Thursday, November 13, 2014

Set Backs: Mental game

Yesterday I noted setbacks and alluded to some backward steps I've taken/am taking with Griffin and Q in regards to the Universe cutting me off at the pass and screaming, "Halt. You shall not pass," and slamming its staff down a la Gandalf in the mines of Moria.

Then, Gail commented and asked about those backward steps and I wrote this huge comment and realized, uh, I should just make this a post. So here we are! Or at least the first installment of posts on backwards steps, as there will be more, I'm sure, because the Universe is Highly Amused in watching me fall on my ass as I stumble through my Lessons Learned.

Mental pauses: Griffin

Both horses have exhibited signs of needing mental breaks this year. Griffin's was notably at RBTR where his first LD proved too much for his head to handle. Gross oversight on my part. Bad human. UnFortunately for me, the Universe wasted no great time in letting me know of my error so I would address it better. Gee, thanks, Universe. Problem noted.

So realizing Griffin would need more time for his head and need more exercises to develop his mental game, I started hypothesizing. But in true form, slow human was slow (and stubborn!!) about making changes. So then, Universe presented me with an awesome (not) day where Griffin lost his shit (he *was* rude, for the record, but he (and the Universe) needed to get the point across to me, obvi) and we had a huge argument (read: emergency dismount followed by Griffin rampaging around the farm to avoid me) for nigh on two hours by the time all was said and done and we were on good-ish terms again.

And so, finally getting the point (thanks, Universe), I back pedaled reeaaall fast. Our schedule proceeded as follows from that point:
  •  Ground sessions on the lunge to reinforce listening and reinforce the fact that pressure on his mouth/the bit is not a reason to pitch a shit fit. We were mostly over this and doing well, but as with all things, one step forward, two steps back. Side reins returned and Griffin's head was reset to the Good Place.
  • Double long-lining was introduced to supplement the lunging sessions. Griffin took to this like a champ. Bravo, little horse, bravo.
  • Ground driving was tackled in full. Harness was acquired as was cart. The race was on to do all the ground driving to best prepare him for when I might finally have the cart restored. Race resembled the Space race in that one side would race forward with leaps and bounds only to stall out long enough for the other side to steadily catch up and surpass the first side. (The restoration progress would jump and leap then stall out while Griffin's progress was slow, steady, and predictable.)
  • Ground driving continued.
  • Cart was finished and we began work with it. Hurrah! There were small setbacks with it, but I did a pretty good job jumping not two, but three steps back as things came up because I wanted him to be nice and calm and not, you know, wreck. We were doing well, I thought! His calm demeanor the majority of the time let me know that it really was going well.
  • But, and there is always a but, we still had a wreck. And I knew it wasn't my fault and it wasn't his fault and the same thing probably would have happened even if he'd been doing this for a longer period of time. It was just a freak thing. And the thing that stands out most about it that shocked me the most then and shocks me the most now is HOW FORTUNATE WE WERE. No injuries to living, breathing beings occurred. SO FORTUNATE. I don't fault him. I don't fault myself. It is what it is and it happened and we learned from it. But also, we were forced to break from driving because I would need to make repairs to the harness and the cart. That's okay. We needed to take that time - or at least I did!
  • The Universe seemed to be pleased with itself for that wreck and the pause it put on us driving. I'd been avoiding riding Griffin but was now lured back into riding. And Griffin was SO READY for riding again. He excelled ride after ride. (After ride, after ride, after ride.)
  • Rides began at 20-30 minutes and stayed there. They were also occurring 2-4 times a week.
  • Then by coincidence and mostly accident (the Universe again), we had a 60 minute session one day! And Griffin, as politely as he could (occasional head shaking in protest instead of the former crow-hop or bucking), let me know his patience was waning, and I listened. I heard it was best to stop on a good note or something with horses? Huh. Go figure. ;-)
  • After that surprise hour-long session, our sessions more frequently extended into the 45-60 minute range and that's where we are now - with exception of two trail rides with one other horse and one solo trail ride, all of which far exceeded an hour's time.

Overall, these backward steps aren't very drastic or surprising. They're mostly as a result of luck and karma and whatsuch. They were necessary and wonderful and while slow human was slow, and stubborn redhead was stubborn, I've reformed and seem to be reaping tiny rewards from this progress. And I have small, fluid future goals in mind, but I'm not sharing them just yet. =)

Mental pauses: Q

Now, more drastic, semi-surprising backward steps! These belong to the mareface.

