11.06.04: Alpha Horse Leadership

Our good friend Shari was having one of her ALPHA Horse Leadership for Humans workshops, and as it worked out we were able to attend. I was excited to see her again and meet her herd. We arrived early and got to hang out in the barn meeting all of the horses. She has 3 mares and 2 geldings. Cali was a bit stand-offish, come to find out she got pretty wound up and Shari had to let her blow off some steam in the round pen and then give her a hose already. Frescoe and Noble were both hanging out saying hello and being social. Noble had that playful childlike look about him, and just wanted to touch and interact with anyone that would give him the time of day. Jim found a spot on his face that he was quite happy to have itched, and after that he was his new best friend. He was just dying to play, and it was obvious. Lila and Dixie were the other two mares, and they were quite and seemed to be a bit of old hands at the deal.
The rest of the participants arrived, two other couples Kelly and Jesse as well as Ray and Elizabeth, none of which had any horse experience. Sarah was the last participant, and has 3 horses of her own. We began the morning discussing leadership and what it means. We discussed boundaries and did the boundary exercise. It was interesting to see people who do not have experience with the concept feel out the boundaries. The two men in the couples had very little grasp of what a boundary felt like and how to recognize where it was. We discussed the vigilance that can cause a boundary to be much stronger than it normally would and when boundaries can shrink because the situation is safe.
Once the group had a better understanding of boundaries Shari brought down Cali, her warmblood mare that was purchased to be her great dressage horse. That was at least until Shari figured out that Cali hated the dressage work. Shari said the two of them now share amazing trail rides now, and that Cali has become one of her best teachers for this kind of work. When Shari brought her down, she was doing a bit of head bobbing and making a gulping sound every time she reached her head forward. One of the men asked what she was doing and Shari explained that as a result of her training and environment prior to Shari getting her, she had developed a habit of wind sucking as a way to cope. Shari confessed that she gave her a treat before she brought her out of the barn, and treats are one of the things that trigger her now, she rarely does it at any other time.
Shari explained the exercise of working with Cali's boundaries and invited Kelly and Jesse into the round pen with her first. They began to explore her boundaries and attempt to interact with her. Cali was very standoffish and wasn't interesting in interacting with people at all. The more that they focused on her, the more she bobbed her head and gulped air. Jesse asked a question about connecting with her and the discussion that followed lasted for quite some time. During that period that the group was focused on the conversation, Cali's head bobbing quieted, until we returned our focus to her. It was a subtle change, but one that was noticeable. Jesse connected beautifully with Cali once Cali allowed the group to slowly connect with her. He and Kelly both had a really nice moment with her, before Shari called them out of the round pen.
Elizabeth and Ray were the next pair to go, and Ray was eager to great Cali, and even commented that he thought she wanted him to pet her. As he was approaching her reaching out, she was ever so gently stepping backwards. Elizabeth appeared to be tense at this point, and Shari started to ask her to examine what she was feeling. She identified that she was nervous about being so close to Cali, and Shari probed her a bit more, and it came out that she felt uncomfortable with how quickly Ray was moving, simply going right in and trying to pet Cali. Elizabeth commented that she felt that Ray often moved quickly, and he sort of acknowledged her saying so non-verbally. There was a distinct shift in Elizabeth at that point, and in that same moment, Cali swung her head around and reached out her nose to her. It was a beautiful gesture of what happens when the energy is released. Everyone was well aware of the shift if Cali, even if they couldn't identify exactly what it was, and even Elizabeth knew something had happened.
They finished up and Shari instructed Sarah and Jim and me to go into the round pen together and cooperatively get Cali's attention and connection. I really wanted to use Kirsten's exercises, especially since I was well aware that Cali needed space to feel comfortable, but with Sarah with us, she would not have understood the methodology behind the actions (which would have been rather strange given the fact that it would have been at liberty). The three of us began to walk around the round pen, getting closer and further from Cali to work on finding her bubble, and seeking her connection and attention. At one point as I swung past her about 20 feet in front of her, she very willingly gave me two eyes and ears, and stuck with me for a moment. Someone was approaching her from the side, so she redirected her attention and went back into a bit of the sullen shut down mode, but eventually did reach out her nose to connect with Jim. Sarah was also able to gain a connection, even if it was ever so brief. I worked my way around to her side, and gently approached keeping my body from facing hers, moving sideways and backwards when I needed to, keeping the pressure low. I gently stepped up closer to her, and reached out to stroke the air, instead of stroking her, and found out that I had still misguessed her bubble. I should have stroked even further away than the almost foot I was from her skin. She shifted slightly backwards, and I lifted my hand even further away and gently rubbed the air. When I stopped I dropped my hand, and then gently reached out to offer it to her, but still at a distance that she would need to reach to me, and I was rewarded when she swung her head around and sniffed my hand.
