Friday, March 12, 2010

Fugly Shit of the Day

Alriiight! Sorry for the absence! Instead of feeding you a long list of excuses for why I have not posted the last two weeks, let's just start with a blog :) I thought I'd start with some juicier, more interesting stuff, by commenting on a few of the latest FHOTD postings (oy!) in a small series of posts. I have been trying to stay away, but I felt the last couple blogs of hers were more ludicrous than normal and wanted to perhaps lend some insight/an alternate perspective to the subject of the last few blogs of Cathy's.

SO! To start! The following is a video titled 'Horse-Man-Shit' that Cathy posted the other day:

The video is of Linda Parelli working with a horse who is blind in one eye (how blind, we do not know) - Barney. Please let me explain what I see, from a Parelli perspective, before I correct some of Cathy and her sheep's crazy assumptions.
As a sidenote, concerning Parelli Natural Horsemanship: It is simply a derivative of successful Natural Horsemanship methods already in existence which Parelli packaged into a program that enables people to learn more in a shorter period of time, sort of like a condensed course. Pat and Linda stake no claims that PNH is NEW nor do they claim it to be the only way.

But back to the subject at hand. At first glance, I see Linda showing the horse's owner/rider how to teach said horse the yo-yo game. In the yo-yo game, the person at the end of the line goes through a particular set of phases of 'ask':
Phase 1: glare at the horse, pick up an assertive body posture
Phase 2: wiggle the finger
Phase 3: wiggle the wrist
Phase 4: wiggle the forearm
Phase 5: wiggle the whole arm
Phase 6: get bigger and bigger in the 'wiggle', including bumping the horse with the lead if necessary (this really does not hurt, obviously, it just involves giving short, sharp 'bumps' to the lead under the horse's chin).
The horse's job is to back up when asked, by releasing to the pressure on the lead/halter - that's the key, we are teaching the horse to release to pressure (rather than push into or through it, as they will naturally tend to do). By posing the request in phases of ask, you allow the horse to respond to a lower phase and thus create a lighter, responsive, and sensitive horse as they start responding to the lower phases. Eventually, you pick up an assertive body posture and glare at your horse, and he backs away until you say otherwise. This is akin to a horse within the herd giving your horse the stink eye, then following it up with escalating body language and finally with action if necessary (bite/kick). The point is to have the horse move its feet more than you (ie. you are supposed to be able to stand still while the horse backs), which creates submissiveness in the horse (in the herd, he who moves his feet the least is the most dominant). Should the horse not respond to lower phases, you obviously move up into higher phases. Should the horse not respond to lower phases of ask and walk forward, then he is immediately met with higher phases of ask that match the intensity of his movement forward. If he continues forward, you hold the highest phase of ask, including bumping, until the horse responds (consistency in the proper position - then you wait for the horse to figure it out and respond appropriately when he responds). In this fashion, the horse suddenly meets a sort of 'wall' of resistance when he ignores your initial cue(s) and hits a higher level of resistance that forces his attention on you. You are essentially making the wrong answer (moving forward through he pressure) hard (by making it suddenly uncomfortable for the horse) and the right answer (stopping, then backing) easy (by stopping and releasing). You do not release (if you can help it) until the horse stops, then you eventually ask more of the horse, not releasing until he backs. By making the start (dramatically increasing to Phase 6 when the horse walks forward, ignoring the pressure, then dramatically stopping all phases and movement/ask when the horse stops or backs), you make it clear to the horse what the 'correct' answer is.

The other side of the yo-yo, which is not shown yet in the video (because they were not yet at that point), is to comb the rope in stages, relax your body posture, and ask the horse to come back in to you. The point is to basically teach the horse its own language...but in 'human words', as per human body language, that is. You send the horse away, and draw it back in to you, creating a relationship of 51/49 percent draw versus drive. You want a lot of drive, because that translates to respect and your space being respected, however you want slightly more draw, because obviously you want the horse to want to be with you.

So, to analyze the video specifically with this in mind, at first you definitely see a horse who has obviously been permitted to not pay attention to people for a long time, and whose respect has never been earned. He belligerently (not maliciously, but purposely) walks through all pressure, ignores all cues, and remains intent on his own purpose - that is, to observe whatever it is that has got his attention across the yard. He doesn't care or give one thought to Linda or his owner and even tries to walk over them both. How would that translate in a herd? You can bet your butt that the dominant horse would be asking in phases too and if he were still walking all over the lead horse (well, he probably would not get that far even), he'd hit Phase 6 - teeth and/or hooves. So Linda does the exact same thing. She increases her phases of ask, then holds it at Phase 6. The horse is not fearful of her - he even responds sluggishly to her, has forward ears not even directed at her, and, well, he's not even looking at her. If he were afraid of Linda, he would be staring her down (at least with his good eye!), stance wide, head up, and nostrils flared. He is pretty disrespectful and generally is not concerned about Linda.

