Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Step Three- GET HELP!

Well, this is the point in my 10 Step "I am scared of horses" Recovery Program" where we need to focus on developing some confidence again. The object of this program was not for me to eliminate all of my fear....because that fear is a natural and primal instinct designed to keep me safe! No, the object was to build confidence and allow that confidence to temper the kind of fear that was disabling me from handling horses effectively and safely..... To find the balance between a healthy level of fear and a healthy level of confidence.

What I found was that the only way to develop CONFIDENCE was to get CONTROL.

Repeat after me (You don't really have too....I understand if you dont.... :)


So how do we gain control? By learning new TOOLS. By tools I mean methods, techniques, and specific directions on how to handle and control your horse safely.

And how do we learn new tools? By taking lessons, going to clinics, reading books, watching DVDs, mentoring with a friend, or by taking whatever helping hand you can find.

So.... Step Three is- GET HELP!

The most important thing I learned by going to that clinic with Shaunit was that TOOLS, no matter what form or package they come in, are always a 'good thing'. (Martha Stewart agrees.) I went looking for tools in the very place I had least expected to find them.... I had a Parelli prejudice and no interest in playing games, carrot sticks or teaching my horse "tricks".

What I quickly learned, in the first hour of the clinic, was two very important things....

First, that Level 1 (of my ex parelli guru's program) just happened to give me the most important tool I needed! Which was the ability to send away and set my horse in a specific spot and have him stay there! This little trick was exactly what the doctor ordered because it meant that I could send or set Shaunti as far away from me as I needed in order to make myself feel comfortable and safe.

The second thing I learned was that.....carrot sticks ROCK!

This fancy dancy little tool (literally speaking this time) was my very own Star Wars style lightsaper with which I could battle the dark side! ... sorry... I took it one step too far again, didnt I? ....

Now in actuality, a carrot stick doesn't provide much protection at all from a 1000 pound animal... but it does give you the means to control your horse's body at a distance! -Away from the danger zone!! (saying that always makes me think of the movie Top Gun and the song Danger Zone...yah, I know...I'm weird)

Now, I am not saying that everyone needs a "carrot stick" in order to overcome their fears! Not at all. The carrot stick just a tool that I learned to use while I was getting help! What is important is that I was willing to try anything, even something as wacky doodle as a carrot stick.

Which brings me back to the third post of this blog.... "I own a Stick" July 14, 2008

Here is part of it (slightly revised)....

Okay, so.....I own a stick. It is not orange. Mine is black with a fancy white string at the end. I had a few color options at the time of purchase- I went with the most inconspicuous. I have a carrot stick bias. For those who don't follow the Lords of our sport, the Gurus, the Gods, let me explain the carrot stick.

There is a natural horsemanship clinician that some would call THE God of all things natural, Pat Parelli. In truth, the methods he sells have been around since before he was born- used by rough neck cowboys and clinicians, real men that drank whiskey straight, ate their steak raw and smoked a pack a day! But what Parelli did- that they didnt-was package up his methods in shiny black boxes filled with 8 DVDs and sell them for over $200 a pop. They didn't come up with graduated level systems, must have gadgets, ropes and saddles, special academies or clubs...etc. He actually had the nerve to make ground work games! Games!!!

You see, Parelli is is a marketing genius. I am sure he has done really well for himself, which would be the first strike against him- he actually made money! What a sell out! His demographic is largely comprised of 40+ women that had horses in their youth but were too busy raising babies for the past 20 years to pursue a sport of their own. They are scared of horses and don't know how to handle them safely. The want to be friends with their horses. Its all that lovey, dovey, one with nature, granola stuff that the baby boomers famously eat up like hot cakes. And Pat Parelli- he is their GOD.

I don't follow Parelli. I thought that the Parelli hens were nuts. Their horses, crazy. Their methods, dangerous. They all carry around this thing they call a carrot stick, a bright orange 4 foot long piece of heavy plastic resembling a fishing rod with a rope of about six feet or so attached to the end. They use this stick to do their games. I didn't get it. I poked fun- as did all the REAL horse people. I wouldn't be caught dead with one.

I own a "horsemanship stick". Its black. Did I mention that it is not a carrot stick? Why do I have one? Because I am scared of horses! And all the other real horsemen are mean people that force you to "cowgirl up" and just go "get'r done", buck up, suck up...all without the benefit of a brightly colored stick to defend yourself with. Or so it seemed... in my eyes. I was desperate. A trainer that was once a "Certified Parelli Level Three Instructor" was holding a clinic and I signed up. He didn't have games. Bonus! He did have levels and an item for sale that conspicuously resembled a carrot stick but came in every color under the rainbow BUT orange. I found this highly suspicious.

The first day of the clinic, I found myself standing with a 'horsemanship stick' in my hands. For the next 3 months I didn't let go. It was a crutch, soother, baby blanket, whatever you want to call it but I LOVED that thing like I have never loved something inanimate in my life. It gave me power!

