Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Change, and Habits

Change can be very difficult - anyone who's tried to make a change in their life knows this.  And habit is very powerful, for good or ill.

What's the best way to have a horse change a behavior we don't like into one we want?  It isn't by punishing the behavior we don't want.  It's by helping the horse find the answer we do want, and then rewarding it, with a release and praise, consistently, over and over again.  This requires paying very close attention to what the horse is doing, and giving the horse the help it needs, every time.

Changing a behavior, or pattern of thought, in ourselves is just like that.  To successfully make a change, there has to be a "yes", not just a "no".  We have to have a reason, a motivation, to make the change, and this has to be more than just a temporary fix ("I'll diet until I lose 10 pounds"), it has to be a reshaping of how we respond and behave.

This requires: knowing where we want to go and why, recognizing the triggers of the behavior and/or the needs the behavior serves, and specifically what actions we want to take to reshape the behavior - it can't be vague and general.  (Not: "I'm going to eat with a view to being healthy", but: "I'm going to eat a piece of fruit every day at lunch for dessert".)  The same as with our horses.

Catching the "itch" - the impulse to engage in a behavior we don't want and redirecting it - is key.  Attention and awareness before we make that automatic move from trigger to undesired behavior allows us to interrupt and redirect the behavior before it occurs.  ("When I'm tired/crabby/stressed, I tend to do "[name the behavior]".) The same as with our horses.

Developing a new habit to replace an old behavior takes awareness, time, and repetition.  Just like with our horses . . .

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Some Questions About Change

Is there something in your life you need to rediscover, or unbury?  Perhaps something you were once interested in or loved doing, but let lapse or pushed away.

Is there some behavior or pattern of thought that, when you look at it, is inconsistent with your beliefs about how you should treat your body, mind or spirit, or those of others?

Is there something you've been avoiding thinking about or dealing with?

Is there a change you've not made, that you want to make, because you're afraid of what might happen next?

Is there something you've always wanted to do?  Creating space for this may involve letting go of something else to free up time/attention/money.

Are there things/habits/relationships/ways of thinking (about yourself or others) you need to let go of?

Where is your life making you uncomfortable/itchy that things aren't consistent with your morals/ethics?

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?  Do you need to forgive someone else?

Does your life have a pattern, a rhythm?  Is this the pattern or rhythm you wish it had?

What distractions do you use to keep yourself from really thinking about your life, or doing the things you really care about?

All Change

July was a month of big changes.  Dawn moved to Tennessee to enjoy her retirement in more suitable surroundings - this came together very quickly.  It's very hard not to see her every day, but she seems happy there - happier in fact than I've ever seen her.

Last weekend, Missy moved up to join the boys at the new barn.  She's in a stall next to Red, and he's in love with her - he's always liked the ladies - and calls for her when she's out of his sight and nickers to her when she returns.  She's settling in well, and it's very nice to have all three of my horses in the same place.  My schedule has stabilized now - I spend most afternoons the barn but the mornings are free for other things.  Missy and I had our first walk ride yesterday, and as is typical for Missy, she was very good.

Red and I have taken up trailer loading training again in a more systematic manner - I've been avoiding this and it's time for me to deal with it.  Monday mornings are generally pretty quiet at the barn, so we're going to work every Monday morning until we've got it down.  I had to take the trailer in anyway for minor repairs - a light was out due to a corroded ground wire and the grommet around the electric cable had broken, which the trailer repair place fixed while I was waiting.  I find doing a full hitch - load balancing bars - very difficult physically, but only had to do a basic hitch which isn't too hard for me.

