Monday, October 18, 2010

100th Monkey Principle

Have you heard of the 100th Monkey Principle? In a nutshell - quick and dirty - meaning not referenced at all...see that is the beauty of a blog versus the book, anyway it refers to some study about monkeys on some island learning to wash their clam shells before eating them. The clever youngsters figured it out and then of course the older ones gradually figured out that sandy clam shells weren't as nice to eat as washed ones. Now the cool part is that once a certain number were doing it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with these monkeys that learned this behavior just all started washing their sandy clams. Cool eh. Do you think the information gets into 'monkey consciousness' and then is available to all.

Herd, flock, pack, pod - I think they all have their group consiousness. So in our herd - we have been seeing this principle in action. If a couple of horses offer something new, it could be coming in with no halter on, head lowering when riding, opening gates (darn), then be prepared for your horse to suddenly just do it. This happened to me last week. My horse Sid is a Skeptic (DLAA) so not usually outgoing or the volunteering type and he did a big offer in coming in without a halter on. Now the first horse that did this (Star) did it in small incremental steps, coming a little further each time, finally getting to the gate and then forgetting what they were doing and eating grass once they were out in the yard and gradually over nearly a month they finally put the whole puzzle together and made it to the barn. Since then several horses have been offering this which makes their owners pretty much giggle with glee. So when my horse Sid who not long ago was hard to catch and suspicious of most things that stupid humans did, offered this I was taken totally by surprise. He just showed up, walked across the field to me and then proceeded to lead me down to the barn. At one point another horse was following and he snaked his neck out at him and told him to buzz off as he was on a date (see dating post). I was keeping up with him, he was not quietly following me in. When we got to the open barn door I asked him to wait while I put his halter on and he quietly responded. I was another one giggling with glee.

This again shows us that we do not need A and B to equal C as we used to in our old training. We do A - which in this case was hanging around out in the field with Sid, sharing space, sleeping on the hillside with him, loving him with no expectations and then BAM they decide to offer someting big. His next new move that evening was deciding how and where I should get on. We were having a group play date in the arena so no saddles, just mostly hanging out and socializing on the ground. He walked about and then went to the mounting block. He was not ready the first time so we walked off and when he went back again he stood at it and put his head around to the right which is his clicker training thing he does once I am on. So he initiated me getting on...yes maybe to get a cookie, but still a reach from what he was. We rode for a bit, mostly moguing (term from the Rock Star book where you allow 'Dominants' to do/go where ever they want). Then I got off and the next time I was sitting on some jump boxes, just resting and he comes into them sideways and again poses with his head to the right and waits for me to get on. Wow! Again I rode a bit and got off. The last time was especially funny as he crossed over some jump poles and then turned and posed and said 'get on'. I laughed and showed him that the six inch lift or pole was not really going to enable me to jump up on him. So A and B no longer equal C. You might have a goal of C, but how you get there may totally change.

So what else is floating around there in horse consciousness, just waiting to come out? It's a mystery. I am happy to wait for it to be revealed.

PS - If interested please do research on the 100th Monkey Principle. A scientist somewhere that spent years studying this would really appreciate it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trust the Big Picture

The horses keep reminding us to get out of our heads and trust the 'big picture', which for some reason they seem to see better than us. This little story was my reminder.

About 2 weeks ago I was interviewed by a small town local radio station here. They were interested in the book and had heard that I was doing a talk about horse personalities for the 4-H at the Calgary Stampede grounds. It was the standard questions of how I came to write it and how were people using it to help them with their horses. I did not ask when it would air.

Now last week was my mother's birthday. She turned 93 and is living in an assisted living home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She can no longer talk on the telephone so I was feeling very disconnected from her on her birthday. I had no way to get her a birthday message as I live about 1500 miles away. I thought of her often over the weekend. On Monday I get an email from my sister who tells me that on their way to take Mom out for lunch for her birthday, as they were driving to pick her up, they hear about a book called 'Is Your Horse a Rock Star?' and then catch that interview with me. So when they get to mom's they immediately tell her how surprised they were to hear Dessa on the radio as they were driving there. Now how is that for a convoluted way to get your message there. Some will say it's a coincidence, but the horses will say ' Learn to trust, little two-leggeds'.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Horse Dates

Max and Terri on a date

You may think of dating as that nerve racking thing you did many years ago. Well it hasn’t changed much as I am sure the younger crowd will attest. The mere thought of it and I can still feel the butterflys, the excitement, but also the anxiety. So now we have to go on dates with our horses??? Whose idea is this? Well, as usual around our barn, it is the horse’s idea.

