This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

May the force be with you!

"May the force be with you!" That catch-phrase has been around for at least 25 years now. Fortunately, it has no place in our "world o' clickin'!" (Must be close to St. Patrick's Day - I'm talking like a leprechaun! LOL)
I was thinking about that yesterday when I was playing clicker with Split. Split is the kind of pony who will do just about anything you ask of him. I can even force him into doing things and he'll comply but the look in his eyes clearly says, "Why don't you just ask me politely?" And forcing the issue, of course, brings out tenseness and a heightened sense of "flight or fight." He would never knock me down or push me aside to get away but at the first sign of an opening, he's outta there! And who can blame the poor guy? If someone was always pushing us around and forcing us to things that are new and maybe even scary or contrary to what we felt was safe, we'd run, too.
Split is very good at backing, both on line and at liberty. He'll back straight up as far as I want him to and then return to get his treat. Taking hold of his halter and asking him to back in a square, however, is another matter. What is it about me holding onto that lead and halter and asking him to back as opposed to him backing straight up by himself? Well, I suppose that when he's backing under his own steam, he feels that he's in control. He can stop when he feels unsafe or unsure; he can make his own decision. When I take hold of his halter, perhaps he feels like, "Oh, crap. I'm trapped."
Split's also a bit of a claustrophobic when it comes to his stall. To "set the stage" for you, I'll describe my barn. It's small but very old. It's constructed of mortise and tenon which gives you an indication of its age. It has a good-sized open floor space, small hay loft, and originally had 3 standing stalls.
Over the years, the pins in the mortise and tenon had started to slip out of the joints and the sides of the barn were beginning to literally bow out. When my husband offered to buy me a horse, we realized that our first job was restoring the barn. Unfortunately, this was no job for your run-of-the-mill carpenter; we had to call in barn restoration specialists. So, for the price of a small foreign country, the barn was rebuilt and the 3 standing stalls ripped out and made into one long, narrow stall area with a dutch door at either end. Split is an outdoor kind of guy. He's out there in the rain, the snow, the wind....whatever. He refuses to eat his hay inside. I'm as financially savvy as the next guy (ok, I'm cheap) and I hate to see my hard-earned money (flakes of hay) blowing out into the meadow when it's windy out. So...on those bad-weather days, I always put the flakes inside. Jingle the mini donk is content to munch inside but Split uses his nose as a bulldozer and methodically pushes his flakes outside where he can dine al fresco. Sigh..........There goes another 5 bucks. I give both Split and Jingle a "treat" of a handful of hay stretcher pellets with their evening hay and Split will eat them out of the manger but as soon as they're consumed, he's out the door! He's also very "antsy" inside when the vet and blacksmith come. He's cooperative and behaves nicely but as soon as that halter comes off, he's outta there!
Yesterday we started off in the paddock with Why Would You Leave Me (simple explanation: Split walks beside me politely - no mugging for treats allowed) which was a huge success. Split is so good at this now that I can focus more on what I'M doing than what HE'S doing, both of which are intertwined. I tend to be very stiff with my body which brings out some interesting behaviors in Split. Yesterday I really concentrated on keeping my shoulders down and soft, and using my hips to influence where Split went. It was amazing! I could actually go from being deliberately stiff to opening up my shoulders and loosening my hips and get markedly different responses!!
We also did some targeting with a new target I've created. I took an old soda bottle and fastened it to the end of a lunge whip. I covered the bottle in duct tape and - voila! - a "follow me" target. (Feel free to copy any of my genius ideas! ha ha) This was a HUGE success! Split loved it. At first we just targeted at a stand-still. Then I moved the target a few feet away. Clever fellow that he is, Split simply stretched his neck and targeted the bottle. Each success was clicked and treated (C/T). I finally moved the bottle far enough away that he had to actually walk to it but he would walk just close enough to streeeeeeeetch his neck and target. No treat. He finally figured out that he had to actually walk up to the bottle and touch it. This didn't take long and in the end he followed that target all around the paddock and right into the barn.
Here's where things got interesting. I sensed immediately that Split tensed up as soon as he came into the barn. Aha! Here was something new for us to play with!! As stated previously, Split has always had "sticky feet" when it comes to Backing In A Square (backing from points A to B to C to D and back to A - picture the 4 corners of a square - with me at the helm, i.e. guiding him with the halter). Sounds easy, right?? (Ok, you go out and try it! LOL) It's hard enough when you have a large open space and a square laid out with an orange cone at each corner. Picture me doing this in my stall area - narrow and confining. I first turned Split so that he was going to be backing down the "long" side of the stall; my goal was to back him far enough that we could then "back in a square" in front of his manger (that part is a bit bigger than the rest of the stall). I asked him to back. He tensed up and his feet got sticky. The look on his face was clearly, "Oh, crap. I can't do this. Why am I doing this? I don't know what's back there." (He's only lived there for 4 years! LOL) But he did it! He got his C/T for those first few steps. We successfully completed "back in a square" but it was quite evident that Split was not happy about it. In a "previous life," (before clicker), I would have been quite happy with that. But I wasn't happy now. I knew that Split had done as I'd asked simply because I'd ASKED him - he was still unsure of himself. We walked forward and started again. I asked him to back and the MOST AMAZING THING happened! He dropped his nose to the floor, sighed, and just stood there!!!! Clearly, many of you are thinking, he was ignoring me or disobeying my command. No, he was CALMING HIMSELF!! We've been working on "head down" for a few years now but never has Split OFFERED it to me in a "nervous situation" before! It was just thrilling!! I waited and waited and finally he raised his head again. I asked him to back and his nose again went right to the floor! He sighed and stayed like that. Now I was really getting excited! He was communicating to me that he needed time to think about things. He was telling me that he was unsure of himself; that he was nervous about backing up into such a small space. He was saying, "Just give me a second, Mom, to think this over and get my act together." We stood in companionable silence until the head came up again. He used "head down" three times. The third time he raised his head and I asked him to back, he willingly backed 2 steps!!! C/T and much praise! The look in his eyes was soft and his ears were up and indicating interest in the game as opposed to swiveling nervously in all directions. In the end, we were able to complete "back in a square." THIS time the difference was that I had a pony who was doing it WILLINGLY because I'd ALLOWED him to take his time; I'd ALLOWED him to make the decision about when he felt comfortable moving his feet. And the fact that he actually OFFERED head down as a self-calming exercise.........well, I'm still walking on air about that!
So....May the force be with you???? No. We can force our animals do to our bidding but at some point that's going to come around to bite you. And I have the scars on my butt to prove it! ha ha ha
We leave you with another quote instead:

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
Winnie the Pooh

Why rush through the rapids when it's so much more fun to float through calm waters? You'll get there eventually. Enjoy the ride!

1 comment:

  1. I love it!! I love it!! I love it!!
    What a delightful blog..You write so clearly. I found myself right there in the barn watching you and Split bonding and learning the Square.

    Keep on keepin' on!

    Jo Ann
    West Virginia