A few of my Favorite Quotes: “Intimacy Develops from Feeling Safe”
“Horses don’t “Practice” they have ‘Interactions which Improve Communication’ “
“Problem solve at liberty, so you don’t have to under tack”
(I’ve improvised a “Barrel ATM” at end if you would like to improve your walking, based on an exercise we did on Day 3)
Day 1 was a group session with one horse, Oscar. That sounds like it might be too challenging for the horse to cope with so many people taking turns in the various exercises, but from last year’s clinic I knew it was possible and Farah is very mindful of when the horse needs breaks and down time. Oscar was a great teacher. His behaviour was “Energy Dominant” ie only used energy if it’s was to his advantage :-). And he wasn’t above showing his heels to express his opinion!
As we all worked through the various Waterhole Rituals (based on Carolyn Resnick’s work), I started to develop a much clearer understanding of what Carolyn had been referring to as “havinga good Gas Pedal”. More importantly for me, was what a “sticky” gas pedal looked like and how getting it unstuck is important for everything that comes afterwards. How it could be more sticky on one side than the other and how that could be used for initial diagnosis and assessment of what was happening with your horse, Biomechanical vs Technical or both!
I loved Farah’s gentle approach, she wanted us to be able to move our horses with a minimum amount of effort and no tools, but also to be able to keep ourselves safe (so carry a wand, stick or plastic bag), and on a scale of 1 – 10 be able to use a 10 if needed to feel safe, but come back to a 1 to whisper a request. “Everything is negotiable. We can have a conversation about his response to my request, EXCEPT if the horse causes you to feel unsafe. Then we may have to have Words!” But if that happened it was NEVER PERSONAL (only people take it personally) and just let the energy go after it was over, keeping it light hearted, but looking to develop a reliable response to your requests, helping your horse to understand what he needs to know, so you can both have fun.
An example was to gently use your hand to request that your horse ‘clear your space’, if feeling crowded (or in Oscar’s case to keep a safe distance from his flying heels). This was where you might feel their stickiness! We were looking for the horse to roll away smoothly and easily. If this didn’t happen, you might ask again, and then it was “Are you still here?” and do an increasing energy cue, big sweeping movements of arms plus wand if needed, finding the place where he responded to your request to ensure that your space was clear. I found it tricky to keep it from being directed at the horse, and it was easy to keep moving forward and then be too close and in a confrontational place, rather than holding my ground and clearing the space I wanted around me. It was definitely a lightbulb moment for me – how to keep it “conversational” rather than confrontational.
Day 2 – we worked in small adjacent paddocks with our own horses applying what we had learned the previous day as appropriate. The first session was mostly Sharing Territory, allowing the horses to start the interaction, and doing what was needed to help everyone feel safe as the horses settled into the unfamiliar spaces. Remembering “the point of Liberty work is the horse can fall in when he wants to but he doesn’t HAVE to, but you are allowed to ask again”. Eg if Leading from Behind or Companion Walking and the horse didn’t stop when you do, you just ask again – No Wrong Answers! :-). (And you really DON’T CARE! He knew you had stopped, just might not want to or know he was supposed to, but works it out as you develop rapport).
Before lunch Farah demonstrated how to do “Self Selection” with herbs and essential oils. This was fascinating, the two horses showed how they wanted very different things in different amounts. Everyone watching went very quiet as Zen was processing after inhaling an oil that help relieve and release past trauma. He would sniff the bottle with each nostril, turn his head away, go internal for a several minutes, then take another sniff. This was repeated many times, until he no longer showed interest and was looking alert again. It was wonderful how everyone respected his space and processing time.
Farah said many apparently healthy horses with glossy coats and good condition can still be lacking vital nutrients and this is a way of helping them be in the best health possible.
After lunch we had another Liberty session. Phantom and I continued to work on his sticky gas pedal, and being “behind the leg”, building up to Leading from Behind at Trot. This developed into the start of free lunging as I focused on particular points of his body, encouraging him to keep on an arc, and imagined I was the (inside) leg and riding from the ground. “Influencing bend and impulsion without tack, so he can explore what felt good”. While doing this he could choose the rein he was on, how much to do and when he needed to change direction or had done enough, and I was learning to listen to him and respect his responses. My job was to feel the movement I was thinking of inside my body and invite him to join me.
This sort of Liberty work allows the horse to show you who he really is, starts to build Biomechanical correctness, lifting the shoulder and pushing off from the hind end, increases symmetry leading to suppleness and flexibility and builds their half halts leading to lightness and softness. And most importantly develops willingness and a desire to be with you.
Day 3 started with an interesting exercise sitting on a barrel. I had had a really sore hip for the last month or so and had been limping, although it was improving. After doing this exercise I finally(!) could feel what I needed to do inside my body to keep from stressing my right hip. I have written it out as an Awareness Through Movement style lesson below.
