How it's been going...
My recent sessions with Iona have not been brilliant. Rapport, Respect, Impulsion and Flexion have all been wobbly. I seem to break one component trying to fix another. I've been doing my best to do lots of different activities and spend undemanding time, and well as trying to progress tasks I would like to improve with her. So mostly the rapport is pretty good. She will often follow me around or volunteer to help with herd movement at liberty - stuff like that. I see her acting like a partner. But we are still snarled up with respect and impulsion, and so naturally some forms of flexion (like ribs) are not happening either.
Last week I got Mark to video me. I played with some circles (lots of grumpy faces, etc) and also did some riding. Just a basic session of Point to Point. When I asked for trot there was the usual kicking out and little bucks, etc. I have sent these to 5* instructor David Lichman, to see what input he will give me.
When I sat down to write him a note to send with the DVD I realised that my approach to PNH has always been about learning stuff to further my horsemanship skills. Perhaps I have prioritised this over actually focussing on Iona's journey. I'm so interested in experiencing every task and technique from every possible angle that I sometimes fail to consider how Iona feels about that, and hold back a more linear form of progress that we need as a team. That was a huge realisation! So now I need to make some adjustments to myself to get us out of this.
And then today...
We started with some Friendly Game with the "clippers" which was actually a battery powered shaver thingy of Mark's. Well, it buzzes and it's what I have. We've had a few sessions with this before. Very sporadic and haven't made a lot of progress. My observation is that she is not much more "afraid" of it whether it is turned on and buzzing or turned off. Iona just doesn't like small unfamiliar objects, and it's easy to increase her scepticism rather than decrease it, by making too big a deal out of it.
If I were to rate her "fear" on a 1-10 scale, I would say that today we started at a 2 or 3. Probably she was only a 5-6 or something at the first session. However, with Iona it's sometimes a case of "I am sceptical. Why should I mess with that? If you ask me to then I will act agressive, or maybe shut down. I don't DO curiousity!" So it's difficult to get her to follow an object, for example. I have tried things like just leaving the shaver running beside the grooming kit while we groom or play, leaving it running beside a pile of hay. trying to play Touch It with it, rubbing her all over with it. It's often been difficult to find a good note to end on, however, the two or three sessions we've done have probably chipped away at the scepticism a little.
Today my intuition told me that a slightly more direct approach might work better. Denise was also watching us, and strangely, the fact that I was giving her a commentary on what I was doing and how I was reading Iona, actually helped my focus and assertiveness, and my flow. As usual, it was hard to get her to follow the shaver in my hand, even turned off. She just leans on the rope, so I had to keep turning and turning to unstick her feet. We weren't progressing. So I was bolder and just started rubbing her with it. As usual she's fine behind the drive line, but has trouble in front of it, especially along her crest or toward her poll and ears. This brought on some threatening me with her ribs and shoulder, but I just bumped her hard, with rhythm, in the ribs with my elbow until that softened.
At this point I was able to play approach and retreat with the areas of her neck she was okay with and expand them. She had some mildly RBI moments, but I felt that they were mild, and she wasn't going to explode, so I quietly hung in there until she would blink or breathe, and encouraged her to do things like lower her head. So the "retreat" was more like a change in my energy, rather than removing the stimulus. It worked, and I felt we made a lot of progress in a fairly short session.
We went out to the playground to do some circley things. I'm now pretty happy with the trot laps and trying to progress to more canter laps. How to make it her idea? I sent her out and she took off at a slow walk. So I decided to just leave her out there walking for quite a few laps. It doesn't require much effort from her, but there is no release/reward, either. Eventually, I asked her to trot a little, then canter a few strides and brought her in. We did that a couple of times. If it was good, I threw in a treat. Then we did a few transitions and changes of direction, but always ending with canter before I disengaged her. Her attitude was pretty positive and I was careful to look for a good canter with enthusiasm to finish with. I then unclipped the line and wandered over to help Denise with Dakota for a little while.
On the new Levels DVDs - in L2 there is a wonderful segment on 7 Games with an Obstacle, where Pat introduces the Figure 8 to a new horse. He starts with the horse just circling both markers; then he sends the horse out between the markers, but still just circles both; next he adds in a change of direction through the markers, but still it's just circling; then finally he moves from a circle to a couple of full Figure 8s and back to a circle. I knew Iona would love this, and she did. Of course, as soon as she saw the markers she started trying to do Figure 8. "I know this! I don't like it very much, either. Hey! What are you doing? Huh! You're messing it all up. I like it better this way. Look, I'm gonna do some proper ones now, okay?" It really blew her mind. She could see that I was being very particular about her going out and around those markers, but where was the Figure 8??? We really had a lot of FUN with this.
After another break we also tried mixing up Figure 8 and Weave, which is on the same DVD chapter. That wasn't as great, but I can see how it will help our success in another session.
By now I had the bareback pad on and took her out to a large odd shaped area of the pasture that is currently fenced off, to do Follow the Rail. It's 15 or 20 acres and has about 6 or 7 corners, so I figured it would be more stimulating than the playground. It also has some grass! Our last few FTR sessions have been all about bucking and throwing a tantrum. However, I decided that the bareback pad was a good choice anyway. I know I am "softer" in it, because I don't want to get chucked off! I did decide not to ride with my carrot stick, though, because if she's bucking and I'm trying to push and maybe steer or keep her head up, I just don't have enough hands. My plan was to make it a bit of a corners game, and just walk, then ask for trot shortly before each corner, then reward her with a rest. The first "side" was quite short, and she immediately saw my plan. (Smartie!) She liked the plan! Same with the next side. The third side was almost 1/4 mile long. Her impulsion was great, so I decided to play around with walk/trot/back-up transitions. No problem. We got to the 3rd corner with hardly a correction, in canter, not trot! The whole thing went like that. The only thing she wasn't up for was direct rein turns in trot. I'm pretty sure that she sensed that these would lead on to Bow Tie type simple changes in canter, which she has objected to lately. Today was not the day to pick a fight with her, when her impulsion was otherwise fabulous! If I can get the impulsion established more dependably, then we will re-establish picking up canter leads, I'm sure.
I hopped off, and we had quite a long walk back to the tack room door. I took the pad off and brushed her, gave her a drink. She just wanted to hang out there with me. I had a little sit down on a bench while she just stood by me. Eventually I suggested that I might turn her out. I don't think she really cared one way or the other.