In-Depth Birdie, and "Connor Speed"

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Focused, relaxed pony foam.
So, Dr. Deb Bennett and her birdie have some help for the "spring stupids" (thanks for the term, Karen!)  In the second part of the George Morris Horsemastership Series lecture she gave, she talks about the birdie being a figurative bird on the very end of your horse's focus.  Imagine his focus being a line away from his head - there is a birdie on the end of that.

She talked about why it's important to get that birdie on you: because things get dangerous when you separate the birdie and the body.  So, if your horse's prerogative at a show is to get back to his safe stall ASAP but you ask him to enter the warm-up ring, that's dangerous.  Even if he's not bolting back to the barn, he might pace nervously or not listen to you or get in someone's way in the ring.  His birdie is in his stall, but you are taking his body somewhere else.  We know this to be true as equestrians, but have you ever really thought about it before, deeply?  I hadn't.

I loved what she said next (paraphrasing): "What do you do in this situation?  Anyone ever told you to "show him whose boss?"  They're wrong.  You'll never be the boss of this 1200lb animal that could fling you from his back at a moment's notice.  You ask. You're the teacher, not the boss, never the boss."

You need to learn, she says, to get his birdie on you 100% of the time.  She put a picture up of her riding a calm, relaxed horse with his ears on her and a soft eye.  This was a result of many hours of doing what he expected her to do at all times, making her his safe place, a place where he wanted to be. She again went back to the showgrounds example: "If you used the stick to get your horse to move away from the stabling, would you get his birdie on you?  Absolutely!  That'd get his attention.  But does he then long to be with you?  Will he be relaxed and focused in his next class?  No."

I got to thinking about this in relation to Connor, a horse that is sensitive, reactive to the slightest touch, and still shoots forward when I change my stick over to the other hand.  Sometimes I use a tap of the whip to get his attention back on me, and it works, but I may as well be striking him hard with it, as strongly as he reacts.  He doesn't like that or want to be with me then.  My twitchy tough kid personality and his sensitive personality are totally opposite.

So the past few days, I've started actively trying to be his happy place.  I've started moving at "Connor speed": slow, predictable - nothing that will startle him (and you wouldn't believe how little it takes to startle him).  And what do you know, I got my good pony back for the last ride - his focus, his body, everything.  The birdie and the body were united.

A cure for the spring stupids?  Probably not, but it definitely gave me some insight into how to deal with them.  Thanks, Dr. Deb!

24 comments:

  1. I really like this, such great insight!

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    1. Thanks! She's really quite amazing. Everything is based in science with her, which I love.

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  2. That's a really neat way to think about their focus. I am going to try it!

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    1. Awesome, definitely post how it works for you!

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  3. That is a really cool way to think about it! She sounds like she would be fun to listen to.

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    1. You can find these sessions if you google it. Google George Morris Horsemastership 2013.

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  4. Great post! Definitely things to think about :)

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  5. I never thought of focus this way exactly, but making yourself their safe place is so, so important. And gotta love relaxed pony lipstick :)

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    1. Love your new Blogger profile pic showing up next to your comment!

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  7. Interesting. I've never quite thought of it like that but I know when I was having issues with Loki being too tense last year I started doing ground work at the show just to get him to focus on me. It took some time but then when I finally did get on to ride we didn't have nearly as many issues. Having their focus on you is such a big deal.

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    1. It is. I notice things like the whip don't bother Connor as much (I get a tail swish when I use it to ask for more impulsion rather than a startle) when he's focused on me. It matters in so many ways, way I am not even sure I fully understand yet.

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  8. I think "ask don't tell" is a great policy to have with any horse.

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    1. Agreed. A lesson I keep re-learning over and over.

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  9. Great post! I love this concept.

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  10. Great post!

    I see some cookie residue in that foam ;)

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    1. Haha, you are too perceptive! :-) I got a new bag of treats and have also been utilizing those as Connor's happy place tools.

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