In his book, The Nine Secrets of Perfect Horsemanship, Don Blazer (in a rough paraphrase) warns that one of the worst things someone who works with animals can do is let their ego get in the way of the real lesson. By ego, he means, in part, that worry that (most) competitively-minded people have about looking like an idiot in front of others; the ugly side of the drive to be "the best." The only way to actually get better is to put the ego aside and take each experience--good or bad--as not only a learning experience, but a way to show where you need the most improvement.
Apparently, I forgot that idea last night when I went out and worked Moss and Cedar. Moss actually worked pretty well for having a month off. I could definitely tell the difference in my handling... my timing was off and I just felt really rusty. Our first outrun was a little off; he tried to cross over about halfway through so I went closer to help him out. After that, he was awesome... his usual self. :) He really is a pro. Driving was great, he remembered his inside flanks and did wonderfully overall. He is so kind to the sheep, they really trust him. What a good boy. It was great to be out there working him again. He's really been good for me, and I feel so good and calm working him.
Cedar was a different story. We just... were not working well together last night. She was the worst version of herself on sheep: fast, tight, pushy, nervous, and grippy. I hadn't seen her this bad in almost a year. I was reacting very negatively (and unproductively, obviously) to her shenanigans. Again, my ego got in the way and I let that part of my brain take over to the point that I was pretty much acting like a spoiled five year-old.
(Have I mentioned how annoying my high pitched "LISTEN!!!!!!!" screech is? Even to my own ears, it sounds foreign and harsh. I hate it.)
I was really upset at the time, and disappointed-- both in myself and her. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so bummed. After all, we haven't worked in months. By the end of the lesson, we were working together much better, and she was even able to get the sheep out of a corner right next to the rest of the herd (they were on the other side of the fence). I made a point to slow my voice down. Dianne kept reminding me to keep my emotions out of it. As usual, that really helped :). I am so thankful to her, she's such a great teacher.
It's no secret that Cedar and I have struggled a lot with herding. While she tries very hard for me, her pressure sensitivity has been hard for a novice handler like me to understand and deal with. However, she is really great at--and LOVES-- agility. In fact, we just got moved up to the Excellent-level set of classes :D I'm so pleased with how she's doing in that venue. As good as we do in agility, it doesn't turn my crank quite like stockwork does. It's strange to me that we can be so good at one thing, and yet struggle so much in another. Irrational, I know. I still have this sinking feeling every time we have works like last night's that we're just NEVER going to get it. Rationally, I know that's not true. Eventually, we will get to a place where Cedar will be able to work to the best of her ability and we will find balance in our "on-sheep" relationship.
What I don't know = a lot. But I'm learning... slowly. Learning is a process, not something that happens overnight.
What I do know = that I love my dog. If not for her, I wouldn't have been introduced to this sport at all. I wouldn't have Moss. I wouldn't have made so many new friends. I owe a lot to my Cedar girl. And she's a helluva bed dog :)
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