[HOW TO] FREESTYLE RIJDEN #5: WOORDEN TER INSPIRATIE
Toen ik twee maanden geleden besloot om mijn progressie met JP vast te leggen en dit met jullie te delen, had ik nooit durven dromen dat we (en vooral JP zelf) zo ver gekomen zijn 💖
In Nederland heb ik spelenderwijs twee paarden kunnen rijden op enkel een neckrope. Aangekomen in Amerika kriebelde het meteen om dit ook hier uit te proberen, om mijn theorieën en methoden te testen. Ik was ervan overtuigd dat ieder paard op deze manier gereden kan worden en hier ook profijt van heeft. Ongetrainde paarden, getraumatiseerde paarden, jonge paarden.
Ze het gevoel van vrijheid terug kunnen geven - hoe klein ook - is van groot belang voor het paard, in het gedomesticeerde leven waarin ze de mens dienen.
Vorige week bezocht ik een show van Alycia Burton, bekend door haar "stunts" met haar paard Goldrush; samen springen ze met alleen een neckrope over hindernissen, zelfs auto's!
Haar een keer in Real Life zien stond stiekem wel op mijn Paarden Bucket List. Ze is niet alleen succesvol in het rehabiliteren van getraumatiseerde paarden, ze is ook Motivational Speaker en organiseert Youth Camps. Een soort ponykamp voor jonge ruiters, waarin ze leren meer zelfvertrouwen te creëren en er aandacht is voor pesten en mentale gezondheid.
Het laatste halfuur van de avond bestond uit een speech, gericht aan voornamelijk de jongere toeschouwers maar ook ik heb ademloos zitten luisteren naar haar verhaal. Hoe moeilijk het is om op te groeien en weinig te hebben, terwijl je wel veel zou willen... Hoe makkelijk het is om verleid te worden en jezelf en je motivatie te verliezen in de wereld van Social Media, waarin het lijkt alsof iedereen haar dromen waarmaakt behalve jij.
Ik heb regelmatig meegemaakt hoe harteloos mensen in de paardenwereld kunnen zijn. Hoe ze alles dat je doet kunnen laten klinken alsof het niets is, alsof je niet goed genoeg bent.
Je buitengesloten voelen is naar gevoel, instinctief horen hier allerlei gevoelens van ongemak bij, want ook de mens is een kuddedier en buitensluiting betekent een kleinere kans op overleving. Dit overlevingsinstinct is dus nog altijd levendig aanwezig bij niet alleen onze dieren, maar ook bij ons.
Extreme pogingen doen om "erbij te horen" wordt voor jonge ruiters steeds normaler. Maar wat is "erbij horen"? En wat moet je ervoor opgeven?
Het is makkelijk oordelen, over een ander zijn/haar succes en prestaties, als we constant overspoeld worden door prikkels van buitenaf die ons het gevoel van falen geven. We denken al snel dat een ander alles heeft, dat het voor de ander op de een of andere manier makkelijker is.
Ook ik ken dit gevoel.
Vandaag de dag sta ik altijd bewust met een dankbaar gevoel op. Dankbaar voor wat ik heb, dankbaar voor waar ik ben en voor wie ik ben. En ja, zelfs dankbaar voor al het bloed, zweet en tranen dat de afgelopen jaren- achter de schermen - rijkelijk gevloeid heeft.
Als jong meisje hoorde ik nergens bij - en ik denk vandaag de dag nog steeds niet. Op de vraag "Rijd je Engels, of Western?" kan ik bijvoorbeeld geen antwoord geven. Dan voel ik me soms een buitenbeentje, het zwarte schaap.
"Mijn" manier van werken verder ontwikkelen in Amerika en dit delen met anderen in de vorm van les geven en trainen, kwam met een gevoel van verantwoordelijkheid. Reflecterend op de afgelopen twee jaar, zie ik dat mensen - en voornamelijk de jongere ruiters - mij zien als volwassene, als lerares, als voorbeeld. Ik kreeg het daar ENORM benauwd van. Wat als ik faal, wat denken ze dan van mij? Wat als we elkaars visie niet delen, scheiden dan onze wegen? Wat als mijn theorieën helemaal niet kloppen, straks maak ik er een POTJE VAN!!!
