Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a reposted piece of pony work

 I'm reposting the following, which was originally titled "play therapy with ponies" - because it came after a tough spell of riding and training during which my daughter was readying to do her pony club D3 rating, and although the pony had proven his ability to jump the required height (and higher, with balance and beauty) he suddenly became sour and although everyone around her was encouraging her to go through with the rating, she decided not to, because she felt the pony needed her to listen to him and honor what he was telling her.

In retrospect, I believe that was the best decision we've ever made regarding a horse. Since that time, and since the video below, she has focused on relationship instead of ratings. She spent an entire year riding him with no agenda except that of creating harmony and softness. She has taken him to dressage schooling shows and done well, and right now she's riding him bareback on a near daily basis. He's no longer sour to the jumps, and I think the bottom line is that he knows she won't force him into anything that is scary or that hurts.

I've seen him stand at the arena gate and wait for her when she runs inside to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, his eyes glued to our back door. She has a deeper connection with him than she ever would have had she gone against everything he was saying to her and done that rating.

I'll try to get some new video footage today to show the two working together. You'll see a much taller girl and her ten-year old pony.

Reposted portion:

Today, out at the barn, we were playing around and decided to use an old rein as a cordeo to see what Apache Moon might do. He was a pretty good sport once we got him into the arena. She rode him bareback and with the cordeo for a half-hour, walking and trotting and cantering. He kept circling toward a jump in the arena, which was a bit high for today's play, so I lowered it nearly to the ground. The pony was obsessed with that jump. He kept circling right and taking the little jump at a canter over and over again, even though he could have easily trotted over it without breaking stride. It was as though he were working through some conflict about jumping. It reminded me quite a bit of traumatized children in play therapy, and how they will sometimes replay the trauma over and over again. It was fascinating to see Apache Moon choose repeatedly to jump with my daughter astride, no saddle or bridle, when he was in total control of where he was going.

After awhile I encouraged her to hop off and do some ground work with him. What he did was so cute she ran in to get the camera. I was sitting in the arena on the mounting block and when she went inside, he stood at the gate watching the back door of the house for her return. There was grass at the edges of the arena he could have nibbled on, but he didn't even look at it. It was pretty amazing. I wish I had video of him waiting for her - his focus never shifted.

So here's one little piece of what they did together today. It's by no means the first time they've done this kind of play together, but it's the first time we've captured it on video. She is using no treats and has a dressage whip in one hand that is mostly getting in the way. I purposely selected this bit because you see near the end that he intrudes into her space in a rather cheeky way and she holds her hand up and lets him bump into her fingertips. His response to that is very dramatic, but then you see him come right back to their connection.


Anonymous said...

You should be honored to have such a horsewoman as your daughter. Loved the video - it shows how much can be achieved when the focus is on the bond and doing the work together as a team.

Anonymous said...

And hope you don't mind - I linked.

Grey Horse Matters said...

The video was wonderful. Those two have a special bond. Any new videos to go along with this one would be great to see.

I think it's wonderful that she chose to work with her pony instead of going for the rating. I'm sure he appreciated the thoughtfulness and kindness of your daughter in not forcing him to do something that upset him. We are so lucky to both have caring horsewoman as daughters.

Valentino said...

"Always try to keep the feel of a kid on a pony - play confidently with the horse" Erik Herbermann

Beautiful post Billie :)

billie said...

Thanks, Kate - for your comment and the link.

billie said...

Arlene, I think when we began to look for the underlying reasons for the sourness to the jumps, and our acupuncturist/vet had us wrap his hocks with warm wet cloths and put a hot water bag on his hips, he suddenly realized we were trying to help, and we knew something physical was going on.

His entire demeanor shifted, and the vet helped us learn very precise warm-up techniques and things to watch for that made sure he was moving well enough to increase the work level.

I will personally never forget the day he got his second acupuncture treatment and he (with the needles in place) raised his head out of the relaxed, happy trance he was in and took about four steps to the picnic table where I was sitting - to lick my hands and lay his head in my lap. If ever a pony said thank you, he did that day.

I watch how he watches my daughter when she's doing chores. He is so attuned to her. I guess one day we'll have to deal with what happens when she goes off to college, but for now, it's very clear that he counts on time with 'his girl' every single day.

billie said...

V- thanks for that quote! Love it.

ponymaid said...

Billie, quite simply, he will have to go to college as well. Thank you for posting this - how refreshing after the Gal film from the other end of the horse communcation spectrum.I use many of the same techniques on the woman but she isn't nearly the quick study your pony is - she loses focus and wanders off mumbling.

billie said...

Sheaffer, we women pay better attention when there is an immediate incentive. Try a piece of The Woman's favorite pie paired with a new book she is just dying to read. I'm sure you'll find she will work harder for you!

Máire said...

Billie, that is so great. And as you know, I have experienced a sour pony in my Ben. I am going to show this post to my 12 year old daughter.

billie said...

Maire, I think my daughter has learned more about horses through her experiences with this pony than she could have ever learned with a "push button" mount. It's not always easy with him, but the rewards are huge.