I am always happy when the Autumn Equinox arrives, bringing my favourite time of year, even though the days might get shorter I find the long, extremely dry days of Summer very draining, the landscape loses it's life and colour, creatures move slower and I feel less motivated...so with the cooler weather, moisture in the air and the promise of rain, I feel more energised and become more active, even as we get closer to Winter - when everything seems darker.
I have just returned to Wongaburra after a big adventure with my horses Jo Cool and Durango, on Pat Parelli's tour. First we spent the weekend at Werribee National Equestrian Centre, where Pat taught a 2 day public Masterclass then we headed up the Hume highway to K Ranch just south west of Sydney for 2 days of Instructor horsemanship followed by another 2 day weekend public Masterclass. It was a great opportunity to expose my younger horse Durango to many new environments and test his ability to cope with the pressure of long confinement, first in the float and then in the stables at both Werribee and K Ranch. This is not what my horses do in their daily life at home! With Jo Cool's experienced presence, Durango was able to feel secure and safe as he discovered new 'people, places, changes and things'. I got to feel the nostalgia of being 'on the road again', as I travelled alone and camped at roadside showgrounds with my horses, arranged my 'swag' every night and listened to the night noises of horses eating hay and birds settling in for the night as I fell asleep. We had a great time with Pat, I rode Durango for the first session of Pat's instructor classes, then swapped to Jo as the exercises became more complex and above Durango's level. Jo, as always, rose to the occasion and as always I found myself wishing he was 10 years younger...but at 22 he is still holding his own.
Our return trip was not uneventful, with an 'emergency stop' just 30 mins south on the Hume Hwy when my F-series threw a wobbly and overheated. Thank the gods I had Parelli friends and colleagues not too far away who came to rescue me and the horses and thanks also to the wonderful folks at NRMA and RACV who towed GiGi (my F350) away to the mechanics. I am so happy I joined their 'Complete Roadside Assistance' insurance a few months ago...they not only took care of my vehicle, but paid for taxis, a hire car and my accomodation during my unplanned stay at Mowbray Park. The horses and I spent 3 days at Mowbray Park Farmstay (thanks to Jacqui and Blair Briggs for accomodating me at very short notice! ) before heading down the Hume again, arriving home on Friday instead of Tuesday.
As I sat on the side of the road with my horses, semi-trailers roaring past in the 38C heat, my horses whole bodies sweating even though I raised the rear barndoor and had all the side windows and top vents open, I felt very grateful for everything I've learned and been able to apply with my horses over the years. I had no qualms at all about unloading them on the side of the highway, reloading them again once we hitched an alternative vehicle to the float (thanks Kaye Thomas!) as we waved my F350 off as it was taken away on the back of a tow truck. I had no qualms arriving at any of our overnight stops and putting the horses in strange in strange places then leaving them whilst I walked to town for a meal (and at Jugiong for a swim in the local pool!) and I had no qualms about them being safe to tow for hours and hours, stopping for fuel, during heavy traffic in Melbourne and with passing trucks on the Hume...as well as along bumpy 'B' roads in Victoria and on some unplanned roads that google directions took me along in NSW when I stupidly trusted it AGAIN to direct me to K Ranch. (note - NEVER trust Google directions...trust the maps and make your own route!)
My two horses were fantastic, ready to follow my directions at every step of the trip no matter what. This is what gives me confidence to do the things I do with them. Not that I think they will never have a problem, but that I KNOW I can help them if trouble looms. It's the knowledge of 'how' to solve a problem, not the absence of a problem that gives you confidence and control.
So I am happy to be home, resting up after a very big adventure and with Autumn just beginning. We have camps coming up here at Easter and in May, and I have some circuit visits to SA and in VIC as well as a trip to QLD just before the Winter solstice. I hope everyone is feeling more energised with the weather cooling, and I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with you all! See you here or 'on the road again'....
Many have taken the name ‘natural horsemanship’ for their own use in the 30 something years since Pat and Linda Parelli coined this phrase to define their foundation training program. Over the years there have also been many different definitions given to the name by others, and much discussion about the meaning of the phrase.