It starts out innocent enough; kind of like junior high dating. It’s a group activity. We go out to the pasture and the herd and hang out with the gang. No 7-11, but a lot of the same activities. There is the same high social order and it does not take long to see the cliques. The jocks hang out together, the computer nerds are doing their thing and the cool ones are keeping up there image. Occasionally you see the odd pair sneak off to be in private. We presently have Scoobey and Rena (the new beautiful grey girl) in a serious romantic connection. They still bring along a couple of friends, Ulysses and Star to make it look ligit.

You are hanging out with the crowd, trying to fit in, but you have your eyes set one individual. Will he notice you? Will he actually leave his friends and come say Hi. You think about going over but are not sure if it might come off as needy. You saunter by and see if you feel any vibe. He doesn’t notice you. You go and play with another - flirty and fun. It works and you draw him out to you. It is certainly no time to get demanding (by putting on a halter) – no time to suggest he meet your family (going to the stable) – no, it is time to be coy, to be cool. The dance has begun.

After a few of these dates, it is time to get more exclusive. You wait for him to suggest it and you reluctantly go off alone with him. It is only time now until he will be ready to meet the family.

We started noticing the dating thing a short time ago and then during our ladies camp where the women had 5 days to just be with their horses, it really became evident. The first couple of days were all excitement and group activities and then by the end of the week there was some exclusive moments being set up. As facilitator of this relationship week, I noticed that once the one on one dating started I was not even allowed to come near. I approached Terri and her big part Friesen boy Max, to see how it was going and he immediately led her away before we could even start to talk. She understood completely what was happening and as they went off told me not to take it personally. He took her down into a tall grassy area and ate quietly beside her. She eventionaly layed out in the grass and …… well who knows where it went. This was Max who just 2 days earlier could not be separated from his buddies. She had come to camp because she felt his herd bound behaviour was bordering on dangerous. The next week after camp she emailed us with this great note that I will share with you:

I took Max down to the Sheep River yesterday. I asked him before we left if he felt like an adventure out in the beauty of nature.... he was waiting at the fence, loaded beautifully and we had an amazing day! Today I decided to take him for a walk around the yard and let him hand graze (and to show him that not
all days are long ones climbing hills and crossing creeks in the mountains)
obviously home must seem pretty boring ..... the first place he was headed
was up the drive way and down the road..... leaving Cal and Dewey like frantic lunatics and he was such a cool boy, venturing out on his own. He is getting so much more confident!

It was awesome... I could hardly keep up with him! Thanks so much!
Talk soon. Terri

This is Terri and Max, out on their mountain adventure. The girls from the ladies retreat will have a hard time believing this. Even for me it is hard to believe. The change happened after a week of working on relationship where Terri did not get on her horse, just went on dates and spent a morning lying together in the arena. We do not know what effect that has. For me having spent a lifetime teaching, it is even harder. My old programming says I should be able to explain this - that A and B will always reach a predictable C but not so these days. We have to be willing to go along on the adventure, not knowing what the outcome will be. What we are seeing though is that the horses are willing participants once we see the them in a new light.

Max takes on the world

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Today at the Barn

Gary and Belle

Another typically normal day at Liberty Stables, finds two horses loose in the arena and one laying (or is that lying) and sleeping with her owner. We had a visitor at the barn and she was watching the “lesson”, amazed that (a) a horse would do something like that and (b) that we would allow it.

Gary sat for 20 minutes with little Belle’s head in his lap sharing something magical. Their whole story is magical and I would like to share some of it with you. Belle chose Gary about 2 years ago. Gary was a non rider and Belle was a non ridden horse. Well 2 years previously she had had one months training but since then had been left out in the field. A perfect match as I am sure you all can agree. She would approach Gary in the field and give him a friendly ‘boof’ with her nose to get his attention. He began to bring Belle in for grooming and soon bought her as she was being sold for her board bill.

