By 2* Licensed Parelli Professional Nancy Slater
Continued from Part One
Fear. It can be mind numbing. The body pumps cortisol into the brain, along with adrenaline. Flight and fight, forms of self preservation, take over, and being able to think things through, becomes impossible. In Left Brained horses, loss of dignity is traumatic. They can display fear aggression, lashing out. Temperament and behavior is shaped by genetics and life experiences. How do we help these sensitive horses with a past?
Puzzles. We set up situations where the horse has to figure out a puzzle. Knowing they seek safety and comfort, we carefully create specific pressure that causes them to hunt for release. WE supply the release- they cannot take it. Horses will push and brace in an attempt to find freedom/escape. If we have enough feel, timing, and balance, the horse will find the answer we desire, get relief, and feel better as they come down off cortisol.
I had been working with Jewels for almost a year before I asked Linda Parelli for some help to expedite things. We had made good progress. Jewels had bonded with me. She learned to catch me for haltering, stood quietly for saddling and bridling, stood relaxed for mounting, could now halt and stand under saddle on loose rein, and her lips didn’t twitch near as much as they had in the beginning. But, setting her in forward motion under saddle still revved her up like an accelerator stuck to the floorboard. We could walk only about 4-6 steps on loose rein before she got charged up.
I had gotten excited a few weeks back when Jewels started to pin her ears and nip at me. She was warning me to not disrespect her. This is where the conversations with her past owner probably ended! I felt this was where ours was beginning. It would be alright now for her to express her feelings, especially since I’d been asking her to open up to me for a long time.
At the Parelli Center, Linda wanted to see Jewels in the round pen at liberty at a walk, trot, halt, and backup, Jewels had trouble finding relaxation. She was anxious, wanting to push forward with her head in the air, lips twisting. Putting her back on halter and lead rope, I worked on the transitions on the rail, but she struggled with the exercise. It improved, but no major breakthrough.
We tried several different approaches, but didn’t find the one to really make the breakthrough that was needed so she could just relax and walk or trot. Just walk! Amazing how she was so afraid to stop running off. If I held her back with the reins, she could walk, but it was not her idea. How sad I felt for her!
This trip to the ranch, Linda said Jewels is an extremely challenging case and that we needed Pat to have a look at her. Most horses would have relaxed with the exercises we had been working on and made big changes. She was not like most horses… I was excited that the Master would look at my rescue horse!
Pat saw her look of escape. He saw her terror. He had seen it before in a couple of horses from his past. Jewels could not yield to pressure. She continued to push forward; pumped up on cortisol. She did not want to talk to this cowboy! Her fear was so bad, she could not see things around her. In her mind, this was it…
Most recently, I had gotten Jewels to the point of occasional clarity in the arena at home. She would think and feel safe under saddle when I said, ‘Whoa’. She had finally come to a point where she felt comfortable at a standstill. That was something, but not enough. Pat had a bigger puzzle for her to solve.
Pat says that we need to have long bodies, (using ropes, sticks, fences, etc) to be effective with horses, and horses need to have tall bodies, (collect, shorten, self carry, yield to pressure). Horses must have lateral and vertical flexion, engage the hindquarters, follow a feel- yield. The perfect puzzle.
Pat was gentle. He understood her worry. Like the true Horseman he is, he guided Jewels carefully to preserve her dignity. She looked at him with mistrust, flashing eyes- warning him. But he showed her how she could flex laterally, yielding left and right at walk, trot, canter, halt, and backup. His timing was impeccable. She licked her lips as she understood.
Pat showed Jewels that she could yield to vertical flexion. He showed her how to put her head down. He recommended long lining exercises. All the while working, his hands touched Jewels kindly, his voice soothing, moving slowly with her like a dance that it was. When he rode her, she blinked a lot, thinking about his request for yields. She was thinking and responding.
He matched her with a much bigger puzzle than ever before. Got her thinking and moving through some of those big can’t – won’t – don’ts. With the flexion included, it was big!
Then, she looked better; she looked beautiful. Pat told me to put the halter on her, but she was trying to follow him! She had met the Master, and wanted to be with him. I was not disappointed, I was motivated to be more like Pat.
Pat Parelli has taught me so much to help horses over the years, including a very difficult mule everyone said was garbage. Fixing that mule led me on this journey. How exciting and rewarding it is to help horses with a past.
Jewels and I loaded up to head home to do our homework.
To be continued as Jewel progresses…