Today, Whiskey and I made great progress and had fun too. After grazing on the beautiful grass for over an hour, I retrieved Whiskey and took him to the riding arena. We played using the 22 foot rope, rope halter, and carrot stick. In thinking about what Linda Parelli said in the L2 DVD about using a 22 foot rope and a "thing" as she put it, I decided to use a ground pole as our "thing". This of course was because I need my horse to be curious and not bored, I needed the tasks we perform to be useful and have a purpose too.
I was able to get Whiskey to sidepass over the groundpole while facing me. It took time but, he finally understood what I was asking. This was the first time we were able to complete this task. I started with asking for a sidepass while being on his side as this was more familiar to him. I then began to position him for success and eventually was able to get him to pass over the pole while I faced him with relative ease--I was thrilled. I then added two barrels and asked that he sidepass over the pole with the barrels in zone 5. (This is just a variation of sideways and squeeze game together.) He finally did it and I stopped that part of our playtime. Please note that there was a lot of friendly game used too--he reacts well to praise and love.
I decided that I also wanted to see where he was emotionally about saddling and then possibly mounting and maybe riding (sounds like "nose, neck, maybe feet" doesn't it?). So, he and I left the arena (I switched out the 22 foot rope for the 12 foot rope) and headed to the horse trailer. I gave him a horse treat and then got out my bareback pad, girth, and helmet. We walked back into the arena. I used the Parelli saddling techniques and took a great deal of time saddling him. His lips appeared to be pierced tightly and I took this as a sign of him shutting down or going catatonic. At this point, the bareback pad was on and secured with the girth but not tightened totally. I stopped working on that and played with his mouth. I massaged his lips, inside and out, rubbed his tongue, and pet his muzzle. He loosened up and I was able to continue cinching in stages. Taking this time to prepare him and make him more comfortable paid off and was the right thing to do (in my opinion).
Once sadddled, I thought a great deal about past experiences (especially the last two or three) with him regarding riding. He has been emotionally unfit and difficult to deal with--perhaps even unsafe. So, I needed a new, open-minded approach. I decided that I was possibly micromanaging him and pushing the phases too quickly. These were two things I would definately have to work on today.
So, I mounted after laying over him a few times, rubbing him and checking that it was ok with him. He stood perfectly still and seemed okay with me on his back. I took several, exaggerated, deep breaths and massaged his withers (something I would do throughout the riding portion of our time together). I decided to ride him in the rope halter, one-reined (to avoid micromanagement). I used the phases to ask him to walk forward. He seemed touchy about leg contact so I tried to avoid it. I opted to bring up my energy (smile with all 4 cheeks), use my savvy string and spank the air for a long period of time, and smooch if needed. His walking forward would eventually come much sooner as the lesson progressed. He seemed to appreciate me avoiding the leg. (This also made him less likely to toss his head and try to bite my leg.) Now, I realize we will have to work on contact but, that was not something to do today. Overall, what I did was use a long phase 1 to allow him time to comprehend what I wanted--it worked and I felt like we were connecting.
Rather than steering him, I decided to do a passenger lession. He only wanted to walk and seemed to prefer walking a few steps and stopping and all by the gate. In the past, I would have discouraged this, tonight, I just let him do it. The task at hand was for him to walk and for me to be a good passenger. By the end, he actually walked around half of the arena and this was the point at which I stopped the lesson. I dismounted. We then headed back to the horse trailer for a treat and I took off the tack. I proceeded to take him to my "grooming tree" and tied him there, fed him his grain and groomed him.
I almost forgot to mention, my mini-horse called Mini-Me was with us in the arena the entire time. Today, he let me catch him several times and seemed very interested in what we were doing. He actually nipped Whiskey's leg when I was riding! This little guy is also coming along nicely too--more on him at a later date.