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Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Ari’s Choices

 

This week everything has come together with the stallions as I had hoped it would and I am counseling myself to be more pleased and content with the events than impatient with the timeline.

I am finding that my experience with Myrnah during the first movie set my expectation of developmental time line at a rate that is intensely different than the one I am living currently with Ari and Atlas. Now I get to live what I preach and let the horses set the timeline for progress.

Trust the process Elsa!

Ari has been here a couple of weeks now and honestly, I thought we would be much farther along than we are currently. I adore him and his decisions make me grin, but wow does he have a lot of opinions and decisions to make! Mostly it seems like he just wants me to stay out of his way so he can do the thing he has planned. I don’t know how much of this is the fact that he is an eight-year-old stallion instead of the four-year-old mare I am comparing him to in Myrnah, or how much is just his personality shining through, in all the dynamic unique beauty I chose him for. He will teach me things, of that I am sure!

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In this process of Freedom Based Training®, with any horse, I start with a meditation of being around the horse’s body in all the places and all the different distances. As I do this I study the feel and timing of when it is best for me to move from one place to the next. This is the study of Passive Leadership.

Then I start adding more movement around them with the goal of helping them feel better before I settle into the original exercise again. This is the study of Supportive Leadership.

Once I have the foundation of those two ideas in place, then I can start asking the horse to do something I have in mind. This is the study of Assertive Leadership.

If my request of the horse causes them significant discomfort between the time I ask and the time they say yes to me, we are stepping into the study of Insistent Leadership.

If my request of a horse causes them to respond with fight, flight or freeze behaviors that I need to control, manage, or force to change then we are stepping into the practice of Dominant Leadership. This is where we usually need some sort of a tool to manage the horse (a rope, a food reward, a fence or something to use that is more motivating than our simple human body).

In Freedom Based Training® and this project with the stallions filming “Taming Wild: Evolution”, the process is about developing horse and the relationship using leadership on the spectrum between Passive and Insistent simply because we choose not to use the equipment that would allow us to be Dominant effectively.

When we take away the ability to dominate, what happens is we must learn to read the horse better, and our decision-making process as trainers gets honed to a whole new level.

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I found while filming the first movie with Myrnah, I learned more about being a horse trainer in that one year, than I had in my previous thirty years of life all put together. I have no doubt this current year with the stallions will have a similar impact on me. The experience of training without any means to dominate puts me in a position where I must study every tiny detail of cause and effect with a level of subtlety that all of us as trainers often fail to recognize when we are able to push for a result using dominance.

Ari is indeed honing my skill as a trainer, and where I feel the work deeply is in my patience fatigue this last couple of weeks. My brain gets tired when Ari and I seem to be slower than I think we should be from one level of understanding to the next. That is when the impatient part of me wants to gloss over the details and push toward a tangible result. That is not how Freedom Based Training® works. I must take whatever time Ari tells me he needs and notice every tiny detail of cause and effect he shows me. All the details are an opportunity to learn something more.

Ari and I established comfort in Passive and Supportive Leadership in the first couple of days, and when I started to ask him for a specific action, that was established quickly also with the caveat that he figured out immediately, he could ask me for things as well. This is where my patience was honed, and where he was distinctly different than Myrnah in the first project.

With Ari, I could ask him to reach out and touch my hand, changing his focus and asking him to connect with me. Ari was quick to learn this and quick to easily say yes to it, then he used the same action on me.

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He discovered if he reached out to me, and asked to touch my hand I would make things easier for him and he liked easier. In his case, easier was for me to stand farther away than a touching distance, preferably about a horse length away.

Ari was reasonably comfortable with me close enough to touch him, but he was adamant that I would not actually touch him, and so asking me to stand farther away made him feel easier about our relationship. If I pushed the issue, he used just enough fight or flight to explain to me that he was not ready for any touching and that was absolutely to be respected.

For two weeks, Ari would let me come close for a few moments, and then he would politely ask me to step away again and again and again and again.

I began to fear I would never get that tag off his neck and we would be stuck at this impasse forever. It didn’t exactly feel like a plateau of progress, because I could see his confidence in me growing every day in the softness of his eyes and the rhythm of his movements, but touching was off limits and without the use of tools there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. So, we simply continued to put in the time doing the things we could do together, while watching Ari blossom in enjoying his new home.

