"There is a world of difference between his standing still and not running away now when I toss this rope over his back, and his being OK with it." She drew our attention to the horses rigid stance, the tight jaw, the slightly raised head. She compared the moment of his resignation to the moment a prey animal finds itself in the jaws of the lion and struggle is futile.
It was a "light bulb' moment for me. I recognized that Lucy is not OK with several things I do to her. She is OK with the halter now when I approach her at pasture--she associates that with grain time. She is not OK with being caught in the round pen /arena--she associates that with being saddled perhaps. She is not OK with being saddled. She is not OK with being mounted. I am continually devouring her in this relationship.
It was during the 1:00 slot that I had this epiphany. Lucy and I were slotted for 2:00. Lucy had relaxed shortly after 11:00 and I had been able to wander closer to the arena and round pen area to watch the other lessons / training sessions.
Our ride to the clinic had been at 9:00. My heart was racing and my knees were getting progressively weaker as I grazed a nervous Lucy on the lead while waiting for the trailer to arrive. This still happens every time I load a horse in a trailer (I don't do it enough maybe) since being dragged across a yard behind a fleeing horse with a lead wrapped around my wrist.
Lucy screamed at the trailer when it arrived and she heard and perhaps smelled the horse inside. She loaded without hesitation and was happy to meet a new mare in the trailer with whom she became quite attached during the 20 minute trailer ride. However, she was not at all happy in the pen behind the shed-row at Piper Ridge Farm where the Libby Lyman clinic was hosted this weekend.
Poor Lucy couldn't see her new buddy. Her new buddy was getting ready for the 10:00 group lesson. Lucy screamed and raced around. She soon worked up a foaming sweat. When it looked to me like she was going to climb the gate (oh great no hot tape anywhere!) and was not really responding to my efforts to drive her off it, I asked for
advice back-up, rescue. Walk her around where she can see her buddy? I wasn't real confident that I could lead her about the yard safely at that point. I walked her in her pen, did some little 'send her around me' exercises and changing direction. She was not looking at me. She was trotting too fast, turning to fast, not stopping for more than a second when I asked her to.
I was getting nervous again. I am still not sure if it was fear of being physically hurt, or fear of knowing I was failing at helping her through this anxiety. Both somewhat I guess. Libby came and took over for me for a few minutes and then we let her go. Libby felt she would not climb the gate or attempt to jump out. Some other horses had been moved into pens on either side of Lucy by this time, but Lucy had not seemed to notice them at all. She had already picked out her "momma" for the day. I stood on the outside of the gate and shooed her off when she pushed on it during her quick stops to scream out over it as she made frantic loops around the pen. Now there was a group lesson going on in the arena. Lucy could see her buddy for long moments across a dirt roadway and over the arena fence. She stopped to watch and listen for longer moments.
Then an amazing thing happened! She began to settle and paid some attention to the other horses in pens to either side of her behind the shed-row. She soon discovered that she could find some comfort from them. The lathered sweat began to dry. Soon she was moving about almost quietly, grazing tufts of grass scattered about the pen. She stopped and pulled mouth fulls of hay from her hay net. I walked away to watch the clinic! This was big for Lucy. I decided then that if that was our total progress for the day I would go home happy.
At 1:50 Lucy stood quietly while I groomed the dried sweat from her coat. When she allowed me to snap the lead on her halter (after avoiding me for several turns around the pen) she reminded me again of the young colt who was "eaten" by the rope in Libby's hand moments before. I did not tack up for the "lesson". I brought Lucy out into the round pen in just her halter and told Libby that Lucy was not OK with being saddled and so I needed to start further back than that and find out why. I told her that we both get overly nervous and cannot find confidence in each other. Libby told me she was going to have me observe Lucy's thought process as she worked through a puzzle that I would set up for her under Libby's direction. I would start to understand her and that would be the bigining of learning how to help her. She would be loose and I would not be driving her.
Driving is what I was taught to do. It had worked pretty well in the past--with horses much quieter and much less forward than Lucy perhaps. I was intrigued. Lord knows I was not progressing to where I wanted to be in our relationship using the driving method with this horse. I turned her Loose. She began trotting the parameter of the round pen. Stopping to push on and scream over the gate towards her newest friend.
This is the puzzle that Libby had me create:
I stood still facing the gate. Lucy whizzed around me clockwise. when she got just passed the narrowest opening between me and the fence of the round pen, I would whack the ground in front of me with the lead rope forcefully and in an extreme movement, then just stand there again still and facing the gate. I was going to do crazy things (what would seem crazy to Lucy--though done in a very methodical way) I would see if maybe Lucy would "notice" me. Maybe Lucy will think I need more comfort than she does. Maybe she would come to my rescue. The first time I whacked the ground she took off like a shot and kicked out like crazy. She soon decided that coming though that narrow opening on my side was not so comfortable due to my "outbursts" so she resigned her pacing to the larger open space,in one direction and then other or sometimes coming close to me across the open space. This was good we were told: she is not worried specifically to be in my presence. Lucy stopped at the gate to push and holler. I flailed my arms about a bit. She moved off the gate and went back counter clockwise to a spot behind me and turned before entering the narrow gap. This kept up for a while.
I whacked the ground with great gusto when she found another spot to stop push and yell to some other horses. (If she stopped with her head inside the pen I would tap my leg with the palm of my hand two times to see if she would look at me. She would briefly and then resume looking for the other horses.)
This was good sign (Lucy checking out another spot rather than the gate) because, Libby explained, Lucy was thinking about other alternatives for comfort. With no one driving her she had to think things out for herself.
Lucy got down and rolled in the sand. Another good sign that she was not too intimidated by my presence. Her reactions to my crazy whacking the ground episodes showed that she was becoming more courious than troubled. Appearantly just whatt we wanted.
After a while when we started to fall into a pattern, I did have to do a bit of leg work. Still not driving, but cutting her off on opposite sides of the round pen to narrow her pacing distance. This got her attention and she turned to face me briefly. Still whenever she would stop with head inside the fence I would tap my leg to invite her to "look me up" as Libby put it. She said one doesn't want to draw the horse in. That "draw" can be too compelling. The horse will often wonder how they got there, it is that compelling. Libby said we want the horse to "Look us Up" because she made a choice to do so. She is not being devoured in that situation.
I knew that was exactly what I wanted! Nothing less.
The first time Lucy "looked me up" I was over come with emotion. Her expression and demeanor were so completely transformed from what I had come to know as normal in our 'drive and be drawn and devoured sessions'. Tears flowed down my face and neck in a torrent as the folks gather around the pen sighed aahhh in unison. It was huge! Just amazingly huge. For Lucy and I, it was huge! Our big breakthrough. It was momentary. But soon she was choosing to come to me, and stay while I petted on her, and just be with me. She was not devoured. She was relax and happy and present.
Libby believes she can show us how to support each other in all things. I believe her. We are signed up for 3 days with Libby when she returns to Piper Ridge in July.