How Pain Affects Progress
By 2-Star Parelli Professional Kat Green
This is the second part of the blog Sometimes You Know the Answer but Linda Parelli Still has to Prove It to You. We left off with Linda Parelli confirming that my horse, Blu, was a Left Brain Introvert, not a Right Brain Introvert.
Linda asked me to do a few tasks with Blu to see if he was connected before we started playing at Liberty. I asked him to go sideways from Zone 1 from the end of the 45-foot line and backed him into the trailer, for example. Linda concluded that Blu was mentally connected with me, which meant that Blu was ready for me to show Linda the trouble spot we were having in the round pen (Blu was not maintaining gait at the canter at Liberty). We headed into the round pen and I did my best to cooly take off the halter, tie the On-The-Barn Knot*, and hang it on the fence. It was my first lesson with Linda Parelli and there was no small number of butterflies in my stomach. It was so exciting to be moments away from answers. I sent Blu onto the circle and sure enough, he broke gait to the trot in no time flat. As Blu trotted around me, Linda cocked her head to the side with her hand on her chin and stated “Hmm. He looks a bit foot sore.”
We stopped the lesson, because it was hard to tell if Blu was sore or lazy, but Linda’s feeling was that if we had already tried several strategies under the guidance of some of the most esteemed Parelli Professionals, it was better to rule out pain as soon as possible. We could always have another lesson if it turned out Blu was okay! I had my vet out the same day and she confirmed that Blu had bruising. In fact, he had bruising on all four feet, which is why he was not visibly limping; he was equally painful on all four feet. Now, it’s never fun to find out your horse is in pain, but I was relieved to know that it was something so simple that was causing my horse’s behavior (rather than searching for an obscure behavior strategy or worse, a serious injury). I had my farrier come out and put pads and shoes on Blu and he immediately looked better in motion.
With Kristi Smith’s support, we took it easy for a while in the Externship and Blu moved better each day. By the end of the course, we passed our Level 4 On Line, Level 4 Liberty, and Level 4 FreeStyle, and Blu was sound and, more importantly, happy! Everything got back on track after Blu felt better. It was a huge lesson to me, both as a horse owner and as an instructor. When your horse exhibits a behavior issue, the first thing to do is rule out pain. My horse was barefoot and lived in Pagosa, but he was not used to riding and playing for 8 hours a day. Of course I realized that as soon as it came into question, but after this experience, it is the first question I ask when my horse or a student’s horse has a behavior issue. If your horse suddenly fights putting on the bridle, does he have dental pain? If your horse bites as you saddle her, does she need to see the chiropractor? First, rule out pain!
Another thing to think about besides pain is physical fitness. If your horse won’t do something you ask, sometimes he may not be in pain, but he may just not be physically fit enough to do it, yet. For example, cantering on the 12-foot line (or small circles in general) is quite advanced and you don’t want to ask your horse to just start with such a task. That’s where the Parelli Program helps you break a task up into smaller, attainable exercises that build up to the more difficult task. In the example of cantering on a small circle, one of the Parelli Patterns is the Spiral Pattern*. It helps you gradually work down to smaller circles to build your horse’s flexibility and athleticism safely. Understanding the concept of checking your horse’s physical ability and wellness and then looking into horse behavior helps you address your whole horse rather than just one part.
I love Blu and I love that he is always so gracious as my teacher. I know that the horses who follow him will benefit from everything he teaches me. Parelli helps me begin to address my horse’s development through mental, emotional, and physical exercises. Other resources and professionals available to me are also important to my success with studying horsemanship, though. Ask all of your equine professionals questions, from the chiropractor, to the farrier, to the veterinarian, to the dentist, to the farrier, to the nutritionist, to the horsemanship instructor. Put effort into understanding your whole horse’s well-being and learning how to be the best partner and provider you can be for your horse. They deserve that from us.
*If you want to learn more about the On-The-Barn Knot and the Spiral Pattern, and you are already a Savvy Club member, sign in then find these lessons by going to your Dashboard and then following this pathway:
On-The-Barn Knot: Level 1 On Line Tools: Knots to Know lesson
Spiral: Level 3 On Line Patterns: Spiral lesson
If you are not a Savvy Club member yet and would like to be a part of the world’s leading horsemanship education community CLICK HERE to sign up! Need a little more information? Visit SavvyClubInfo.com to learn about member benefits and features within the Savvy Club then come back here and use Kat’s link to sign up!