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The Birdie
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Pam
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 Posted: Thu Jul 26th, 2007 07:27 pm
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Hi All,

Just had on of those "Wow" kind of evenings with my horse last night and wanted to share some perceptions about what the Birdie is to me.

I was riding with my best friend and my horse's best horse friend last night.  They had their vaccinations yesterday so we were supposed to ride lightly.  So we proceeded to ride in the walk only and in a very laid back sort of way.  My horse wanted to just follow his friend around the ring so I let him.  But then after they left the ring and we were alone I noticed his birdie was not with him, it was with her.  I tried every aid I know to get him back with us but he just wouldn't listen.  So, without thinking and just acting out of instinct I gave him a huge smack with the dressage whip, right behind my leg and so it hit the saddle, not his skin.  Well, that brought his birdie back instantly and what happened once the birdie was there is what is really amazing to me.  I became aware of how much his birdie normally wasn't with him because he became so light to the touch of the reins and leg that I had to be so careful about how I touched him.  He was turning and going without me really using any aids - just thinking of what I wanted.  Before that, the ride was very mechanical and felt heavy.  When the birdie (inner life) is there that is when the ride becomes connected and all of the movements become possible.  That is my awareness anyway.

One of my friends/instructors at our barn once told me he knows what to do in relation to the bit and how to carry himself, I just don't know how to get him to.  Well, I never really understood what she meant until last night.  She is absolutely correct in her assessment of him.   Once his birdie was there, he raised his back and carried me so lightly and gracefully I could have ridden for hours without tiring.  I think the birdie is about calling or awakening that inner life which really makes everything seem so simple.   It really feels like being on a different level of awareness.

I haven't read my birdie book in a while because I've just wanted to wait and see if I could create this way of being for myself without reading too much into it.   But I've got to say this is the way to ride.

Pam

Cynthia W.
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 Posted: Sat Aug 4th, 2007 08:54 pm
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So interesting, Pam.
Would you, or other members, or of course Dr.Deb, please share some of the other ways you call the Birdie? Besides the big call you describe, smacking your saddle with the dressage whip.
I also have the Birdie Book and it was a colossal revelation when I read it.
But it'd be a big help to know more of the practical how-to's people have come up with.
What I've used is snapping fingers out to the side, smacking my thigh, and sometimes if I have to, circles , sideways moves, a step back and a step forward, etc. - the degree depending on how "elsewhere" Traveler is.
About those last, though - jeepers, I wish I could ride in an actual lesson with Dr.Deb, and ask this - dunno if I'm complicating this but - these more physical moves, moving the horse's feet, taking the horse away from where his birdie is, in order to get it - are these methods ideal? Well, obviously if the horse is starting to build up tension, you do whatever it takes; but ideally it seems like you'd want to have the birdie before you have to circle him away from it to call it - yes?
Thanks,
Cynthia

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Aug 4th, 2007 09:40 pm
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Yes, Cynthia, you want to have the horse's Birdie with you all the time.

It starts to be that way when you become able to tell when the Birdie is "fluttering its wings" or starting to leave.

You catch it then BEFORE it leaves. When you catch it before it leaves, why then, it never does leave.

This is what "riding with awareness" or "being in the present moment with your horse" means.

So all the whole list of Birdie-calling techniques that you and Pam enumerate are OK but they're all applied, in fact, "too late". You're in a retrenchment mode when you have to use them, because you're calling the Birdie BACK -- it has already left.

The EARLIER you can be, the LESS physical stuff of any kind you will have to do. It becomes so subtle that, to an outside observer (somebody watching you ride your horse), it is invisible. The overall impression that the observer then gets is that the horse is "doing it himself" or at least, "doing perfectly the rider's will".

And that's quite accurate. That is exactly what he will be doing. And he will also be doing it himself. That's because your horse's will and your will become one single will. That's when you are no longer calling on him to fill in for you, and he, at the same time, voluntarily comes from the other side to help you out. Your idea is his idea, so then, by golly, it IS his idea.

