Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When is an offer not an offer anymore?

Okay, so I know that I owe everyone a Level 3 blog and it's coming!  These Levels blogs are harder than I thought, so I want it to be perfect for you.  I also want to say thank you for all of your warm emails and comments in response to my Levels journey.  It is my privilege to inspire and help you any way I can in your journey.

This blog is about knowing the difference between when your horse is offering you something and when he's taking over, either as an assumption or to dominate the situation.

First we need to know, what is an offer?  To me, an offer is when my horse is asking me questions and offering to try something for me.  She's connected to my thoughts and trying to satisfy my request.  She's looking for a release through communication.

Remember that communication is two or more individuals sharing and understanding an idea - so this is a mutual experience. We're sharing ideas, I'm making suggestions, and she's offering up possible answers and checking in.

When a horse is taking over it can happen in a few ways, by making an assumption or trying to dominate you.  What does that look like?  For me, it's different in my two horses, both extroverts, but one is Left Brain and the other is Right Brain.

My Left Brain Extrovert mare may or may not try what I'm asking.  Sometimes she just checks out and does her own thing.  She ignores me, stays out of reach, gets big, gets fast - whatever it takes so I can't control her feet.  Most frequently she doesn't wait for me to finish my request (extrovert!) and then does her own thing.

For example, say we're at Liberty and I want to send her on a circle, I'll back her out and before I can send she'll just pick a direction and blast off.  Now she's on a circle, which is what I wanted, but not through communication.  She didn't wait to see if I was going to ask her to come back in, like a Yo-Yo, or which direction to go if I were to send on a circle, she just made an assumption and went.

This is her taking over the game and dominating me by not fulfilling my request.  Now she's going around, ignoring what speed or direction I want her to go.  Then she will look at me with two ears and run in.  To someone else this might seem like exuberance and a great draw, but what's really happening is, on solely her terms, she decided the game was over and came in.  In her mind she feels smart and playful and like she is dominant over me.  She kind of did what I wanted but on her own agenda, thereby controlling the situation.

Blasting off, having fun, and ignoring me.

Decided the game was over and ran in and tried mugging me for treats.

The Left Brain horses are usually looking for fun, freedom, and dominance so they're going to try and outsmart and outmaneuver you by making assumptions.

When my Right Brain Extrovert mare takes over she's usually looking for comfort by doing something she knows.  I've taught her the Spanish Walk, and it's become one of her go-to things to try when she's confused or looking for a release.  If she's not sure what I want she'll try Spanish Walk, if she wants a treat she'll Spanish Walk.  This is how specialty movements (like the Spanish Walk or rear for example) turn into tricks instead of mutual conversation.  The horse knows that when she learned Spanish Walk she got lots of love and rest and treats.  It made her feel good, smart, and secure.  So naturally, if she's feeling unconfident she's going to try something she feels really good about doing - she is thinking by doing this it will make me happy and I will take the pressure off.

When I was first teaching her to pick up her feet with me in preparation for the Spanish Walk.  She's connected and thinking about my request, this was an offer.

The Right Brain horse is looking for reassurance and validation by doing something they understand and know very well.  She's taking over our session by doing this but her intention is a little different than my Left Brain horses.

An offer is something your horse is trying to do in an honest effort to have a conversation with you and satisfy what you're asking.  

A takeover is when your horse is making an assumption about what you want and/or doing something entirely different from what you're asking in order to control the situation.  

You've likely heard the saying, "Expect a lot, accept a little, reward the slightest try."  For me, I sometimes equate offer with effort.   Is she trying and honestly looking for an answer?  Is she thinking through the process and hunting for that "open door", the release?  If so, that's an offer.

I want for her to be checking in, listening to my body language, following my ideas, and stay connected.

When I'm playing with her and she starts trying things I'm not asking for, before I correct her and squelch her play and confidence I ask myself a couple things:  Is she offering something and checking back in or is she just doing things and checking out?  Can I control that behavior or is it out of my control?

3-Star Parelli Pro Lillan Roquet recently said that "a horse will always do what the understand first, the last thing they do is what they learn."  I feel like this is so important when determining if your horse is making offers or assumptions.

You have to be a strong enough leader with a ton of focus and willpower and crystal clear body language so your horse can find the answer.  If you're muddy in your request the horse won't know what to do and is going to try something they already know.  So I need to be sure I am being exact in my communication with my horse.

I know she's going to do a lot of things before she gets to the right answer when she's learning and that's okay.

When she knows what we're doing, it's something we've done 100 times, and she's doing something else despite my clear request - then I know it's a take over.

A quick story-

When I first got Aspen and was beginning to play with jumps I would always be really sure to play it just like Pat does in Level 1 and 2, as a Squeeze Game.  Jump, turn, face, wait.  Pretty soon Aspen would drag me to a jump, jump it, then turn-face-wait, usually coming in after a few seconds for a cookie.

I thought this was so cool!  She really got it!  She was hunting the jump, she was turning and facing, and then checking in with me.

What was really happening was she'd see the jump, know the pattern and just take over because she knew how to get herself some comfort.  If I wanted to change course or ask her to keep going after the jump that just wasn't an option.  She was doing it that same way, every time, no matter what.  That was her making assumptions, looking for reassurance and confidence.

Here we were circling and she detoured for the jump, did it, and came right back to me.  When what she should have been doing was staying on the circle while I stayed in neutral... Maintain gait/maintain direction!

Not long into that habit I created in her, it switched from reassurance and confidence as her motivation to her just doing it, very left brain, because she wanted her damn cookie.  If I asked her to keep going after the jump or stop before it, or anything besides jump-turn-face-wait she'd throw a tantrum.  This was the switch from RB to LB and her motivation in taking over.  This was not an offer.

I created this situation through my lack of progression and my lack of being particular without being critical.  I didn't understand how to keep the conversation interesting and engaging in which we were sharing ideas and advancing our skills.  I also didn't know how to up the ante, even just a little and say, "hey you can jump AND keep going on this circle for 3 laps."  Because I didn't do that I just keep reinforcing her behavior until she went on autopilot.

The first time I got really clear that she needed to keep going after the jump and not just run in for a treat it blew her mind.  At first she had a small fit, then lost some confidence, then realized I was just being firm but fair, and our connection and draw skyrocketed.

We were back to having a two way conversation, not just me saying, "How about you..." and her cutting me off going, "Yeah, yeah I got it!..  Oh heck no, I don't do anything after a jump besides turn-face-wait!!! Now, where's my cookie?!!"

This was a defining moment for me in my horsemanship.  It's something I still am learning about and feeling from my horses.

Do you have horses that offer or take assumptions?  Tell me in the comments!


  1. Thank you for you insight with the assumption. I never realized that the behavior my mare was giving me was dominance. You are a good teacher!

    1. Awe, thank you! Sometimes all you need is a slightly different or new perspective on something to gain a whole new understanding!

  2. Ha ha ha, you gave me such a great laugh!! You described my left brain ext. Just perf, exactly what we went through yesterday, word for word and the pics were perf (not the first time by no means), thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences for us all to gain more awareness with our horses!!
    It's a learning process all the time and Parelli does make it much more enjoyable by helping us understand our horses better!

    1. My horses, especially my little LBE Mini, always give me a good laugh! It makes all the "oh-no's" turn into "oh-boy's" if you can laugh and have a good sense of humor!

      Glad you enjoyed the post!!! Thanks for your comment! :)