Carmen and I are working away at our rules of engagement. Mostly I've been getting my way. Today I had a bit of a set back.
It all started yesterday- I rode early in the morning and she was a bit reluctant to go into some parts of the ring. But I worked with her and in the end we got it done. Royce came last night and I figured that she would be better because a) tired and b) we just did that. Royce wanted me to get on first and I did down by the barn. The tall grass at the 'C' end of the arena was blowing a lot and she was not happy to go up. Royce told me to side pass her up and I tried and he kept telling me I was doing it wrong and I would try to fix it until it became apparent that I had no idea what he was asking me to do. I did what I always do, which is stop and tell him 'I am not understanding what you are saying'. He said I see that, I thought that with all your years of riding you would know how to do this.' So, to be honest I got a bit miffed but then I worked out that he wanted me to ride her in haunches in up the path to the ring. So now I understood and explained that he wanted me to ride her haunches in but said side pass so I got confused. I still don't think that he understood that I was confused by what he said and I think he thinks that he taught me haunches in. Whatever. A few times up and down the path like that it worked to get her brain on me and not the scary troll living in the grass.
In the ring I had to work very hard to get her attention. but with Royce's help I got her listening. WE even did this fun activity where I had to circle him at a canter but he kept moving around the ring and I had to move with him. Carmen seemed to find this fun and when he told us to go straight past him she was all 'no, the little man is getting away we must go get him!'.
However, she spent the whole ride avoiding that far end. Royce told me not to worry about it but I worried about it. He pointed out that when I get my mind on something (like going to C) and her mind is on the opposite (like not going to C) then we get into a fight and that is not productive. So I had to work with her pretending that I didn't want to go to C but end up at C (if that makes any sense let me know).
He's right that my fighting with her is not productive- but neither is avoiding places - that is how I ended up last year not going anywhere off the middle circle. Nope, not going back to that. Not gonna happen.
This morning I got her ready and I could tell in the barn that she wasn't really in the mood for a ride. She might have a been a bit sore from being ridden twice yesterday but nothing seemed sore. I got on by the barn and when I rode up to the ring I put her haunches in. At which point she began to spin and then threaten to rear. So I hopped off and we did ground work by the tall grass. I made her back into it and stand and then come out and go in again. I brought her into the ring and we did a whole bunch of ground work up by the grass and then I got on. I repeated what we had done yesterday in 3/4 of the ring and ignored C. Every now and then I would take a little foray up- at which point she would get tight and tense and hard to ride.
Now here's the thing- I've ridden lots of horses over the years and i know how to get them through scary spots. Most of the time you just work them gradually closer and they become acclimated to it. For whatever reason Carmen is the exception to that rule. All that she learns is that she doesn't have to go there. You can think that I'm wrong (many have) but I've been riding this mare for over a year now and that is what I have experienced. Maybe there's something traumatic for her that is triggered by the grass blowing I have no idea. But there is no progressive desensitization technique that works with this.
So I could feel myself getting to the place of 'FFS horse, we've ridden up there a gazillion f-ing times and nothing has EVER attacked us, ever so could you just suck it up and pay attention to the very simple thing I'm asking you to do and get your pretty gray ass up to C?????!"
But that might seem like be taking on a battle and I'm supposed to not do that.
Not going to C would simply reinforce that we don't go there, so I stopped and thought. I then remembered Warwick Schiller's approach and decided to do that.
I started by doing a trot circle in the middle and then I did a turn and headed up to C at a walk. I felt her suck back and I did nothing but gently urge her forward with my legs. When she began to turn away with her hell no attitude I let her and as soon as we were facing away from C I put my legs on and urged her up to trot. Good idea. That spot looks dangerous. What is way better is to do a bunch of trotting at E. Let's go. And I trotted her and trotted her, then changed direction and trotted some more. I then turned up to C and went to walk. We repeated the above. But this time we cantered away. And we did lots and lots of canter at the middle. When I felt her wanting to slow down I faced C and brought her to a walk. This time I got her to almost to C and then halt. We stood there and I let her rest. Her ears were up and she was staring hard at the grass. I did nothing to hold her there. When she spun of her own accord to leave I put in my heels and we cantered back to the middle where we went back to work.
I have no idea how long we did this or how many times we repeated this. But it was a lot. In the middle we cantered and trotted and changed direction and basically worked very hard. All the rest happened as we went to and stood at C. Slowly our rest times became longer. I never argued when she wanted to leave. As soon as she turned around I dug in my heels and we went back to work. I didn't get frustrated. If you were a troll lurking in the grass you heard things like:
Good idea, lets run away.
You know what's fun? Canter trot transitions that's what!
Oh, it feels good to rest doesn't it?
Enough rest? You're right, back to work we go.
Phew I'm tired, it's good to stand here.
Finally she stood there and didn't move. Not a bit. Something rustled in the grass and I felt her tense to leave and then she let go. You could see her brain go 'oh forget it'. I then asked her to walk out on a circle at C. I didn't hold her there and I didn't shy away from any of the scary corners. I could feel her tense but she didn't do anything. What I managed to do in this ride is make the scary spot the best spot on the ring because that's where the rest happened. And after being 90 minutes in the saddle (guessing at that) rest was a great thing.
On another note I decided to not do the show- primarily for financial reasons. I've spent a lot of money on horse training this summer. So as much as I want to go I'm not going to. If you have a ring though and want to invite us over that would be very beneficial. 'Cause every ring needs a dramatic Spanish mare with a cursing Irish rider in it. Amiright?