So today, my trainer took me and another lady to Robertson Park, which is where the gymkhanas are held, and various other events. Its a HUGE rodeo sized arena.
About five minutes in, I got dumped in the dirt, HARD.
Good start to the day, right?
So, what happened was we got there, went in the arena, and started walking around to warm up. Pony was definitely calmer than she was at the gymkhana, but still clearly slightly wound up.
I did a few circles, then started to walk along the rail. Next to one of the big pillars that holds up the arena, was a huge log, on the outside of the arena. What it is doing there? I have no idea. However, pony did not like it being there.
We passed the pillar and she saw the log and did a classic 'i'm going nowhere near that' and walked as sideways as she could to get away from it. What I did to try and remedy it, was to put my inside leg on her, to block her from drifting in and get her back on the rail.
Apparently, it was not the right thing to do. When she felt me blocking her, and her having nowhere to go except the spook, it really scared her and she splooged out from underneath me before I could even realize she was moving. I hit the ground SO hard.
My trainer explained to me that the better thing would have been to give her a place to go that is away from the spook, but then continue to circle her around until she was facing it again. That way she has a release, she is going where I am telling her to go, but she doesn't feel trapped and lose her mind. In case that was hard to understand, basically instead of pushing her into the rail with my leg, when she starts to drift into the arena to direct her into the arena and make a small circle right back onto the rail where the spook was.
Later, that definitely worked much better. However, I have a torn up elbow, a hip with sand burn on it (rug burn basically) and a HUGE swollen knee where I landed on the ground. I have fallen so many times, but I think this one hurt more than any other. I think that is because if someone is holding you a few feet off the ground and just drops you, it would hurt more than if someone threw you sideways from a few feet off the ground. At least, that makes sense to me, when they're moving faster, you have more propulsion so you can kind of skid or roll, not just drop like dead weight!
Anyways, she was a somewhat crazy pony. Well, okay, she was crazy. My trainer had me take her to one end of the arena and just trot her in a circle, then spiral the circle, do a figure 8, spiral the circle, do some circles, just super repetitive movement to get her to relax. For her, this is what gets her to relax, and its really the only way to handle her effectively. She's like a little kid, she needs one thing to focus on, and once she's ready, her entire body seems to just melt, her head drops a little, her trot becomes sitable, her movements less choppy...its really cool how she just lets you know.
However, to get to that point, it took a good 30 minutes of trotting in circles. Once she was giving me a really good responsive slow trot, I worked on going up and down the arena, doing a few circles in between. Once she was asking me to take a break, I knew that she was calming down. I then spent time walking, then trotting, walking, then trotting her. We were doing much better. Both the other riders were down at one end of the arena, and she kept doing a good trot away from them, then trying to speed up back to them. My remedy? She got to trot away from them, and walk back to them. Then, I started letting her rest wherever she didn't want to be. She got to trot circles over by her friends, then trot to the other end and rest. She decided being alone was pretty cool after all haha.
Eventually, I asked for a lope. She gave me great stuff! She then got a bit wound up, and we spent about another 5-10 minutes circle trotting again, but she came back to me MUCH quicker and easier. Then, we were able to have a easy lope again! We were able to lope down the length of the arena in a controlled fast paced lope.
I was VERY happy with the quality of work that she gave me. Even my trainer said that she was impressed with how responsive and also the speed of gaits that she gave me. It took A LOT of work, but it paid off in the end. Although it was physically and mentally draining for both me and pony, I left on a really good note. I was really happy to be able to work her down from her crazies with repetitive trotting, and I'm happy to know that next time I'm at a show, thats exactly what I can do.
Its tough, because when your doing it, it doesn't seem like it'll work. It feels out of control, and like she is never going to settle down, but time after time, it does work, after however long she needs.
My trainer made the point that very often in horseback riding, people want things to be immediate, but in reality, you may get 9 cruddy stops before you get a good one. Especially when we're in a new place, or doing something unfamiliar, we have to give our horses time to work through whatever they need to, whether it means five minutes of trotting or 35 minutes!
After I fell, and pony got spooked at a piece of paper in the arena and crow hopped and tried to gallop away, my trainer told me that she was happy to get on her and work her if that would help as well. I thought about it, because after I fell I was pretty frustrated with the fact that I was in for toads wild ride, and didn't want to deal with it, and my confidence was a little diminished, since I fell at a walk (I mean, who does that!).
But I thought about it. Why was I slightly nervous/scared?
Was I afraid of falling? No, I've fallen enough to know I'm always fine.
Was I afraid of her bolting with me? No, she's never done that and honestly she doesn't lose her head, a little rein will get her to stop, if not I know how to do a one rein stop, although I have never had to use it.
What I was really afraid of is the 'out of control' feeling I get when she's trotting miserably, cantering miserably and doesn't want to walk. The remedy to this is obviously the trotting exercises I have already explained. But it is really honestly tough. She trots through my leg cues, shes goes unbearably fast, she shakes her head, and its all her nervous energy being released. She has to have time to work through it. I could easily let my trainer get on her and do that 30 minutes of trotting, and hand me a good pony to work with the rest of the ride.
But does that conquer my fear? Not at all. It bypasses the problem. If I can't solve it on my own, then it's never going to get better. I need to be able to bring her back to me, no matter how long of terrible trotting it takes. I need to work with her and show her that I will persist until she gives me some good work, and that she can go ahead and let go of all that nervousness.
So it was a pretty rough day, I am super sore and will definitely be tomorrow, but in the end I feel really good about myself for persisting and not sweeping the rough stuff under the rug.