In my own experience as a student and as a professional within the Parelli organisation, I have often been asked by the public to describe or define what it is we are trying to do when teaching this program, and what ‘natural horsemanship’ really means. It seems there is a fair bit of confusion about the phrase and also about identifying someone who is doing ‘natural horsemanship’. Since the advent of internet based social media I have scrolled through the articles and comments from people all over the world, noting that the voices that have been added to the ‘conversation’ have multiplied exponentially, creating a chorus of opinions, viewpoints, ideas, arguments and misunderstandings to the point where the phrase seems to be lost in translation.
So, how does Parelli define what the phrase means? After all, it seems only fair to ask the folks who started it all! Linda told us the story herself, how when she and Pat were trying to think of a ‘name’ for their program, she told Pat “every second word that comes out of your mouth is ‘natural’, so why not call it ‘Natural Horsemanship”? Pat has always signed his autograph with the phrase ‘Keep it Natural’…so the name stuck.
Nearly 30 years later, the meaning they had for naming their program has been missed by a lot of people who don’t understand (or even study) Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I have noticed a common theme of some comments on the internet from people questioning the ‘natural’ part of what we do to interact with our horses, not just what Parelli students do, but also other ‘natural horsemanship’ followers. There has been some extreme interpretations of what the ‘natural’ part of the phrase means, the word has often been taken out of it’s original context. What’s natural about what we ask horses to do for us anyway? It’s a good question. Here’s the answer. Nothing. Everything we do, every task we ask of them goes contrary to their nature. That’s not the point of the phrase.
So what exactly do we mean by ‘natural’? It’s actually very simple. For our horses to live successfully in our very unnatural world we need to help them make sense of it. This favourite quote of Pat’s sums it up very simply. ‘Cause your idea to become their idea…but understand THEIR idea first’. To understand THEIR ideas, we need to know what is natural to them, what they are ‘apt’ to think, feel and therefore how they will behave in different situations. How ridiculous is it to expect our poor horses to help us in OUR world when they don’t understand it? It is OUR responsibility to learn enough so that we can lead them through the minefield of expectations we have of them, in a world that makes no sense to a prey animal. How else can they figure it out without injury, unsoundness, illness or early and often violent death? How can we be safer, smarter and behave more like a ‘partner’ for our horses, so they don’t feel the need to fight or flee from us?
The understanding of the ‘nature of the horse’ that I have learned from Pat Parelli during my 23 yrs as a student (including 21 years as a licensed Parelli instructor) has helped me to help my horses understand how to live more successfully with me, in my world, the human world. Let’s face it, nothing in our world sets a horse up to live ‘naturally’ if you define ‘natural’ as living in their original wild state. That option is no longer open to our horses. The best we can do is try to provide them with a herd, even if it’s not the one they would have chosen naturally and in some instances even if the only company we can provide is ours, give them food as close as we can to what they have evolved to eat, and exercise them in a mindful way to replace the miles they would have been travelling each day if they were living ‘wild’. We need to do the best we can, but we honestly cannot give our horses a truly ‘natural’ life…unless we plan to turn them loose in the bush! Even that would not necessarily be an ideal outcome for our horses. The ‘feral’ horses, brumbies and mustangs for example, are not guaranteed a safe and successful life, and are not immune to human contact and conflict. They are impacted more and more by the pressure of overpopulation and environmental destruction. The future for horses is more and more likely to be as ‘domestic’ animals only if they are to have any chance to survive as a species. In my travels I’ve noticed that there are less and less horses in rural areas, and more and more horses on the outskirts of cities and suburbs. The irony is that this ‘revolution’ in horsemanship, the one where ‘traditional’ training methods which are rooted in the military use of horses have been challenged by the ‘natural’ approach to training has come about as their living environment has become more and more ‘unnatural’.
