On Friday, when I arrived at The Center, Mas was in the lower pasture chomping on some hay. It was so nice to pull into the driveway and see him right away. It’s amazing how being in the presence of a horse can immediately bring you into the present moment. I snapped a few photos and gave Mas some kisses. He was chomping away and then he’d stick his head in his water bucket and swish around; then eat again. He was making me laugh. His coat was soft and silky and the sun was reflecting on the brown spots, making them glow. It was a special morning for me.
After greeting Mas I drove up to the top of the hill and met Brandon, The Center’s new intern, and chatted with Debbie, who helps out during the week in the mornings. Stephanie asked me if I wanted to catch Mas and asked Brandon if he wanted to catch Pete. Of course we wanted to! I nearly ran full speed down the hill to see Mr. Mas.
When Mas and I arrived to the sandy spot at the top of the hill, we walked around a bit, and played the circling game to get settled in. Then I pulled out my handy dandy Parelli task list to practice the things that I had played with last Friday, and tried a few new games with Mas.
Some tasks on my list asked the following:
-I can stand in Zone 2 throw the 12-foot Line over my horse’s head with rhythm and my horse stands confidently
– I can stand out in front of my horse and rub the rope with the Carrot Stick as a Friendly Game
– I can ask my horse to back up by tapping on the rope with my Carrot Stick
– I can draw my horse back into me by rubbing the rope with the Carrot Stick
– I can back my horse through a gate, then bring him back and rub his nose
Brandon and I both asked our horses to complete the tasks while Stephanie watched and helped us to complete them properly, using more feel and less pull on the rope. She was showing us how to listen to the horse and correcting us when our bodies were out of position or causing our horse to do the opposite of what we wanted simply because of our body language. According to Tom Dorrance “The best thing I try to do for myself is to try to listen to the horse. I don’t mean let him take over. I listen to how he’s operating: what he’s understanding or what he doesn’t understand: what’s bothering him and what isn’t bothering him. I try to feel what the horse is feeling and operate from where the horse is”.
After completing some of the tasks on my list I decided to stop for lunch while Brandon sat on Pete with Stephanie leading him. Mas stood by me and relaxed as I ate my lunch. It was nice just to sit and enjoy each other’s company and not feel like we had to do anything to learn more about each other.
After I ate, Stephanie asked me if I wanted to get on Mas. I felt good about sitting on him and said, “Sure”. I didn’t have any reins, which I’m sure was a good thing because I would have to learn to ride without them eventually anyway, and as Pat would say, pulling the horse left or right to turn and pulling back to stop is not the correct way to turn the horse. Instead of using the reins to turn we should use our power of focus, our shift of weight, our upper body, and a little bit of leg, then the reins can come in. Of course, for me it was difficult to figure it all out at once. Stephanie suggested that I use a carrot stick to steer, incorporating some of the skills that I learned on the ground.
Unfortunately, my first thought was that I need to make contact on Mas’s face with the carrot stick to cause him to turn away from the pressure. Shortly after watching me a couple of times, Stephanie suggested that I create a little pressure on his bubble (air around his body) first to see if that works rather than using so much pressure in the beginning. If that was not successful then I could tap him with the stick against the neck. I was mortified that I hadn’t thought of that in the first place! It all made sense. If I could ask him to move on the ground by applying pressure to his bubble, of course I could ask him to do the same while I was on his back.
It actually bothered me quite a bit that I hadn’t thought of that and that I was applying such an extreme amount of pressure to Mas’s delicate zone. I thought about it off and on for the next day. Stephanie reassured me that Mas is very forgiving, but I couldn’t help but feel bad. At least feeling so strongly about doing something incorrectly will help me to do it correctly the next time.
We rode around for a short while before walking the horses back to the pasture to turn them loose.
After we put Mas and Pete back in their pastures we watched Stephanie spend time with Morado in the indoor arena (it got quite windy outside and she decided that being inside the arena would be a bit more sheltered).
Stephanie played the friendly game with Morado using a carrot stick with a bag attached to the end of it. She was helping him to not be as afraid of it as he normally would. She used the approach and retreat method to help Morado gain confidence.
Before I knew it the day was over and it was time for me to head home and spend time with Dave and the dogs. I felt such gratitude to have the opportunity to spend most of the day with Mas. In the meantime, I will continue to study up about natural horsemanship and try to remember to have a softer feel in everything that I do with horses. And, as always, to put the relationship first.