Calling all training geeks!!! I finally sat down to try to write in this nutshell post some of the concepts and techniques I am learning in an online course that has been hard for me to get through this past year.
The name of the course: Intrinzen: Project Proprius.
The name itself gives quite a bit away: there’s a hint that it’s about intrinsic something or other, zen/mindfulness of some kind, proprioception, and it also warns you that it’s going to be quite intellectual, deep, and mind-blowing. Which it is.
Definitely takes time to wrap one’s mind around their teachings/ideas/and philosophies and how to put them into play. It’s fascinating, but complex.
The course states that most every horse should be able to: 1) have mobility and stability in three planes: laterally, vertically, and forward/back; 2) execute movement in a wide range of situations, tasks, and environments; and 3) have their brains give their bodies instant, optimal movement solutions.
Number three is necessary for numbers one and two to be possible.
Unfortunately, for the brain to have access to ALL of the horse’s body, the receptors in the body must communicate to the brain that “all is well”. But, if there is pain somewhere, the receptors tell the brain to “put on the parking brake” of that sector of the body to prevent further injury (so we see stiffness, lameness, unwillingness to move, etc.). Even if the pain then goes away and the injury heals, sometimes the brain continues to keep the parking brake on, and mobility continues to suffer.
The key, then, is to activate all the receptors in the body through voluntary, authentic movement that the horse finds intrinsically rewarding. These movements are usually ones that arise when horses are in their natural environment, running free, through spontaneous play, showing off, exuberance, etc. The movements cannot be trained by us for the horse to do or be moves that hurt, because the reward from having done the movement must come from the inside of the horse.
But, where to start? We have to start with a tiny bit of external reward by influencing their movement with positive reinforcement.
Once the horse understands what we are aiming for and begins to feel the benefits of improved mobility and engagement of all his body, the rewards become intrinsic and the horse seeks out those movements on his own. Or so the course says! It takes a lot of time to get there!!
These concepts appeal to me for two reasons: 1) Because of my back surgery in 2008 and many sports injuries since, I found that the Feldenkrais method of exercises (developed after WWII by Moshe Feldenkrais—many amazing books are available on the subject) have been what helps me most to help my body recover from injury without needing more surgery or even physical therapy. And everything explained above about the course’s concepts is basically Feldenkrais for horses! 2) I have young horses that sustained critical injuries in the pasture their early years of life and I can see the “Parking Brakes” are on. I want to help them heal and release those brakes, and I think Intrinzen will be key for this.
Soooo…..In this clip you are watching the first exposure of my horses to the first, most basic exercise in the course: core posture, or crunches. The goal is to get them to activate their abdominal muscles, lower their necks, lift their withers, and shift their weight back onto their haunches all without moving their feet. (Just to give you some perspective: Reaching the goal should, if I were to spend 15 minutes per day with my horses, take about 6 months or more!
In other words, given my affinity for non-rigid ways of working, it will take me years!)
If you see me touch their bodies in the clips to come, it’s to activate their brain’s proprioception, or the ability of their brain to feel my hand and for data to be sent back and forth to that spot (again, this is MY understanding).
Any attempt (ANY attempt is the key word) to figure out what I’m asking is rewarded with a click and a treat. So, you’ll see me click for them NOT backing up. For swaying their hip. For SEARCHING for the “answer”. For shifting back. For wiggling without lifting their feet.
(If you listen for the click, you’ll see that I try to click for the moment they are about to do the right thing; even if, after the click, they lifted their feet, they get rewarded. Why? Because they eventually understand that the “click” marked the spot I am rewarding for, as in all proper +R training.)
Eventual goal? The horses will do a full-on “crunch” where they spring back onto their haunches, lower their necks, raise their withers, almost like a bow pulled back, ready to release their inner arrow!
Thanks for your patience….sorry if I gave you a headache…the course is so INTENSE and fascinating. It has taken me several months to get through simply the STUDY of it, and I am no way near the end of that!
I’ll let you know how it’s going with updates here and there and will post a few more clips in my next post for your viewing pleasure. Take care!