Inmiddels zijn we een half jaar verder en kan ik weer normaal ademhalen😂 Mijn studenten zijn nog altijd even blij om me te zien en mijn gevoel van verantwoordelijkheid tegenover hen groeit met elke les. Hun vertrouwen in mij gaf me een enorm gevoel van druk, waar dat nu heeft plaats gemaakt voor dankbaarheid en motivatie om dit te blijven doen.
Tijdens het schrijven van de Freestyle blogs ontving ik van lezers zulke gave, lieve berichten, dat ik het zelfs DAAR even benauwd van kreeg 😂😂
Een reactie van iemand die ik totaal niet ken bracht me echt even terug op Aarde. Ik was me ineens bewust van het feit van al die mensen achter hun laptop of telefoon, die een foto van mij voorbij zien komen en denken "Zij leeft mijn droomleven!" Die woorden zijn dagen blijven hangen, niet wetende wat ik ermee moest bleef ik het maar herhalend afspelen in mijn hoofd.
Na het horen van Alycia's speech, realiseerde ik me dat ik - hier, in Amerika - al door meer en meer gelijkgestemde mensen omringd ben dan ik had gedacht. Waar het in Nederland altijd een strijd was om een passend hokje te vinden, kijkt niemand er hier van op dat ik een rijbroek met westernlaarzen draag 😜
Na bijna twee jaar bij de rescue weten mensen inmiddels wat ik doe, voornamelijk met JP en nu dus onze hoofdstelloze-skills 💪wat mij mijn instructie-job gebracht heeft, begin dit jaar. Alles loopt zoals het moet 🌟
Nu ik me bewust ben van het feit dat ik in staat ben een andere manier van werken met paarden kan delen met en leren aan anderen, is het gevoel van verantwoordelijkheid mijn grootste bron van motivatie geworden.
En mijn eerste en meest belangrijke les aan iedereen is: Als IK het kan, kan JIJ het ook.
Het laatste wat ik wil is iemand ontmoedigen, denken dat doordat IK alles mee heb IK wel kan doen wat ik doen.
Als je mij (persoonlijk) niet kent, zou ik je dit graag nog willen meegeven: Heb vertrouwen in en respect voor de kwaliteiten en passies van ieder individu en het proces van het ontwikkelen van die kwaliteiten. Je leven leiden hoort niet te voelen als een wedstrijd, maar als een persoonlijke reis vol ervaringen en onverwachte wendingen die je uiteindelijk kunnen brengen naar waar je maar wilt. Voel je niet "minder" wanneer je om hulp vraagt en voel je niet "meer" wanneer je hulp aanbiedt.
We leren allemaal op ons eigen tempo, op onze eigen manier.
[HOW TO] FREESTYLE RIDING | PART FOUR: CONFIDENCE BUILDING
I am SO in love with this picture! Don't need to explain why, right? So let's talk about the adventure we had, two weeks ago in the arena.
This time, I decided to grab her with not a halter - but the Neck Rein instead. Look at how both JP and Luther are interested in me, with JP even walking up to me (like she usually does, but this is a great picture of that moment!).
Walking with me to the grooming spot with again, only the Neck Rein. She's chewing and licking right when this photo was taken and look at how low her head is, her eyes are softly closed and her ears still back from where I was rubbing her, which she was totally fine with.
All good signs, she showed me her calm and motivated self, instead of a nervous, jumpy bambi. While grooming her, I sometimes tie her to the post or let her graze or roam around or stand still. Basically, she KNOWS what I want from her so if I kind of play a little with everything and then come back to standing still every now and then.
So this is her grooming area, a square block right between the grooming post and her stall. When she roams free while I'm grooming her/switching brushes/getting tack, she knows she has to stay in this square (or come visit me in the tack room :').
Notice how the Neck Rein has dropped down to her ears because she lowered her head to graze on some grass. I've explained in the first blog why it's important to let them experience this, so here's JP grazing and not giving a damn about that rope thing hanging there.
Walking towards the round pen together, this used to be a tricky thing; She had a hard time leaving her 'friends' in the back behind and she made a habit out of 'attacking' all other horses she came across while walking to the arena or round pen.
When there's no one else around, working or holding a horse, I flip my reins over her saddle (since they're long enough for her to reach for the ground and she won't hurt herself if she steps on them) and just let her follow me.
After a simple groundwork session in liberty (move their feet forwards, backwards, left and right) we went back to relaxation and some energy work to lower our vibration.