So you work on being EARLY -- being as perceptive as to what your horse is thinking and feeling BEFORE it comes out as physical action -- that's a most important key. Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

CynthiaW
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 Posted: Sun Aug 5th, 2007 07:09 pm
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Thank you very much, Dr.Deb, illuminating as always.
I'll take that great thought to the barn with me every day for a while, and see how Traveler and I do with it. It feels like the beginning of an amazing adventure in focusing.
Best,
Cynthia

Helen
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 Posted: Mon Aug 6th, 2007 02:06 am
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    While I completely appreciate that it is far better to ask the birdie to remain before it goes, how would you recommend getting it back once it is gone? In some cases it is not possible to get off and do groundwork with the horse... in these cases (which I realise are undesirable) how should you do it? Sharp noise, physical contact? Any other suggestions?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Aug 6th, 2007 05:42 am
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Yes, Helen, this is a question that, at a certain stage, many people who have learned something about ground work and have been practicing it with their horse are moved to ask. The core of the question is not so much "how do you get the Birdie to come back." If you have been practicing groundwork, as it seems you have from the way you have phrased your question, then you very well know how to get it back.

So the real import of your question is not "how do you get it back" but "what is the difference between working with a horse on the ground to call its Birdie vs. working with a horse from the saddle to call its Birdie."

When it's put this way, then the real problem becomes obvious: the person has inadvertently taught the horse two things at once -- i.e., they have taught the horse's Birdie to come, but they have not taught it to come to the correct place. They have taught it to come to THEIR body, i.e. the center of the person's chest, rather than where the horse's Birdie really belongs, which is perched on the center of its forehead.

Again, what is the whole purpose of groundwork? To get horses to make snappy turns, or come in sharp and fast? In short, is it to obtain a performance? Or is it, rather, to foster the deep equanimity, the total inner OKness of the animal? We get performance when the Birdie comes to us -- if you know the law of the Birdie, then you know that the horse's body MUST go where its Birdie is. So that then, if the person kidnaps the horse's Birdie, certainly the horse's body will come quick. This is all the audience sees. But is this the purpose?

We here know that it is not the purpose. The only way to foster deep OKness in the horse is to give the horse its own Birdie, which is to say, to teach it that when you are out there in front of him, you are only a crutch. It does not stop at the crutch. The Birdie must go all the way home, and that means not to you but to him.

This is why you walk in and pet the horse's forehead when he has complied. As John S. Rarey said in 1854, "the horse's forehead is the true home."

Now reading this may change the way you work with your horse on the ground. If you have children, Helen, you will know this same truth that I am trying to tell you. If you don't have children, and your mother is still living, I invite you to go talk with her about this: there was a point, when you were very small, and your mother had come home from the hospital with you. She would lay you down in the crib after nursing you, and then she would have some other things to do around the house. But right at first, you were the center of her world and the center of her attention, so that anytime you cried, day or night, she would go to you and pick you up and see what the matter was.

One day, anywhere from about one month to about four months after you came home with your mamma, she was pretty busy. Maybe you weren't the first child, and there were toddlers in the house who also demanded her attention. There was dinner to cook, the other children wanted this or that, you started crying, and the phone rang -- all at the same time.

By this point your mother knew that you weren't going to suffer harm if she didn't pick you up just instantly. So she answered the telephone instead, and it was her mother or her best friend and so she hooked the phone under her ear and kept stirring her pan on the stove and talking instead of going over to pick you up. You were going "wahha-wahha-wahha" in the staccato manner of very young infants.

BUT -- all of a sudden, a miracle occurred. You stopped crying. You know why you did that? Because that was the moment when you found your own thumb. You discovered it. You, a tiny little baby, discovered (and I am telling you, this IS a miracle) that you could self-comfort. You could comfort yourself. In our horsemanship metaphor, we would say "you called your own Birdie in to yourself". Because, you see, when a baby's body is born, his Birdie is not usually born at the same time. It stays inside her mother until the child finds it within herself to call her own Birdie to herself.

Psychologists consider this the first act of individuation.

This is what the true purpose of groundwork is. To teach the horse that he can suck his own thumb. To teach him that he can call his own Birdie to himself, carry it himself, and not lose it, not have it fly back to the herd.

And not have it fly back to you. Because, you see, just as there is a difference between a horse retaining its OKness -- its Birdie is sitting on its forehead -- and yet it can look out from there at the herd running around in the pasture -- vs. where its Birdie flies right away and joins the herd. Just as there is this difference "going out", we want to get the same difference "coming in". We want to be able to call the horse's attention, call its will, so it perceives "ahh, my human is calling me", and it is its Birdie that sees this. We want to get it to where its Birdie sees this, and yet does not fly to you, but instead, brings or pulls the horse's body until both the body and the Birdie arrive to where you've asked them to be. So that, even in coming to you, you never divide the horse's body from its Birdie.