So what about equipment? What is ‘natural’ and what is not? ’Natural’ implies an absence of artifice. So much of traditional training is about using more and more ‘artificial aids’ to change the behaviours we don’t like in a horse. Bigger bits, tie downs, crank nosebands and the like. The equipment itself is not always the problem, but the attitude or intention behind this type of equipment sure is. To be honest no ‘equipment’ is natural to a horse, but we need to question ourselves when we choose it. The attitude at the end of the rope or the reins is the real decider of what is ‘natural’ and what is not. Do we have understanding and communication in mind as we choose and use our equipment? Or are we just taking a mechanical, lazy, forceful shortcut? When I first met the Parelli’s I was a professional competitor looking for a different way of training horses, I wanted to rely less on my equipment and find a way into my horse’s mind instead. I knew that ‘where the mind goes the body will follow’. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my horse’s confidence in me or the task at hand to achieve a human ‘reward’. But I didn’t have enough answers to the challenges my horses provided for me. As I studied with the Parellis, they challenged me to test my horse’s mental connection at higher and higher levels by using my ‘bigger brain’ more and by using equipment that gave my horse more behavioural options, which tested me more than the horse! My equipment became purely a safety net or a way to communicate my ideas more clearly or effectively. I had to gain my horse's mind more and more, and wrestle his body less and less. I’m still working on myself, my competency with this. I no longer blame the horse if I don’t get the desired result, and I know it’s me that is lacking if I run out of answers or results. I know I’ll never be perfect, but the progress I make as I engage in this process of learning how to ‘think/act and play’ differently keeps me going. As I have aged, I have also realised this knowledge becomes more and more critical to my continued competency and even to my survival both physically and professionally!
By understanding what is ‘natural’ to my horse, I can begin to see into his mind. Through understanding comes the possibility for communication, a sharing of ideas. Before I can share my world of ideas with a horse, I must know what his idea is in each moment…what is ‘natural’ to his thinking. Only then can I teach him something different to that instinct, to look to me for direction and information instead of ‘mother nature’. Mother nature can’t help him in my world.
I was thinking about what I’ve learned about horsenality and humanality recently and suddenly realised that although I’ve played with many horses of all 4 horsenalities and combinations thereof I hadn’t ever personally owned a horse of the same horsenality as my personality. In fact, I was surrounded by my opposites, 4 of our personal horses including my own number 1 horse were RBI, another was RBE whilst the remainder were LBI - I even married an RBI! I mentioned this to Linda Parelli during her visit to Sydney in 2013, and she replied with a smile “get ready then!” “Ha, ha, ha” I thought “I have no intentions of acquiring any more horses for a long time so that’s not going to happen in a hurry”….but apparently the universe had other ideas!
Over the last 12 months my now 5 year old QH gelding ‘Durango’ started to reach early adulthood, and suddenly I realised that my supposedly innately ‘LBI’ horse was actually showing more and more of his LBE nature, which was emerging as he began to have more and more ‘mature’ impulses. His ‘herding’ instinct was increasing, his ‘mouthiness’ was increasing and his behaviour - particularly in the herd was becoming more and more dominant, challenging and hierarchal. ‘UH OH!’ Ready or not! The horse that was turning up each morning in my play sessions was actually much more like, well…ME! He still has some LBI tendencies, he has a ‘lazy streak’, he is calm by nature and pretty consistent, but boy that mind and mouth is BUSY and getting BUSIER! He is a mild spirited horse, so his extroverted nature was not so obvious and also because he was so close to the centre on the LBI/E side of the horsenality chart.
So what is it like to have a ‘like minded’ horse? First, let’s describe me. I am an LBE person very close to the centre on the RBE side of the quadrant. I understand what it is like to want to move my feet and/or my mouth to settle myself emotionally, how frustrating it can be when others DON’T THINK OR MOVE FAST ENOUGH and how a playful mind can either be directed in a productive way, OR turn to ’naughty’ behaviour - ‘mouthiness’ in the human often manifests itself as outspoken, ‘interrupting’, loud and/or blunt verbal language and/or sometimes inappropriate humour and pranks! Yes, I have been accused of being a ‘big mouth’ - mostly by those who have had to live with me 24/7! I also find it difficult to see something being done inefficiently and not ‘interfere’…. I hate to waste time by doing a task more than once because it was done badly. I’m more than likely to do a job myself than trust someone else to do it - I ‘take over’ a lot! (just ask my husband) I’m a BULLDOZER, and proud of it!
Ouch - enough beating up on my own personality...what are my strengths?
