Clicker Training and Perfectionism

This blog is written again by Carolina who is living and learning for a while with The Pony Fairy, Monty Gwynne. And in the photos, she’s almost starting to smile!

Living in Fairyland oddly keeps reminding me of the old fairy tales. You remember how pretty much every fairy tale ended, “and they lived happily ever after”? Well, it seems to me in our world “ever after” is a rather short while. We all have a backpack with old feelings, habits or pattern which we take everywhere – even into Fairyland. I think, especially when we are trying to live our dreams or feeling really good, our subconscious mind thinks “Hmm, maybe it is time to have a look in that backpack and find out what needs some of this positive energy which is around.” And all the sudden something shows up. To me it was my inner perfectionist once again that was pulled out of this backpack.

This perfectionist really does not like me doing things wrong, making errors or learning slowly. And it can make a big struggle, especially out of fun things.

Whenever I need to learn brainy things, I am pretty quick. But my body is a rather slow learner. Communication with horses is mostly body language. Horses are just the best readers of body language there are. And really fine-tuned clicker horses are even better at reading it. They assume every movement is just a cue what to do in order to earn the next reinforcement. So they mirror you perfectly or just get puzzled and try something out of their repertoire. They are especially keen on watching my shoulders and hips to copy, which would lead to the nicest lateral flexions thinkable when I get it right. Unfortunately, my ribs do not bend well (apart from other struggles) so often the horses are a bit puzzled. Lateral flexion means bend your ribs. There are no coordinated, nice movements of hips and shoulders without bending your ribs. Yes, it is not just our horses who need lateral flexions it is us too!

So, I am mumbling severely when trying to talk body language. Depending on the character of horse I work with, they either try to be really nice. They say “Hmm, this setup usually means I am supposed to do Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder, so let’s try with this.” Or they just say “What do you mean? Sorry I do not understand. No, you do not need to talk louder, just more clearly. Do not yell at me.”

So I kept trying to bend my ribs (which I had already been working on at home in my Feldenkrais classes, but did not know how crucial a limitation it is in talking body language). I played with “human horses,” mostly The Pony Fairy, practiced rib bends when sweeping the barn, when going from A to B and even on my days off when walking along the roads or up and down the mountains. I guess some people passing by really wondered what I am doing there… During the nights I listened to more Feldenkrais classes. And I kept asking the horses if I got any better. Well for four weeks they said “Not too much!” So, I picked those ponies who said, “But I will play with you anyways if you also do something I like.”

At one point I got quite frustrated. Should I just give up? Who had this idea to try play with horses like this? (Well, I did!). Am I just not talented for this? Do I, as I did with gymnastics or ballroom dancing many years ago when feeling untale