Playing tongue and cheek can be just as dangerous for some people as it
can be fun for others. However, it was fitting for my "blog post"
category. I hope you all find these thought provoking and encouraging blogs through my perspective on Parelli Horsemanship
and theories. Please enjoy!!!!
From My Corner of the Round Pen - Article 1
The Power of "No Brace"
So often in our relationships with our horses, we are just a little out of step or the horses do not quite feel like true partners. Maybe this is subtle or maybe it is glaringly obvious... for example, you horse has never blown out, yawned, or lain down in your presence (and you know for sure they are capable of it!!!!) ---- or maybe you are seeing the very much more obvious and dangerous running off, rearing, bucking, etc...
No matter how big or small it is, the insidious breaker called "brace" can work against the dreams we have with horses. It's hard to spot sometimes, being so stealthy and silent, until one day you wake up and think to yourself "wow! my horse and me are NOT on the some page.... when did that happen!?"
More importantly though, than knowing that something is off, is knowing what it is, and what you need to do about it... oh! if only someone would tell you "your horse has a circling game with only 20% functionality and your squeeze game needs to be replaced... oh, and yeah, he's got a screw loose in his tail!"
Can you imagine your horse hooked up to a computer with about a hundred wires and having someone run a full diagnostic? If only it was that easy!
Oh, well. Since we can't do that, let's evaluate the reality of BRACE and the concept of "accepting No Brace".
Brace is a hard thing to define. In the dictionary as a noun it is defined as several things: a device that tightly clamps things together, a device to support a weak/injured part of the body, a wire device in the mouth to straighten teeth.... and as a verb: to make stronger or firmer with wood, iron, etc.; to press your body against something to stay balanced, to prepare for something difficult or unpleasant... Some lovely synonyms for brace include "batten", "shore up", "prop up", "strengthen", "fix", "tighten", "steady", "prepare", and "fortify".
Okay, so we've been given a brief English lesson, but what's this got to do with our horses and our relationship?
Great question. The parts of the above paragraph that I want to draw your attention to are: "to press your body against something to stay balanced", "to prepare for something difficult or unpleasant", and "prop up", "tighten", and "steady". I know that these may all seem either contradictory or have nothing to do with horses but let me explain.
Firstly, most people associate "brace" with a horse that is tight, scared, or generally showing some negative sign in its body, mind, and emotions. This includes horses that are aggressive, go ramrod straight in fear and cannot bend, horses that worry themselves into a lather, horses that charge or kick in defensiveness, etc. Generally, this can be as big as the most dangerous moves a horse is capable of and as small as a horse that is emotionally tight and holds its breath or cannot think or move its feet. All of these fit under the "to prepare for something difficult or unpleasant" and "tighten" definitions I've listed above. I want to include in this list now the other major form of brace: using the rope or the reins for balance or things like reins and sticks for mental/emotional support. The first part of this is a physical version of brace - horses that are not tested physically and thus are unbalanced, horses with old injuries, or ---- shock! ----- horses that have learned to use their bodies inefficiently. (If you are a person who slumps back into a chair or stands with a hip cocked, you are also one of these!!!) The second part refers to a horse/human pair that depends too much on the reins, sticks, legs, etc. for control. The horse may want these things to feel "secure" because then they don't have to be responsible. The human may want these for similar reasons - but in order to feel like they are in control. This second part of course, causes horses that have no responsibility for their own mental or emotional processes and humans that micromanage!
Bracing can be subtle - your horse may just put an ounce of heaviness on the lead during a falling leaf or you find yourself using the reins to slow your horse down all the time (but only a little). These may only be little things, but in the long run, and with many little things stacking one on top of the next, the relationship suffers. Also, when you look at your goals, you may find that you are still far from completing them! This insidious troublemaker has made its way deep enough that unless you root it out, you will always be just that level below...
Enter the concept of "accept no brace". All this means is that you need to be aware enough of when you or your horse braces to then change it. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Of course, the catch is that you need to be objective about what you are experiencing. For example, if you feel like your horse is a little sluggish when you lift your line, then you need to be aware that your porcupine is not light enough yet! If you find that your horse reacts defensively to you only when you play certain games, you need to evaluate YOUR emotions or demeanor and discover what you need to change in order for the two of you to move on. If you can easily ride your horse with a "BS" rein or in full contact but not on a TRUE loose rein, then you need to re-evaluate your freestyle patterns and whether you have truly worked on the patterns until you and the horse have made a change or if you've fluffed over them by saying "well, we've done that one!"
Rather than thinking of things in terms of "quantity" - being able to do lots of things kind of well - tackle a few things with "quality" - do them, and do them well. Take the time it takes so that it takes less time. Work on everything you do until you can play with your horse at a true phase 1 rather than phases 2 or 3 --- and do not really need a phase 4 but have one when you need it!
I've included a short video as an example of just this! These two horses are both Right Brain Introverts, but one is showing the positive qualities that we want to nurture and develop. The other is showing the negative qualities that most people see and think of when they think of Horsenality. Observe the difference between a horse that braces (negative traits) and one that doesn't (positive traits). This applies to ALL of the horsenalities --- always look at the things you want to encourage vs. the ones that you want to slowly wean away.
To start to work on the concept of accepting no brace, make a list during your play sessions of the things you think are going well, the things that feel like they are okay, and then the things that really nag at you. If things don't feel absolutely amazing and like harmony, then put these things on the "going well", the "okay", or the "nags me!" lists.
Depending on how hard you are with yourself, you may find that there are a lot of things on the "okay" or "nags me!" lists ---- that's okay. However, now that you have your lists, try to categorize these things into the 7 games. Which games are you and your horse finding most challenging? Usually there is one, or maybe two, glaring thing there. Work on that game first. Slowly work your way up the list.
Usually, working on the most challenging game first and winning it, you end up working away a huge piece of the "brace" in your relationship. Eventually you will find fewer and fewer things that you and your horse don't jive with.
Good luck and remember "Accept No Brace"
Live it Natural,
3-Star Parelli Instructor
Horse Development Specialist
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