[HOW TO] FREESTYLE RIDING | PART FOUR: CONFIDENCE BUILDING
I am SO in love with this picture! Don't need to explain why, right? So let's talk about the adventure we had, two weeks ago in the arena.
This time, I decided to grab her with not a halter - but the Neck Rein instead. Look at how both JP and Luther are interested in me, with JP even walking up to me (like she usually does, but this is a great picture of that moment!).
Walking with me to the grooming spot with again, only the Neck Rein. She's chewing and licking right when this photo was taken and look at how low her head is, her eyes are softly closed and her ears still back from where I was rubbing her, which she was totally fine with.
All good signs, she showed me her calm and motivated self, instead of a nervous, jumpy bambi. While grooming her, I sometimes tie her to the post or let her graze or roam around or stand still. Basically, she KNOWS what I want from her so if I kind of play a little with everything and then come back to standing still every now and then.
So this is her grooming area, a square block right between the grooming post and her stall. When she roams free while I'm grooming her/switching brushes/getting tack, she knows she has to stay in this square (or come visit me in the tack room :').
Notice how the Neck Rein has dropped down to her ears because she lowered her head to graze on some grass. I've explained in the first blog why it's important to let them experience this, so here's JP grazing and not giving a damn about that rope thing hanging there.
Walking towards the round pen together, this used to be a tricky thing; She had a hard time leaving her 'friends' in the back behind and she made a habit out of 'attacking' all other horses she came across while walking to the arena or round pen.
When there's no one else around, working or holding a horse, I flip my reins over her saddle (since they're long enough for her to reach for the ground and she won't hurt herself if she steps on them) and just let her follow me.
After a simple groundwork session in liberty (move their feet forwards, backwards, left and right) we went back to relaxation and some energy work to lower our vibration.
When getting in the saddle, I ask all horses to tip their nose towards me before and during I mount. When I have both feet in the stirrups, I release and let them relax and maybe stretch a little bit before preparing them for the next move.
Walking away while mounting is something JP ALSO used to do, it was a hell of a job to get her to calm down and agree with you with a snaffle/bit, but so far - with no bit - I haven't experienced her taking off yet. Even without reins she bents her neck and offers her head while I safely get on her.
We walked around the round pen together, backing up and trotting /jogging away. She even offered canter-walk transitions which is hard work for her so I praised her for her effort and then we played with speeding up and slowing down in the canter (something she LOVES).
I love how soft her whole look is, this photo is taken right when I praise her for.. well I don't really remember since I praise her A LOT, so never mind! But still, just look at her proud and happy vibe!
With this energy/in this flow, we continued our way towards the arena, where - SURPRISE - the owner of the rescue showed up with one of his horses to work with. He asked if I was okay with sharing the arena with him. I figured, "Why Not?". I felt like our foundation was solid enough to handle this sudden change of events and since everything was going really well so far, why not just go for it? NO 'trying', it's DO or DON'T.
Remember, JP is not a big fan of other horses so this was a BIG test for the both of us;
- Can I convince her to stay with me, rather than pick a fight with the other mare?
- Can I keep both our energies/vibrations low enough to let her easily flow from right- to left brain but high enough to keep her engaged and motivated so she's still able to learn and absorb everything?
Of course, the reins didn't come off until I had a conversation with JP about the far end of the arena being 'our space' and the first square belonging to the other horse and human. The owner of the ranch, working with his horse, had a stick in his hand that has a plastic flag on the end of it. He swung it around, hit the barrels or the ground with it to desensitize his horse. I just steered JP a little bit away from them, so she SPOOKED!! Just a second, then she turned around to see what the HAY that was! Right at that time the scary plastic thing moved again, so she began to turn away from it and try to trot away.
Instead, I reminded her of some things;
- if you ever feel like something's wrong, turn to me
- if you ever feel like you're in danger, turn to me
- not all energy frequencies are for you (JP's so sensitive, she's like a radio that's constantly picking up every frequency and energy that comes with it)
We walked in a small square near the other horse (I kept disengaging her hindquarters when she tried to trot away) and I kept 'telling' her "It's not for you. It's not for you. It's not for you." All while I was riding her like I didn't even see the other horse, and the vibe she/they we're giving off. I kept asking her the same thing, just calm around and walk with me, it's not for you. It amazed me how quickly she just settled down, like she remembered. She went like "Oh.... yeah... right." and then we walked out of our square and proceeded our calm walk around the right half of the arena.
Such a happy girl!! With the reins still on, I decided to 'test' all gaits in both directions and frequently asked for back-ups and stops.
She did everything while maintaining a happy and focused (on the camera, lol) face!
The turn towards the inside of the arena, to stay on our side of the arena.
So now we're trotting without reins, and will you look at that! She's spotted the camera again!
Unfortunately, we've only managed to capture the moment AFTER, but a few seconds before this picture was taken, things almost went South.
I asked for a canter, which she did perfectly. And then I felt her speeding up (I thought towards the other horse) so I IMMEDIATELY asked for a Neck Rein Stop. Or whatever I'm supposed to call it now. But the fun thing is, she responded! In the picture above you still see the dust clouds of the sudden turn and stop she did and me leaning forward because I got almost thrown out of the saddle. This girl can STOP!
So, knowing that hitting the brakes still works, I decided to just speed up and GO for it!! Watch below:
Of course I am still so proud of her, she came a long way from being a rescue/anxious/neglected/mistreated/misunderstood/whatever-kind-of-lable-horse, to becoming a balanced, relaxed and happy horse.
I'm well aware of the bumpy road that's still ahead of us, so don't expect AMAZING stories from now on. Well, you can hope a little, of course! As do we. But the road to succes/healing/reaching your goals/dreams is not linear. It's a road you take, paving a path together and finding out what works for you.
Setbacks can be frustrating, but it gives you time and space to break things down and see if there's any piece of the puzzle missing. Taking this road with JP has offered me a lot of insights about myself, about my life, the people in it and what I want. I can't convince her (or anyone, for that matter) to feel safe and respected in my presence. I can't force her to relax if I'm the one that's breathing anxiously around her.
Horses that have been mistreated (or worse) can have a lot of negative triggers, that will immediately send them back to that state of mind where they behave in the exact same way as when they first came to the rescue/new owners.
Allowing them to explore the World of Relaxation that's out there, giving them time and space to do it on their own (with you there to guide them through it), unlocks all typical signs of Left Brain thinking like licking, chewing, yawning, blinking, rolling with their eyes, peeing, sighing. Signs that they're able to think, and rationalize instead of running away and flee.
Try to play with it on your own!! You can introduce them to something new and let them figure out what it means. You can place a barrel or other new object in the arena and see if you can get your horse to sniff it - touch it - investigate it - flip it over - roll it - you name it!
Don't force your horse to do anything, Think of it like you're having a decent conversation with someone, without using words and you'd like them to get comfortable around the barrel/object. The more comfortable they can get, the better! If you notice anxious, nervous or unsure behavior, try to work from a farther distance to get you and your horse more comfortable around/with the new object/situation.
When your horse settles down, you can slowly and gradually close in on the object by making your circles smaller or by using approach and retreat.
See what works for the both of you!