Photo by Margaret Chant and edited by Jessica Metropulos

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Lesson in Herd Dynamics

In studying with Farrah, one of the things that she really emphasizes is to examine herd dynamics, and how the horses have to communicate with each other to get a message across, and then compare the similarities with how your communication is going. For example, with Prin, I've struggled recently with her taking what I say (no matter what it is) very personally. In watching her interact with Caesar and Wesley, Farrah's two horses, they'll be very polite to her, and she'll act pissy and offended. intersting.

Anyway, recently, I've really tried to tune in to how horses will interact, and have really started to try to mimic those discussions, and read the super-subtleties that could be the difference in a polite or a rude response. The results have been fantastic, and my levels of communication and awareness with my horses have deepened 10-fold since returning home from Madison.

Last night, all that newly-found stuff was put to the test. I have recently decided to start playing with Richard's Morgan mare, Belle. Belle is a very interesting case because in short, she's RUDE. She's like an 8 or 9 on the Body Condition index for equines, a poster child for laminitis, a LBE, the daughter of the lead mare, and hasn't been handled in a training scenario more more than 50 hours in her 8 years. See why she might be a little rude?

Anyway, I've basically decided that I don't even want to put a saddle on Belle's back until she's lost a substantial amount of weight. What I decided is to do a couple weeks of intensive hill therapy, coupled with ponying her on any trail rides I go on (up and down hills and long distance are sure to happen). Yesterday I started on the hill in the pasture. It's a pretty gentle slope, great for beginning both under-muscled and over-weight horses because it's not a huge challenge. Here are photos of how it started out:

Trot Resistance

More resistance

See how resistant she was? Even though her movement looks really nice, if I were to let go of the rope, she'd have taken off. She's got a VERY broken porcupine game. Unfortunately, it didn't take Belle long to figure out that I was on a bad foot (she's NOT dumb, just rude), and she also figured out that I couldn't stop her if she took off. So, she waited until LB distracted me (little horse was attacking my equipment), and she took advantage of it, and made a run for it. I had to let go.

What happened...
Look, fatty can run!

To make matters worse, she took our entire herd with her. So not only is one horse running around like a crazy loony, they all are! I followed at a distance for a while(they were only in a 3 acre paddock, so it's not like they could just have their way and leave), before I realized how badly my foot was hurting me. "Dang, I could REALLY USE another set of legs right now..." I thought, somewhat incredulously. As SOON as I thought it, I got a small taste of true unity. No sooner did I think the thought, Prin peeled off from the herd, and came RUNNING to me. Richard was there to see all this, and would later say that it was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. Prin sidepassed up to me, almost begging for me to get on, and so I did.

What happened next was really neat. On her own, Prin cut Belle from the herd, cornered her, and then played approach and retreat until I could reach out and grab her lead rope. Once I got her, Prin set her up next to the fence so that she couldn't pull anything silly.

Prin to the Rescue!

We proceeded to play with some online things for the next 1/2 and hour. Belle had this great resistant behavior going on, she'd blast out on the circle, and say "I'm LEAVING!" and like a good girl, Prin would follow with just enough drift to stay out of her way, but enough closeness to keep from ripping my arm off. Soon, Belle was getting curious as to what this new game was, but she wasn't about to give up her leadership to me.

Her next attempt was to actually take Prin, "My herd", so to speak, away from me. If you'll notice in this next photo, Prin is resisting her leadership, and trying to stick with me.

Sorry Prin!

That behavior is a lot like walking up to a couple on the street, taking one half, flipping the other one off, and leaving. It's rude, mean, and NOT something a considerate individual does. So, two things, firstly, Belle's doing that is really not acceptable, and secondly, the fact that Prin resisted her and stuck with me says a ton for our partnership.

The session continued, and Belle began to realize she was running out of options. Oh no, it meant she might have to actually...give to my leadership? OH NO! She reluctantly started asking me questions. I could tell she wasn't thrilled with the idea, but asking a question is huge for a LB horse.

Circling cooperatively


I started giving her the option of coming in and checking in with me. However, she didn't want to come to me, she wanted to come in and hide behind Prin. How interesting!
If you think about how an interaction would go between two herds that are first meeting, the leaders of the herds would most likely go meet up with each-other, check in, introduce themselves, and have a conversation. By coming in and hiding behind Prin, Belle was sort of coming in and trying to sneak into my herd without having to talk to me, the leader.

I didn't take it personally, but started getting a bit more insistent. The game was now "If you want to be in this herd, you come in and talk to ME, or you get kicked out...hard..."


Here, she resists that idea. I've invited her to walk with us as a herd, and she says "No, don't touch me.".

I kept playing with it, getting firmer and faster, until finally, Belle let out a HUGE exhale, and asked a question. I allowed her to come in, and she came right to me, touched my hand. End of session.

Checking in

Thank goodness Richard was there to capture the entire thing on film, otherwise this story would sound far-fetched. It was a fantastic experience, and I came out of it with a TON of ideas on how I can more effectively communicate with Belle, and turn her development into a more positive thing.

I also came out feeling extremely touched and proud of my partnership with Prin. Not only has she proven herself as a friend, but she also showed that she upholds her responsibilities in the relationship. She went through this entire thing with me totally bridless. I didn't once have to ask her to do something, she just knew what I needed. That is what I call a partner!

I'll keep you posted as this time with Belle progresses. It should definitely be interesting!

Please leave me some comments, I'd love to hear what you think!


Lucy said...

Amazing and very Savvy! I'm going to really have a good think about herd dynamics and bracing, they're quite hot topics! Way to go, Fran :D

Amanda said...

OMG Fran...
amazing job.. prin is great!! oh i so wish i had more parelli people in my area :)

Katie Hufton said...

WOW, much? That's so awesome, Fran! I wish I could have been there to see that! (: The pictures capture everything perfectly. GO PRIN.

(still enjoying that pancreas?)

Virginia said...

neat! belle could sure use some exercise! who is the chestnut in the pictures?

Fran said...

The Chestnut is either Clue or Cadence. Probably Clue. He needs some groceries.

sherri said...

What a great example of SAVVY! I just love how Prin helps in a case like this--and how much you have learned from Farrah. Just imagine how it would have played out BF? (before Farrah, silly!) What a rodeo!

Tina said...

FYI - I don't know if it's the same for other people, but the music player gets in the way of the I couldn't read part of it. :( What I could read was super!

wildmagic said...

Savvy job, Fran.
Prin is amazing! such a great relationship the two of you share.
Herd dynamics, how interesting! Im going to have to start watching mine more closely!

savvyknight said...

That is incredible Fran, You and Prin are amazing together, Ya'll have true unity Together!!! You and her are so Savvy, those were awesome Pictures! that is really awesome that Prin knew her Responsibility and kept you safe, Just amzing!! Keep up the great work

Savvy On! ;)

coc_parelli said...

One word.... AMAZING!!!

You go girl! :)

Ok..that turned out to be a couple words! Beautiful pics!

Savvy Out,

Olivia, Cocoa, and Dixie