|an older photo but one of my favourites|
“Horsemanship is the art of mastering our own movements, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Not the horses.”I had a different title for this post but I found out that I have used it before (I am now at the point where I have to double check on previous posts. #notoriginal). Aslo, it has become rediculously long so I have split it into two.
Since I started working the plan on Carmen's spooking I have seen it working but it's not easy. I also realized that I have probably not laid it out but have referenced it a few times. It took a bit of time to develop but that was okay. Carmen is a complicated horse and I can over think things so in that we are well matched.
For the purpose of this I'm going to not address the 'true' spooks which are in response to truly scary/startling things (like deer runningthrough brush). I'm going to talk about the learned behaviour of spooking to get out something she doesn't like.
Carmen, for many reasons, finds working in the ring stressful. Some of it relates to her history before me, some of it is our history and some of it is that she just has many many feelings, often all at once. The spooky spot in the ring moves around but is usually one (or more) of the corners. Which corner(s) can depend on the day. When Carmen is working it creates a bit of stress and she looks to relieve that stress. Her go to move has been to spook and to escalate that behavour until she gets the relief she is seeking. It's pretty firmly entrenched. It's not like she's thinking "oh I knw if I'm bad enough she will come off so here hold my beer'. She's simply reacting.
This meant that I had to help her find a way to acheive the same result with a different behaviour. Because the truth is that she will never ever stop spooking at the bushes/birds/trees/invisible monster in the ring because it's never been about those things.
I had to figure out what were things that are called 'setting events'. Essentially things that make the behaviour more likely to occur. And the things that reinforced the behaviour. I ended up making what is called a 'competing pathways diagram'. Essentilly it boils the behaviour down into what I want, what I don't want and what I can live with, along with the consequences that maintain the behavour (either for good or ill).
Look, I know that this really nerdy, just bear with me.
What it all boiled down to was that I had to figure out how to reward what I wanted and not reward what I didn't want. Part of my strategy included using lunging/groundwork especially when windy and/or she was in heat. In my ground work I'm trying to help her find a different answer to pressure other than 'run away'. And on the ground it's really working.
|I don't know if Johanna remembers this but she got us started on the|
groundwork and how it helps way back in May 2015.
For example, earlier this week I took her up to lunge and, even though I was dressed for it, I had little intention of riding. My goal was have her seek out to rest and relax rather than to go into self defence mode. I rewarded every time she stretched out and relaxed her topline with praise and/or rest and when she was tight and rushing I just calmly kept her working forward. I would have her standing and if she was relaxed I left her alone. As soon as her head came up and she became rigid I calmly made her go forward until I saw relaxation in her body and then offered a rest again. I could see her really starting to figure this out. To the point where we standing in the spooky corner (I was about 15 feet away) and something rustled. Carmen's head started to come up and then I saw her stop, put it back down and peek at me as though to say 'this is it right?'.
|from the trail clinic this summer. See-not afraid of stuff|
I really regret not having a strong understanding of ground work earlier in my riding life. It has made such a difference. It has helped me to understand horse behaviour and the link to my own. I am so much more cognizant of my emotions and how they translate to my body language. Horses can read us a mile off and react to what they read. By learning to keep my body calm but not submissive or too soft I can affect how Carmen feels about things. Often when I am nearby and something startling happens she will look at me to see how I react before reacting herself. That seems huge to me.
|jsut a horse, standing in a water box, waiting for me to decide what was next|