I see the big picture, I don’t get ‘lost in the detail’.
• I can manage and direct a lot of energy, I LOVE managing groups of people, bigger events rather than ‘one on one’ scenarios really motivate and excite me, and I LOVE speaking in public when I’m in my ‘element’.
• I am good in a crisis…if there’s an emergency or accident, notice how LBE people step in and take over the situation, prioritise what needs to be done immediately and get everyone safe and secure again. We can DEAL with blood and guts and broken bones, and manage a dangerous situation very well. We are also very good at seeing a dangerous situation developing and circumventing it.
• I can see what needs to happen NOW in order to create an ‘end result’ quickly and efficiently.
• I am a natural ‘leader’ and I am not afraid to challenge, to ask questions, defy the status quo and make ‘breakthroughs’. I can be a bulldozer if I feel something is not ‘right’ and needs to be changed!
• I love everyone! (they don’t always love me though!) I also forgive easily.
• I am realistic and tell it like it is - no BS! I don’t hide my feelings! But I will happily hand over leadership to someone that can prove they are a better leader than me or better suited to the task.
• I get results, and usually fast because I have a very strong focus and energy.
• I don’t waste time and/or energy.
Hmmmm…some of this sounds like a certain buckskin friend of mine
So that sounds like a confident person right? But what about when LBE gets unconfident? What does that look like, and more importantly…what does it feel like? Well let me share with you my personal experience of the ‘unconfident LBE’…maybe it will help you with your LBE horse as it has for me!
Some of my students are surprised when I talk about my experiences with unconfidence, because they don’t know the unconfident me. Of course not - that part of me does not turn up when I am teaching, I have already planned, prepared, strategised and thought out every possible scenario before the clinic even began, and I am confident when I am in charge! However I realised some time ago that it is easy for others to assume that I am always confident, assertive and in charge. They are surprised when I can relate so well to their unconfidence and fear! This ability to relate has been a great asset for my teaching career however.
Playing with many, many LBE horses (particularly at clinics) has made me realise that most people assume the same thing about their LBE horses. They don’t know how to handle LBE unconfidence and they get confused when their normally mouthy, pushy, confident, dominant LBE horse gets scared. It is common for ANY horse to feel unconfident when it is in a new environment like a clinic, and that is where I usually meet their horses, but it is often a new experience for the owner, they have been playing at home where their LBE horse is running rings around them confidently, and not showing fear! They hear me talking about how right brained their horse is, how it is having confidence issues (in the moment) and they immediately think they have got it all wrong, their horse must not be an LBE…maybe the chart was wrong! They don’t know how to handle LBE unconfidence…but I do! I have to ‘handle it’ regularly in myself!
So what is it like? What makes an LBE unconfident, what does it feel like and how does it present? Let me tell you about MY experiences as an unconfident LBE.
First of all, the biggest cause of unconfidence for me is losing control of something, a situation or someone in my care. Handing over control to someone else, or turning loose of control is where I really begin to have trouble. Being in the passenger seat (sometimes literally!) is not a comfortable position for me, unless I KNOW the other person is as good or a better ‘driver’ than me. Sound familiar? Anyone got a horse like this? I feel that horse’s pain!
Here are 2 examples of events that I have trouble with…
1. Flying. I’m not afraid of flying, I’m afraid of CRASHING! I have to have a VERY good reason to fly, I don’t do it for fun…I do it to get to my students or to the Parelli ranch in the USA! I am choosy over airlines - not too cheap and I want to know “what’s their safety record?” I check out the pilots when I board - how young are they? Not too young I hope, but not too old either…because I’m hoping they have good reflexes, spacial awareness and eyesight! I choose aisle seats (closer to the exit) and I prefer larger airplanes to small ones (so I feel less motion) Sounds silly? Believe me, it’s no joke!
