I spent a few hours of my day watching and taking notes from the Parelli Liberty DVD. Not only did I learn a lot, but it was super inspiring! Pat also addressed how playing with our horses at liberty relates to “the real world” and how it is not, as some claim, “circus tricks”. It answered a lot of my questions and taught me much about some of the stuff I was having difficulties with as well as other things that had occurred or that I had been taught, but that I had never fully understood.
One example: Pat was clear that if your horse comes in to you on the circling game while you’re playing with him at liberty, not to offend your horse by sending him out right away and getting after him – don’t make him feel wrong for having too much draw! Instead, thank him and ask him to continue circling (or even just take a moment “off” from whatever you’re doing to just hang out a minute or two, then continue), but allow him to circle closer to you. Maintain your horse’s dignity. It made so much sense to me – Silver usually has a lot of draw and when I send him out, he takes off, because he thinks that he’s wrong to come in. Then, here I am trying to build more draw! Yet he gave it to me earlier and I rejected it. Link, on the other hand, gets really offended and sometimes retaliates, when I send him out again with bigger phases than just pointing – like he’s frustrated at me because he was trying to synchronize with me, “join-up” with me, and I disallowed it. Instead, I should be allowing them to ask questions and offer more, and learn to work with them rather than enforce only what I want to do – that’s what liberty work is about, letting the horse express himself as well! So should be all our work with our horses – a partnership based on what the horse wants to do as well.
Anyways, so of course, after the DVD, I was pretty intent on doing some liberty work myself! I started with Silver, since he is my most advanced horse and the one most likely ready for some of the liberty work I wanted to try. We did all our 7 games on-line on the 12’ (pretending he was loose), then at complete liberty – friendly, porcupine, driving (difficult, because he wanted to be crooked – I had to learn how to keep him straight without ropes on him!), yo-yo, circling (at first he just circled the pen we were in, but after a few moments he started to circle me!), sideways (thanks to the fence this time), and squeeze (having him hide his HQ on each side of the “squeeze”). I even got him to do double turns, like in the video! It was pretty difficult to communicate to Silver what I wanted of him – he wanted to face me, but eventually we got it. I would ask him to turn away from me, then “catch” him as he was turning back towards me, and get him to turn again – 360 – and at liberty. It was very sweet!! We also did changes in direction on our circling game, and transitions (those need more work). Lastly, I finished teaching Silver to lead by the forelock, mane, ear, hind and forelegs, and tail. I’d started teaching him awhile back, but only a session or two, and probably a couple months ago. He’s a fast learner though and wanted to do what I asked, so it only took a moment or two with each new thing for him to be backing/following me softly, with light phases. It was really neat!!! We ended there, with a great connection together.
Second up, I worked with Link – at first just all our usual stuff on the 12’, then some on the 22’. We did all our games pretending as if there weren’t a rope and he did well, so I took the rope off. He did the first 3 games (friendly, porcupine, driving) at liberty, but the rest were shot – he wasn’t willing to work with me, fully focused, at all. He just had so much energy and that energy was scattered every which way, distracted by everything! No worries though – we continued the rest of the games on the 22’ and he did well. Another technique I applied to all the horses, including Link, was having Link come in to me off a circle when I backed up. Of course he wasn’t really paying attention, so I had to “pick him up” via disengaging his HQ a bit (which would get him to walk towards me, then I’d back and he’d follow further). Silver was already reading me and wanted to be with me and so picked it up right away, but Link was quite hard to bring in – he wanted to be out where he was, out on the circle and picking up speed, and he wasn’t in tune with me enough to even notice and thus respond to my backing, encouraging him to come in from the circle. This is something I learned when I first started (backing and having the horse come in softly), but had logged it away – I didn’t realise its importance of it at the time. Now though, I can see how it applies to liberty work, so it is something I am trying to teach all our horses. Anyways – Link started to become lighter and pick it up a bit, but it is going to be a bit of a long haul. He is very independent and just wants to do things his way – even when he does come in, he shakes his head and comes in with a bit of rebelliousness, and invades my space in disrespect (for now I do allow him to walk “on the line” a little, and just ask him nicely not to "cross the line" by walking all over me). It is going to take a lot of work to get him fully tuned in to me as Silver is! Man, this horse is a challenge – I enjoy it, but it’s also a lot of work!! And learning ;)
Cody was last man standing and by the time I got to him (I admit, I took a quick break to watch some of Heartland, hehehe), it was dark, so he seemed a little spookier. He actually did exceptionally well with all of his games – except the sideways game. Going to his left, he side-passed easily along the fence, and without too much hoopla. To his right though, Cody went completely right-brained on me. He’d try to go between me and the fence, and if he couldn’t do that, he would back up, pulling on my left arm, despite my efforts and requests to have him move forward. If I pushed it, he would try to bolt away. The entire time, his body was tense and ready to spring. Bah! I admit I got pretty frustrated (I hate to admit it, but it happens – not very often, because I have the tools and savvy usually to prevent it, but it does happen occasionally, when my human self gets the best of me – it’s all about controlling your emotions and disciplining yourself), so I had to put him away and walk away. Becoming frustrated is not something I can allow – as a horse trainer I need to know better, however I am only human too. It wasn’t Cody’s fault though – someone has really hurt him bad and he was just terrified I was going to beat him (or worse – really, horses, as prey animals, are concerned about being eaten by a predator). It can be frustrating though – you just want to tell him that no one is going to hurt him anymore, to just relax! Unfortunately, horses don’t understand English well enough though. Lol. Anyways, like Pat says though “frustration begins where savvy ends” – I didn’t know what to do. I went inside, talked it out with a friend, and went back outside. Cody actually allowed me to walk right up to him, and we did both our circling game and the sideways game. This time I was calmer and just stayed very very soft and relaxed with him. I found that if I relaxed my body posture while he was standing, braced against the rope, that he would stand a minute or two evaluating my body language to make sure I was for real, then he would come forward. With my being softer and injecting a ton of friendly game (lots of cheek-petting, lol), we worked through all our issues successfully to end the day on a good note. *sigh*