With Carmen I am always trying to find the line between 'not avoiding' and 'not confronting'. Starting with the groundwork I can quickly identify the potential 'trouble spots'. I don't want to fall into the whol chicken/egg discussion but I look for where Carmen seems more relunctant to go and/or is doing far more looking. Once those are identified, when I get on her I am trying to feel where the point of her openly objecting will be and then cutting that argument off before it begins.
For example, if the trees blowing in the wind at A are a problem, when I head down to that area I am feeling for her reactions and before it gets to the "NO!" I cut across the ring. Over time we get closer and closer. In this way I'm working at maintaining the positive forward energy but not putting her in the place of feeling overwhelmed. Over time we get closer to that end. If (as I used to) just stay on the 'safe circle' we never get to that end and she never stops fixating. If I get on and say 'damn it horse we're doing down there because it's all fine' we end up in a fight.
Now that we have started navigating the ring better I am putting more emphasis on the actual training pyramid. I start off with looking for forward, positive energy. Carmen is a fit and athletic horse. She can can move fast but it's not forward and it definitley isn't positive. She can be stiff and spooky and bolty. When she's slow/balky it's not positive either. Obvioulsy what I want is a horse that when I put a leg on she goes forward and steers.
I've ridden her three days in a row: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday she was relunctant to trot and move forward (the whole mare in heat thing). My crop had fallen out of the holder so I would have had to dismount to get it and we all know that I'm lazy. I decided to work through it. The goal was gentle cue-no response-kick-response repeat until she was going forward with the gentle nudge. It was interesting because she went from ears back I hate you to ears forward sure let's go. All in the space of 5 minutes. We had to repeat that couple times over the ride and each time we ended up in a good place.
On Monday the weather was a lot warmer and she was not keen to go forward at all- on the lunge or under saddle. My habit is to lean forward when a horse is behind the leg but I've been working on that I just focussed on sending her forward. Because she felt a bit stiff to me as well I spent a long time at the walk just getting her to stretch and bend and loosen up.
Once we had forward things were going really well and it became apparrent that I need to address straightness. You see, when Carmen is not sure that she wants to go towards a specific spot in the ring (on monday this was the small trees where birds were fluttering in and out) she will throw her haunches in and then follow in. It's gets worse the faster the gait. So we were cantering down the long side, then her haunches went in and then the rest of her follows and we're looking a giant C going down the quarter line.
For whatever reason my body thinks that the right response is to pull on the inside rein and push with the inside leg. While getting stiff and grabby.
That's the wrong answer.
|not from this ride but see the siffness in her neck and posture?|
Everything becomes stiff and flailing and I feel like a sparking wire rather then an enclosed system. I decided to address it this ride becasue it's getting to be a problem. I came back to walk and down the long side insisted that she keep her haunches on the rail by using my inside leg to my outside hand and only using the inside rein if she went to look out (she had to keep her eye on those little feathered demons- they may be small but they are clearly dangerous). At first she overbent her neck and did all sorts of wiggles to avoid going straight down the line but I was insistent in my corrections. Once we good at the walk I did it at the trot. If I lost it completely, I came down to walk, fixed it, went back to trot. I don't want her thinking that the straightness or the gait are optional but I can't always fix both at the same time. As we went along I was able to keep the trot the whole way around and maintain the straightness or a slight shoulder fore. I tried it at the canter. The first few times I had to drop down to trot and even walk, fix it and go back. I think that we've gotten into the habit of this and I need sort it out. I tried to keep it simple- a few strides of straight canter, then trot.
In the end I had a horse who was soft and foward. The energy was positive- it was frenetic or frozen. If I put my leg on we went and if I stilled my seat we slowed. When this mare is listening and not tight everything feels so dang easy. Even when the cat springs out at troll corner and makes her jump in place. We just held it together and carried on and then we stood for a while looking at Chester until he was like 'what? Why are you guys staring? It's weirding me out'
It was not easy. Walking was a disaster becasue she was too distracted by the universe. I asked for a trot and she shot forward. Which is better than balking but still not great with the stiffness. I just kept wth the program: asking for transitions, changes of directions and that she listen to me. I wasn't going to be upset that she was worried about the waving tress but she still had to listen to my inside leg. I wasn't afraid to kick her with it either when she blew me off. Interestingly enough this didn't piss her off. It was more like 'oh right. You're still there'.
I played with straightness again and we practiced some small leg yields both away and towards the fence. It was not always pretty (it probably was mostly not-pretty) but we got it done. And do you know what?
Her spooks were very minor - flinching rather thant spinning.
And there were no bolts. Not one. There were times where she was contemplating it but I made sure that i had the outside rein (sometimes quite firmly) and didn't grab the inside. I was pleased by this because it could have been a disaster and set us back. Instead we worked thrhough it and no one died. I did opt to not ride the bridge that day though.
I'm find that this concept of positive energy is really helping me work with Carmen. It's moving me away from the 'go but don't go that fast' idea which was probably frustrating her. I don't know if that makes any sense to you guys but it's working for us.