Monday, August 22, 2011
Alexandra Kurland clinic blog post #2
On the second day of the clinic, we spent the morning doing people work. This portion of Alex's clinics may look the least appealing to the inexperienced but anyone who has felt what the horses feel by walking through her many exercises comes away a better handler/rider and grateful for it. Below is a photo of Alex demonstrating the slide down the rope utilizing Tai Chi bone rotations on a "horse".
Percy had settled down wonderfully in 24 hours. There was a window in his stall that he could put his head out of and view most of the farm. This was wonderful because he could study it all he wanted and nothing looked different when I took him out to work. In addition, I was on "farm time" and was awake well before everyone else each morning. I took advantage of that to get Percy out to hand graze. It couldn't have been more peaceful and he could eat and look and walk and eat and look and walk. Each day he ventured a little further but he really didn't want to go very far- his eyes needed to get full with right where he was!
When it was time to work horses, they had all been brought in from the paddocks and were dozing in their stalls. I chose the area right outside the barn to work this time. There was a little more room and he had had time to settle in and observe the goings on there. Plus, we were easily in sight of the other horses so there was no whinnying back and forth (to give Percy credit, Kizzy would whinny to him each morning when I took him out to hand graze but I didn't hear Percy make a sound all weekend). Everyone was assembled on the grassy hill to observe our session and I brought Percy out the door and down the little slope to where Alex and I had set up the cone circles and mats.
As I brought him down this tiniest of slopes, Alex commented, "He doesn't know how to go down hill".
"How can he not know how to go down hill?", I exclaimed, "he grew up in Vermont!".
I was picturing the side hills he played on daily in turnout, the hill I had to lead him up and down just to get to some of the paddocks, and the steep little thistle patch he'd been BORN on.
"I don't know," she said, "but he doesn't know how to go down hill in balance".
Thus began the day's lesson.
We took turns working him in small circles on this tiny slope. As Alex explained the exercise, he had to coordinate himself going just a couple steps down hill, then he got to go across the hill, then a couple steps coordinated up hill and then a couple more across the hill again. What I began to see was the way he'd let his body tumble down the hill once he got going. He did not maintain a steady rhythm of footfalls down hill and he'd speed the tempo up going up hill. This is another example of the beauty of Alex's work. Outside people looking in may see Clicker Training as tricks or even behavioral work; Alex is all about Classical training- building a horse who is strong, coordinated and aware of his body. It is why I couldn't wait to get Percy to a clinic with her. I was starving for this sort of thing with him so he'll have a head start when I really start to ride him. I'm not interested in just getting on his back and going- I want that beautiful piece of art underneath me. And I want his development to help keep him sound for many years to come. By teaching him how to use his muscles and joints, he will be less likely to break down.
In this photo, you can see he has begun to pay attention to his body. There is slack in the rope but he is stepping under himself (not completely, but at least his hind end isn't trailing), his body is bent gently toward me from poll to dock and his topline is slightly raised, rather than hollow. This was achieved not just with practice going up and down hill (he's been practicing all his life after all), but by carefully observing him and clicking for the correct moments. When I worked him, I wasn't completely sure what I was looking for, but observing Alex and re-watching the little video clips Sarah took (thank you Sarah!), I could see that when she had him, she was asking him for lateral steps on that hill. At the end of the session, she had people walk down a slope, feel our thumping steps, then practice a couple circles of lateral work, to return to the down hill and feel how much more balance we had in our own bodies.
I realized that as much time as I have spent leading him up and down hills, my focus has been on his behavior, not his body. I have been dealing with a youngster who desperately wanted to get out on his grass paddock and all the attention was on keeping the marbles in place. Now we have something else to work on. I have done it since getting him home and he is ever so much better. By giving him his body to focus on, he forgets about the silliness and we get both body and mind under control.
Oh- and he did get to practice his colors and standing on a mat for breaks from his hill work!