2. Heights. I’m working on this, because I want to advance my horsemanship and this is my personal ‘emotional fitness’ training. I began by climbing a ladder until I felt that ’tingle’ in my lower extremities and used ‘move closer stay longer’ strategies until I could climb on our house roof and clean the gutters without having vertigo. I had the opportunity to test my progress by visiting a gondola ride in Tasmania - a very big step for me! The first time I rode that gondola a year ago I could not look around and I was clinging to the pole like a limpet, swearing under my breath the whole ride whilst dangling a hundred feet above a rocky river. I chose to walk 5 kms over a very steep hiking track to return to town that visit, rather than ride the gondola back across the river again. The second visit this year I was able to look around and even wave to people coming the other way and enjoy the scenery. I even bought a ‘return ticket’ and took some photos on the way. I was clutching my iPad pretty tightly though, and I was glad of the 3km walk back to town afterwards, I really needed to MOVE to drop my adrenaline levels back to normal (I overtook about a dozen people half my age on the way back)
When I am unconfident and challenged, my default emotion is frustration followed by anger. I get annoyed, mouthy, snap at my loved ones and I get a lot of housework done - VERY NOISILY AND FAST! If I am around people I don’t know, are intimidated by or submissive to, I either get angry at myself or shut down and start putting up a big mental wall…with a moat, crocodiles and a thorny hedge…you get the picture? If anyone tries to cross that wall, swim the moat or cut down the thorny hedge…I get out my flame thrower and declare war! An unconfident LBE goes on the OFFENSIVE when they are feeling threatened! This is often misunderstood as AGGRESSION. When an LBE is afraid of something…they FIGHT it. So what does an LBE need when they are unconfident?
In my case, I need room to express myself safely - which means I sometimes need to stomp around, muttering and even swearing whilst I do a JOB…without the interference of anyone who may be intimidated or offended by my behaviour. I need to know that the people around me don’t take my expressions of frustration personally, or even seriously! I’m just venting! And for god’s sake, don’t try to use logic, reason with me or calm me down! The very best thing you can do is make a joke and walk away laughing…even squirting me with the hose is better than trying to reason with me! (my eldest son once walked into the kitchen and dumped a bucket of water over me during a fight…we fell about laughing immediately and forgot what we were fighting about! Guess what personality HE is? My husband has the BEST strategy for changing my emotional state when I’m like this…he waits until I look at him, then he pokes his tongue out at me. I just have to laugh! (he’s a very smart RBI)
Durango has moments of unconfidence. In those moments I see myself in him. I see how he reacts to my pressure, how much he needs me to understand that his opposition to me taking control of him and his ’situation’ is because I haven’t PROVED to him yet that I am a more worthy leader - someone he can safely hand over the control to. Just like me, his trust must be earned, it comes from me not judging his natural dominance and opposition but appreciating it, and not assuming that he will always be confident. I need to remember how I feel and what I need from MY leaders in order to feel really safe and confident about handing them MY ‘reins’ so to speak.
So what do I respect and trust in MY leaders? How do they get it right? These are the qualities that an LBE like me values most…
- Firmness with FAIRNESS.
- Integrity - keeping their PROMISES.
- A sense of HUMOUR. They don’t take my ‘passionate outbursts’ personally!
- Forgiveness without weakness. They stand their ground without judgement and acknowledge their own mistakes honestly and completely.
- Certainty - They DON’T HESITATE when directing me to do something or I will naturally take over!
- Clarity - They give directions clearly and succinctly!
- Their ACTIONS speak louder than their words. They walk their talk! I have a VERY good BS meter so they have to mean what they say!
- They make room for me to express myself. They DON’T repress me.
- They give me reasonable boundaries, NOT rigid uncompromising RULES.
- They LISTEN to MY ideas…I have good ones! Lots of them!
What do I do if someone LOSES my respect and/or trust?
I will either push them out of my way, lash out at them, (usually verbally) turn away and withdraw my support or take back control and go my own way. If I am REALLY hurt or feel I have been dishonoured (including dishonesty) badly enough I will AMPUTATE the relationship. LBE is ‘all or nothing’ with relationships where trust/respect are concerned.
What do I do if my leader proves to me they are worthy of following?
I will fight FOR them. I will help them achieve their goals and be a loyal supportive team-mate for life. I will defend them passionately, go ‘to bat’ for them. I will put in every effort to follow them, and offer all that I have. I will willingly and whole heartedly help them achieve their mission. I will show them the BEST of myself! I will also ENTERTAIN them!
