Lessons From Bella

I mentioned in my last post that Bella is most certainly in my life to teach me things in ways that Estella can’t. Estella is confident, pushy, and curious, which is definitely the kind of horse I like. A big difference from Bella’s more skeptical nature, something I haven’t experienced much of on a regular basis.

As most of you know, I did Parelli with Estella for years. Parelli uses a lot of pressure and release (negative reinforcement), which is fine until you’re ready for something different. Pressure and release is great for control, which I used to think was necessary. I stopped doing Parelli when I realized I was looking for something more than that; I was blown away when Anna said horses could have total autonomy. I started using positive reinforcement and noticed a huge change in Estella. Although I still use some instances of pressure in training, it is mostly a suggestion and I still use positive reenforcement along with it.

Bella is very worried about pressure, which I previously would have quickly “fixed” using Parelli. For the sake of safety (i.e. tying, getting caught in something, emergency situations, etc), I have been slowly rewarding her for moving away from pressure, but it isn’t the same “pressure to motivate, release to teach” that I would have used with Parelli.  She is learning about lowering her head, walking forward, moving her forehand and hind end in response to pressure, but it’s all on her own account. There’s no punishment or higher phase if she doesn’t response, just a reward if she does and that’s exactly the way she likes it. If she’s feeling like the pressure is too much, she wants out and I don’t believe that continuing to add it until she gives is the right answer.

This has created some new experiences for me, specifically “pressure free” trailer loaded. I have loaded many problem horses with Parelli logic and have had great success. But clearly the pressure and release tactics are not going to work with Bella. It was difficult at first; I felt like we weren’t making any progress. It was then I realized I had to keep asking Bella how she wanted to be loaded, not how I thought she should be based on my own experiences. I slanted the divider, tried the right side instead of the left, put myself in the trailer (I used to always think horses needed to self load or it wasn’t real confidence. That is not true.), and simply rewarded her for stepping forward and did nothing when she stepped back. By listening to her and not my own experiences, she was putting all 4 feet in in a matter of days. We still have some confidence to build before I put up the butt bar, but I have no doubt we’ll get there one day.

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Bella has been very humbling in certain aspects of my life. With Estella, sometimes we can blow through things with her sheer confidence. Sometimes I skip steps or maybe I know I am not always deserving of all the things she does for me. She sometimes lets me cheat, which I admire her for loving me that much, but it is a great experience to have a horse that doesn’t let you get away with anything other than what they need. Bella needs me to be patient, and relaxed, and to give her time, and to always ask how she wants me to do it, not how I think it should be done. She’s teaching me about letting go, about not clinging to expectations, and that I certainly don’t need pressure or force to accomplish anything. These are huge lessons for me that are I know are opening me up for growth in  new ways. Estella will forever be my soul horse, but I have so much love for Bella and the trueness that she is holding me to.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons From Bella

  1. Bella sounds very much like my girl Tiger: she’s been teaching me so many of the same things. It’s a struggle for me some days, but I’m getting there too. — The beautiful thing is that you’re willing to listen and to learn. A lot of people aren’t willing to do even that and would just label the horse as “difficult” or “disrespectful”.

  2. <3 this is so great. Every horse is an individual!

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