The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 11:15 am 
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Hello, I joined this forum four years ago, but since then have posted very little, and indeed completely forgot about it for the last two years. I feel the need now to introduce and explain myself, which I know can get a little boring but, er, it's a forum and you don't have to read it all if you don't want to right?

I live in FL, USA and have a Tennessee Walking Horse named Diamond. He'll be 10 in April and I've had him since he was 2 1/2. For the first six years I had Diamond I was a vehement follower of Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I was able to reach better levels of communication with Diamond than I had ever before using PNH, and Dimey and I could do many L4 tasks. Then, when I was about 18 I started college and lost interest in horses because of new opportunities I thought were more important and because I felt frustrated working Diamond and I couldn't figure out why. I've regained my passion now though, and want to start anew.

(This** is the blah-blah everyone has their sob-story bit, feel free to skip it)
**A few months ago I loosely began grooming/working with Diamond again barely more than once a month. My interest was reawakening but I simply didn't know where to go with it--somehow Parelli had quit cutting it. Then, about a month ago my two little cousins spent four days with me and I figured I would let them "ride the horse". I went out to Diamond's pasture, threw a blanket on him and put the four year old on his back with the lead-rope as reins and had Diamond follow me around the pasture as my cousin rode him (at a walk). I then mounted Diamond and held my two year old cousin in front of me and walked Diamond around. This horse, a stallion who I hadn't worked with for at least two weeks prior to this was PERFECT. The two year old led him around with me afterwards and Dimey happily followed. For some reason this really resonated with me. I walked away from that moment thinking my horse is more selfless than I'll ever be. All the time I practiced PNH with Diamond I was focused on the relationship--as long as my horse was obedient. The constant focus on making Diamond respect me as his herd leader was exhausting--I analyzed every little earflick, every little tailswish (was he being disrespectful??!) fearing that I was going to let my affection for Diamond overtake my rational "I have to be the boss" requirement. When I took my cousins out to Diamond I realized--my horse wasn't listening to be because he knew I was the boss, he was listening to me 'just because'. He was listening to be and obeying just because I asked him to, and he was willing to do what I asked.**

I don't think Natural Horsemanship is Satanic. I don't know that I would even classify it as abusive, but I understand clearly now it isn't genuinely a relationship-based method, and I also realize that Diamond deserves that-- to have relationship before anything else. I really almost want him to rebel now, so that I can show him I'll allow it, that he can refuse to listen to me and I'll respect that as his opinion as long as he isn't trying to hurt me or doing something dangerous. My horse is a better "person" than I am :ieks:

My Concerns/Things I would like some help with:
1. I feel like Diamond has a sort of learned helplessness where even at Liberty he just listens to me because he knows it is what he is supposed to do. He comes up to me in his pasture, respects my space etc. My plan is for the next few sessions to just spend "quality time" with him and ask little, but he has an incredible memory and I'm not sure how to get him out of his doing-it-because-he-knows-I-want-him-to mindset and into the I-only-have-to-do-this-if-IIIII-want-to mindset ? :huh: tips or even (especially!) shared similar experiences would be incredibly appreciated.

2. And this is a BIG one I can't get help with anywhere else: Diamond is a stallion (Le Gasp!), kept a stallion because he is cryptorchid and surgery is too extensive, much riskier health-wise and costs more than I can spare. He is 10 years old and lives with a goat. Our neighbors have horses so he sees them and has gotten loose a few times and gone over there, where he promptly gets badly beaten up and then stands dejectedly at the neighbors gate until I come and rescue him. Other than this he has limited contact with other horses which I know isn't ideal but he lives on my property and I'm only capable of a single horse at this time. He did live with other horses until he was 2 1/2 though so he learned all the important horsie manners. Wow, that was another random tangent, sorry. MAIN QUESTION: I am always getting screamed at for having a stallion and being irresponsible, and immediately after that come orders that I must ALWAYS make sure Dimey knows I am the boss, NEVER let my guard down, NEVER turn my back, ALWAYS carry a stick or rope when around him for self protection and NEVER let him think he is dominant or go against me. How can I find the balance between "always being 'on' with a stallion" and finding a "natural, relationship-focused state"?

Here is a video of clips compiled when Diamond was between the ages of 5-8. We are still essentially at this point "training wise" now. I'm probably doing a dozen things wrong in this video, and I really don't mind if you point them out so I can improve =)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8iJ5TEM ... e=youtu.be

P.S. I promise I'm not normally this wordy, I kinda just wanted to get this all off my chest into writing, and you all are the victims :blush:


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 7:09 pm 
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Welcome back, Rachel! :f:

My Mucki also was cryptorchid and was therefore gelded before I bought him. I always thought that it's safer to geld cryptorchid horses, because there's a chance of tumors in the testicle that remains in the abdomen.

