I have ridden Carmen twice since Monday and have been sure to keep myself in the moment and focussed on helping Carmen to be confident and supported.
And she's been responding. I've been walking the line between not avoiding and not confronting. It's been helpful to use the techniques that Rachael and Shanea taught me. I will try to describe them for you. Note that these are not 'new' thing- they are not totally new tools, just variations. So to carry this analogy through to the bitter end: before I had a flat head screwdriver, now I have a Philips head and a Robertson.
Dealing with the Spook: The basic theory is to make the spooking behaviour unpleasant and the area of the spook pleasant. It's the whole 'make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy' theory of Warwick Schiller.
Let's say I'm riding on the right rein through a corner and Carmen suddenly spooks away from the grass. I don't fight her- I let her go to the right. While I do that I am annoying her with my legs (not kicking her hard but enough for it to be obnoxious) and steering her back to the left. Once she's facing back to whatever it was that startled her I take all pressure off and ride softly.
This is deceptively simple. First of all, going back the opposite way is hard to remember to do in the moment. I am used to flowing with her in the same direction to steer her back. The other really hard thing is to relax when I'm facing the spooky thing. Because I know that she's likely to spook again and that her spooks can be strong. But I'm getting better. And it does work. After a couple spooks in certain areas she just seems to shrug and give up.
Preventing the Spook: We all know that Carmen has a very busy brain and is always thinking. This theory is to give her something to think about and to do that does not involve doing her lama impression and gawking to the outside on high alert. Carmen's reliability on where she tenses work to my advantage here. And will help at the show with her spooky corners. As we come to the corner and I feel her start to tense the base of her neck I ask her to bend to the inside by taking my arm back and putting on my inside leg. I don't yank and I don't give and take. I gently take until she gives and then give a little, take some outside rein and ride through the corner.
This gives her something to do instead of shy. The bending keeps her fluid and reduces the stiffness and she gets the confidence of having something to do rather then decide whether or not she's going to freak out. It's easier to do in corners but I have used them on the long sides as well. The practice helps make it more automatic and I'm hopeful will make it easier to do in other locations.
Keep your head in the game : This is mine. Well probably not mine. I'm sure others use it as well but I figured it out by myself with Carmen. Essentially it means to not let go of what I am wanting to do because of where she's fussed about.
Let's say she doesn't want to go by the waving grass because, you know, trolls. If I start worrying whether she's going by the grass then both of us are focussed on the grass and neither of us is thinking about things like bend, forward, transition at E etc... As soon as I shift my attention back to the ring and the task at hand I can feel her shift with me. Then neither of us are thinking about the grass-well maybe Carmen a little bit but it's not as important as it was a minute ago when we were both worried about it.
I am celebrating the productive and drama free rides. My niece is back for a visit and we've even headed out on our small 'around the field' hack. Irish is enjoying the extra attention (he had a special visitor yesterday and that's a different post). Carmen is also getting in the action - she's teaching Caelen how to lunge.