I’m here at WEG, and West Point is my horse-buddy for the sixteen days. Remmer and Allure are here at WinStar farm enjoying a nice vacation in a lovely pasture. For the first days Westy was really worried about the environment. All that emotional baggage from his competition days was back to haunt him and I started to experience the things Lauren told me about: pumping adrenaline, terrible frights and spooking, wheeling violently to the left and a dripping full body sweat in sixty seconds. Poor guy.
Each day Lyndsey and Kalley would take him for grazing walks and then I would ride him either before or after our demo. He certainly was in no condition to be in the demo ring! On the first day, he had such huge thresholds that we didn’t get more than fifty feet from the barn. When we found a threshold, I would turn him and trot back to where he felt safe and this went on for a good half hour. Little by little, the thresholds widened out and all of a sudden, we walked around the back of the barn, all the way around.
Then, accompanied by Kalley on Zeus, we would head down to the warm up area near the Village Arena inside a big oval track. There were thresholds on the way there but being with another horse helped him to cross most of them but when he was really hesitant, I just stopped him or backed him up and waited until he was ready to move forwards again. Once there, we went grazing for a good fifteen to thirty minutes.
Each day there were less thresholds and his spooking got less intense, but each day I started the same as the first. I didn’t have any expectations for him to be better, I tried to stay fully in the moment with him, doing whatever it was he needed. I also didn’t give him anything to brace against or panic about if he spooked because I spooked with him. In fact, when I felt him start to tense as he was looking skeptically at something to pass, I side-stepped him away from it “helping” him spook. Sometimes there were several spots in a row, left and right, right and left, right and right and right and left! The key is to keep his head turned towards it but move his body away as far as he needs to. The great thing about this is that it’s all in harmony, you never feel like you’re going to come off because you’re doing what he’s doing rather than the opposite.
By day four, Westy was left brain seventy percent of the time so I asked Pat if he could be in the demo. I didn’t know what I’d be able to do with him, so the plan was to stay on the ground and see how he did and talk to the audience about how to build a horse’s confidence. Westy found thresholds coming into the arena and was pretty right brain once he got in. So, I helped him move his feet and he jumped and spooked at the obstacles and the crowd and the fence, and pretty soon calmed down. So, we called it quits there and left with a good feeling.
The next day, he was so good I mounted up. I showed the audience how I would help him spook and soon he started lowering his head, blowing and relaxing. Too cool!
The third day he gave me green lights all the way. He still found a threshold going into the arena, but once in was really left brain and playful. So, I guided him around balls and figure 8’s and chose to jump him over the barrels as the ultimate test. Of course, he didn’t jump it, so I showed everyone how I would handle it, treating it as though it was the edge of a cliff. I was not going to push him, and it had to be his choice to jump. After several retreats and reproaches, I opened a little space for him to go through and it was only a few reproaches after that before he jumped over, left brain and confident. The audience went wild and of course that bothered him, so I had them keep it up until he realized he was fine. Once more over the barrels and I mounted up.
He started blowing right away, so relaxed. I could then walk and trot around the arena and he was responding to my energy, totally tuned in. Time was up so I dismounted before everyone clapped, turned him loose and to all of our delight, Westy didn’t even flinch.
People often tell me they don’t have enough patience for that kind of a challenge, but most people don’t know that I didn’t used to be a patient person… before Parelli! Since then, my attitude is completely different. Instead of being frustrated by problems with my horses, I love them. I love what I discover as a result of solving the puzzle, the learning is phenomenal. Instead of dreading something not going as expected, I look forward to it. Also, I’m passionate about helping the horse become more confident and emotionally fit, so it’s never about the task for me. I love watching confidence and trust build between us in all its tiny increments.
So that’s why I called this blog “Love your problems”! I think that’s the real secret.