One of my February goals has been to start taking Immy to the AquaTread once a week. It is great conditioning, helps counter work we do on the dirt, and it super for desensitization. Plus, we get to practice trailer loading as well as leaving Big Sister behind (which is very traumatic). I picked Wednesday for this, so I could ride on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and have a break in the middle.
Tuesday's ride did not happen due to a well-needed date night, so Immy spent the day galloping like a maniac out in the big field instead.
Wednesday morning came bright and early, and I fed the girls, hooked up my trailer, and recruited S to come help get her on. Immy wasn't particularly keen, and ignored both of us for a moment while she called for P, who was making a right fool of herself with her mad galloping and screaming. (How old are you again, mare?) Finally, S got tired of it, and gave her a decent whap on the hiney with a dressage whip. Immy walked straight on after that - sometimes, you just have to law down a little law.
At the other facility, I unloaded her and settled her into a paddock with her hay net. She did some trotting around and calling for all of her old friends, then quieted and ate her hay for awhile. When I went to go catch her, she took one look at me like "forget it, lady" and walked off. She didn't go far, but I was not particularly amused.
She redeemed herself in the pool barn by standing like a sweet little angel, totally immobile and silent. Atta girl!
Getting into the pool itself? She was not particularly amused with the idea. Last time - which was her first time - she went plowing right in, completely surprised at how she had ended up there. I've seen loads of them do exactly the same thing, and banked on her doing exactly what those kinds of horses all do the second time they get in - BALK. She spent about 5 minutes going "no, no way, oh hell no, nope, no..." until she finally told us to go screw ourselves and went backwards. We train all our horses to go into the AquaTread in the same way: stop and let them think, ask for one step at a time, reward each attempt at forward movement lavishly, and sharply correct backwards movement. All the horses learn that there is only one way to go (forwards), but they are never beaten, dragged in with ropes, or drugged. I've seen literally hundreds go in, and trained god knows how many of them, and this method really works. I don't have one horse that I see that doesn't just walk right in, once they learn how. When Immy went backwards, she got a swift spank in the butt from M, and she promptly changed her mind. Much like with the trailer that morning, she just walked her little self right in, carefully and methodically.
If you notice, she's trying REALLY hard to turn her head all the way around to look at the other horses in the barn - hence why she is tied to the other side. P did the same thing at first, and I had to tie her over there to straighten her out just the same. She'll figure it out shortly, they all do!
We took a stab at breed guessing while she was working out, and settled at a probable Quarab. I mean, have you SEEN that butt lately?
She rounded out the day by completely 100% surprising me - she walked on the trailer with no hesitations whatsoever. She just followed me right in! That was the first time I have solo-loaded her with absolutely no issues at all. Granted, we WERE going home instead of leaving home, but still. I was super impressed with her, and can't wait to see what she does next time!
As for Thursday, well... that was more or less a bit failure. She's been teetering on the edge of hard to catch again, probably because life is hard when you are hopelessly attached to your pasture mate, and your person like to take you away from your best friend and your food. It was all peachy keen when we were just hanging out in the pasture eating snacks together and being friends, but it is a very different situation with her now being in training. More than anything, I want to remain her friend, but there are certain lines I have to draw, and certain rules to follow. Thursday was pedicure day for the girls, and I pulled both of them out, starting work on Immy first. Having seen the hoof stand about a million times, she spooked at it hard for whatever reason, and basically went leaping forward away from it when I brought it over. She was tied, and half ran me over in the process. Instinctively, to get her off of me, I raised a hand and popped her in the chest. I didn't strike her in anger, I didn't beat her senseless, and I didn't hurt her in any way, but in her mind I may as well have, because she shot backwards to the end of her rope and acted like I was the scariest person on earth. She wanted absolutely nothing to do with me after that, though she tolerated her trim - I had proved to her that I was a terrifying monster, and she wanted no part in my company.
Working with an abused, reactive horse is very, very hard. They are very big, very strong animals who could potentially hurt you very seriously, if either a) you frighten them with your disciplines, or b) you cater too much to their pasts, don't lay down enough rules, and let them run all over you because you are too worried about scaring them with disciplines. It's a seriously fine line. What do you let slide, and what isn't acceptable, at the risk of scaring them? There isn't really a proper answer, especially with a horse like Imogen. Honestly, I did what I needed to do in the situation - I don't allow my horses to trample me, just because something they've seen a million times is scary today for whatever reason - but now I have the task of proving to her that I am not scary, she can still trust me, and that there are still some rules that need to be followed, even if things are scary... and if you don't follow the rules, there is a consequence to it.
Easier said than done, of course. Yesterday, I had a mare who took off in the other direction away from me at breakfast time. Her desire to eat grainfoods overcame her concerns, and she let me walk up to her and catch her. Undaunted, I came back at lunchtime to just hang out with the ladies, and spent a good long while sitting next to their shed, basking in the sun. P-mare came over and hung out with me for a long time, while Immy stood peering out at me from behind the shed, not brave enough to come over.
I got up on P for a little bareback ride in our new hackamore, which was wonderful. It really is nice to get on an old steady-Eddie type horse when you've been working with a greenie. She looks lovely in this getup, don't you think?
After our lunchtime ride, Immy still didn't want to be caught, so I let P out with the boys into the big field for a few hours while I went back to the main farm to feed. Immy was NOT happy about this arrangement, but she wouldn't be caught, so... sorry mare! I can't help you if you won't come to me!
We went for another bareback jaunt around the big field that evening, which was just as nice, and at this point Immy was ready for some attention. She came right to the gate for catching, and let me rub on her without jumping or scooting away from me. She was the same today - she was easy to catch, and more than happy to be petted and loved on for the most part. It was crappy and misty out, so I left them alone, wanting to leave Immy on a positive note.
We've done this several times before. Sometimes, something is just a little too much for Immy, and we need to back off for a few days or a week before continuing on. It just takes time... lots and lots of time. Looking at my list of yearly goals, I think they may be too lofty for what is realistically achievable this year. I don't see any need to push her or go faster than I feel like she is capable of mentally handling, so everything comes one day at a time. She should be further along in her saddle training than she is, but honestly I am not getting on this mare unless she is relaxed and trusting me. It's a recipe for disaster, and a good way to sour her off saddle work quickly. We'll continue training when we re-establish some relaxation and trust on her part, but not until then.
The most important thing is to keep being consistent and quiet with her, showing her that I am not going to surprise her out of nowhere by doing something seriously unexpected or mean. And, if she DOES do something completely unacceptable (like run me over), that the counter-response on my part will be a quick correction and not a full-out abusive assault.
Time, time, patience, and more time is what this mare needs. Did I mention time?