At approx. 1:00 in the video, you can see the horse is simply walking through Linda's Phase 6 even, so Linda decides to get him to yield his hindquarters. In doing so, he would then be facing her and thus set up again for her to re-try the yo-yo game. In addition, having him disengage his hindquarters would be an act of respect out of the horse - as his level of respect increases, so will his willingness to do as she asks (try to 'answer' to the yo-yo game) and to focus on her. However the horse instead continuously moves his hind over just enough to get away from her pressure, but does not fully disengage (cross his hinds, stop, face her and pay attention), because, again, he does not care. He has no need to. He's never had to before, and he is certainly not going to start now. Linda is taking a horse who has been allowed to be disrespectful for a long time (and who, I might add, has not been treated entirely well by humans), and earn its respect. Of course she is not a horse, so it is a bit more difficult, especially since she cannot escalate her phases as powerfully as another horse could! The horse is trying to find the right answer, which is to back up, however he is not trying all that hard because his heart is not in it and he is focused elsewhere - he sees no need to change. He is uncomfortable and therefore moves his feet in an effort to relieve the discomfort, but he is not so uncomfortable (and relaxed in the surroundings) as to honestly pay attention to Linda and what she is asking. When he does finally stop moving his feet, as Linda requests, you can see Linda relieve the pressure (1:06). It was not what she initially wanted, but it was a move in the right direction, so she rewarded it.

Since the horse's front is what continuously moves around without respect (horses dominate through their front end - this horse is running people over with his front end and is ignoring all cues given to his front end, he is literally running through all pressure with his front), Linda sets to moving his front end around and having him yield there (approx. 1:58 and onwards). You then see Linda go back and forth between asking the horse to move his front end around (obviously on his sighted side), where he should be halting all hind movement and crossing his fronts over to move away from her, to correcting him when he yields 'just enough' and tries to walk away from her to remove himself from the pressure. She corrects his forward movement with bumps to his lead, and increases her phases of ask as she drives his front end, by slapping his neck (4:31). Honestly, I think the sound the camera picks up is louder than the actual slap and I think what Linda does is mostly noise. You see the horse react, but not fearfully - it simply gets his attention and he moves around. He is obviously not head-shy from her escalated phase (the slap on the neck/jaw area), else he would be throwing his head violently when she waves her hand at him later. Note how she picks up her body language, then picks up her hands, then waves her hands, and increases the intensity of her hands waving and moves her hands closer and closer to the horse. She does not walk over to the horse and slap him on the neck, she moves through phases. Pretty soon the horse is moving off of her body language and her hand. It is the same concept as waving a leadrope/whip at a horse and increasing the 'commotion', walking closer and allowing the horse to run into it if he does not move.

Some were commenting that Linda never releases the pressure. She does not release the pressure much of the time at the beginning, because the horse does nothing to warrant a release of pressure! He is not trying different answers, he is simply walking forwards, through the pressure. Finally he backs and stands at 3:00, and Linda stops. At 2:43, the horse also backs successfully, though with a few minor corrections, and Linda allows him a release of pressure. At 2:52 the horse is released again, as a reward. HE moves forward, which warrants an immediate increase in pressure from Linda - he stops, Linda releases the pressure and allows him a long rest break (during which he actually stays this time). The horse is finally figuring out what he is supposed to do, because he is finally putting some thought and effort into it. At 3:10, Linda re-asks her original request after the break and is rewarded with a much better yo-yo than at the beginning of the session. Throughout, Linda starts with small phases and increases the pressure as the horse ignores her; when he walks through her pressure, she immediately gets 'big', but when he releases, she releases.

At 2:38 you can see Linda toss the rope at the horse's chest. First time: very little response (horse continues to ignore her). Second time the rope touches the horse's chest lightly and grabs his attention. Once Linda has the horse's attention, she stops and asks the horse what she was originally going to ask.

Re: Linda not being in the proper position, I personally find she is at nearly all times (as much as can be expected). Each time she is in the incorrect position, she corrects herself. Case in point: 1:38 where she gets onto what I assume is the horse's blind side (or rather, he places himself there). She calmly stops and repositions herself.

My thought is that Cathy really does not even understand what is going on here. So how can you criticize a method without understanding it? I understand if it is obvious abuse or such, but when you actually sit down and evaluate this video, you can see that Linda makes great progress with the horse, who is never reactive or fearful. The horse in question jumps a little at 3:32, but because he is tense and not paying complete attention as he gets used to responding to the lower phases; he is obviously not fearfully reactive at all (if that were the case, he would have jumped a lot further and would have moved his feet a lot more!). By the finish, the horse is respectfully paying attention, is backing as requested, and is still relaxed and has his ears forward. So then it is simply an alternate method that yields like results. Cathy however keeps comparing this to longeing. It's not. It is completely different. Linda is not getting the horse to do rollbacks (she is attempting to have him yield his hindquarters as he continuously walks through her pressure), the horse is not pissed off (where are the laid back ears or switching tail?) or confused (where is the reactiveness or fear?), Linda is not turning her back to the horse (who moves so quick he gets behind her once), the 'longe line' is not lying on the ground (maybe we did not watch the same videos Cathy, but I never saw the horse at risk of stepping on the line), and Linda flaps her elbows maybe once or twice to create a commotion to get the horse to move out of her space.

