One reason I journal or blog is to keep records of my thoughts and training as it progresses with the horses. In swiffering the journal recently, I had the opportunity to really contemplate Z’s history and the progress she has made. To the outside observer, this progress may seem very minute and possibly even negligible; however to me and husband, we can see how far she has come and how much she has matured.
Talking about maturity, I had been cautioned by her breeder that her line is slow to mature and I’ve definitely seen that with Z’s mental capabilities. I’ve seen a huge maturity leap in these last 10 days in compared to where she was last summer and in August she turned five. I have to agree that a full training program of the horse at two (a common thing in my area of the country) is not really in the best interest of the horse.
As horsemen and women we need to continue to grow in our understanding of the horse. With our individual experiences, genetics, environment and emotions, we each bring our own flavor to the training and riding we will do. Each new exposure to ideas through books, video, clinics, lessons and discussions with other horse people, broadens and widens our horse understanding.
In talking with Molly about bracing, I returned to Mark Russell’s Lessons in Lightness, the experiences I had with doing the Masterson Method on Z, and on some experiences I had at a Linda Tellington-Jones TTEAM clinic a few years ago. I’m not sure a lightbulb came on but the lightbulb got a bit brighter: my understanding of resistance, compliance, and the meaning of “relaxedness” shifted into a clearer focus.
Some of my realizations:
I need to ask with a lot less pressure. I need to think Air Gap, Egg Yolk and Grape (see Masterson Method : Beyond Horse Massage page 6 for a complete breakdown of how he describes touch ) and Linda Tellington-Jones definition of pressure as 1-3 (see The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book page 148).
Wait for it…. I need to remember to give Z time to respond before I ask again or ask with more. This waiting is far longer than you think it would be. Back to the Masterson Method, though a massage method for horses and not a riding or training ideology, it gives details on how the horse responds to a human with the touch and response sequence of Search, Response, Stay and Release (pp 11-12).
Applying this to training, I would Ask, Stay, Pause, Ask, Response, and Release. For example, I ask Z to lower her head. I would ask with whatever cue/aid (in this case, raised reins and a gentle, alternate jiggle of my reins), Stay asking and if she doesn’t give me a response, gentle my response even more before asking again. When Z gives me the response I want or even part of the response I want, I would release. If I needed her to lower her head even more I would repeat the process.
Understand that the horse may give a very subtle response showing a relaxed acceptance (not just compliance). I’m looking for certain body cues that tells me she has let go of resistance or bracing (which could be mental or physical) and is relaxing into the request: blinking, sigh, expelling a deep breath, licking, chewing, change in ear position, lowering the head, sleepy eye, yawn, snorting and sneezing etc…
Unless I receive a clear sign that she has relaxed into the request, she may have just complied but not relaxed. I’m finally grasping this subtle distinction on how it evolves the ability of using her body in the best manner possible.
Mark Russell in the introduction of his book Lessons in Lightness, writes: Once the horse releases stiffness and tension throughout his body, there will be no resistance to energy traveling forward from the haunch. The horse then finds forward impulsion with less effort.
Russell’s Lightness concentrates on relaxing from the front to back by asking the jaw to release, the head to lower below the shoulders, and relaxation in the TMJ (Temporomandibular joint see pp 30-37 for a full description) and the head down with flexion exercises. If you take this work you can see the comparison to Masterson’s exercises: Lateral Cervical Flexion, Head Down and Head Up. A relation to Peggy Cummings Connect your Horse from the Ground Up can also be seen.
Take it slow and not rush the work. I wanted results faster and thought if I used more pressure I would get it. The exact opposite was true and with a horse that builds braces in the neck and throatlatch is going to pick tension first, especially when you add in a personality that is “stiff necked”, dominant, and potentially aggressive.
It’s essential that I ask softly and WAIT, before proceeding.
Sometimes you have to approach sideways to get where you want to be. By concentrating on relaxation and controlling the feet (which is a separate blog entry), suddenly the issues with the mounting block (pinning ears whenever anyone close to her got higher in height then she) vanished.
I’m hoping to get some videos up soon to show more about what I’m talking about. Photos won’t show it since it’s a matter of waiting and looking for responses in relation to requests. These videos will be showing quite small changes and I hope they are a bit more interesting than watching paint dry.
I’m also putting together a feet and movement post that will go up today or tomorrow depending on how quickly I can get my thoughts down.