You see now what you have to do. There is NO difference between calling the Birdie from the ground, or from outside the pen, or from the saddle. You are there, as your mother was there, to help the horse not to lose his Birdie and, if it is already lost, to help him get it back. But you need to be sure that it's to him it goes. You fade right out of there.

What happens if you don't fade right out of there? I know a woman who has a 19 year old son. Long ago, when the boy was in third grade, they tested them for reading and found out that he was bright and a good reader. So they put him in with a group of fifth-graders for reading class.

He didn't have any trouble reading the fifth-grade books. But he came home and said to his mother, "those big kids frighten me." So she pulled him out of the advanced reading class, instead of helping him to get and hold his own Birdie.

When he was about the same age, he was in T-Ball learning to throw and bat with the other boys. One day when he and his mom were at a game, the pitch came in and it hit him on the shoulder. The boy went over to his mother and said, "when that ball hits me it hurts." And so she pulled him out of T-Ball, instead of helping him to stand up there at the plate and take a swat at it anyway, and laugh instead of cry whenever he got struck, because really, as we all know, it isn't gonna kill you. But not allowing the boy to get and hold his own Birdie WILL kill him.

Now that he is 19, you can imagine what his body looks like. I think that she will be lucky if the boy can ever find a way to succeed at anything, because every time life brought them an opportunity for the boy to separate from his mother, she arranged it so that would not happen.

Training horses takes a good deal of insight and a certain amount of humor. You have to call 'em in when they need it, and then you have to cut 'em loose when they need it. And you have to figure out how to tell the difference. Of course, the deeper reason why the woman I am speaking of can't let go of her son is because she is afraid, deep down, that if she lets him individuate -- gives him the good swift kick which says 'get out there and give it more of a try', which is what he really needs -- but she doesn't do that because what she is afraid of is that if she does this then he will not love her.

I have spoken in another thread of this same fear that many women have around being sufficiently firm with their horses -- they are afraid that Muffy will not love them. But if this woman had encouraged her son to grow, to take a few chances and try himself out a little, stretch a little, be a little braver -- then she would have found out that, in the act of sending him away, she multiplied his attachment to her a hundredfold.

So you now realize what's to be done. When you're in the saddle, you're behind the horse's head. From there, you cannot call the Birdie to the front, so instead, you call it to the side. You turn. You perceive where he would have wanted to go, and then you tell him to go exactly there. You find out what his idea would have been, and then you fix it up so that his idea is your idea. Then you mutate this so that you have an idea, and you get him interested in your idea. Then you make your idea his idea. Because if it never was his idea, then you're just dragging him around anyway.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 12:40 am
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Thank you, Dr Deb. You guessed correctly that I had done some groudwork; however one of the greatest frustrations in reading this forum is that I do not have my own horse and don't have access to one that I can train in this way. I take riding lessons weekly, but that is just an hour riding. I also rent a horse once a month for pony club which goes all day, but it doesn't seem fair to me to use this time to try and get this kind of response when the rest of the month he is used as a riding school horse for many different people, including beginners.
Thanks for your help.

Pam
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 01:06 am
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Dr. Deb,

Can you expand on that explanation of making your horse's idea your idea?  You say that you need to perceive where he would have wanted to go and you tell him to go there.  Do you mean this literally?  For instance, if my horses is wanting to ride over to a certain person or section of the arena because it interests him, do I just go with it?

Thanks,
Pam

Last edited on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 01:08 am by Pam

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 01:40 am
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Yes, Pam, that is what you do, unless there is some reason why going where the horse wants to go would be unsafe.

You may -- indeed you must -- regulate the speed at which you go there. If he at any time goes even a little bit too fast for you, or loses his relaxation, then turn into a circle quietly until he gets OK again, and then stop, and ask him where he'd like to go again.

If he goes the first place quietly, or equally if he needs a circle or more than one circle, but then he eventually gets there quietly -- then when you get there pet him and stand there a while. Then see if you can't draw his interest to another spot, and when he sees that spot, then go there. Him seeing the spot is when it becomes, or is, his idea.

You can report back to me what results from allowing your horse to have "good" ideas, and from your going along with his idea. -- Dr. Deb

Pam
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 01:56 am
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Wow....this is going to be fun!  I can't believe I'm getting permission to let my horse have good ideas.  This is so counter to what I have been taught.   Must be why when he sees a fence to jump, you just have to point and he goes.  He must love to jump! 

