I am not good at waiting.
I am very good at thinking.
I not good at giving up.
I am very good at tackling things head on.
All of the above means that there was no way in heck that I was stopping my work with Carmen. I love that mare. She is not my heart horse. But she could be. If she would let me.
I decided that I would continue with the ground work and ride if it seemed to be a good idea. I also realized that I was making my work with her in the ring all about not spooking. Not about getting control of the spooking. Since Carmen's spooks range from mild to holy crap.
I decided to start with plastic bags. The truth is that Carmen is not afraid of plastic bags. Not really. I can go into her stall with the bag of shavings and empty it while she stands over it. She is not even remotely worried. What she is afraid of is things that flap in the ring.
I started friday night. I took her back to the ring with her halter and lunged her. I realized that she was listening as long as she wanted to. When I ask her to back up she always go maybe 2-3 steps and then stops. I've let her get away with this (now I can't think of a good reason but it seemed okay at the time). This time when I asked her to back up and she stopped I asked again and the gave her a smack on her chest with the crop. She backed up a few steps and then ran out around me. We repeated that a few times until she backed when I asked.
We then went to lunging. Once she was quietly going around I stopped her. I then tied a plastic bag on the middle of the lunge line and let her go back out. Of course she freaked. But I kept asking her to do what I wanted her to do. In the end she was listening. Not happy but listening. (I have to give my friend Bob credit for this idea. He had advised me to do this a long time ago and I didn't listen. Turns out he was right).
I repeated this on Saturday and on Sunday. Each time her 'freak out time' got less and less. I allow it to flap as much as it likes and her job is to listen to me. The first few times i asked her to change direction she was all 'hell no'. I let her find the answer and gave her lots of praise.
Today when it flapped suddenly instead of taking off she halted and looked at me. When that happened again I realized that she had figured out the answer.
Here she is from today(forgive the angle, it's hard to video and lunge at the same time):
As you can see, she is not impressed but she is calm and listening. She's also no longer looking out of the ring for things to worry about.
This work has carried over into riding as well. Under saddle I am insisting that she listen to me and go where i ask. It is not pretty at times but it's getting better. I am focussing not on what's freaking her out but what I am asking of her- so if she's bending out and gawking I ask her to come around with my inside leg and my inside hand. If she doesn't respond I get as firm as I need until she does. After a few times of this she softens right away. I am remembering to always give her a chance to respond to the soft cue but not shying away from a stronger one.
The other thing that I am insisting on is that she stays in front of my leg. I am no longer coaxing her into a forward trot. I ask for a trot and if she balks I tap her with the crop and go forward. Sometimes she picks up a canter and I go with it, at which point she balks and I say 'no you wanted to canter, canter we will!' and we canter until I decide to stop.
I am being less nice but more clear. She seems to be responding. But I also have been down this road and the next day when it's windy and cold she will likely be a different horse. But it feels better.