Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Why and How Come of the "Pedestal Stand"

A couple weeks ago we had a brand new pedestal dropped off from some amazing friends; and since then I've gotten a lot of questioning looks from those outside of the Natural Horsemanship community. 

"Why do you make your horse stand on the elephant circus stand?" - one of my favourites so far.

      So I've decided to let everyone else in on our little secrets; and I'll start with saying that it's not just because it looks cool. 

There is a multitude of benefits for using the pedestal, but I'm going to stick with the top three for now...

1) Trailer Loading Confidence
      Horses have a pretty hard time figuring out a trailer the first time, and even if they get it, they are still pretty nervous about it for a long while after. Trailer loading is one of the most difficult parts of horse ownership; and speaking from experience, I've seen every gadget under the sun to get a horse on a trailer. So... wouldn't it be nice if a horse could just walk on a trailer and load themselves? Maybe be soooo confident that they can just put those feet right up there and walk up, wait patiently and be tucked in for the drive?
      Working a horse on a pedestal is a great first step to trailer loading practice. Horses are claustrophobic by nature, this means they are uncomfortable in small spaces (like a trailer); but they are also nervous stepping up onto things from a lack of proprioception (wiki: from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own", "individual," and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.) So teaching a horse to trailer load with a trailer from the get go, is making them deal with 2 pretty innate fears for a flight prey species all at once.
      This is where the pedestal comes in. The pedestal allows the horse to learn how to lift it's hooves (both fronts and the hinds) and legs up onto something solid; without having to squeeze into a foreign and scary place too. They can gain confidence with their proprioception of their front hooves going up, and backing off. As well as eventually progressing into standing up with both fronts, and then adding hind legs without turning or spinning. Being able to teach and reward this behaviour creates a building block of trust and confidence for when you finally ask them to step into the trailer.

2) Multi Height Confidence
      Horse's do not naturally walk over anything off the ground. They walk on hills that take them up and down, and over logs and trees for brief moments; but there are very few situations where they are standing up over the ground on an object. That means they are not used to stepping up and being confident there. This makes the pedestal an ideal candidate to test your horse's willingness and trust in you, but also to create a building block of trust in themselves.
      Well trained horses are those who have a high level of emotional fitness; they are comfortable in their own being and can work or play without panicking and throwing a fit. They can respond to their environment, rather than react to it. This makes them an ideal partner for sportsmanship and a great athlete in high pressure situations.
      A pedestal can be a training tool, as part of a training regiment, to build confidence and emotional fitness. It's also a great bonding tool for growing a partnership.

3) Building a Partnership Based on Trust and Respect
      Teaching a horse how to step up on a pedestal (or any new scary object) allows you to show your horse how confident you are, how knowledgeable you are and how safe it is to do what you ask of them. It also shows them your patience, and encourages them to try. Once you can get your horse to trust you to put a foot up, and they can immediately see it's not going to hurt them.. they can find trust in your guidance. Especially if when they stand up on that pedestal they learn about happy treat time.
      I use the pedestal with all of my clients, pleasure and show alike, to build a partnership based on trust. A horse can learn to stand on a pedestal for anyone over time, and it can be a triggered trick for sure. But those first few times of progression together; to let go and trust each other is what makes this exercise so useful.
      It's also a great place to create a "safe place" in your training regime. If your horse can get stressed out easily, teach them that every time they are on the pedestal it's quiet time; treats, love and relaxation. So they can learn how to self soothe in high stress times. And trust that you understand that they need a break too. When I'm working with Johnny sometimes we'll get a little too high strung and he'll go to the pedestal and demand his own time out to breathe and regroup. He is a highly emotionally fit horse now; and the pedestal used to be an absolute nightmare for him.

And yes, it's even fun to ride up there too!

Until next time, don't forget to keep on keepin' on!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Time and Time Again...

Have you ever heard the phrase "Time heals all"?

I get told it a lot. It's an occupational hazard of being an empath.
But what does it really mean to us? Why is it something that comes up time and time again?
Does time itself heal us, or do we get desensitized to the pain over time...

As someone who feels just about everything, I have to tell you that time does not heal all. Time helps you hide all. Taking steps to heal that pain is what heals over time. Not the other way around.

      I was reminded of this idea today as I've been working with Q a lot more to get him ready to start actual saddle work. I found myself in a state of constant procrastination of the idea; and I decided to sit down and really puzzle through why I was giving him more and more time. I discovered my excuses were because of that phrase... If I kept giving him more time, he'd be more ready to start work again. He wouldn't shut down again. He wouldn't lose weight again... he would be healed.
      But it became a very flawed notion. Because giving him time suddenly became not working with him. And that would've been sending us backwards. So I picked up my act, and started a real work schedule with him on the ground. The results have been amazing. He is one of the softest horses to cue on the ground; he's willing and connected at the slightest try. And he has begun to value me for more than just the hay net lady. Before he would only run to the gate when it was turn in for grain time; now he approaches me any time I am near for some social connections.

      The other night he told me in more ways than one that he was ready to start saddle work; but more importantly that he was ready to trust me. He's ready to be a responsible partner. After our ground lesson and liberty games session; I took him out to his paddock and instead of leaving me at the gate after our "one last carrot" moment... he turned to me and put his head next to me. Then he backed up and put my body right next to his heart girth. And leaned into me. He took so many deep breaths and just stood there; with just enough pressure against me that we were connected, but not enough that he was pushing me off balance.
      At first I was really confused at his behaviour, I thought maybe he was trying to show me a painful spot, or wanted me to itch his belly. But every time I went to move towards him with my hands he would lean back, wait for me to stop, then lean back in.
      Eventually I took the hint, put my head against his back and leaned back into him. He took this deep relaxing breath and relaxed every muscle in his body. And there we stood, breathing in rhythm...
It brought tears to my eyes. He has been so hard to reach for so long. But all I had to do was stop trying to fix him, stop thinking I needed to do this and that. And just BE with him. I had to let go.
It's always about letting go.

      I think that's where this "time heals all" thing comes in. As if time makes it easier for you to let go; or it forces you to let go without knowing. But the truth is that letting go is a conscious act. You have to recognize your tension, recognize what you are holding onto with that human death grip.. and let it go.

"If you love something, let it free"
There are no truer words than those.
Let go of the reins.
Open the gate.
Let go of the lead.
Let go of this caged tunnel vision thinking.
And just be in the moment.

      That moment with Q at the gate is one of the most important moments in our entire year together. I know how calm and connected he can be. I know he can relax into my soft pressure, and I into his. This is the most important conversation we have had to date. And to me it says we are ready to take a step into another world. Upward and onward.
He has healed me. He has shown me what I am capable of if I allow myself to be.
To let go and follow my instinct.
To follow this feel.
This deafening ability to feel everything; so I can absorb and then let it go back into the world.
Positive. Grounded.
Time and time again.