When getting in the saddle, I ask all horses to tip their nose towards me before and during I mount. When I have both feet in the stirrups, I release and let them relax and maybe stretch a little bit before preparing them for the next move.
Walking away while mounting is something JP ALSO used to do, it was a hell of a job to get her to calm down and agree with you with a snaffle/bit, but so far - with no bit - I haven't experienced her taking off yet. Even without reins she bents her neck and offers her head while I safely get on her.
We walked around the round pen together, backing up and trotting /jogging away. She even offered canter-walk transitions which is hard work for her so I praised her for her effort and then we played with speeding up and slowing down in the canter (something she LOVES).
I love how soft her whole look is, this photo is taken right when I praise her for.. well I don't really remember since I praise her A LOT, so never mind! But still, just look at her proud and happy vibe!
With this energy/in this flow, we continued our way towards the arena, where - SURPRISE - the owner of the rescue showed up with one of his horses to work with. He asked if I was okay with sharing the arena with him. I figured, "Why Not?". I felt like our foundation was solid enough to handle this sudden change of events and since everything was going really well so far, why not just go for it? NO 'trying', it's DO or DON'T.
Remember, JP is not a big fan of other horses so this was a BIG test for the both of us;
- Can I convince her to stay with me, rather than pick a fight with the other mare?
- Can I keep both our energies/vibrations low enough to let her easily flow from right- to left brain but high enough to keep her engaged and motivated so she's still able to learn and absorb everything?
Of course, the reins didn't come off until I had a conversation with JP about the far end of the arena being 'our space' and the first square belonging to the other horse and human. The owner of the ranch, working with his horse, had a stick in his hand that has a plastic flag on the end of it. He swung it around, hit the barrels or the ground with it to desensitize his horse. I just steered JP a little bit away from them, so she SPOOKED!! Just a second, then she turned around to see what the HAY that was! Right at that time the scary plastic thing moved again, so she began to turn away from it and try to trot away.
Instead, I reminded her of some things;
- if you ever feel like something's wrong, turn to me
- if you ever feel like you're in danger, turn to me
- not all energy frequencies are for you (JP's so sensitive, she's like a radio that's constantly picking up every frequency and energy that comes with it)
We walked in a small square near the other horse (I kept disengaging her hindquarters when she tried to trot away) and I kept 'telling' her "It's not for you. It's not for you. It's not for you." All while I was riding her like I didn't even see the other horse, and the vibe she/they we're giving off. I kept asking her the same thing, just calm around and walk with me, it's not for you. It amazed me how quickly she just settled down, like she remembered. She went like "Oh.... yeah... right." and then we walked out of our square and proceeded our calm walk around the right half of the arena.
Such a happy girl!! With the reins still on, I decided to 'test' all gaits in both directions and frequently asked for back-ups and stops.
She did everything while maintaining a happy and focused (on the camera, lol) face!
The turn towards the inside of the arena, to stay on our side of the arena.
So now we're trotting without reins, and will you look at that! She's spotted the camera again!
Unfortunately, we've only managed to capture the moment AFTER, but a few seconds before this picture was taken, things almost went South.
I asked for a canter, which she did perfectly. And then I felt her speeding up (I thought towards the other horse) so I IMMEDIATELY asked for a Neck Rein Stop. Or whatever I'm supposed to call it now. But the fun thing is, she responded! In the picture above you still see the dust clouds of the sudden turn and stop she did and me leaning forward because I got almost thrown out of the saddle. This girl can STOP!
So, knowing that hitting the brakes still works, I decided to just speed up and GO for it!! Watch below:
Of course I am still so proud of her, she came a long way from being a rescue/anxious/neglected/mistreated/misunderstood/whatever-kind-of-lable-horse, to becoming a balanced, relaxed and happy horse.
I'm well aware of the bumpy road that's still ahead of us, so don't expect AMAZING stories from now on. Well, you can hope a little, of course! As do we. But the road to succes/healing/reaching your goals/dreams is not linear. It's a road you take, paving a path together and finding out what works for you.
Setbacks can be frustrating, but it gives you time and space to break things down and see if there's any piece of the puzzle missing. Taking this road with JP has offered me a lot of insights about myself, about my life, the people in it and what I want. I can't convince her (or anyone, for that matter) to feel safe and respected in my presence. I can't force her to relax if I'm the one that's breathing anxiously around her.
