I did Parelli for many many years and as a result, I tend to call what I've been doing "Undemanding Time". But there are other names as well. Carolyn Resnick calls a similar thing to this "The Chair Challenge". In the book Connection Training they call this "Casual Connection Time". But ultimately what all these have in common is the fact that you give your horse a little something to eat and then simply sit with them while they eat it. You can take it one step further and take them out to graze and just "match feet" with them. This is when you pick up and move your feet at the same time your pony does.
So I started the Chair Challenge with Sky several weeks ago. I would take a chair out to the track, tie up Zorro and give him some hay at the tie wall, then sit with Sky while she ate her hay. The result of this time spent with her was that she started to look for me. She would snack, then come and see what I was doing, ask for a scratch here and there, then go eat more hay, then come see me, put her nose on my leg and take a little nap, then go eat some hay. Then another day she may just eat her hay and ignore me. It didn't matter what she did, I was just supposed to sit there and share space with her. I practiced my meditation breathing. I practiced relaxing my body. I practiced doing nothing. Sometimes I would read a book. Whenever she came over I would stop what I was doing and scratch if she wanted me to. Or just sit quietly while she explored me if she didn't seem to want me to touch her.
While she was eating if she suddenly looked up and paid attention to something far away, so did I! I tried to mirror her, but stay very calm and quiet. So if she got agitated I just stayed calm.
Also, the ponies and I have been taking LOTS of walks. I walk them on halters with lead ropes. Sometimes I ground drive Zorro in his bridle. But I always have Sky on a lead rope. Sometimes I just tie the rope around her neck and let her follow along behind. I can't do this if there are a lot of cars on the road, but when it's quiet I can! She follows at her own pace. Sometimes far behind us.
Recently I started having Sky wear her back pack and carry my water. It's getting warmer and on the long walks I get thirsty! I loop her lead rope to my fanny pack and she just follows along!
I am really enjoying our walks (but do need new shoes.... ouch!) and spending this time with my ponies.
Today I went out, took a chair and gave them some hay with some herbs mixed in, like a little salad, then sat down and just spent some time with them while they ate. I kept Zorro in the pen this time so he could get a bit of the undemanding time, not being caught and tied up.
He was very sweet. He wanted to be with me a lot. He wanted me to scratch him a lot. He hasn't asked me to scratch him for a very long time. Today made me so happy.
Sky wanted some attention as well today. And has been following me around the track, asking me to pet her and just stand quietly with her when I clean and do chores. Something happened yesterday that really made me excited!
Sky has been very reactive and difficult. She has been running into fences and the gate. She slips and slide around and falls during her extreme reactions to things that matter very little or don't even register to Zorro and I. This has been very distressing to me (and I'm sure to Zorro!) and led me down this path of connection, softness, relaxation and tension release.
Yesterday we went for a short walk and they stood tied for a little while as I cleaned and organized my tack shed. Then I filled their hay nets with dinner and put them back in the track. I was cleaning the track when a big gust of wind kicked up. I heard a large box start to blow from in front of the shed towards the fence. Sky was right in the line of the box. The plastic and paper came out of the box and billowed up, then got stuck on the fence. Sky raised her head and immediately turned to me. I looked at the box and took a deep breath, she lowered her head and went back to eating!! Even with the paper and plastic still softly blowing on the fence and the box moving all around in the gravel. She didn't give it a second thought. Without a doubt this would have sent her straight into the fence just a few weeks ago.
I was so happy that she looked to ME when she started to get scared. (Zorro didn't even raise his head from his net. He doesn't spook too easily. LOL!) I am so happy that she is choosing to be with me more and more. She is even letting me brush her without a halter. She doesn't like to be brushed that much, but I do know which brush is her favorite so I choose that to brush her.
Zorro is his normal self but even more loving. I swear by undemanding time, the chair challenge and Casual Connection Time! Take a book and just go sit with your ponies while they eat. If you are doing this in between meals just give them a little snack and then see what they do. It's such a treat when they want to just stand with you and sleep. Zorro will even lay down beside me and take nap.
Don't underestimate the power of doing absolutely nothing!