When I combined this fancy new tool with the body control techniques I learned that first day of the clinic- I gained the first tenuous foothold in my long climb to feeling confident with horses again. Whether your fear lies on the ground or up in the saddle, your ability to feel confident relies on being your ability to be in control of your horse... when you are in control, confidence comes easy.

Step Four tomorrow!

***** Thank you all for your comments on yesterdays post. Your support is, as always, greatly appreciated.*****


  1. Wouldn't a shorter shafted longe whip do the same darn thing?

    I get that it's about YOU feeling in control. If the stick helps YOU feel empowered, good for you! But does it have to be a damn carrot stick?

    With my Very Tall Arab, I heard a lot of NH crap. Pardon the language here. It's a bit of a sore spot. But, I get what you're saying and we'll get to that.

    I boarded the VTA at a barn where Parelli and Anderson were THE GODS. And it was also a barn full of stock horses, not silly Arab boys. One time in particular, I was free longing the VTA and this old biddy calls to me "All you're doing is teaching him to be scared of you! You'll never catch him!" because I had a longe whip and I cracked it a couple times to get his focus and him moving forward. When the VTA quit being so baby-brained and started acting more like a teenager, he started pushing his boundaries and pushing into my physical space. I tried everything the people at this barn told me to do. I would often leave the barn frustrated and in tears and feeling like a failure. The VTA treated me like his personal teddy bear. I couldn't do anything with him. I was unhappy and he was getting dangerous. One day, I quit listening and I did things my way, the way I was taught as a teenager at a very successful show barn. When the VTA went to rub his big old head on me, I whacked him. I whacked him pretty hard. He backed up. He became a bit more respectful. All the "driving him off" in the world didn't work. It just created a battle of wills. But one good "I'm the boss, darn you!" whack with the palm of my hand sure got his attention and started a behavior shift in a positive way. When I walked out of his stall, all the NH'ers around lit into me for hitting my horse. I just ignored it and continued to do things my way with him from then on. The nature of our relationship changed. The VTA got more respectful after that. And I wasn't his teddy bear any longer.

    Now, I DID listen to your point. That carrot stick thingy let you feel empowered and in control. You learned a new way to do things. That's good. I support that. There's always more to learn. Learning should never, ever stop.

    I too, have fear. My fear is of being out of control. At 19, my head shattered the rear window of a hatchback when my friends and I were hit by a drunk driver. I ended up with a fist sized blood blister on my head located near the balance center of my brain. (I experienced vertigo for years afterwards) Two months later, I fell off a horse at a walk while being led. One minute I was on the horse, the next I was on the ground and I laughed about it. But, since that car accident, my confidence has been shaken. It wasn't a horse accident that caused my fear, it was a car accident. This has impacted my life in so many ways. Sometimes I really stress when CP is driving. Because I don't have control. I stress sometimes when I'm riding, because I'm afraid of not having control. I don't bungee jump or ride carnival rides. Because I'm afraid of not having control.

  2. Interesting posts - I'm waiting for more so I can digest the whole story. I like your perspective on the whole thing.

    I missed commenting on the last post about Shaunti - I've been thinking about it all day today. I think what you did for him is incredible - to have the sight and knowledge to see what he was and wasn't capable of - what a story of growth. Too bad about the way it ended, but you gave him a gift of another chance...anyway...I'm not really expressing myself well here, but I hope you know what I mean...

  3. I have a carrot stick and love it. It is not a longe whip, it doesn't snap like a whip. It is described as "an extension of the arm." I never have any reason to snap a whip at my horse, but tossing the carrot stick/rope at him to motivate him works well. I have found it has many useful purposes, actually. I have seen Pat Parelli use the carrot stick to "whack" horses, both with the stick end and the rope end. It kind of bounces off of them, hard to explain. It's not like the sash of a longe whip, which hurts like heck (I know, we've all accidently snapped ourselves with it, right?! ;) The carrot stick is more like "pressure" or a "motivator", I guess?

  4. Another very interesting post (And comments from others, too: Oregon Sunshine).
    I've never done NH or Parelli, but I'm new with horses, too (one year). I do think that I'd like to do more groundwork with my horse before I get back up and ride her again, once my Dr. gives the go ahead, of course.

    I think ground work will help give me more confidance as well as rebuild the trust and respect my horse needs to have for me, and didn't have for 6 months when I wasn't able to ride her.

    Problem is that I'm not sure where to start in our groundwork..and what techniques to use, what our goals should be, and so on.

    I look forward to reading more about your carrot stick adventures :)


  5. I'm really, REALLY enjoying your blog, keep these coming!!!!

  6. You have been a bloggin' fool! I don't know how I missed all these posts, but I had a lot of catching up to do.

    Thank you for posting about Shaunti. I know that had to be hard.

