Every day I play with Duke reveals something new...a little gem I can treasure. Today was so different from yesterday.
This weekend, after rewatching the problem solving segments of the Liberty and Horse Behavior DVD's, I set off for the barn Sunday afternoon fully intending to get a ride in (so much for paying attention!). Well, at the very least a little time bareback to work on my balance. That was my plan. Duke, on the other hand, had other plans in mind.
Pat often tells his students that while we may be responsible for having principles and goals, it is the horse who is ultimately in charge of the timeline. And Duke takes his duty very seriously.
Right now he's probably in his stall, feeling pretty smug.
When I arrived at the barn Sunday, the moment I stopped the car I realized I had left my key to the trailer (where I keep all my riding gear) on the dresser at home. Drat! Perhaps that was a hint which I could have heeded. Instead I called my friend Barb (who has the other key) and asked her to bring her set as she was heading down too. In the mean time, I got Duke out to play with him to see what side of the stall he woke up on.
Duke greeted me at his door and he was ready to get out. I wanted to use my 22' lead rope, but the latch mechanism was stuck (Parelli lead ropes have a nice brass swivel latch that locks securely...sometimes a little too securely), so I opted for the 12' lead rope, haltered Duke up and off to the arena we went. Inside the arena I tied Duke up and set up my iPod to play my Born to Ride playlist on my portable iBox (music really adds an extra level to our play sessions). Duke watched my every move, ears forward, patiently waiting for his chance to get down and have a good roll.
Sometimes I get into the arena with Duke and just go completely brain dead.
I used to be sooooo imaginative...what happened? I untied Duke and he began his quest for the perfect rolling spot. He soon found it, got down and rolled to his hearts content while I stood by, contemplating my plan. Check out his mood, gauge his behavior today and see what shakes out. On any given day when Duke's finished rolling he gets to his feet, shakes of the excess dirt, blows the dust out of his nose, blinks his eyes a couple of times, licks his lips and waits for my cue. When he got to his feet, shook his head, then arched his neck and starting trotting around with a LOT of energy I knew he was in a different mood. He wanted to play, but I misread his behavior and wanting to stay on task because I was going to ride today, I gently reminded him of the purpose I had in mind.
I have so much to learn.
And lucky for me, Duke is willing to teach me. I need to remember that.
We were at odds the entire time and what I missed in all his actions was that no riding was taking place. A half an hour passed and by the time Barb showed up with the trailer key, I thanked her but declined to take it. She's not a Parelli person but has a basic understanding of horses, and knowing Duke she didn't need any further explanation. But I couldn't leave well enough alone. I really wanted to ride Duke bareback. I turned the halter and lead rope into a hackamore (a bitless bridle with reins) and asked Barb for a lift up. From the moment I set myself on Duke's back, the game was on! He lurched forward and refused to stand still. He willingly gave me lateral flexion to the left (bend his head and neck toward my knee as a means of control) but he was stiff, rigid and bracey to the right. He refused to give; he runs about 50/50 on right lateral flexion. Sometimes he's soft and willing, sometimes he isn't. That was my second sign. Won't stand still. Won't give me his head both ways. These are classic indicators that the horse is not ridable. I circled him at a walk to the left but he was tense, high headed, and I felt him pushing against the pressure of the halter when I asked for a stop. Time to get off. I didn't feel safe, and it's been a long time since I felt that way on Duke's back.
Barb went off to clean Elvira's stall, and I set about to have a different conversation with Duke. What was up with him? Through several versions of the porcupine and driving game, I got the message. He wanted to play! Not with me on his back (thank God!) but on-line. The past couple of weeks I've tried something new with Duke, where we move around the arena, at a walk or run (me running...he's trotting...or loping). I mirror him. He mirrors me. And it's really added another level to our sessions together. With all the games we play, Duke learns new things quickly, but quickly gets bored with repetition so I have to be provocative...at all times. He's also very much a 'what's in it for me' kind of horse Left Brain Extrovert with Introvert tendancies). Duke and I spent at least ten minutes (not counting the rest breaks for me to catch my breath) running and darting around the arena. My favorite part was when I glanced over at him and saw him doing his playful head shake...the same kind he does when he's playing with another horse, or by himself. That was pure joy for me. :) This was followed by a very brief session of 'stick to me.' Duke matched me step for step. Just a couple steps back and one forward but that's all I needed. Horse-human harmony. I'm still smiling about it.
We then moved to the round pen for a little play at liberty but the dirt was muddy and slick so I kept that session short. After we mozied outside for a little grazing time, then went back to the stall. Dinner for Duke, mucking for me.
No matter what, there's no such thing as a bad day at the barn.
What did I learn from this play session? The two things Pat keeps saying and I keep forgetting: put the relationship first; and principle before goals. And if I forget again, Duke is there to remind me.