Updated: May 23, 2022
My word of the year is softness. My favorite definition of Softness is the quality of being mild, gentle, or tender; lack of force. The other word I love for this year is Joy. My favorite definition for Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
I have been on the most wonderful journey of joy and softness with both of my ponies the last week.
With Sky I have decided to start over with our relationship. She has been reacting to things that aren't even happening which has resulted in her hurting herself. What this tells me is that she doesn't trust me. She doesn't trust me as a leader or as a follower.
I had a Facebook friend mention the Waterhole Rituals from Carolyn Resnick, in particular, the Chair Challenge. I haven't paid for the course... YET... but totally plan to in the next week or so. However, I have started.
I take a chair out to the horse area. First I remove Zorro, tie him up with a nice hay net and then I take my chair into the track with Sky. I go grab a nice handful of hay for her and then sit in the chair and share space with her while she eats.
I have a book and sometimes I read and sometimes I just sit quietly with Sky. If she raises her head I will look where she is looking, mirroring her.
If she walks away to check on Zorro, I just sit quietly in the chair and wait for her to come back. Sometimes she wants to stand with me, checking me over carefully. Sometimes she ignores me.
On March 29th she spent the most time with me. This was day 4 of what will be a total of 21 days. She was very invasive to the dog and the cat so they both left, then she spent a lot of time just exploring me, my vest, my legs, my shoes, my hat, my face.
Then she positioned herself beside me and asked me to scratch her tummy!! This was huge. She hasn't asked me to scratch her for months and months. She moved up and asked me to clean out her teat area... something she hasn't done for even longer! (and the last time she asked me to do that, when I did she pinned her ears and offered to kick me. so it wasn't a very nice ask!)
Each session should last about 20 minutes. The shortest one so far has been 30 minutes. On the 29th it ended up being about 40 minutes because she also let me spend quite a bit of time brushing her. Now, she hates being brushed. So the fact that she would let me do this and at liberty is huge!
I have been eyeing her feet because they have been absolutely packed with mud, and she is prone to thrush. So I knew I needed to clean them but didn't want to push her. So I just decided to ask her at liberty. If she didn't want to then I wouldn't. BUT she totally let me! At LIBERTY! Not to be repetitive, but that is HUGE! LOL.
I can't even put into words how beautiful this journey with her as been so far. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and we have had lots of very cold wind and snow. Sitting in a chair and being miserable didn't feel soft or joyful so I missed the last two days. To be fair, two days ago she had body work done by our favorite Equine Body Worker, Heidi, so at least she benefited from that! And boy did she need it!
Zorro and I are on a journey to softness and joy as well. I signed up for an online course from Anna Marciniak last year and then didn't have time to do it! With everything on lock down, and certain restrictions on gatherings, I haven't had to do any traveling and won't for at least a month so figured this was a great time to dig into that course. It's called Spotlight Clinic - Get That Bit Right! It's all about helping the horse find relaxation and tension release with the bit.
If you have been following me for any amount of time you will know that Zorro has had a lot of tension around me picking up my lines and picking up connection. He would open his mouth, push his face forward and down and then either chomp the bit or just gape his mouth. Not pretty, not comfortable for him and his reaction told me he wasn't comfortable and not listening or willing to listen. We have done a ton of work with this in the long lines over the last year and he has over come a lot of this resistance, but I know there is no such thing as too much relaxation or tension release!
In this online course Anna walks us through a technique of relaxation that will help our horse find relaxation through us. I don't want to go into specifics here but encourage you to take one of her courses if you are curious. She has a little one that isn't too expensive right now called the 14 Day Mini Course: Get Your Horse Super Relaxed.
What I will share is how amazing this has been for Zorro. With some coaching from Anna as well as some online support from a Facebook friend who took another of Anna's courses Zorro's last session was simply amazing. It doesn't take very long and the results are blowing my mind.
After one session in which Zorro was exploring how his relaxation felt, I went for a walk with my dog. As I was coming down the big hill the base of my neck popped. Something that NEVER happens but always needs to. Then right after that my actual SKULL popped. These were pops that were audible and amazing. I have never felt anything like that in my life. As I was supporting Zorro's relaxation in the session clearly things were happening in my body as well.
Below is a video link showing that session. Zorro was putting his nose on the ground and pressing his upper lip, or running his lip through the gravel or just standing there. Then at the end he went super internal and just spent some time processing. When I put him back in the pen he went and laid down, then slept for about 2 hours!
Anna wanted me to be beside him for this so the next day I tried to do that while standing. She also wanted me to rest my arms on him and this was very difficult to do with his size. I absolutely killed my back and shoulders. So that session was a bit of a bust and very frustrating for me. Especially because the session before was so amazing! I call this a learning curve. Learning curves can be so painful. Both physically and emotionally. That's what I experienced that day! My Facebook friend who has taken a few of Anna's courses suggest a chair. LOL! That was what solved it! The last time we did this I sat in the chair and SO MANY wonderful things happened! Zorro started to release the tension by softly licking and chewing instead of always feeling he had to lower his head. This allowed his jaw and tongue to get softer and softer each time he did it. As those two things softened so did his poll area. The pony at the bit end of my lines was a different pony. He felt super snuggly as well. Then he started lifting his left front leg. He does this when he wants a cookie, which I am not giving him throughout this work as I don't want the food interfering with his emotional feelings or to give either of us a false sense of relaxation. Food can hide so many tensions!
Anyway, he kept putting his leg on me. I would pet the leg and then he would put it down. He did this over and over and FINALLY (it's painful for me to watch the video and see him asking now!) I understood that he needed to stretch. So I offered the stretch to him. He stretched and stretched and stretched. His shoulers, his withers, the top of his neck, all these things were really stretched as he leaned into it.
And then he YAWNED! He rarely yawns when he is seeking relaxation. In fact this was the first time he yawned during these relaxation and tension release sessions!! This was day 5. Below is that video.
Zorro also had body work done and boy did he need it! But at the same time some of the things that chronically bother him weren't as bad as usual. His hip and ribs were rather stuck but I was pleased to see that his poll and jaw weren't as stuck as usual. They barely needed any attention at all! During his body work he also asked me to stretch his front leg. I only did it after I asked his body worker if it was alright. I don't like to interfere with what she is doing! She said I could and his hip was able to reset and his knee popped!
And he yawned during his body work! Something he has rarely done. I am thrilled to see him finding relaxation through his mouth... finally! They can hold a lot of tension in their jaw and tongue.
My pony journey has been so beautiful lately. It reminds me of one of my favorite things Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling talks about, Three truths and the dancing child:
It is always fun. What we do is only worthwhile if it is done in a spirit of joy and adventure, for ourselves and for our horses.
It is always beautiful. When what we are doing is right and good, then it will always look right and good - and beautiful - no matter at which level we are working. Everything we do will always be beautiful, from the first lesson.
And finally, what happens if...? If the path we have embarked upon is good and we have conquered the need to be bigger and better than everyone else, that is marvelous! Then there is no more stress, everything we do is always fun, is always beautiful and the goal has become irrelevant.
To be honest I have never fully understood these truths. There have always been 'ugly' moments in my relationships, both with horses and humans! But, I think I am on the right and true path to seeing beauty and fun in my horsemanship, all the time. My journey to softness just may change many areas of my life!