Then one day, things changed unexpectedly and Ari was suddenly ready for me to touch him.

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I was standing close to him for a long time, and he didn’t reach out to me asking me to step away. So, I reached my hand out under his nose to offer him the chance to ask me to step away and he did not. Ever so gently I let my hand drift up to his cheek to slowly stroke it, coming directly back down to his nose again to see if he wanted to touch me and ask me to step away, but he did not, Ari let me stoke him several times without any sign of fight or flight before he finally pushed his nose gently against my fingers and told me he had had enough of closeness and was ready for the easier distance between us.

In that moment, the barrier between us melted and a little at a time the touching distance became something else we could do together.

The next day Ari let me take the tag off from around his neck and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We could do this and while Ari was going to push me to learn and grow, and be more patient than I was accustomed to, he wasn’t asking me anything unreasonable. I simply needed to trust the process and accept the time frame he chose.

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That same day Ari let me take his tag off, we turned him and Atlas out together. Opening all the gates and letting them have the entire space was better than Christmas for me. Horses deserve to have friends and freedom and watching them revel in that freedom of space with their friends is simply awesome.

I believe safety comes first, so I gave the two stallions time to mirror and match each other’s movements from across the fences for their first couple of weeks here. Once I was seeing them regularly take naps side by side with the fence between them, matching feet and body postures then I knew they were ready for more freedom to push close to each other when they chose without a risk of injury.

Then easily, with very little chaos they were together full time, eating hay from the same hay net for hours at a time, drinking together, playing together and moving everywhere together.

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Ari and Atlas still have some dominance games to play and can squeal and strike and rear like stallions do, but it seems within reason and something everyone is comfortable with.

Now starts a new chapter for me and the stallions, all of us together, learning from each other. I promise to keep you updated as we progress.

For more up to the minute updates and video footage from week to week, make sure you join us on Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Valuing Easy

This week Atlas touched me for the very first time. It was an incredible welling up of courage for him to reach that last couple of inches and make contact, his nose to my fingers. We had put in over a hundred hours of time BEING together at distances that were comfortable for him. We had slowly and gently increased the variety of ways and places we could share space. Some days I wondered if he would ever be brave enough to touch, perhaps this being together with a buffer of air always between us, was all we would ever be able to do.

 

Some days when I was particularly sad or frustrated by the lack of trust I could see in my two stallions, I stepped away to go visit Myrnah and Cleo and bury my face in their manes and feel the sweet yielding softness of their dense fur under my fingers. Reminding myself all the while that everything develops, and I need to give Atlas and Ari time, they will not stay the same forever. With gentle feel and timing from me, over time, they too will learn that people being close is a good and wonderful thing.

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The day Atlas finally touched me, he had been staring for the longest time, ears pricked, nostrils softly flaring as he breathed in the scent of me. My hand was outstretched and his neck was outstretched in return toward me. This reaching toward each other was something I had been developing with him, always respecting his comfortable buffer of air between us and always retreating to an easier distance before that curiosity, bravery, and interest in me waned. In this particular moment, it was the end of the day, and almost dark, and before I could pull my hand away and return to my lookout post several horse lengths away from Atlas, he made a bold reach and touched my fingers firmly with the bridge of his soft muzzle, square between the nostrils.

 

As soon as Atlas felt his nose actually touch my fingers, panic took over and he leapt away from me with a dramatic explosion of limbs, scrambling for traction to propel him far away from this new sensation. I moved also, but with more steady quiet rhythm, traveling around him in a circular fashion looking for the next place of harmony we could find together.

 

In Atlas’ sudden burst of courage, he had tried to do too much too soon, and it had scared him.

 

We took some time to do things he was good at, and share space in ways he felt confident about, then before the end of the session we had returned to practicing those brief moments where I could reach toward him while he reached toward me, and then I could retreat to an easier distance with appropriate timing, while his bravery and curiosity were still strong.

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I think this is one of the greatest gifts of Freedom Based Training®. The necessity of valuing what is easy in a partnership, more than we value the pushing forward and making progress into the new and interesting.

