It’s been about two months since Emily and I have started training with our new trainer, and I can already see an enormous difference. Emily now is no longer the shy and scared horse that she used to be, but is fast becoming a happy, confident and slightly cheeky little lady. All through the power of Parelli.
To be honest, I had never expected to see such a change in my horse. Basically I just wanted to be able to ride again and hoped this was the way to achieving that. But it turns out this method of training has given us so much more already.
While I have only been in the saddle for the first time again this last week, I have had so much fun working with Emily on the ground, I have hardly missed riding at all. Now that we are working so intensely on our communication and understanding each other, just being together and doing those exercises is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced with a horse.
It is only now that I realise that Emily has been coping with mental issues for a much longer time. She wasn’t all that okay with everything that happened to her, but she just didn’t show it. Instead, she tends to become very introverted and close off to everything around her when she is scared of something. At such a moment, it is so very easy to just ignore her feelings (or not recognise them even) and push on. Because she is standing still, so it is okay, right?
Well, no. As soon as the first training started, my trainer Mirjam has shown me how I can really read my horse’s mood. It turns out that Emily is/was actually scared of many things. Most of all, she completely lacked any self-confidence. She would always come up to me to find support or reassurance. And if that wasn’t possible, she would very easily get completely stressed because she was insecure over if what she was doing was right.
Even now, she tends to tense up as soon as she is not completely sure of what I’m asking her. She just wants to do it right so badly. It is kind of adorable, really. And a very valuable trait, I do see that too! But for now, we have to boost her confidence in order for her to be able to truly relax.
Luckily, Emily is a very smart horse and she picks up on the “games” we play with her very quickly. Often it is just a matter of explaining our intention once, maybe twice, letting it rest for a while and then when we try it again the next time, she knows exactly what we want.
So, after only a few weeks, I was already able to do things with her that I had never thought possible. letting her go forward, backward, sideways even, without so much as touching her. Just focussed looking and pointing does the trick. (Since a few weeks, I can even “park” her, where I get up on the mounting block and let her turn towards me so that the saddle is right beside me. Isn’t that just the coolest thing ever?!)
In our training, apart from the basic commands, we mostly focus on increasing her confidence. For example letting her walk in a circle around me, and giving her the responsibility of maintaining that circle until I tell her to stop (just like the picture above, where you can see me pointing out to her which way I want her to go). Just letting her walk the circle for a few rounds was not that difficult. But making her relax into it, that is something we have only achieved in the last week.
Another of those exercises is to let her walk “in front”, with me beside her at the height where her saddle would be. Doing that, it suddenly became extremely clear to me just how insecure she is. The key of that exercise is to let her indicate if she feels up to walking on or not. We kindly ask her to try walking a bit, but if she feels too afraid to go on, it is okay for her to stop for a while. For the first few training sessions doing that, we didn’t get any further than halfway across the driveway. It was all just too scary.
And then to think I used to go and ride out with her across all kinds of unknown terrains, how scared she really must have been!
But we are improving! Not just her, by the way, I have learned so much more about a horse’s character and behaviour than I knew before this, and I am learning how to handle her insecurity while being kind and understanding, yet at the same time resolute enough.
Last week I have sat on Emily for the first time, and honestly, Em has never been so good and patient with mounting before! Or so relaxed when someone sat on her back, for that matter. I am very curious to see how the “new” riding will go and I can hardly wait to see what amazing things the future will bring us.
Whatever happens, we will definitely go on enjoying groundwork exercises, that much is certain!