To recap- Royce had been out twice working on getting Carmen to listen on the ground and then to learn how to react to things that frighten her. He obviously had done much better then I could but I also know that I can get her to work through things on the ground. But the trick seems to be getting her to trust the rider. That has been my biggest frustration that I can't transfer the trust to riding.
Cynthia had pointed out to me that I had done a lot of things right with Carmen and she is correct. I have made her a lot better- she leads, ground ties, cross ties, is polite in the stall, yields to pressure, etc. But I was coming to realize that I was being too careful with her in my riding. And that was not helping her. Inadvertently I was babying her so that she didn't need to face the stuff that bothers her. I started addressing that this spring and that, I believe, is when the wheels started to come off. I spent last year teaching her (not that I meant to do that) that she doesn't have to do things that really frighten her until she's ready. And Princess was never going to be ready.
So back to the training with Royce. He wanted to ride her- mostly because he wanted to see how she would be but also, I believe, he wanted to ride her because he just liked her so much. We settled that he could come out early on Friday and we would work together. I knew that our sessions had been between 2-3 hours so far so I moved an appointment I had to rotate the wheels. I decided that Carmen was more important. Once again the morning was windy, cloudy and cold.
I let the horses out for a bit in the morning and then brought them in before Royce came. I got things ready and then went to get Carmen. She had her back to me in the stall, dozing. I clucked at her and said 'come on up' (this is what Royce was working on in her stall). She turned, looked at me and then I could see her thoughts 'hey I know this!' She turned around and came up to the door waiting for me to come in.
I was grooming her when Royce came in. He was impressed with her ground tying and I actually had a compliment on it.
He started with the ground work and lunging. He reviewed what they had done. He pointed out that Carmen being obedient was nice but he was waiting for her to soften - to lick and chew to tell him that she was really ready. Ahh, that was the cue I was missing.
He then got on and went to work. At first she was pretty good about the whole thing. But as he made her work she began to spook.
Yay. That way I could see how he dealt with it. He explained that we need to correct her well before she ever spooks- that it starts with ear pinning when asked to do something and progresses from there. Here is what he worked on with Carmen under saddle:
- to listen to his cues and not anticipate or decide what's going to happen. When he asks the horse to circle, he expects the horse to stay on that circle until he asks it to go off. Carmen doesn't really accept this- she bends but then goes off on her way or drifts out.
- he lets the horse make a mistake and then corrects it. Same as on the ground: 'if you hold the horse there the horse never really knows what you expect. Let them drift off the rail and then push them back over so that they know what you want. '
-He turned Carmen towards what was spooky and then back away. 'flight or fight. She wants to flee I'm showing her that she can fight what's scary. That will give her confidence.'
-He also taught her to back up. Carmen does not back up under saddle and he helped her to figure it out. I've been taught that you teach backing up under saddle later in the training. Royce disagrees- he says that they need to know how to back up from the beginning. At this point I'm not going to argue.
Then it was my turn to get on. He offered to switch out the saddle to mine but I decided to ride in his. The handle is nice but it was as hard as rock. As expected, I felt a bit like a fish out of water as Royce was getting me to do what he does. He's as patient with people as he is with horses (not always the case with horse trainers) and he helped me to figure it out. We worked our way down to the spooky wavy trees. Royce had me use clucking as a cue to get her to move out. When she pinned her ears at this I was to keep clucking until she stopped. I had to stop holding her on the rail and let her drift off so I could move her back. That way she would know what I want.
- We did transitions up and down (the key to this horse is transitions- lots and lots of transitions).
- We did lots of changes of directions- away from the rail, towards the rail. She wants to figure out what you want and get three steps ahead. Don't let her do that- it lets her make too many decisions and you are not in control. You need to be in control of her all the time. (sounds familiar- Karen and Roz have told me the same thing).
-I really had to work on not holding the reins too tight. Let her go. Give her room to figure it out.
-I asked her to pick up a canter a few times and then asked her to do it in the corner she hates. As we trotted into it she backed off, I clucked and she pinned her ears. I asked for a canter and she gave a little buck. I gave her a kick and we cantered on. As we rounded the next corner she gave a big spook and spun into the centre. I sat up and Royce thundered 'WHOA' and she came to a screeching halt. "Back her up, keep going. Now turn her into what scared her and then send her back to work'. I did all of it. The backing up is also part of the instilling bravery- horses when threatened by other horses will either leave or back up into them. Once we went by this scary spot a few times Royce called me into the centre.
I knew she was going to spook. I watched you deal with her resistances - the backing off, the ear pinning and then the buck. I thought to myself the mare is going to spook next and right then she did. But she stopped when we asked. She wasn't truly afraid. She has learned to spook in response to pressure.
And suddenly everything made sense. As we were working more, she was spooking more. It's her response to pressure. And when she would spook I would back off thinking that I had over stressed her. So the spooking was reinforced. For me, that seems so much easier to deal with then fear and anxiety. Not that she isn't anxious- she is. But the spooking as a reaction to pressure seems more workable then this nebulous fear of the universe.
Royce explained that he believes that Carmen was rushed in her early training and not given the time to figure it out. He also said that he believed she reacted and then really scared her rider. That set the pattern for what we were dealing with.
We carried on doing more work and then finished with Carmen backing up with the lightest touch of the reins and doing a turn on the forehand (something that has been a struggle). I felt that we were chipping away at the wall Carmen has put up to protect herself.
And to carry on with the analogy- my seed of hope is now a sapling. You didn't cause this in her. Words that I needed to hear. Also, You will be able to show her and she will be fine.