Now if Belle seems slightly inappropriate, let me add more fuel to the fire. If you understand the horse personalities, Belle is a Macho Man. That means her four traits are dominant, energetic, curious and aloof. Now this combination is not for the faint of heart. We normally describe their attitude as ‘sit down, shut up and hold on’. This type of personality is never recommended for children and they are often found ‘eating up’ fairly experienced riders. Now for a bit more fuel – Belle is also an Arabian mare. Nothing against Arabians but they usually come fairly high strung…. and not recommended for a novice.

Let me introduce Gary to you. He is 54 years of age and is not in good health. He has been living with a brain tumor for nearly twenty years and is on a lot of medication that leaves him weak and tired frequently. He is also prone to seizures. Now this may not seem like a perfect pairing?

But it is. Belle is his riding teacher as well as his spiritual coach. They have a fabulous relationship. Sometimes like an old married couple narking at each other, other times very deeply affectionate. That is what I was lucky enough today to be a part of. She knew on some level perhaps for him that they needed to sit and be still. Lying down was the perfect solution. For a horse to feel so safe and secure in their riders company and to know that she would be listened to was so beautiful to see.

When she is teaching him to ride she is very careful of his balance and only goes at a pace he can handle. He has been learning how to trot and she will only give him about 5 or 6 steps before coming back to walk. No amount of kicking on his part will convince her that he is ready for more. When SHE was ready she extended it to trotting the full length of the arena. Her next step on the way to helping him learn was for him to ride bareback so his balance could improve. He knows these things because he is great at listening to her when she suggests something. She was nipping at him while saddling saying she did not want a saddle on and he honored her. How great is that! They love exploring outside, mostly where Belle wants to go and playing with balls and pylons and various games inside.

In my old ways of looking at things I would have tried to explain this as Belle viewing Gary as her job, but I now see how it is much deeper than this. They are partners helping each other on a very deep level. Gary has even had a seizure while on her and she stood perfectly stood and looked after him. I am so fortunate to be able to witness their journey together. Every day I am more in awe of the level of understanding that horses have.

"magic moments"

Gary and Belle in the arena

Friday, October 1, 2010

Awakened Horsemanship – Are you Ready?

Are we ready to wake up? And are we ready to allow our horses to wake up? A few have started the journey to full aliveness, awareness of all that we can be. The horses are ready and willing to lead the way….to take us on our true soulful journey. They have agreed to join us and help us see the BIG picture. We were told that they can see visually nearly 360 degrees, but who knew that they can see our journey and where we need to be. They are happy to be the catalyst to push us along, sometimes head first into what we need to experience.

Most of us do not choose the awakening. It comes along most unexpectedly, usually in the form of a health issue, sometimes ours, sometimes theirs or both. Why does it seem to take a near death experience for us to decide that we really do want to live? Want to live with a bigger purpose, a bigger view of life, to be a bigger you.

The horses will prod us to quit living with busyness. Quit making life about accomplishments, trophies on the wall, a bigger salary, more stuff. They do not have a lot of time for that. If we show up at our barn with those kinds of ego thoughts running through our heads we will see them turn away, perhaps not be caught today or not be willing to come in with us. They can read that messiness - see that messiness stuck to our body in all kinds of places from across the pasture. The kinder steeds will perhaps try to help release some of that, taking some of it on themselves even though it can create their own physical problems. The ones who know we know better will be more out right and demand that we clean our selves up more before coming into their presence. They know we can not progress down this exciting road if we are still knee deep in the old ruts of our lives.

So let’s not wait for the buck off, the colic surgery, the nervous breakdowns, the illness; can we just decide that we want to go forward into new places, using new tools? Open to exploring new energy because we know we are ready and waiting to become all we were meant to be. Can we just show up out in the pasture with open heart energy, ready to receive the lesson of the day….yeah receive….the horses are our teachers. They want to lead us for a change. Can we be grounded, and clear, with no agenda and open and present, being entirely in the moment, joining our breath with theirs? Maybe all we have to do is choose….let’s make a conscious chose, and get ready for change.

If you have had an experience with your horse or in your life that has invited in a new way of being for you as a person or as a rider, we would love you to share it with us in the comments.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who' the Boss?

Every horse program or manual is going to tell you that you need to be the boss. Not here. We want people to explore what it looks like to not be the boss – to give up control, with their horse and in a lot of other areas of their lives.

