Monday, June 13, 2011

Another Clinic Audit

Sunday was another one of Peggy Cummings' clinics, held at Sarah's facility. At the last one I audited in March, I had wanted to make sure that the next one I would make myself available to participate in it. Unfortunately, due to my personal financial state, that was again impossible. However, there was no auditing fee so I made sure to be in attendance for it anyways.

It was really cool to be able to see some of the concepts that she discusses in her book played out with handlers and owners, as well as additional concepts that either are not discussed in the book or ideas I have not yet reached inside of it (I tend to read only a few new exercises as I feel "ready" for them, so as to not overload the information, but process every single fragment of it).

Amongst some of those new exercises and concepts was firstly addressed through one of the students' horse's mouthiness. Naturally, I was all ears for Peggy's ways to address it, which was an echo from a concept that my farrier expressed to me in our first meeting together. It was to not look at the mouthy behavior as just a nuisance or a misbehaving horse, but as a horse who is trying to express himself. This horse in particular held a lot of tension in his head and neck, something Peggy questioned right off the back. The owner added that she felt he needed dental work done as well. Peggy addressed his mouthy behavior by finding that one "sweet spot" where he would melt into relaxation and adore. For the horse, it was being rubbed on his gums. He got that zen look on his face, his whole head and neck went relaxed, and for a few minutes to follow, he no longer expressed mouthy behavior.

I thought about this in terms of Milo, and how in that first introduction between the farrier and him, he was so happy and complacent to the farrier rubbing both sides of his nose. I was reminded the importance of not just swatting his head away when he behaves like that, but to find the root of what my horse is really wanting. This is definitely something I want to try out with my horse, and to discover that sweet spot for him, that place where he just desperately wants to be rubbed or patted, seeking attention there. Just another good reminder to pay attention to what the horse is trying to tell us. As Peggy says in her book, "Remember to Remember".

Next, they moved the horse out onto the longeline, and without going into too much detail, what I was most intrigued with (aside from the obvious posture changes in the horse as the handler went through these exercises with her horse), but this idea of combing the horse in, then moving away as needed. It's hard to describe in text, but I was watching the way Peggy used her body to manipulate where the horse would travel (manipulate sounds like such a controlling word....). To go out, she combed the line and walked with the horse, to come in (and subsequently allow the horse to reach up and out with the hind end, the same patterns I ask for Milo in groundwork exercises) she walked backwards. And this is not huge footfalls, hers were small, almost creeping backwards. The horse would follow suit and come closer, but engage from the rear as he reached up and out. It was definitely an exercise I want to address with Milo, as I only ever walk with him. The benefits where huge for the horse.

Another good reminder was to stay soft in our bodies, and Peggy demonstrated an exercise I have read from her book, but didnt quite know how to apply it. For horses who are stuck in their front feet (the good majority of handled horses, Peggy commented) this exercise is to help them unstick their feet and bend through their neck. She would apply cheek pressure (and by pressure, its more just touch), and with equal consistency with her "active" right hand (applying the pressure) and her "outside" hand (those are terms I just came up with to describe with), then with her body she would ask the horse to move away and unstick his feet. This was not pressing the horse over, it was opening the possibility for the horse to do so, and if he chose not to, she brought his head back towards her, then tried again, or walked off as necessary. In this exercise, Peggy made an excellent comparison to that "outside hand" as being that consistent support the horse needs, much like an outside rein when riding. This really hit home for me, reminding me the importance of creating consistent connection on that line.

The next two lessons consisted of seeing the exercises and concepts in the book played out into real life, and one of the lessons including the student riding. In her mounted work, we could see a huge improvement from her softening her lower back. Peggy got the young rider to achieve this by "rocking" back and forth from one stirrup to the other as she posted. I know you are probably invisioning a huge rock, but it actually was so subtle we couldnt see the rider do it, but we could see the benefit in herself and her pony. This exercise Peggy associated with the horse's two rhythm trot beat, and it allowed the rider to fall into the same two beat rhythm as her horse. It was very cool to see, and although I don't post a whole lot (rather, in big trots on Milo I just let my soft back absorb the "shock" and allow my engaged core to stabilize me) I could see it's benefits greatly. I might just have to start posting more in our work to experiment with this in-sync concept.

Lastly, Sarah worked with her grey horse Joe, and I quite honestly have to say that the work seemed a little "above me" in that it seemed a little deeper into the concepts than I am aware, or capable of currently. Still, I was able to see the difference in Joe from before and after, and it was interesting to watch Sarah "work" one of her own horses.

I was hoping Peggy would have one of her "Motivator" sticks (or "Wands") for me to purchase, but she had none. I have been wanting to get one for a while because I can tell a huge difference in the feel between when I'm at Sarah's using one, and when I'm at home trying to make do with my Clinton Anderson Respect Stick, and a dressage whip. However, Sarah will be at Peggy's sometime soon I was told, so I can order one online and have Sarah pick it up. I look forward to that.

It was a great clinic to audit, as expected, and it not only reinforced and solidified concepts and exercises I had been reading about and working on, but also presented new ones to work on and think about as well. Isn't that what clinic participation is all about anyways?

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