Horses that have been mistreated (or worse) can have a lot of negative triggers, that will immediately send them back to that state of mind where they behave in the exact same way as when they first came to the rescue/new owners.
Allowing them to explore the World of Relaxation that's out there, giving them time and space to do it on their own (with you there to guide them through it), unlocks all typical signs of Left Brain thinking like licking, chewing, yawning, blinking, rolling with their eyes, peeing, sighing. Signs that they're able to think, and rationalize instead of running away and flee.
Try to play with it on your own!! You can introduce them to something new and let them figure out what it means. You can place a barrel or other new object in the arena and see if you can get your horse to sniff it - touch it - investigate it - flip it over - roll it - you name it!
Don't force your horse to do anything, Think of it like you're having a decent conversation with someone, without using words and you'd like them to get comfortable around the barrel/object. The more comfortable they can get, the better! If you notice anxious, nervous or unsure behavior, try to work from a farther distance to get you and your horse more comfortable around/with the new object/situation.
When your horse settles down, you can slowly and gradually close in on the object by making your circles smaller or by using approach and retreat.
See what works for the both of you!
Do you know that feeling, when you see something so incredibly awesome, beautiful and inspiring, but somehow out of reach? You start questioning yourself and tell yourself that it's not for you. What if your curiosity could lead you to your passion? When I pursued my curiosity, my passion flowed and unfold naturally and lead me towards the feeling of Freedom.
For me, and for the Horse.
So, with that being said, let me show what the first week of our Freestyle Journey
Because our level of liberty/groundwork/playing with chi/energy is already at a high level, I simply started riding her as soon as we had a saddle that fit her. She already knows the cavesson from groundwork stuff, so I introduced this as a riding halter a while ago. She had absolutely no problem with the transition, although I gave her some extra time to get comfortable with it, just to be sure.
I started in the round-pen, since that is the place we're both very comfortable and where we've spent a lot of time together.
That's when I noticed her old 'bad' behavior was starting to show again, in the form of being impatient. When JP gets impatient, or bored, she used to leave the 'conversation' and do something of her own like sprinting or crow hopping. Naturally I wanted to prevent that behavior from taking over again, so decided to speed things up (after I made sure she was completely relaxed and up for it). While doing that I reminded her of the relaxing work that we did, helping her to understand that waiting can be a reward too.
This worked like a charm, we practiced linking all groundwork and liberty voice commands to seat cues and after just two rides of 20 minutes I introduced the Neck Rope. When I was absolutely sure she knew the One Rein Stop bitless, responded to my cues and was accepting the Neck Rope, we went 'Trail Ride Praciticing" just walking around the property of the ranch, passing tarps, machinery, trailers, other horses, etc. Again, I just wanted her to relax and have a good time with me. Every now and then I let her graze (because NOW is the time!! We usually don't have grass growing anywhere) and then I would let her know we were taking off again and she responded politely by taking one more chew (she knows she can have one more after I've let her know we're leaving) and walking off.
She was in heat that day, so (as always) she was extremely loud and mean towards other mares. Usually her deep-rooted instincts take over and she kind of forgets that I'm still on her. So before I even got on her, I walked with her to work on staying with the conversation instead of being rude and give in to your womanly urges (lol).
Watch what our little stroll looked like in the video below
When we reached the point where she was feeling confident and relaxed while being responsive towards me, it was time to quit. Later that week we practiced the same thing, we trotted a little and as a reward, she got a refreshing shower afterwards.
The next session - two or three days later - I saddled her for a short, basic session in the round pen. Everything went perfect, so I introduced the Neck Ring; a more stiff rein made out of lariat rope and adjustable (of course, mine is STUCK!, so still working on that). I bought it two years ago, after I read an article by Linda Tellington-Jones (from the 'TTouch' method) that made a lot of sense. They're like trainingwheels, for horses that need a little something in-between to help translate the conversation from bridle, to neckrope (and eventually, maybe, to nothing). I find them really useful for asking the horse to turn or bend, when they're responding to the Neck Rein you can basically translate everything to the Neck Rope (with lighter, smaller cues).
I let her walk around, saddled and with the Neck Rope ánd the Neck Rein, I let her graze and as expected she got a little bit spooked when the Rein softly dropped down her neck, towards her ears. We played with that and after about three minutes she didn't even care if they dropped down on her ears.