Once we made the connections, Shari gave us a task as the next step of leadership. Connection, Attention and then a task. Shari asked us to have Cali walk all the way around the round pen for one lap. The three of us discussed for a minute and decided we would create a bit of a wall, with someone guiding to the front inside to prevent her from coming too far off the rail, someone in the middle and someone behind to help create the energy to push. Sarah was towards Cali's rear, and Jim towards the front, and with me in the middle we naturally fell into place. I checked with Shari to make sure that she was ok with us touching Cali at this point and when she said it was ok, we moved in a bit closer to gently nudge her and ask her to go forward. Jim stayed wide to the inside to allow Cali plenty of room to move, and I began to gently push her forward from her flank. As I touched her, Cali swung her head around to look back as if to say, "Hey, what are you doing?" The connection was still beautiful, and I gave her a little reassurance and nudged her forward. She began to shuffle off, but headed right to the round pen rail where every one was standing and watching on the outside. It took a little more pressure to gently get her to move on, which she did obligingly. It took gentle encouragement to keep her going, but she began to walk on with a rhythm that became her own. We reached the back of the round pen, and she happened upon the big red ball, and gently nudged it with her nose with curiosity. We had a stop at the ball for a few moments and then moved onward to complete the task. Shari asked us to share our reasoning and how we made the decision to do what we did, and we explained the principle of pushing, and the release.
We decided to take a break for lunch at this point, we had been working hard through the morning! After lunch, Shari brought down Noble and let Jim into the round pen to play at liberty. Noble had been hanging out in the barn all morning looking down into the arena expectantly. Noble was quite fired up and had lots of energy. Jim simply directed him gently and aimed the energy as Noble cavorted around the round pen. Noble was happy to cavort around, but at the same time he was still seeking the connection, and would draw to Jim when he ran backwards. Shari gave Jim the task of having Noble go over the pole in one direction, then change directions and then cross the pole again, and finally one more change of direction before crossing to the outside of the pole, closer to the wall. Jim was able to beautifully execute the task with Noble being exuberant the entire time. Noble even drew to him when he finished the task when Jim turned his back and sighed. Jim really enjoyed the session and complemented Shari on Noble, and she confessed that Jim was only the second person other than herself to ever play with him.
When Jim came out of the round pen, she asked me to go in, and I went in and connected with Noble as he stood off to the side. Since I had the sneak peak of knowing how much he liked scratches, I borrowed on that and found an itchy spot on his belly which he thoroughly enjoyed. Once Shari was done talking a bit and explaining a few things, I headed off and asked Noble to walk with me. We connected around the round pen, and I asked him to pick up his pace, lifting my energy at the same time. It took little effort to get him all the way up into a canter, and then I worked him down by slowing my energy down, and taking deep breaths trying to calm the exited adrenaline down again. I quickly noticed that he responded to my breathing and so I began to experiment once I had him all the way down to a walk again. We changed directions and I brought my energy up and inhaled purposefully, and he moved off in the trot with ease. I inhaled again and he moved into the canter. I discovered that the initial laps were in his more difficult direction. Changing to go left, he moved off into the canter quite smoothly. We played with the transitions some more before we settled down and came back to the group. Shari asked me to explain a little bit, and I told the group about the breathing and being able to work with his energy through nothing more than my own energy and breath. It was a really amazing play session with a super sensitive horse. I was thrilled to have had the opportunity and would love to play with him again.
Shari returned Noble to the barn and got out Lila for the others to play with. She asked Sarah to enter the round pen first, and gave her the task of asking Lila to go around the round pen. Sarah did very well until Lila got stuck in one spot, it took her a little while to work her through it, but finally everything came together and she was able to accomplish things. Ray entered the round pen and had a bit of a challenge staying to the inside of the round pen as he walked with Lila. He had mentioned earlier that he was recovering from a stroke, and was still working to regain his balance and mobility. I quickly realized watching Lila that she wasn't going to allow him to be on her right side for some reason, and mentioned it to Shari, who was able to suggest to Ray that he change directions, which solved the problem completely. When Ray finished, I happened to ask him which side was his weaker side, and he said it was his left, which is the side that Lila was avoiding, instinctively knowing that she needed to be closer to his stronger side. It was a beautiful moment of the horse giving him what he needed exactly in that moment. The others took their turns, each achieving the small tasks that Shari put forth in their own way.
After we debriefed with Lila, Shari returned her to the barn and got Frescoe, her own riding horse. Frescoe was a beautiful dark bay, and seemed quite the puzzler and problem solver. He was inquisitive and wanted to know what things did and how they worked. He attempted to pick up Shari's chair as she was introducing him to the group. She decided to wrap up the day doing a group activity with Frescoe. All of us came into the round pen and moved around Frescoe and worked on feeling his bubble and sensing his energy. He wasn't interested in interacting much, but he did find it amusing to play with the cones and barrel. Once we had all moved around for a while, she gave the group the task of gently moving Frescoe around the round pen, so the group began to organize to help gently push and motivate Frescoe into moving. He quite willingly went with the group. It was quite a neat experience to be able to move as a collective group together. Shari wrapped up the exercise with a bit of meditation, which Frescoe took to playing with the barrel in that time.
We finished up and wrapped up the day with discussion and debriefing. It was a great afternoon, and when we finished Shari invited us up to the house to chat for a little while, and it was great to be able to discuss our impressions on the day and how things went. It was great to catch up and relax for a while before we needed to get back on the road.
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: 11.06.06: AT Lesson: Floating Shoulders and the Monkey Stance
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