As for those of us doing Parelli who 'duck', it's called body language. The point is to focus on the horse's hind, but to make it obvious to the horse and direct your energy towards the horse. That's the best I can explain it, really. It just feels natural, when I do it, and the horses understand what I want (a disengagement of the hind end). Is it really hurting anyone?

Is it difficult to 're-train' a horse trained to work in such a manner? Hell no. I can have (and have had) any of my horses 'longe properly' (in accordance to Cathy's rules: no turning and facing, halting straight, not coming in, etc) with some simple body language. No re-training necessary, just proper communication with the horse. If I want the horse to slow/halt without turning in to me, I can a) use voice commands (if I have taught them) or b) simply hold the longe whip in front of the horse, who will immediately slow or stop as appropriate. I want them to stay out there on the circle? I add a little pressure from where I am standing (via body posture and/or hand motion) to instruct the horse to keep their front end straight. I want them to move out again? Point in the direction I wish them to go in. It's pretty damn simple and easy.

As far as 'rollbacks' on the 'longe', if you do not understand it, ASK!! I do it when horse is not paying attention and to gain their focus, when I wish to earn more respect from the horse (ie. asking for quick transitions, changes in pace, changes in direction, changes in path, etc), to make the wrong answer hard and the right answer easy (such as maintaining gait), etc. It keeps a horse's mind working and engaged. The point is not to send the horse out on a circle and have them circle around you endlessly. It's 2-4 laps or else you get the horse's mind working. It is certainly not damaging to legs or tendons either when done with care (ie. not endless circling) and over short periods.

Cathy, I am just plain confused as to how this (which is so obviously not longeing) is comparable to your VLC longeing in public. Linda and Pat have accomplished much more than you ('longeing' off of horses' backs, in public, in crowded spaces, a number of horses at once, loose stallions among loose mares, etc) and thus could certainly do the same as you and your little fugly VLC. That is not what was going on here, plus this was a horse 'in training' per se, not a horse further along in its training. And what did you mean by saying that he would not be running her over if she had a proper whip and line? Are you whipping the horse into place??

I did not read all 500+ comments and really do not intend to, but here were a few comments I wanted to respond to that I happened across:

ktibb says: March 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm Did I really hear suggest “jumping-Jacks”??
Yes, the idea is to create commotion that catches the horse's attention and causes it to move out of your space. If that means jumping jacks, then so be it. This allows you to get quite 'loud' in your phases or 'ask' without touching the horse.

newrider says: March 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm The best...this horse is blind in one eye. He has to move his head (almost looking like he’s taking his eyes off her) in order to simply see her.
But he is obviously looking up and over her, and past her. If he were paying attention, he would (surprise!) actually be responding rather than pushing through her pressure.

For those commenting there was no wind and therefore the horse (Barney) could not possibly be spooked? Well listen to the audio and you'll hear the wind. He was not spooked in a reactive way, but he was very distracted (obviously).

Here is Linda's statement and a letter from Barney's owner. I thought the following (anonymous) comment posted under Linda's response was very appropriate:

I don't see a horse who is afraid of humans/people incl Linda, I see a horse who is so distracted and focused on everything else but the one holding the lead rope, all Linda is doing is trying to get the horse to pay attention to her instead of things in the distance and this is to avoid getting run over by the horse.

You can also see even though they have tried to cut it out, several times where Linda does reward the horse by taking off the pressure, standing still and by rewarding him with her voice as well.

Either you didn't watch out for this or you just couldn't read it, maybe try to watch it again with open mind and eyes.

Why don't all of you with such negative views and thoughts, film your own relationship with your horses and post them here? You get your chance to show that your horses let you touch them all over without fear or resistance, not step on your feet or walk into you when you are leading them, that they can trailer load without ropes, whips and force, can stand still when mounted without someone holding them, can be ridden without sharp bits, martingales or other straps and who are confident in you as their owner/s, doesn't run out of their stables as soon as you open the door, comes to you when you go out to catch them.

Looking forward to seeing them.

I posted two. Did you see them? My negative attitude towards many Parelli techniques affects my relationship with my horses how? As a matter of fact, if I jump and shout and wave my arms, my pinto only comes to me faster - he'll break from a walk to a trot. I have no video of that, as it's impossible to film while jumping and shouting and waving my arms.

Another of my horses was extremely difficult to catch when I first got him. While he still doesn't come running to me, the only times he ever even thinks of using avoidance methods is when he sees me worm another horse first.

I am not claiming perfection in anyone, including myself, however I just do not see the 'abuse' and 'ineffectiveness' Cathy is proclaiming in this (old) training video.

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