horse's tail? You notice that wee little kink that is in that tail, way down toward the end, like a crooked finger?" And everyone would say, "Yes, Tom, now that you've pointed it out, yes we do see it." And Tom would then reply: "When I see that little kink in their tail -- that tells me to keep MY feet on the GROUND."

So Devvie, stop trying to be a dressage star, stop explaining yourself to me or others or even to yourself, just drop all of that, because you're going to break your neck if you go on imitating your stupid neighbors and teachers and the culture at large. Just do the homework I have assigned to you, and you'll be amazed as you submit to that and obey, how fast you'll make progress.

And by the way, if this isn't even your horse: put it back in the stall, please, tell the owners 'thank you very much, but no thanks', and then start acting intelligent by going and getting one you CAN actually ride. This horse has nothing to teach you at this time, but a 17-year-old broke-to-death gelding with an old bow or some other limitation that slows him down, that YOU think (in your present fuddled state) is a BORE is exactly the one kind of horse that you will be able to hear, because he will 'speak' to you slowly enough that you may be able to pick some of it up. Cheers, do that, and go see Josh -- Dr. Deb

devvie
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 Posted: Mon Jan 28th, 2019 02:23 pm
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Thanks for your response. I'm not surprised by anything that you wrote. I'm here and trying to communicate with you because you've earned my respect through your teachings and the work that you make available here and elsewhere which I have read and studied.

I am going to do my homework and I am going to come back and write to you here on this forum again.

I do want to say a few words (as briefly as possible) about the video. I am very glad that I shared it because now you understand the seriousness of this without the barrier of my (in)ability to communicate in words/without you having to try to understand the horse through the muddled filter of my lesser understanding of horses. This would all be so much better were we face to face so that you would have some more insight into who I am, my intelligence, my emotional state, all those things that make face to face communication superior to all the other forms.

You rightly don't have faith or trust in my perceptions, insights, or judgements about anything, let alone horses: we don't know each other, so how could you trust me?

I did say in my post that I believed this to be an example of a horse in a situation where he feels he is going to die. I do understand that this is not normal behaviour for a -- let's call it healthy -- horse. I understand that he's very very dangerous in this state. I also said he's taken matters into his own hands, by which I meant: yes he's entirely out of control in this video. It's obvious.

I did not and never have gotten on this horse knowing he was in this emotional state. I would be absolutely crazy and indeed probably would have broken my neck or gotten myself killed if he often behaved in this manner: he does not often get into this state: if he did he'd have long ago been moved along or euthanized I would think.

I ride this horse around this field multiple times a week. Before this video was shot, I walked down the hill on a loose rein and the horse was not showing any signs of anxiety or distress, respiration normal, head down, loose rein, no signs of turmoil. I turned him around, he saw the photographer standing up on the hill, and then his behaviour switched to what you see here. It was 100% unanticipated behaviour. (I know that you don't like that word, perhaps actions is a better one?)

I did not ask this horse to go sideways. We work on leg yields. We don't half-pass. I strive -- and fail, obviously -- to work this horse within his limitations and in his comfort zone. I want to figure this horse out that's why my neck is out here on this forum. I do not think that I am a dressage star. I wasn't expecting the situation I put the horse in -- having a friend walk out to the field to take some video and then have the horse go into a full blown panic upon turning and seeing the photographer where we'd left him -- to occur. I agree 100% with your statement "the rider who gets on a horse knowing that the horse is distressed, and knowing that the horse is exhibiting signs of distress to a degree that he is dangerous -- the rider who KNOWINGLY gets on such a horse is a better rider." ABSOLUTE HOGWASH. The rider who knowingly gets on such a horse is merely STUPID."

Again, I wasn't able to anticipate this horse's reaction to the photographer before it occurred. I've never been injured by this horse. I understand how dangerous what you see in the video is: it's there for ALL to see.

I imagine that I could have posted a video that might even have convinced some readers here that this is a regular garden variety 14-year-old ammy safe horse who sometimes doesn't go where I ask him to. For sure I have some that would fool at least some horse people.

Again, I strive to limit my workings with this horse to situations that are safe for both of us. I don't suffer from "Black Stallion syndrome" and I don't think that riding "crazy" horses is cool or impressive. I'm a 45 year old lady who wants to stay alive. I understand very well that this is not what riding should be about and that this situation isn't safe. It's so very obvious, but maybe I should have put it into words anyway before posting the video. There's nothing to be proud of here and I know that, I knew that well before you said so. It's not a public video. But here's a horse that needs help, yes? I'm trying to help him, I want to learn, is how I ended up here.

With thanks and respect.

Last edited on Mon Jan 28th, 2019 02:48 pm by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Jan 29th, 2019 09:51 am
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Devvie, honey, haven't you been reading this Forum for a long time? Did you somehow miss seeing the posts -- there are probably at least fifty of them which are exactly like your post above -- where the person I am advising gets self-defensive and whines and winges and says, 'geez Dr. Deb why are you being so hard on me? I only came here to learn *sob**sniffle*". How productive was this for the other people who reacted that way, do you think?

So let me tell you how you strike me. You are like the little girl whose mother says to her, "Now Devvie, when you go out and play in the backyard, you'll see the bright red berries on our Yew hedge. Don't ever eat those berries, honey. Don't ever put one in your mouth."

And one little girl obeys, but Devvie says to herself, "why is my mother being so hard on me?"

And this is because Devvie not only does not know that eating the seed that is inside a Yew berry will kill you -- Yew being one of the most toxic plants on Earth -- so what we are saying is that Devvie does not know what she is doing. But Devvie also resents being told what to do, because Devvie secretly thinks she knows better.

So what I've told you above, Devvie, is that you haven't got the slightest idea of how to train a horse; you have zero qualifications, by the evidence in the film you posted, for trying to handle or ride the horse you present; you have no power at all to help or 'rescue' him, and anything you do with him will only serve to compound his problems; and in the end, I've said if you go on with trying to ride or even handle him, you're going to break your silly neck.

I have told you to be silent, to stop attempting to justify yourself. And this is because by becoming silent you will, at last, be able to begin hearing not only your horse but yourself. You have to begin by admitting, 'I don't know what I'm doing."

Children, Devvie, are just like this: they do not know what they need. They only know what they want.

So now it's time for you to start bringing your adult. Nothing else, and nothing less, will be productive. We will gauge your commitment to BEGINNING your path of horsemanship by when I see that fifty bucks show up from PayPal, saying that you've purchased your copy of the Birdie Book.

Until that happens, Devvie, I'm going to save you any further chances of embarrassing yourself by waiting to answer you until you post a question that is derived from your study of the BB. I will also want to hear your plan for obtaining an older, thoroughly broke horse that you can actually ride. Then you will have a partner who can help you practice. When those two things happen, yes, then we can begin. And when your chance to spectate Josh Nichol comes along, and you go and do that, then I will expect further observations and questions from you that will be worth addressing.

Cheers -- Dr. Deb



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