I've been trying to write this for a week and have had trouble. So I thought I'd look at what's troubling me. First, I tend to have trouble writing about horses anyway. Maybe they mean too much to me for words. Maybe it is that what I absolutely do NOT mean is training advice. Maybe it is that I tend to write "this happened then that happened" and get lost in that instead of what I mean to actually be conveyed in the description.
After I fixed it, I knew how I broke it. Although "fixed" and "broke" are the wrong words and if I could think of others I would surely use them.
For years I've ridden her outside, in the fields, in the open, with others and alone. But sometime in early winter she had a estrus from h*ll, fell in love with another mare, and threw a fit on me one day. A fit enough that she scared me. I'm not that easy to scare, but when I'm in the fields alone and think about the possibility that I could come off and it could be awhile before someone could find me, and that I could really get hurt, and that I have no insurance, and that it could be the last time I ride, I can get scared at my age. At 20 it wouldn't have phased me. At 54 (jebus no sh*t almost) it does and I'm not ashamed that it does, I just don't know what to do with it. Anyway, that day, that ride, the "broke" ride, I was mostly just irritated by the whole thing, a bad day, a bad ride, but I didn't really think that much about it. We went into the arena and finished our ride. I continued to ride her but we didn't do a whole heck of a lot of riding this winter and I didn't have the opportunity to go outside again for awhile.
And then, the next time I took her into the fields she was all pissy. Balky. "No, I'm not going." We went, but we didn't go far and we didn't go pretty.
She is a horse who can be really incredibly soft, if a little slow. And her feet are sticky. And she has trouble cantering. Not physically. But even in the field, you don't see her canter much. But I do love it when I go to get her in and when she hears me whistle and spots me, she comes to me. Mostly at a walk. Sometimes at a trot. Once, after getting chased by Annie, at a canter but I thought I'd take that anyway. Mostly at a walk. In the recent Michael Sparling clinic we participated in, one of the things that hit me as truth was, "Look at how she relaxes and her expression softens when she trusts that you mean to really move forward." Oh. Don't reassure; MOVE.
And so the day came again with a perfect opportunity to ride in the fields. Why those days always happen on open arena days beats me. Well, part of it is my and my family's current schedule. Sunday tends to work if the weather does, and Sunday is open arena. So there are people and frankly I don't want to get in a fight with her with people watching. People watching and maybe I'd give up too soon or fight for too long but I don't so much trust myself with people watching. Strangers anyway. So of course no one is there until I get her tacked up, then two trailers. So I have to trust myself anyway.
So, to avoid that blow by blow stuff, a major balk happened very soon, I used some approach retreat, I used some pressure release, I used some MOVE (yes that is better). And after we'd worked past that first balk, there was one more to which I said, "H*ll no" and to which she said, "I want to buck. . .oh no I don't either, I think I'll move and be rather happy about it", and then after that there were a couple of sticky feet moments which rather simple pressure release took care of, and that was pretty much it. And we just took a nice walkabout in the sun, in all the fields, and took in where the grown-up fence rows have been taken out, and did a little bit of precision "put this foot there" sorts of work but always in the process of having a nice walkabout.
Today we did it again with zero balks, and nearly no sticky feet, and real work where ever we happened to be, circles and closed serpentines and hq yields and all gaits and transitions and soft feel and work on breaking at the poll and not at the third vertebrae and halt and stand and relax and walkabout all.
It is a funny thing, a thing I don't understand and don't always know what to do with it, but as her confidence increases (she was THE *MOST* unconfident horse in the world), it comes out first as pissiness. I think I have to not be afraid to say a hard "Oh h*ll no" because, counter-intuitive to me, that is not going to decrease her confidence in herself but actually increase it in me.