We have been seeing some fascinating offers from the horse when they can make decisions and have ideas. Others say we need to be the boss to have control so we do not get hurt. Not what I am seeing. When we give up control, we really start to listen and we do not jump into things. We wait until both partners fully agree on something.

I have been watching this and observing that it is quite often nervous riders that find this approach appealing, which seemed a bit odd. And it was working……this morning I came closer to understanding why. If the horse has been made to believe we are the boss and then they feel us getting nervous, they immediately read that anxiety and react. If we are below them on the pecking order and we feel anxious, it does not affect them. They look at us the same as they look at a low submissive in the herd. Mostly ignoring us and carrying on with what they are doing. This in turn allows our nerves to subside and we can carry on in our happy relationship.

We become their ‘little two-legged one’ that they sort of have to look out for. If on a confident day the little two legged decides they have an idea, their horse just might encourage them along the way….. “You go little one.”

Maybe no one needs to be boss – maybe we can just go play together.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What horses will offer

Last night I went out at 7:00 to teach one of my regular students, Bridget and her horse Star. They were not at the barn when I arrived so I started to walk out to the field where Star lives. It is about a 100 acres and she shares it with a large herd of about 20 horses. I was about to go looking for them when I see a head coming over the hill. Bridget and Star, her 5 year old Percheron cross mare are walking in together. Bridget is carrying her halter and Star has chosen to leave her friends and follow her owner down to the barn. In a bit, two of Star's horse friends decide to join them and are frollicking about, but Star does not falter and holds her course down to the gate. I open it and Bridget choses to trust Star to be out in the yard without her halter on. We head off, not sure if Star will keep with us as there is now timothy grass up to her belly on either side of the lane. But she snacks on some heads, hesitates here and there as her friends are now calling from the field, and continues on down the lane to the barn, also ignoring the horses in the nearby paddock. As she nears the barn she remembers there are good things in there and takes over the lead. Bridget is beaming. Proud of her baby and I am sure pleased with herself for letting go of fear and trusting Star. For Bridget this journey has been all about trust.

Star and Bridget have been playing in this new way to be with horses for the longest, nearly a year now. Bridget has never faltered. Never fallen back into the old ways of make 'em do it. She shows up at the barn each time with unconditional love, no agenda, no expectations, open and aware, listening and ready to try whatever Star suggests might be fun today. Because Bridget has chosen this way to 'BE' with her horse, they are teaching us all so much about what the horse will offer when we get out of the way.

Bridget came from a traditional riding background, having competed in hunters in Florida in her youth. She is not an overly brave rider. Like most of us fear can come sneaking in the back door and create all kinds of wild scenarios at a moments notice. Sometimes this makes it much harder to let go of how we think we have to behave around horses. To reject all the old tapes that are playing in our head, telling you that the horse must obey you, that you can't let them decide if they want to come in today, can't let them decide if you should be allowed on today, can't let them decide where they will go, can't let them decide if they will wear a saddle or not. Bridget decided to fully let Star decide and decide she has. Bridget has let her past be past and has embraced a new way.

A year ago Bridget was in a 'yoga on horseback' class that we were running at the barn. The instructor Margit McNaughton had had to reassured her that she could do yoga with all of her tack on even though others in the class used the preferred bareback pads. Margit had reminded me of this just last week, after I was telling her of the wonderful adventures that Star and Bridget go on now. She could not beleive that Bridget was now riding without saddle or bridle or halter out in the field. She could not believe the level of trust that Bridget now had.

We realize that Star is teaching Bridget. To let go. To trust her. She has always presented things when Bridget was ready. To ride with a halter instead of a bridle, that was the first big step, then a bareback pad instead of a saddle, then no saddle, and now no bridle. And Star keeps her safe. On her first ride without a halter Star just stood in the arena with her head very low and they breathed together. Next she tried a small circle, with small steps, taken very carefully. Step by step their world got bigger until now they are trotting over small jumps in the arena and then Star is taking Bridget out into the herd with her and going on small adventures, all without anything on. Everything that she presents, Bridget sees as a gift.

Just last week we observed something interesting. We realize Star does her own 'ground work'. When we are out in the herd or last week in the yard she appears to be just wandering off taking us in various places and then we discovered that she takes Bridget when she is riding exactly where she has already gone. Her own form of groundwork.

I am sure you will hear more of the adventures of Star and Bridget as we keep observing and learning what the horses will offer.