Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I own a stick-cont'd

I had the opportunity to watch a trailer loading demo by my personal Guru, the E.L.T.C.P.I. (Ex- Level Three Parelli Certified Instructor). *grin* He had his hands full. She was a bright bay Arab filly with a typey dished face, huge expressive eyes and a compact leggy bod. She was an Arab with a capital 'A'- in mind, heart, and endurance. She was also just under a year old. I cant remember her name but Freak or Speedo would suit her fine. I'll be nice and go with Filly.

We had spent the past four days on the ground learning and teaching body control and communication. We learned to move a horses body forwards, backwards or sideways using direct or indirect contact. That contact was backed up by a gradual increase of pressure that was only relieved the moment you had an honest try in your desired direction. The basic premise is that the ultimate reward for most horses is the elevation of pressure. You can manipulate a horse into doing just about anything so long as what you want him to do requires less effort and subjects him to less pressure than the alternatives he comes up with.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a horse caught up in a "pull back" situation knows that once a horse has eliminated pulling as an alternative, they will usually try to fling themselves straight through or over whatever unfortunate object they are tied too or being held by. For this reason, the Guru feels it is important that we can "send" our horses into any challenging situation, as to best preserve our safety and to help prepare our horses for having go first into every new situation once we are above and behind them in the saddle. This made sense to me. Leading and following are two very different concepts in a horses mind.

Back the Arab. She had passed Grade 1 with flying colors and had nailed down body control and the concept of seeking the reward in relief. To the trailer we go! A two horse angle haul with black rubber floors and walls and no ramp. Basically a horse eating cave. At the foot, a 12 hand, 400 pound piece of live wire, blood and nerves looking anywhere but in. She had been hauled before. She could be led in without so much as batting an eyelash but as far as she was concerned there was not a chance in hell she was stepping foot in that trailer alone, or for that matter, going forward into anything alone. The Guru figured he'd have her standing quietly inside within 10. It was the first really hot day of the year. The sun was out and the meager shade his cowboy hat afforded him was of little comfort. It had been a long Canadian winter and we were all sweating before the show had even started.

Fast forward a half an hour and you'd find a dripping wet cowboy and a bright eyed bay filly with both front feet in the trailer and her hind feet stretched to an impossible distance on the ground behind her. She looked like a trick saddlebred in full pose. He had worked, inch by inch to get her to that point. Filly knew to within an inch how much of her body she had accepted as being in the trailer as oppose to out. You could walk her away from the trailer and she would, happy as a lark, walk straight in to the exact point she had last been. She'd cock a hip and go to sleep there if she could.

Once she was back to the last success point, he would once again pick up the magic stick and slowly increase the pressure, driving her forward and towards the trailer.

She would balk and move every which way but in....up, down, sideways backwards, into pressure, and away before going directly back to where she had last one step closer. What could he do but reward her for the step?

Pick up the pressure, ask her for another step.

Evasion. Head up, eyes wide, skirting left to right, right to left. Hopping up and down. And then...


The toe of one hind foot touched down in the trailer and rested there.


Her head drops, eyes go quiet, sigh.

He asks her to put her weight in to that foot, moving her body forward.

She backs up out of the trailer. Same reaction. Resistance.

Until she jumps right back to the same point with her hind toe resting touching....*holding my breath*.... heel down, body forward. Sigh.


Back to square one. And so it went. One toe, foot, heel and rib at a time in to the trailer she went.

Some would argue, it was extreme to reward that slight of a try but you simply had to be there when she was kneeling in the trail or if you had watched her quivering toe touch down, and fly away like the floor was scalding hot only to try again and again. How could you not reward her when she finally set it down? Every thought that filly had was written on her face and she had to digest every single one of those inches. I have since watched him help others with loading "difficult" horses and they each had different issues but were simple to work through. Watching Filly was a rare opportunity to see, in an acute fashion, how a horse thinks and the difference between acceptance and tolerance.

I know her owners. She loads into anything, anywhere, every time.

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