Q's confidence on trail has spiraled downward since the herd dynamic was altered in August of 2013. The introduction of TWO very, very studdy geldings followed by two more mares (who behave just fine, but introduce more estrogen than previously existed) to the herd sent Q into a tizzy. Fortunately, the geldings have both moved on. With the departure of the first, Q began to get a little better. With the departure of the second, she improved a little more.

However, the damage had been done. She and I were in a wicked place in comparison to where we once had been. A bad pattern between us in regards to her spooks was present and definitely didn't help her path to improvement. Her confidence was shot. My trust in her was shot. And so we battled back and forth time and time again.

I'm SO hard on myself in regards to working with this horse. I'm also exceedingly stubborn in a whole new way with her in comparison to other horses I've worked with at length! I'm a redhead, ergo I'm prone to stubbornness and being fiesty, but when I'm paired with Q it's exceptionally noticeable!

I'm very aware of this, and despite all of my setbacks and frustrations with this horse, I CANNOT for the LIFE of me figure out why I am still SO DETERMINED to make things work with her (and I mean work on a general scale here, not a specific discipline of riding)? My day dreaming often wanders to wonder Just What It Is about this mare that leaves me so stubbornly pursuing her? Is it because she rejects me like a middle school boy that leaves me trying SO hard for her affections and to get her to work with me as a team? In part. Maybe. Is it the pure challenge? In part. Maybe. Is it the knowledge that she'd likely end up at slaughter if I quit on her (because who would put up with her shit? I'm excessively tolerable of her shenanigans and my horse friends (mostly non-Arab) are continually impressed that I march onward with her)? In part. Maybe.

There is Just Something About Her that keeps me hooked. And even though I can't peg it on the head, I also can't shake the line that draws me to her. I have a feeling it's the Universe again. I think the Universe has a sense of humor and really likes to test me and watch me struggle as I slowly figure things out. I mean, hell, I'd laugh at me, too, if I could watch my struggles from afar. I bet it is quite comical! But seriously, there must be some Larger Purpose to my draw to this horse, because with other horses that pulled some of her crap I quit REAL fast and never looked back.

So...because I'm no fool (HAHAHA), and I'm picking up what the Universe is laying down, I started to pick up on Q's mental issues at the same time I was noting Griffin's. And, because I'm no fool (HAHA), I started hypothesizing things to help remedy Q's confidence and mental blocks before she and I had to dance our way through another cart-wreck incident of our own.

She's better about spooking that she was, but gah, it's still so much worse than it was for the first year and a half of our time together. And thus:

  • Q is getting a whole month off post-FV. This ends on the 24th of this month. 
  • Then for another month, or more, we will do ground driving (we've done it at random before, so I know she knows how). I'm setting the bar at a minimum of 20 sessions. These sessions will start around the *familiar* farm, and then into the back field, and then into the woods on the trails. I want to get her out there LEADING AND ALONE (no horse buddies) and see how spooky she is without me riding. We're going to get our confidence back (well, she's going to get her confidence back and I'm going to build my trust in her to not dump me so often back...because WE USED TO BE GREAT).
  • I'll gauge where she is after at least 20 sessions. We'll then either do more, or add riding back.
  • We'll also add more dressage work into our lives once her vacation from riding is over. She needs to get off the f*cking forehand. I'm sick of it and it's my fault she's there so often because I haven't done much to encourage correction. 
  • And then, we're going to spend more time walking on the trails than we did before. We'll rocket up the steeps, and relax on the flats and downs. She rarely if EVER spooks on an good incline because she's focused on the increased work and her job. 
  • Setting her up for success by only moving out on the ups initially should hopefully correlate to slowly moving out more on the flats and downs where she currently lacks confidence. We'll gain confidence doing the things that keep her calm, then extrapolate the good into her trouble areas as time goes on.
We'll see where this plan gets us by spring. I like this plan and am very, very cautiously optimistic that it will help us. You heard me, Universe, I'm very cautiously optimistic and guarding my rear end against another stumble where I land on my ass! My ride plans next year are tentative and fluid, and - as with Griffin's future goals - I'll share the goals I have for Q at a later time.

Universe, I see what you've done here. It's pretty good work. Sorry I was so slow and stubborn to catch on. I'm hard headed like that, you know, being a redhead and all. But I'm trying to learn from my mistakes! Truly. All the same, I'm sure I'll land on my ass again soon enough. I'll try to do it with a little more grace though.  ;-)

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