Regarding your question about the learned helplessness: I think we have some experts here in that specific field ;). You can read in Romy's diary for example - she has only recently converted her little Bacardy from a dutiful little boy into a lovely wild child! :funny:
I wonder, are you working with treats, or have you considered introducing them? They will be a great help if you want to get more initiative from your Diamond. Rewarding him for creative interaction with things and toys, or rewarding for any initiative will slowly change his attitude.
When you finally succeed with this, you might be challenged in ways that touch your second topic. At first, food manners, or manners in total, may deteriorate. There's a normal process of testing the limits of your generosity - especially if you have a cross-over horse.
But in my opinion, that does not mean that you can't do this with a stallion. I have to say, that I have no experience whatsoever with stallions and any horse is different anyway. But I see no reason, why a stallion should be so much different, except maybe in amplitude of the emotional reaction and determination.

The matter of control has been discussed here a lot of times and I believe it is more a matter of motivation. When a horse is more motivated to follow you than to go grazing, than you have control. If you are more interesting for Diamond than a nearby mare in heat, than you are in control. In theory, you never have to apply pressure that way and still have control. That is control in a sense of being able to influence the horses behaviour.

DiamondSteps wrote:
How can I find the balance between "always being 'on' with a stallion" and finding a "natural, relationship-focused state"?
I don't like the general NH notion of having to always sleep with one eye open and never let your guard down. Such a thing can only be detrimental to a healthy relationship.
I do believe however in having to be 'always on' in a certain way, namely that I try to give my horse my full attention while I interact with him.
Other than that, what could the things be that Diamond would do, if you are not 'on'?

_________________
Volker

The horse owes us nothing.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 2:57 pm 
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Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 8:20 am
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Welcome back from me as well, Rachael! :)

I can keep it short, because I can only second everything that Volker has said. ;) I think it's wonderful that you want Dimey to be a more proactive person, but Volker is right, there is a chance that in the beginning it can get a bit challenging or even dangerous - or that's how it was with Summy. Although Bacardy's metamorphosis is a bit more recent, Summy's and my situation back then might be a bit more similar to yours, because we came from a pressure-based interaction. The difference is that suddenly there was not just wildness and initiative but also quite a bit of anger and saying NO on his side, which is something I never experienced with Bacardy.

Anyway, I think it's wonderful that you want to improve your interaction, and I am looking forward to lots of stories. :)

Best wishes,
Romy


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 7:29 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jun 24, 2013 7:00 am
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Hi :sun: Welcome !
I cant add to volkers and romys advice , only encourgement :thumleft:


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 3:53 am 
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Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 9:18 am
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Volker wrote:
I don't like the general NH notion of having to always sleep with one eye open and never let your guard down. Such a thing can only be detrimental to a healthy relationship.
I do believe however in having to be 'always on' in a certain way, namely that I try to give my horse my full attention while I interact with him.
Other than that, what could the things be that Diamond would do, if you are not 'on'?


I never liked that notion either, I think that is part of what I found stressful about NH methods.
Part of me worries Diamond's whole personality is a fa├žade because he accepts/obeys pressure so easily, and as Romy, he could get angry and dangerous and try to hurt me.

I've always been told if you aren't continually working a stallion in ways that he learns you are the dominant horse, that you have power over him, he'll challenge you--and usually these challenges involve stallions picking up their owners and tossing them around/ripping out their throats (famous horse trainer tells this particular story)/or other things. So I worry that Diamond will suddenly see me as a human he can beat up if he gets irritated with me.

So in Stallion vs. Mares/Geldings, maybe my fear is his being a stallion would make his reaction to AND horsemanship methods would be too extreme? I've always felt safe around him using NH methods because "I had the power". Whereas now I don't, and once Dimey realizes that...as I said above :ieks: So while I am determined to persevere in this more genuine way of working with horses, I go into it with a lot of fear.

I've always worked with treats, probably more than I should have :yes:


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 7:39 am 
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DiamondSteps wrote:
So I worry that Diamond will suddenly see me as a human he can beat up if he gets irritated with me.


I think you don't need a stallion for that. Several people who came to the forum had a similar situation with mares and geldings who simply did not take any pressure and then rather attacked instead of submitting. However, I think there is another way to prevent that he beats you up if he gets irritated: don't irritate him. ;)

This does not mean that you will have to walk on eggshells forever - in my experience, a horse's tolerance level increases enourmously if again and again he sees that the human does no harm. At the same time, this is wonderful feedback on your actions. I had this in a slightly different version with Bacardy over the last months, who is a playful little foal and as soon as I moved in a wrong way and did not redirect his movements with my body language, he reared and kicked at me. This is almost gone now and that's fine. However, during that period I have learned so much about how to not trigger attacks, and I am forever thankful to him for having taught me.

Also, the fact that you are working with the horse's initiative does not mean that there cannot be any rules. For some reason people often understand it that way, which I experienced just recently. We had a visitor and I told her to not shout at the horses or scold them or hit them. She concluded that when they nip her, she simply has to accept that, passively. Well, of course not. Just like in an other communication, you can tell the other one that you are not feeling good about a particular behaviour, it's just that this message needn't be something along the lines of "You are doing badly, so I will make you feel bad and teach you a lesson, and show you that I am the one who can misbehave but does not take bullying from others." You will find lots of info about this in the forum. :smile:


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