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When we have tools, such as food rewards or halters or flags or fences to push a horse against, the horse becomes willing to spend more time in discomfort than if we do not have those things.

 

Because a horse wants the apple or carrot, the horse will try hard to hold themselves in the discomfort of learning to find the action necessary to earn them that food reward. Because the horse has a halter on and knows it cannot leave, it will try harder to tolerate the discomfort of learning something new to find where the pressure is relieved and life feels easier again. Horses become willing to stretch their comfort zones and tolerate the discomfort of learning and growing faster than they might naturally choose, when we use extrinsic motivators.

 

In Freedom Based Training® we still exist in a world where the horse feels more pressure sometimes and less pressure other times, but the only reward for tolerating discomfort is the ease of flow and harmony between horse and human that comes afterward. This allows the horse more room to think about their voluntary participation in any event.

 

With Freedom Based Training® we spend hundreds of hours investing in everything that is easy together so that the horse grows in confidence that being in a relationship with us is about feeling good together. Only from that basis can the horse learn to tolerate moments of learning discomfort, then over time, the horse will develop an acceptance of learning discomfort, and then with more time the horse starts to look forward to and enjoy learning because it is more interesting than all the things the horse already knows.

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First though, we need to invest in easy!

With Atlas and Ari I am committed to listening to them about what they think is easy and what they think is difficult. I started by standing outside the fences and paying attention to their body language. Did they move away from me, or toward me? Did they want more space from me or less? How many different variations of together could we experience over and over and over again that Atlas and Ari considered easy?

 

The value of easy is not talked about enough in horse training.

 

We need so many repetitions of easy that the horse starts looking voluntarily for something interesting.

 

Hopefully horses reach for the next new piece of learning within the range of what they can tolerate. If they overstep what they are capable of doing, like Atlas did when he touched me for the first time, we have to consider easy again, and building confidence from the place of doing easy things.

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In Atlas’ case, I have chosen to carefully slow him down so he doesn’t scare himself again. When he reaches for me, I make sure I have enough buffer of air between us that I have time to pull away before he makes contact.

 

Again and again Atlas gets to reach for me and have me pull away to an easy and comfortable distance before he makes contact.

 

I reach toward Atlas, Atlas reaches toward me, and then before the whiskers brush my hand, I confidently walk away to the distance I know is easy.

 

Will this take a hundred repetitions or a thousand before we feel the stress is low enough to actually touch in a way that doesn’t scare Atlas? I don’t know, but I know what I am looking for.

 

When Atlas touched me the first time, he wanted to be brave, but his ears and eyes were locked staring at me in a frozen position that let me know that his brain wasn’t fully in a thinking operative mode. I hadn’t planned for us to touch, but Atlas moved so quickly I didn’t have time to protect him from his brash decision.

 

Lesson learned, no real harm done, now I am more careful. Now Atlas and I practice reaching toward each other with large gaps of time spent at the easy distance between each effort to try something new. This new thing we are doing demands respect, because it isn’t easy yet.

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When something becomes easy we will know because we will see the brain is more likely to start thinking instead of reacting. We will see the eyes and ears move softly, instead of held in a rigid freeze. When the brain is frozen, the reaction of fight or flight is likely to follow, when the brain is thinking it will move easily into yielding or playing.

 

I know the theory, but I will admit it is real work for me to practice all that I preach. Going on the fifth hour of a day with the stallions, often my brain is sluggish and I just want something interesting to happen. Easy feels boring and I don’t want to practice the same thing over again and again and again.

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This is where the real work is. This is where I dig deep and I learn. How many different variations of paying attention can I practice, while the stallions get to experience easy with me?

 

It is an ongoing journey, but I know I will be better for it in the long run. Filming this movie is a huge motivation for me to tolerate the discomfort of learning. So, I dig in and watch and plan and practice everything that is easy, in as many variations as I can come up with. I have to believe in the process and do the work, that is how I learn.

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If you are interested in more details and discussions, we have both ongoing in the Patreon Group and would love you to join us there!

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

These early days of the first touches with the stallions are precious in their own ways, yet I am also dreaming of all the dynamic and interesting learning ahead of us… only when Atlas and Ari are ready of course!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com