Wow, I wonder what that will be like, when Durango feels this for me?
“99% of conflict is caused by a misunderstanding”…I heard this quote years ago, and I have found it to be quite true. In the past I have had the experience of finding out I have been misunderstood, and have lost friends because of it without knowing why. I have felt misunderstood and moved away from someone because of it, without them knowing why….and I have observed friends and colleagues divide themselves because of a perceived ‘slight’ a misunderstanding which then becomes a wound that doesn’t heal.
I have a story, it is a story that belongs to one of my children…this time my youngest son Gabriel. (we were being optimistic when we named him for an angel) It is about what can happen when a misunderstanding occurs, and the potential emotional consequences. Thank god he was too young to leave home at the time or we might still be wondering why he hates his mum and dad…and vets.
So it started with a puppy. We bought Gabe a 5 month old blue heeler pup when he was 5 years old. Gabe was thrilled, and we knew it would be a wonderful thing – boy and dog just seems a natural fit. But at 5 months, he was almost out of the puppy stage, so as soon as I had a spare moment and ‘Buzz – call vet for desexing’ came to the top of my ‘to do’ list, I phoned the local vet and booked him in for the following day. No sooner had I put down the phone, than Justin my husband walked in the door, so I looked up and said “hey honey, I’ve booked Buzz in at the vet’s tomorrow”…no sooner had he said ‘good idea’ than Gabe walked in the door…”hey Gabe!” says Justin “guess what? We’re taking Buzz to the vet tomorrow to get his balls cut off!”….well, he coulda been a little more delicate in how he phrased it, but Gabe is a natural scientist and a robust kinda kid, so no-one was more shocked than Justin and I when he suddenly burst into tears and ran out of the room.
“Good onya darl” I muttered to Justin, as I left the room after him, to cuddle Gabe as he lay crying on his bed.
I tried to console him with the following….
“Don’t worry, he won’t feel a thing, the vet will give him special medicine so he will be asleep the whole time’ – nope, he cried harder.
“Gabe, we have to do this, he’s getting a bit big, and he’s jumping up on you a lot and getting a bit dominant” – “ I HATE VETS, THEY’RE CRUEL!” nope, haven’t helped a bit.
“Gabe, how would you feel if he wandered away from our farm to the neighbours farm and he got shot because he was in with their sheep?” - “I HATE VETS, I HATE VETS!” - man I’ve underestimated this kid’s sensitivity.
Well, all I’ve got left is cuddles. And all day he was tearful, periodically bursting into tears every time he remembered about the next day, and “I hate vets, they’re cruel!” was all I heard all day. By this time Justin is saying “ah, he’s just trying to get attention” and I’m saying “no, he’s serious Jus, we’ve underestimated his feelings for the puppy” I’m now feeling protective of my child and Justin is feeling the urge to ‘toughen him up’…so now we’re feeling a bit of conflict too. In between, we keep looking at each other in despair because all our logic is not getting through one little bit…which is unusual and we are out of answers. Jus is getting cross with Gabe and I’m getting fearful for him.
It was not a great day….for any of us. And then, in the evening, after giving Gabe his bath, dressing him in his pyjamas for the night…he climbed up onto my lap, looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and said…
“Does the vet really have to cut Buzz’s paws off?”
“PAWS!? PAWS!? Oh my god Gabe! Did you think Daddy said ‘PAWS’?
He nodded his head silently…
“NO, NO darling, daddy said BALLS! He’s having his BALLS cut off tomorrow!
His little face lit up, and he smiled from ear to ear, wiped his eyes and said “OH that’s OK! I thought you were going to get Buzz’ paws cut off so he couldn’t jump up on me, or wander off to the neighbours sheep paddocks!”
The next day we happily went off to town, and Gabe happily handed his precious puppy over the vet for de-sexing, and examined the stitches like the scientist he is when we picked him up to come home.
I wonder how many times I’ve been misunderstood. I wonder how many times I’ve misunderstood someone else. After this experience, I have made an effort to give more ‘benefit of the doubt’. To ‘allow’ more…just in case we just simply got ‘Paws’ mixed up with ‘Balls’.