I pulled Red from the paddock and we worked for a while - we weren't traveling so the basic hitch was sufficient for safety.  I used clicker training, which I've had great success using with Red in specific circumstances - the nice thing, unlike bribing a horse with food, is that the food is used to shape very specific behaviors and ask for more as you go along, and you can also fade out the treats once the behavior is learned.  Red has a very resistant personality - his initial impulse can be to say no (if he were a person, he'd be oppositional/defiant), his "worry" response is to brace big time, and using more force with him is always very counterproductive.  The trick with him is to make things be his idea - he then does what you want because he buys in to your idea and you join in the behavior together. What I do with him when he braces - say he pulls back when loading - is to be sure I keep asking without bracing against him - I keep light pressure on the line - I keep asking - without trying to hold him in place.  If I'm not fighting with him, he stops bracing. Once he figured out that clicker was part of the program, he got very interested in trying to figure out what I wanted - clicker's great for getting the horse's full attention - and I got three good loads in a row and we were done.  Next Monday we'll work on "dwell" - him staying inside the trailer for longer and longer periods.  I'm also going to experiment with sending Pie and Missy into the trailer - all three are used to being led in, which works but isn't ideal with a straight load trailer.  Once I figure it out with them - they're good loaders and are easier than Red - Red and I will work on that as well when we're ready.

I've been thinking a lot about change this summer . . . more coming on that . . .

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Talking to My Horses

My recent experiences with Dawn, "talking" to her, both out loud, and with thoughts and mental pictures, and Melissa's experience with Dawn "telling" her what she wanted, got me thinking.

I've always tried to communicate with my horses through my body language, the softest possible cues, using mental cues (changing the rhythm in my mind to get a trot/canter transition, for example), and using a soothing tone of voice to help an anxious horse.

Dawn and I were very close, and communicated largely just through our connection.  But my experience trying to explicitly send her a message, and how clearly she got it, made me think that I could be doing a lot more of this with my horses, describing to them what we would be doing, what I was asking them to do, and helping them understand what their experience would be - deliberately building that communication and mental connection.

I've started doing that with both Red and Pie in our interactions, both about specific activities/events and also in terms of communicating my feelings.  And I'm starting to prepare Missy for her barn change that will take place at the end of the month.

Red and I had a good ride yesterday - our first in over a week due to the heat wave we just experienced.  I specifically told him about things I was asking him to do in our ride - with him, it's very important to be there with him every step of the way and this helped me focus.  And I continuously told him that he didn't need to be anxious or worried when he was with me - that I would keep him safe, and he didn't have to worry about having to "save" himself (or us) if something startled him.  It worked pretty well, I think.  I've always found geldings a little harder to connect with than mares, so things may not be quite as immediately effective as with Dawn, but I'm encouraged, and will keep all of you updated about our progress.

Houston, We Have Grooming!

Here's Dawn showing how content she is in her new home, grooming with a new friend - she's the red bay mare with her head on the left.  In the entire four and a half years she spent at the old barn, I only saw her grooming with another mare once - I believe she's much happier now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dawn Says What She Wants

One of the ways the good folks at Paradigm Farms do very well (they do many, many things very well) is introduce horses who retire with them to the herds in a way that makes things easy.

Dawn's initial turnout was in a large paddock fenced with electric tape that was inside the pasture she would live in, so the mares and ponies there could come up and say hello and she could see them while she was grazing.

She did that happily for a few days, and then, as Melissa at Paradigm told me, she told Melissa she was ready to go out.  She wasn't agitated, or pacing, or calling.  Dawn just, very deliberately, looked at Melissa, looked at the other horses, then looked at Melissa.  Dawn did this several times, and Melissa said her message was very clear - she was ready to join the other horses.  I told Melissa that I wasn't surprised by this at all - Dawn is very intelligent, and is used to "talking" with her humans, and I had told her before she left that Melissa and Jason would listen to her and take care of her.

So out she went, and things went smoothly.  She'll be out now 24/7 with her herd, coming in as needed for special feedings (due to her dental issues).

Here are some photos - Dawn is the redder, slightly smaller mare - the other one took up with her immediately:

And here's a short video that shows her settling in.

It warms my heart to see her so calm and happy.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dawn's First Turnout in Retirement

Here's a short video of Dawn's first turnout this morning at Paradigm Farms - she's in a temporary introduction pen.  She look pretty happy to me!