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Thea, Part 2

So a few days ago we did another session where I coached Mom through doing some groundwork with Thea.

I used to work with Thea more often, and she tends to invade your space a lot, and want to be right on top of you. Because we knew she was training to be the Head Mare in her mustang herd, I have always interpreted this behavior as fairly dominant, and been quite firm about keeping her out of my space when she invades that way.

And that was absolutely the right thing to do in many ways. But. I wasn't taking into account some subtle things; and I hadn't realized at all how very unconfident Thea can be. It's been a big shift in thinking *for me* to realize just how complicated this horse is. When she's confident, she's simple. It's all straightforward and all systems are 'Go'. But when she's unconfident she both tries to take over, and seeks comfort from the human as well, and you have to deal with her on both fronts simultaneously or it all falls apart.

For a long time Thea has struggled with the Circle game. Circle game, basically, is lunging with more frequent changes in direction and speed. Thea out on a circle = Thea scanning her environment and tuning her human out more often than not and before you know it she'll be careening around in hot-blooded circles spooking at shadows and telling you quite plainly that she doesn't feel safe. When you try to slow her down her head goes UP and she speeds up. If you throw in the emergency brake and try to disengage her hindquarters she'll often bolt TOWARDS you. So I've ended up playing this game of saying 'walk on please' and then in 2.2 seconds 'no, JUST WALK" and then "STOP!!!" and then "BUT GET OUT OF MY SPACE TOO!'

So essentially you say 'go, stop, STOP, back up!!' all really fast. Things get hectic really quickly and being not nearly as skilled at this as I could be, she and I have done battle. She's insisting she's the leader and I am right there being stronger than Mom would be saying "No you're not." And it's always a challenge to find the 'sweet spot' with her where she finally stops and is facing you, but she hasn't 'left the building'. Then you have to quit everything and let her sit and think, but be on the lookout for her tuning you out again because she shifts that quickly.

So Thea knows Circle Game inside out but she knows it as Circle Game Battle Time. She doesn't really know how to *just* circle.

And Mom decided she really wanted to fix that.

So we had a session the other night where I sat in the grass and Mom worked with Thea and I coached.

But before we did that I had Mom do some simulations. Because Mom is louder in her signals than she needs to be and I realized part of what happens is Thea is saying "STOP YELLING at me!"

It's always fun to hold a rope halter in your hands and impersonate somebody else's horse (actually it's great fun to impersonate your own too) and I had great fun doing it. I know Thea walks 2 steps and then trots really fast and then whips around and tries to come in all at once when you disengage your hindquarters. So, I impersonated her reasonably well and Mom got to focus on isolating her signals a bit more, and transitioning from go to STOP to just sitting and doing nothing. Also, we talked about how as a human for Thea, you really have to be trained yourself in going through a lot of commotion with her, and then remembering to BREATHE and come right back down to baseline. Especially for Mom this is important because Thea bases so much of her behavior on what *her* human tells her is safe...

Then we got the horse.

And Thea, you could tell, was prepared to do battle. We had her in the North Pasture, which is a place where a scary incident happened over 2 years ago, and while grazing in that pasture produces even more "ALERT!"'s from Thea than other circumstances, working with her in there *really* makes her question your judgment.

So we worked on


non-confrontational tactics

quiet aids

Mom was pointing with her finger and automatically swinging the rope to ask thea to walk and for Thea that's way to loud; you have to whisper. Just point and *think* walk and hey, presto! she does...

for a minute.

Then she spooks and trots or canters. Usually we go to great lengths to interrupt her, but that night I coached Mom to just hold tight and let her go. That's really really hard to do with Thea because she dives in on the circle, and she's tripped and injured herself more than once. But Mom did it, and you could see Thea realizing that her attempt at baiting the human into doing battle was...not...working.

Her other big thing was...Mom would point in one direction and Thea would deliberately go in the other. And no matter which direction Mom pointed in, Thea was going the other way. With Sage I will catch him and make him go the right way, because he's testing me to see if I'm on my toes, and if he gets away with going any old direction he wants, before long he's trying other stuff too. But with Thea, I realized she's looking for the battle. The way to get into an "I insist on my thing" kind of stance while the human insists on their thing and it's a no win situation. She would *rather* do battle and not have to actually 8do* the circle game, and she'd be happier battling all day long. (I don't quite know why but I understand that much.) Sage on the other hand, is just checking. You make him go the right way and he sighs and behaves like a lamb from there on out.

So no matter which way she went, I had Mom not argue with her and just accept it.

Thea had some pretty dramatic tricks in her. She'd try to graze, run off when Mom called her on it, gallop around like a mad thing for a few circles, then try to dive into the center on top of Mom. I know from experience how hard it is to deal with that. But I kept reminding Mom to breathe, to not interfere, and to only ask for a few steps. (I had Mom doing half circles with her into yoyo backs, which kept Thea from having time to tune her out.)

Within fifteen, twenty minutes, we saw a lot of licking and chewing, and you could tell Thea was really processing a lot. I was calling instructions I wouldn't have thought of if I was actually handling the horse, and Mom was acting with more confidence and staying more grounded than she would have ever been on her own. The whole thing started to feel zen-like, as if we were all being able to step into our better selves for a short time.