After this we broke up into small groups and each group had a shared lesson in the arena. The first three concentrated on groundwork on line as their horses weren’t able to be ridden (unsound or unstarted). The next three pairs all rode, continuing with the emphasis they had been creating in their Liberty work.
Phantom and I were in the last pair, and since it was his first time in the arena he was quite unsettled, so we started with applying the Liberty principles on line, gently helping him bring his attention back to me with a whisper of the wand at his girth line each time he was distracted. This exercise worked well and I was soon feeling it was safe to mount. In the riding it was feeling for the quality of the line you chose, it’s shape, flow etc, looking for “the horse to seek contact, not us create it”. “Not interested in perfection – want rapport”. Farah was superb at giving us exercises to work on what was needed for each combination to learn and explore. Mine was to get a sense of what “behind the leg” and “inside leg as a pole” were about, and as we worked on our exercise Phantom was getting smoother and freer as we both started to understand what the other needed.
This sort of format, although at times like a three ring circus with so much happening at once, enabled participants to also have time to observe the other combinations, and often were able to apply what they had seen in previous sessions. (Well I did 🙂 !)
A huge thank to Shaunna for working so hard to keep everyone happy and fed, and still participate herself. And to Farah for coming all the way from Connecticut and presenting such brilliant concepts.
I think every participant and spectator went home with a lot to think about and consider how to apply to their own horses, plus the biggest smiles of satisfaction on their faces 😀
If you would like to learn more about Farah DeJohnette and her fabulous approach “Liberty Line Mounted” go to http://fdhvirtualclinic.vidmeup.com/. She runs a “Virtual Clinic” where you can explore more of her exercises from the comfort of your own home. I really love her approach and have learned lots of fun and useful things to do with my horses from these.
A Barrel or Ball ATM Lesson (Awareness Though Movement)
You need a 44 gallon drum on its side with saddle blanket for padding or a large firm physioball or fit ball. (Or could sit on a firm chair for parts of it, and imagine what you can’t do.)
Remember only do as much as is really comfortable and easy, pause and take rests when needed. Breathing is useful too. 🙂
Briefly walk around and notice how your shoulders and hips are moving.
Sit on your barrel or ball with legs and feet in as close to a riding position as possible.
Begin to explore the movement of your Left hip joint. Keep the movements very small and slow to start with.
How does it move forward and back, up and down, in and out? How do you move your joint through space? What is this hip joint’s range of movement?
What happens in your upper body – does it hold still or follow the movement? Can you do both?
What does it mean to you to make a circle with your hip joint, which direction did you choose? Change direction – is this way harder or did you choose the easiest way for you first? Is the circle as round when going clockwise as it is going counterclockwise? Do you need to hold your breath to concentrate? Pause and rest – off the “horse” if needed.
Please repeat the above movements on the Right side.
Which side is easier, moves the most freely and smoothly, moves the furthest?
When you make a small circle with the hip joint does it move the same on each side or is there a difference in the size, fluidity of your circle on one side compared to the other?
Begin to gently rock the barrel/ball from left to right, side to side. Start small. Notice what happens with your upper body. Does it fold over the hip (a “collapsed” hip?) on one side or the other, or both? Can you try tipping or tilting your upper body as a counterbalance to your pelvis and feel what this is like? Does this feel familiar to you? Is one side easier than the other?
Can you roll from side to side while keeping your upper body upright and not bending? Do you roll as far when you try this, as smoothly? Does this feel familiar? Compare both sides? Is the movement even or do you travel further in one direction? What do you do differently with your ribs, shoulders, spine and whole torso to follow the movement and not “collapse”. Do you get longer on the side you are moving to or shorter? Pause/rest.
(If you are on a ball this next bit is easier.)
Begin to slightly tilt and tuck with your pelvis. What happens in your hip joints? Start slow and small, gradually explore a larger movement, and then come back to a tiny movement.
In which direction does the angle of the joint open slightly? Which direction closes the angle? (When riding closing the angle slightly creates a half halt or stop. Opening the angle slightly can be your cue to go forward or increase speed). How small and subtle can you make this movement? Pause or rest.
Feel your “Point of Hips”. Do they feel level and even? Place your hands on the prominent part of your pelvis, do they feel even now? Or is one side further ahead or behind the other? Higher or lower? Look and see if your habitual posture was “telling you the truth” or did it “lie”? Are you actually as even as you thought you felt?
Dismount from your “horse”, stand for a moment and feel your contact with the floor through your feet. Lightly sway to the right, then to the left, what do your hips do? How do you balance or counterbalance with your upper body?
Begin to walk around for a few minutes. Are you aware of your hips as you are walking? Do they swing fluidly and evenly left to right? Notice how your shoulders are moving, is your back turning with each step, are your arms swinging freely?
If, like me, you were collapsing on one hip, how can you change what you do with your upper body or ribs to keep walking evenly over both feet?
Enjoy your walk!