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December 8, 2013: Moving Sideways, an Example

My thoughts in yesterday’s dispatch were so revelatory that I am continuing with this particular line of thought, using today’s herding lesson as an example.

Pete, Ryder, and I made it to class today – this in and of itself an accomplishment because the weather conditions made for bad driving conditions. This morning we were in the sun because we both live above the fog line and have southern exposure. This was in part what prompted us to go for a short trail ride. The other reason was that the horses had to get out. They did not get out yesterday because it was rainy and the road was slippery.

We headed out, downhill, into very dense fog. Visibility was practically nil. It was also misting out. Nasty, nasty weather. KGB road, always bad, was worse. The bad conditions did not appear to faze Pete.

We arrived at Suzanne’s place. We parked in the lower arena area, and ate lunch. Pete then left with Ryder and headed to the upper arena to see if anyone was there. I futzed around, thinking that he’d be back shortly. When finally, I had boots, windbreaker, wind pans, mukluks, and boot grippers in place, I too headed in the direction of the upper arena.

I arrived to find Pete in the upper arena. He was in there with Ryder and six or so sheep. I realized that I’d missed most of the first session. It usually begins at 1:30 p.m., but today began early. What I did see made me smile. Ryder now knows that when she’s in the pen that she has a job to do. Sometimes she’s distracted, but for the most part she keeps the doggies moving. She did see me, and started to come over to say hello. And she did see the other corralled sheep, and started to go over to them to say hello. But Pete, with rake in hand, was able to get her back where she was supposed to be, that is behind the sheep.

After Pete was done, Heather worked individually with her two border collies named Jack and Jill. I enjoy watching her – it is easy when she’s in the arena to make an analogy to dancing. She moves around, and the dog in the pen with her moves its gaze back and forth, from her to the sheep.

In the meantime, Ryder let it be known that she wanted in on the action by pulling at her collar and barking. I calmed her by kneeling next to her and holding on to her. She then quieted. At one point she was so excited that her heart was pounding hard. Thump, thump, thump, I could feel it through her chest.

It was soon our turn again, so I grabbed the wand instead of the rake because I find the rake hard to use. I had Ryder sit outside the arena, then once inside, had her sit again. She was not at all focused on sitting, but it is a move in the right direction. It’s sort of like horse trainer Mark Rashid writing about always entering an arena left foot first. This implies intentionality. I let go of the leash. The sheep were on the far side of the pen. Ryder trotted over to them. They began moving. I caught up. We went around the corner. Then Ryder moved in front of them, which is a big no-no. I pivoted around, and indicated to her that she should follow behind. She did this, and we continued on. Then she again got in front.

Our so-called dance was really klutzy. Suzanne noted at one point that Ryder was in front of the sheep, and told me to use the stick, by tapping it on the ground, to redirect her to the rear. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point it occurred to me that I needed to TAKE CHARGE – that is CONNECT with Ryder and TELL her what to do, using my arms, shoulder, and stick.

I then first used my voice, saying “Ryder, come,” and tapping on the ground. Ryder, who by now was snacking on sheep poop, looked up, and fell in behind the sheep. It occurred to me that she did this because 1) She knows her name, 2) She knows the Come command, 3) She knows where she should be, and 4) I had just told her what to do.

“Praise her!” Suzanne said. I then went over to Ryder, said “that’ll do” and praised her. Right then I sensed that she knew that I had known what to do. I sort of had this happen one day when we were working with the goats. But today it was more than sort of.

This was our best session yet. And it was because I realized that I had to take charge – and actually did it. I had previously wrongly assumed that because it’s in their DNA to herd, that herding dogs know what to do. This is not so. Herding dogs are programmed to follow the orders that they are given. Horses, I think, are also the same way.

What I learned is that when you are directive, you then connect. And furthermore, with connection comes an actual felt sense. It is definitely an ahh haa moment sort of thing. Today that felt sense was fleeting. But although fleeting, it was there.

A Postscript
At dinner Pete told me that tonight, when he was out with the goats, that Ryder positioned herself by the shed door, and lay down. The goats then saw her, and stayed in the pen. This is a far cry from a month ago, when she chased them and nipped at their heels. What this means is that Ryder (with considerable assistance) is figuring out how she fits into the scheme of things around here. All the animals interact with all the other animals in a non-adversarial way, herself included. She, however, gets to assist in moving the goats when called upon to do so. How cool is that?

Next: 258: 12/9/13: Spirit Animals