Thea came out of that session a different horse. It's not that she's been calmer consistently since then; she hasn't been. But in moments of quiet, when nothing has been going on, she's looked...dare I say it? relaxed. Like for a moment she trusts her environment and Sage and the barn and us humans in her surroundings. And I see her being just a little more willing to think about things, to mull it over, rather than just blindly react...

I left the barn that night feeling as peaceful, cheerful, and energetic as if I had ridden my own horse...really quite amazing considering how like utter crap my stomach felt when I showed up. I still miss time with my boy, but am enjoying the journey with Thea too. Certainly she has a lot to teach us.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thea came out of that session a different horse. It's not that she's been calmer consistently since then; she hasn't been. But in moments of quiet, when nothing has been going on, she's looked...dare I say it? relaxed. Like for a moment she trusts her environment and Sage and the barn and us humans in her surroundings. And I see her being just a little more willing to think about things, to mull it over, rather than just blindly react...

This right here is what I love so much about this type of horse. I can totally grok why they're not everybody's cup of tea, and I think it's fantastic that there are lots of different kinds of horses and people in the world, so you can have all sorts of different matches, whatever's best for the pair in question. But wow, that moment right there. Oh, yes.

Variety and the spice of life and all that. :)
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)

I'm so glad to have my trusty little pony...with all my nerves, I need him. But this...coaching a horse like this from a distance...that works for me. And boy do I feel a sense of deeper satisfaction with her when it goes right.
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)

Yeah. And watching somebody else "get it," in this case your mom...that's awfully cool, too. :)
Jul. 14th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Indeed it is.

Especially since, in some ways, she works so hard for it. While I was sick Mom's the one that mucked out, fed, and otherwise took care of both horses 24/7. Now that I'm feeling better I can help out sometimes, but she still does the lion's share of work. So it's doubly nice to see her have some fun too.
Jul. 14th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
Sounds very interesting work. Thea is clearly an intriguing horse if not an easy one to work with. You're lucky to a) have her to work with and b) have Sage for enjoying yourself with xD
Jul. 15th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
It is amazing hearing that. I *so* want to take Jelmer, one of the friesans I look after and do similar things. He's dangerous. I've said this and explained this but I can't 'tell' them this. Having taken Everest, no matter the tragic consequences, from a complete pyscho nutbag to what he was, it can be done *exactly* how you are doing it. You end up judging what they can and cannot take. To some folk it may even seem dangerous but you understand how far to push.

Even with NH training I think one should break the rules, because there aren't any rules, there are individual horses. They aren't machines any more than we are and each one of them thinks differently. So I applaud people who allow them that.
Jul. 15th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
Yes, I am much happier since I decided to do things as I saw fit and not try to conform to 'parelli-land' anymore. They really are all individuals. Not sure I *was* really breaking any NH rules during this session but that's not the point; horses need first and foremost for us to use our sense of intuition, and not rely on some book or video to tell us about them. They are perfectly capable of telling us themselves as long as we know how to listen...
Jul. 15th, 2009 10:09 am (UTC)
There aren't really any NH rules as such - term is so loose as to be mostly meaningless anyways - just the rules different teachers put forward. Maybe you broke some parelli rules by not making sure you got the pattern you asked for exactly the way you asked for it but you would have been breaking one of Steve's by not working with the horse in front of you and building on what they have to offer.

The people who seem to do the best job, in my opinion, all agree that they have learned most from the horse.
Jul. 15th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Well, Parelli teaches you to allow an unconfident horse to drift when they are going a little nuts, whereas with a confident horse they say to 'be like a post.' I think, like Steve though, they really emphasize figuring out what mood and what horse you have today before deciding how to handle it. Even with their new horsenalities marketing (which annoys me) they discuss how any horse can be any of the horsenality types depending on the day. Honestly, not insisting on her doing the pattern correctly is absolutely something I learned off of the darned dvd's!! It's actually me that's been slow in understanding it and applying it to Thea.
Jul. 15th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
It's the biggest problem with learning about horsemanship that you will only learn what you are ready to learn. You can be get the information at any time, but it can be years until you experience what it refers to and it can become knowledge...
Jul. 15th, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
So very true...don't know if you saw the snarkfest over on the dressage section of the COTH board, but man, case in point! Clearly some people over there NOT READY to learn!

But yes it's the journey...
Jul. 15th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
It's a bit like writing a novel;there are no 'musts' to it, are there? The best trainers I know are the ones who adapt themselves to the horse and who find out why a particular horse does a particular thing. Knowing, too, when to say, stop being a baby, you *can* do it, thereby giving the horse some of your own confidence. With Everest I always had to dicover his 'easy answer'. Once I did that he usually came around, although he never would wear that silly blanky. We still laugh lots about that. Sulky Everest and his blue blanky. I want the green blanky and that's that. Reason? Prob because said blanky had a pattern of black teeth on it. Merlin doesn't give a damn, to him it's just a saddle pad. To Evvie it was a monster. But folk said to me at the time, it's you, Sue. He's sensing your unease. Actually, no because I could fling the green pad on no probs. So, yeah, individuals.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )