This weekend is a schooling show, and this time we are actually entered. We have ride times at 10:18 and 10:36 on Sunday. I'm feeling a little bit more prepared for this than I was last time, and not just because I've had a month more of work with Phil.
My main issue was the spooking thing. Phil will spook like any young horse will, but the problem is when he does spook he gets scared that I'm going to punish him. So it makes the spook like ten times worse.
I tried just riding it out, trying to be really gentle and forgiving, but things didn't seem to be getting much better. The spook would turn into a bolt where he would be running blind across the arena. This was scary, and I tried really hard to just relax and try to ride. It was difficult, because it didn't always happen, and it didn't happen enough for me to really make progress on it.
I spoke to a few people, and then talked to my trainer. She thought that maybe I wasn't really insisting that he yield to my hand aids, and that he didn't understand that he shouldn't resist my hand. She also thought it would just take time, and we'd just have to work on it.
The next time I rode him I realized that I was being kind of lax about his acceptance of my hand. I would let him push through my hand at the half halt, and during transitions. He would be come resistance and use this as an evasion to being submissive to my hand.
Well, that needed to stop. I decided right there that he was no longer allowed to evade my hand by being resistant. When he ignored my hand and tensed up his neck, I would gently but firmly take his head away from him to the side. I would remove his evasion without punishment, and then when he submitted I praised him and carried on riding.
Then I had an idea. A gal was walking though the arena and I said to her "Hey, can you wave your hands at my horse as I ride by to spook him?" She said sure. All she did was wave her hands and sure enough, he spooked. But I was ready. He spooked, then prepared to check out, but I was one step ahead of him and I took away his head, which diffused the steam he was building up. Then I praised him, and rode on. She spooked him for me on purpose three other times, and by the third time it was a much smaller spook and not as big of a deal.
I am hoping he will see that spooking is not going to result in punishment, and that it's ok to spook as long as he gets back to work. I was trotting him when the controlled spooking was going on. I figure a few weeks of this and then I can move to spooking him at the canter. That's when things usually result in a huge uncontrolled bolt. So if I'm ready, and we've been practicing the "it's not acceptable to resist my hand" plan, then the spooks should become less and less of a big deal. I'll be more ready to deal with them, and he'll get spooked enough that he'll get used to it.
Now let me be clear - I'm not having people severely haze my horse. All they will do is wave their arms, or do something unexpected like stamp a foot in his direction. He needs to get used to making what he thinks is a mistake, and then not being punished. Eventually he'll see that it's okay, and I'm not going to be mean. I'll be firm, but fair.
So, what that plan, we shall prepare for the horse show tomorrow. Here we go!
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