The clinician was Chuck Kraft from "Horsehandling." If the name sounds familiar you might have read about him in MiKael's Mania Arabian blogspot. She attended a former clinic of his and posted about it in a series of posts starting here.
Chuck Kraft is a long-time friend of Pat Parelli's. He knew Pat before he became known by the natural horsemanship household name "Parelli." Chuck reminded me a little of Pat, in both appearance and personality, as well as style. I liked him instantly.
This particular clinic was labled as "an introduction to natural horsemanship and the seven Parelli games" and had a limit of five participants, including a 9 year old girl that was leasing a 25 year old Quarter pony mare. The other cast of characters included a Walkaloosa (solid chestnut with flaxen mane and tail), a liver chestnut American Saddlebred, a bay Spanish-bred Arabian, and a flashy chestnut off-the-track teen-aged Thoroughbred.
Since the arena the handlers worked in was grass, one interesting thing that Chuck told us is that you can teach a horse when it is okay to graze. He said grazing is good and important, but your horse should have permission to do so. He showed us the "button", a spot on top of the hindquarters, where if your horse were to graze when you didn't want them to, you'd bump them firmly with the carrot stick. Up the head would go. When you wanted them to graze, you'd wiggle the carrot stick (and eventually your hand) low towards the grass and release their head. After a horse has learned this on the ground, it translates easy to riding- if your horse tries to graze on the trail when you don't want them to, instead of pulling on their reins, you can just turn and bump them with your hand on the hindquarters.
Another important reminder Chuck brought up was that horses have no deductive logic or reasoning like humans do. He really stressed that we want horses to be calmer, braver, smarter, and more athletic. If a horse is not calm and is athletic, well, you can imagine the combination and potential for danger.
The Thoroughbred did not like the plastic grocery bag on the end of the carrot stick. He immediately went into prey animal mode, snorting, jumping back and sideways, head up. Chuck worked with him for almost half an hour on desensitization to that bag. He finally got the gelding fairly calm, but not before he'd worked himself up to a lather. Chuck called this "emotional sweat." It wasn't that warm and the horse wasn't working that hard, but every vein in his Thoroughbred skin was peaked with his anxiety.
One interesting thing about this TB is that he was a left-eyed horse. According to Chuck, that meant he reacted from his right brain, also known as the flightier, spookier side. That seemed logical, from watching him play the games. And lo and behold, that horse did everything in his physical power to turn the left side of his head towards Chuck, always wanting keep that clinician in his left eye of vision. This horse had a gorgeous floaty trot and I could tell that if his spark was harnessed and worked with, he could be an amazing dressage horse.
Here Chuck is helping the young girl with her "grandma" Quarter horse. This mare appeared to be the perfect bombproof kids pony, she didn't blink an eye at the plastic bag flopping around. However, she was also in her mid-twenties and set her in ways. She was a bit resistant to yield and stay out of the young girl's space. Although she was kind of a love bug and wasn't really wasn't going to do anything dangerous while in this girl's space, I made the point to the girl's father that his daughter would not be handling or riding this mare indefinitely. Teaching the mare to yield and have respectful ground manners would benefit his daughter and give her valuable horse handling skills to use in her future interactions with other horses. Other horses that may not be as docile as this cutie was! It is easy to develop bad safety habits around overly docile horses.
At one point, someone asked when you know when to quit a session you are working on. Well, Chuck said it's like a war. You will lose some of the battles, but you can still win the war. Horseman are human and sometimes the horse wins a battle, maybe because you missed a cue or body positioning. But the important thing to remember is that it won't undo what you're working on. He stressed the importance of being fair and firm, and that horses work in situations of discomfort and comfort. Discomfort motivates, and comfort rewards. It has to be the horse's idea and they usually figure out where the most comfortable spot is pretty quickly!
Chuck stressed a lot of backing up and sideways work. He said that backing causes horses to think down to their feet, helping them to do everything else better. One thing I will work on with My Boy is his lateral flexion. This starts on the ground, holding a horse's tail, and turning their nose to touch their tail, then releasing. The Walkaloosa had this down and I envied his flexibility! A few horses would turn their noses then their body would follow in a circle. It took some finesse and slow work to get them to flex without moving their feet. This groundwork exercise is important to eventually do in the saddle, as lateral flexion (in the form of a one-rein stop) is the best way to disengage a horse's hindquarters and get them stopped. A horse has a lot of power but once they are having to move that hind end sideways under themselves, it takes the wind out of their sails.
Watching from under the umbrella of a large tree as the rain began to fall.
Around lunch time, those gray thunder clouds rumbled in and it soon began to rain. It poured for the remaining 3 hours. The clinic participants, both horses and riders, were dripping troopers as they learned how to do the seven Parelli games. This was a helpful refresher course for me. I have been doing many of these games with My Boy and he does them fairly well, but there are a few we could play more (such as the driving game and the squeeze game.)
The American Saddlebred mare did not like the rain trickling down her legs. She kept stomping as if she was being swarmed by flies, and licking the water off her ankles.
I would definitely attend a Chuck Kraft clinic again. I liked his confidence and interactions with both the horses and the humans. He was very conversational and informative and I felt everyone got a lot of one-on-one attention, both training with their horse, and help with how they could implement the techniques. The woman who informed me about this clinic also mentioned a natural horsemanship group that meets to have conversation, watch DVDs, and learn more about the practice of natural horsemanship. I am considering joining their group later this month.
Yesterday, I never made it up to see my horse. I was wiped out from a long day at work that included a lengthy Saturday shopping trip to IKEA for my classroom, which included a co-worker locking his keys in his van in the IKEA loading zone.After this clinic today, I knew I would be inspired to go and work with My Boy (I mean, play. In natural horsemanship, it is considered play, not work!) Unfortunately, the weather turned and driving home on a nearly flooded freeway was challenging enough. I can't get a break! I miss My Boy and hopefully, knock on wood, the weather will break tomorrow and I'll get to rub his speckled neck.