Thanks for clearing that up for me!
Pam

Pam
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 10:58 pm
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Dr. Deb,

Well, last night I went along with two of my horse's good ideas like you said. 

I was riding with of a friend of mine and we were goofing off alot.  You know riding a little, resting a little and chatting.  At one point while I was talking, my horse decided he wanted a cookie (I carry them in a dog training pouch) so he did a bow, knowing he would receive a cookie.  Then, when my friend left the arena he wanted to follow her to the gate so I let him.  He walked behind her very calmly and stopped there.  She left the arena and we just sat there for a little bit, adjusting to the change.  Then he wanted to walk on so we did.  We just stayed for a few minutes longer and then I hopped off, took his saddle and bridle off, and let him roll in the sand arena. 

Is this what you call going along with his idea?  What I did notice is how much it mellowed me out to not have to always be dictating what will happen.  There were no struggles just a happy natural flow to things.  I left the barn in a pretty good mood..my horse was the same.

Thanks,

Pam  

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 9th, 2007 05:18 am
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Yes, Pam. This is what it would be good to have it be like....every time. Please keep looking for similar opportunities. -- Dr. Deb

Annie F
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 Posted: Sun Aug 12th, 2007 04:01 pm
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For me, the idea of letting your horse follow his own birdie now and then is practically shocking, it's so unconventional--and it's felt very mysterious to me--so I appreciate people asking these detailed questions about it, and getting Dr. Deb's very concrete descriptions and responses, so that I can begin to practice it with my own horse.

This morning, I happened to come across an article about John Henry, a thoroughbred who was unmanageable as a stallion, then after he was gelded had a long racing career here in the U.S., and achieved many milestones. He is now 32 years old. It's at http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=10161

I am not a fan of racing and think it is unforgivable that here in the U.S. the premier races are run when the horses are only 3 years old. But the reason this article caught my eye is that it seems that, at last, at 32 years of age, John Henry is being allowed to follow his birdie. He explores his world at the Kentucky Horse Park each day during a long walk, following his own curiosity and interest. And this apparently has led to a big change in his behavior.

I know in the end the concept of the birdie is more subtle--not just "go where your horse wants to go" but learn to synchronize your horse's birdie and your own so that your ideas become his, and this leads to straightness (and I bet to engagement, too).  But this article really made me think of how important the first steps of just letting your horse follow his birdie really are.  I would never have thought of that as a positive thing before--I think the conventional view is that it is a weakness in training to "let your horse have his way."

Reading it made me say to myself, "ok, Annie, you better not make your horse wait decades while you figure this out!"

Annie

Last edited on Sun Aug 12th, 2007 04:23 pm by Annie F

Pam
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 Posted: Mon Aug 13th, 2007 07:32 pm
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Hi Annie,

I just started with these concepts of being with my horse and already he is soooo much happier and much more affectionate too.  I can actually feel from him that he likes being with me now. I do all sorts of creative things with him that I wouldn't have thought of before.  I even take him with me to do chores now and he just happily walks along.  He especillay likes walking with me to the manure pile to dump our bucket of offerings from his stall.  It seems the opportunites for happiness in everday things are endless now to me.  The other day he bowed five times while I was mounted.  Bowing has become his very favortie movement.  I actually had to say "enough" lets find something else to do.

When I watch videos of us riding from just a year ago it almost makes me want to cry.  My horse is so stiff and braced looking compared to how he goes now.  He actually looks scared most of the time in those old videos.  It is hard for me to believe that I used to buy into the conventional type of training.  It is in-humane in my opinion and a complete dis-service to willing students.  It nearly ruined my horse and I.  Thank God I was dissatisfied with it all because I wouldn't have searched any further for a better way of being.  I feel sorry for my friends that still buy into that stuff but most of them won't listen to anything but what their instructors tell them.
 
Happy Riding....you lucky girl!
Pam 

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 Posted: Mon Aug 13th, 2007 10:23 pm
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Hi Annie,

Me again.  Just watched the video of John Henry and read the article about him.  It is so hard for me to believe that people with that much experience around horses just figured out how smart he is and that he needs to have a life that he enjoys.  Nevertheless, I'm glad they figured it out.  What an awesome horse John Henry is.  I hope my guy lives to be 32 years old.

I don't think much of the horse racing industry myself, but I sure do love those Thoroughbreds that it has produced!

Thanks for sharing,

Pam


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