  7. It's so funny with NH because like you said, none of their techniques are really new, they just put a fancy label and sell it. I went to a Frank Bell clinic and while it was fun, he didn't do anything for my mare that he said he would. She was supposed to be his example for a video. He basically put her off to one side once he could tell he wasn't going to get done nearly what he thought he was going to because *gasp* she wasn't ALREADY broke. lol I don't know. But, if you can take anything, anything at all away from a clinic, then it was worth it. Each of my first two trainers taught my mare something to help in the training process and we got somewhere, so I don't consider them failures.

    And I personally had to use that lunge whip, yes as an extension of my hand, to smack my mare on the butt to finally get her to go. Snapping it did nothing. If you tried to snap it ON her, she would fly off the handle and go crazy, but it did work well to tap (and eventually tap harder) and she responded.

    I am liking your blog and reading. The Shaunti blog made me tear up, so I didn't comment :) I don't ever want to trade places with anyone who has to make that choice, but you know it was the right one and he was better because of it.

  8. I want to say thank you to all of you out there who are supporting Chelsi in this personal journey that she has found herself on. You all make my heart swell with the love that you show her, and how much you understand what an incredibly insightfull person she is. You all have brought tears to my eyes as I read your remarks and bring to the table your own anguish with the trials in your life. Thank you for sharing those as well.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Why Chelsi, I never knew you felt the same way about the Parelli's as I do...LOL!!!!!

    I am glad you found the confidence and power that you needed from your version of the carrot stick. The problem that I always have with NH people (especially alot of Parelli ones), is that they are supposed to be learning how to control their horses, but their horses still end up controlling them.

    I guess that really has nothing to do with NH/Parelli. It has more to do with some of the people (some, but not all!!) who are attracted to his methods. They probably work great if you are a strong, confiednt person already.

    Enough about them...I am just so happy that you are developing/have developed confidence. Horses are big, scary, and at times "out of control" animals, aren't they???

    On to step four..... :)

  11. I don't particularly subscribe to any clinician, but I've learned a lot from several. Mostly what I have learned is that they are really good at marketing Ray Hunt's theories.

    The way I see it is, a clinician is there to give you the tools(literally and figuratively-LOL) and then it is up to the person to figure out how to make them work. Sadly, what seems to have happened is that people just don't get "it". Either they do not have the time or they do not have the inclination to take the information they have been handed and actually work on learning something along the way. In short they want someone to tell them what to do in every instance and well...horses just don't work that way. You have to work at them and the learning process is never over. One technique may work on 10 horses and then there will be that one who needs something else. People get stuck, because they become so focused on learning the technique they forget to pay attention to how the technique works for the horse.

    Did any of that make sense???

    Long story short...there is no step by step manual for working with horses. There are only guidelines. I think the Parelli's(and others) try to sell people on the idea that if they do this every single time, their horse will do that, every single time and it just doesn't work that way.

  12. Oregon Sunshine, the big difference between a carrot stick and a lunge whip is the rigidness of the "stick" portion. It is much heavier and is not a "whip"...(sting) it is more like an actual stick! Sorry.. hard to explain. I am sorry you had to put up with so much NH crap at your barn. I find that in almost all horse people in general...no matter which "clique" they belong too! I hope these posts give you some ideas on working through fear!

    Laura- I know what you mean and thank you. I hope you come back to read the rest!

    Pony Girl- you did a much better job of explaining the carrot stick than I did :) . It does kind of bounce of them and doesnt have the sting of a lounge whip. It is very much and extension of your arm.

    Lisa- I am not a "one Guru" kinda gal! I think you should take what feels right for you from each trainer or clinician. I would take a clinic with someone that is only going to focus on ground work who's focus is on training YOU not the horse. Parelli is good that way in that other clinicians tend to focus on how to fix a horse rather than how to train you.

    Gecko- glad you enjoy them! Come back for more, ya'here!

    Leah Fry- I have been bloggin'! I am writing this ten steps thing and then will go back to my creative writing (outside of the blog).

    Ezra- thank you! And yes, a loung whip can do the same thing in allowing you to motivate or control your horse from a distance. Staying out of the danger zone is a good thing!

    Melanie- I dont know the Parelli program, other than it is related to the clinic I did...so I really cant say but I do feel that a lot of his "reputation" can be attributed to his demographic. Not many of the people in my clinic took as much from it as I did. They just dont get "it"...but they think they do...which is actually worse.

    BECG- I totally agree. I hate that people are so trigger happy to pick a "guru" and think that it is the only way. As I mentioned above, the Parelli demographic hurst him more than anything. And, like you said, it depends on the horse. You also have to take and use what fits your own style and that of your orse. I have to tell this story soon about a clinic I went to once where the trainer shouted out and asked for an "amen" and the whole crowed chanted back to him like zombies...it was scary...seriously! LOL

  13. I a ahemm, have a horsemanship stick as well, mine is blue. It is a huge confidence builder, when you find your confidence laying on the ground around you. I am loving the posts. It reminds me so much of my journey.


  14. I a ahemm, have a horsemanship stick as well, mine is blue. It is a huge confidence builder, when you find your confidence laying on the ground around you. I am loving the posts. It reminds me so much of my journey.