Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Games with Horses, Hints of Philosophy

     So, by the end of the summer, WhiteStar and I were making fairly good progress.  We had learned a number of "games."  These games were ways that the horse and I learned to move together as a team, with me as the leader.  They were ways to build trust between us.
     I had pretty good success with the various ways that we could turn in a circle together or back up.  There was one of them that was a little slow, but we got it.
     There's another game called yo-yo.  I ask my horse to back away from me in a straight line and then return to me in a straight line.  Straight lines can be hard for horses, especially shy, submissive horses.  Think about how different it feels to square off at something verses sliding in beside it.  Squaring off at something is more commanding and confrontational -- a very uncomfortable position for someone who is shy.  So WhiteStar had to work on being straight.
     When I first started this game, my instructor told me that I had to let my horse know that it was important to be straight or else she wouldn't know.  At that point, I myself could not see the importance of straightness.  I had too much else to think about!  I was kind of the same way when I was learning to drive the car: "I have my hands on the steering wheel, my feet on the pedals, and my mind on the million things that I have to remember.  And you want me to look where I am going to????" 
     [Note: for all of you on the road who suddenly feel unsafe, please know that I was only in my own yard at that point of my driving career.]
     Next, WhiteStar and I played a game called circling.  Here are the rules: I ask WhiteStar to back away from me and then to walk around me in a circle, maintaining the speed and direction I asked for without any further prompting from me.  When I started learning this game, I was so tempted to hold my rope ahead of WhiteStar and sort of "lead" her around me.  My instructor stopped me and pulled me aside.  I was given one end of the rope and told I was the horse.  She took the other end and played the part of the human.  She did circling game correctly first.  That was fun.  Then she did it the way I had been doing it.  I was surprised at how annoying it was for me, as the horse, to feel that slant of the rope.  There was no trust communicated in that rope, and it was a bit of a conflicting signal, too.
     Sometimes human leaders can do the same thing to their human followers.  That is probably where we get the derogatory term of "micro-manager."  When you ask someone to do something that they are capable of doing, then you should sit back and let them do it.  You only need interfere when it is not done correctly.
     And I had to "interfere" on this particular day in question.  As a matter of fact, I had to get my instructor to come help me.  You see, WhiteStar walked around me very sweetly when I asked her to go to the right, but she didn't want to go to my left (counterclockwise).  She was hesitant to obey and then kept turning and going back to the right without being asked.
     Who knows why she was reluctant to go that way?  There are a number of possibilities, but I have my own theory.  Here it is: I had a splint on my left wrist.  Maybe I was not communicating well through the stiff arm, and she didn't know what I wanted.  Maybe she sensed the weakness of that arm and figured she could get away with disobeying.  Or maybe, with her super-amazing-horse-sensitivity, she sensed that I was nervous about using that arm, and, while she did not know why, she figured from my subconscious signals that it was best not to go that way.  Knowing WhiteStar as I know her now, I think the last option is actually the most likely.
     Either way, my instructor came at my request and helped me work on it until I had her going both ways again.
     WhiteStar and I had 3 new games that we had started.  One was called "sideways," and, as the name suggests, she is supposed to walk sideways.  Since we were still learning, I only asked for 3 or 4 steps.  She went to the right fine, but skipped the sideways part of the sequence when she went to the left.  I let it slide.  Sideways was very new for her, and my instructor was impressed that she was doing it at all.
     Another new game was called "squeeze," and it simply involves the horse walking between 2 objects.  Gradually the objects get moved closer and closer together.  This can be difficult for some horse.  Horses naturally like freedom and open spaces.  That is where their instinct tells them they are safest.  Squeezing between two obstacles (especially tall obstacles, like fences) feels like a trap.  But, in the course of working with humans, there will be many such traps that horses are expected to walk through.  So we play this game of trust. 
     WhiteStar is already quite good at the squeeze game.  She has doubtless played it with many, many students before me.
     The last new game that WhiteStar and I were playing was my favorite.  It was supposed to be beyond my level, but it looked like so much fun.  Basically, the horse and I move around and the horse copies whatever I am doing.  It is awesome.  WhiteStar and I were very new at it, but I love the connection between horse and human during this game.  The game is called "stick to me".  WhiteStar and I walked fast, walked slow, trotted, stopped, turned, and backed up.  Whenever the practice of the other games felt tedious, I took a break and played a round of "stick to me".  It is so much fun!

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