(look at me)
I'm still processing some take aways from the clinic but I want to share with you the one that seems to be the most effective for us and fits right into the plan I have built for Carmen.
*****Note that this is my understanding and how I am applying what I am learning. If there are errors they are mine and not the clinicians'. If you are interested I would suggest getting someone who knows it to work with you. ***
During the circle time at the beginning Nikki explained that they do not use the term 'respect' anymore when it comes to horses. She said that they instead use the term 'regard'. And by this they mean that the horse is paying attention to the handler and looking to them for guidance. When a horse spooks and runs over the handler or bumps into them it's not becuase they lack respect, it's because they are not paying any attention to them whatsoever.
I heard a small bell go off in my head when I heard this. When it was my turn I explained that Carmen and I had come a long way and I am working on cleaning up the residual issues. I also said that I didn't anticipate that she would have any concern about the obstacles (except maybe the curtain blowing in the wind) but that she would be concerned about the trees/rocks/birds etc outside of the ring.
Nikki told me to head there with her when it was our turn and she would coach me through getting her focus on me. I brought Carmen up to the corner closest to the piles of wood and trees and began to work on the ground work exercises. She was doing (in my mind) really well with them. Nikki came up and watched for a bit and then said- 'she's not really focussed on you though is she?'
I looked and saw that, indeed, Carmen was attending to the outside.
Nikki explained that Carmen would tune into me for a brief time and then go back to paying attention to the environment. And that needed to flip: she should be attending to me and only briefly looking outside and then back to me.
The exercise seemed to be pretty simple: apply pressure to do something when she was distracted and remove it when she attended. The pressure would start soft and then increase until I had a response. The goal was that Carmen would be focusing on me and, if distracted,. would come back and soon as I moved or gave a tiny cue. The simplist is to get her to circle around me bent to the inside. Ask with a soft cue (like moving towards her haunch), to whip or hand approaching, to touching to tapping to strong taps. It was clear that at first Carmen required a strong stimulus. Soon though she would be responding to softest of movement.
Even more interesting is that as we did this she began to soften all over- her eye started blinking rapidly (a cue that they are processing) and then her whole outline lost tension and she stayed quiet and calm.
|she chose to walk on the tarp, I did not urge her at all- I just offered it|
And pretty much stayed like that for the rest of weekend. With one exception - in the afternoon of the second day we were in a different corner and there was a large white rock. I simply repeated the focus exercise until she tuned back. What was really cool was that as we progressed through the obstacles in hand I no longer needed to 'baby sit'. I could give a length of rope and simply ask her to step on. She could avoid if she chose but instead she would simply go on it.
|under saddle- note the attention is on the rock and she's trying|
to bend away. I had to up my pressure to get the bend and then relax (PC Donna)
The trick though, was doing this at home although I could see how it would be of great help.
On monday morning I tacked up (I know, riding the poor pony after the clinic, I'm such a meanie!) and walked her up to the ring. I could see right away that she had very little regard for me- her focus was on the tress/grass/birds. So I repeated what I had learned in the clinic. It took a bit, likely for two reasons:
1. This is new and I'm still learning. It's not about the task, it's about the focus. In the past I was happy if she was out on a circle listening to me, now I needed her to be aware of me all the time.
2. this looking around is ingrained and is not going to disappear magically because I went to a clinic. It takes work.
It took about 10 minutes before I could get the response I was looking for in every part of the ring. Then I got on.
|total attention while standing in the water box (PC Donna)|
I had to repeat the same things riding into the distracting areas- leg on and rein asking to bend keeping the pressure up until she responded (a 'try') and then immediately release. We rested when she gave me a good try. Honestly it didn't take long and when she cantered through the problem area without a hint of tension I halted her and jumped off.
I repeated it all last night and it happened even faster. Carmen was standing in troll corner with a leg cocked and not because she was tired.
It's all about us regarding each other- it's not about the birds or the leaves or the grass that rustles. If Carmen and I can stay together when another horse is pushing a flintstone car behind us and another is throwing a tantrum in front we can totally get this.
We're off to a show this weekend at Carol's. I'm really looking forward to addressing all the spooky areas. That is my goal for the tests: to have her focus 99% of the time. And to get it back the other .1%.