Fast forward another three days, and it was time for our first ride with just the Neck Rope. Again, in the round-pen and after a short groundwork session to get into the same flow.
As soon as I got on her, I felt her waiting for the next question. She gave me that feeling the whole ride, responding to every cue even when I only used the Neck Rope. So I simply couldn't resist to clip off my reins and just go for it!
We practiced transitions and I wanted to make sure she knows "Whoa", before I was going to take her to the arena next time.
*Watch our two sessions in the round-pen with the Neck Rope
Next time: Our first bridleless ride in the arena!
[HOW TO] START RIDING WITHOUT A BRIDLE | PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
Since my first freestyle/neckrope/bridleless ride in The Netherlands back in 2015, I've been dying to have this connection with another horse (since unfortunately, my own horse died three months after I came to CA). I just didn't realize how hard it would be, to open up to a potential new horse.
Of course, riding freestyle in California was something I immediately set my mind to when I came here. But it was a lot harder than I thought!
I work with lots of different horses, which makes it a challenge to find the time and energy to work on your own stuff with a horse. Luckily, the owners of the rescue offered me to pick any horse I liked, to call "my own" for as long as I'm around. When my own horse died just a month after I started volunteering, it was a bit upsetting and uncomfortable for me to open up to a possible new horse.
As always, the Universe was a few steps ahead of me and one day - when we went for an unexpected trail ride - the owner of the rescue put me on JP.
*The Few Things I Knew About JP At That Time*
- JP (Jaguar Paw)
- A mare, red (oh god)
- One of the first horses to come to the rescue
- Stunning, different
- Not up for adoption because she is a bit 'crazy'
- Acts weird when ridden, so nobody rides her (physically healthy)
I trust the owner of the rescue completely, if he says a horse is safe then it's safe. But I do remember me asking him "so... is it's safe to ride HER?". He assured me she's just a bit weird but wouldn't bolt. He was curious about her behavior on a trail ride, and since I don't have a problem with being a test-dummy, I saddled JP and off we went.
It was 45 minutes of HELL and TERROR. Every sound, movement or smell would set her off, jumping up and down, prancing, screaming. She could have done a lot worse if it wasn't for the One Rein Stop, the emergency brake that probably saved my life last year. Anyway, after that 45 minutes of horror, I was Madly In Love.
The fact that we got home safe and that I didn't feel uncomfortable or scared on her, made me feel like we could get somewhere. We fitted her a saddle and I took her to my Parelli lessons, in Tehachapi. One of the first things she needed to learn was patience. Her previous owner(s) probably let her get away with lots of things, so during our first lesson we all experienced first-hand a pissed-off red mare. While I was still on her, she got really upset about not getting what she wanted (walk away instead of just relax and stand still) and attacked the fence with her front feet. The result: a destroyed board and my instructor who yelled from a distance: 'What the hell happened to my board?! '
We experienced these "tamper tantrums" a lot more over the following months, but eventually she stopped arguing and tolerated me riding her. Of course 'tolerating' is not enough, I needed her to accept me. We got to a high level of liberty pretty quick, so as long as I didn't try to ride her we we're definitely bonding and creating something.
Her body was changing throughout this process many times, so we needed to switch saddles so often, we ended up with nothing. We do have bareback pads, but that would have probably meant flying lessons for me, and JP getting away with stuff again. So we went back to liberty, groundwork, walking outside.
After I went through some stuff of my own and accepted the fact that my own horse is no longer with me, I needed to get some time off and relax. When I came back after a few months, JP was upset and did not want me to touch her or even come near her. So would just hang out with her, clean her stall and feed her strains of grass. When we eventually got back to work again, the only focus I had for the both of us was 'relax'. We would walk around the arena together, breathe together, daydream together. I would groom her and watch her close her eyes, softly to the point where she just looked so happy and peaceful. I stopped at that moment, every time we were together, walk her back to her stall and say goodbye. After a while, we were back at doing liberty, like we'd never stopped. She even helped me with other horses, to get them emotionally opened up again.
So you might say that this is just crazy-talk, it cannot be scientifically proven, etc. but to me the truth is always in the horse. Just two months after I started working with her again, this is how we ride today:
Thank you for reading this first part of our journey, that will - hopefully - lead to more beautiful adventures!
Love, Zoë & JP
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