Shiraz can be a vastly different horse from one ride to the next. She can be a relaxed, happy potato (rarely), opinionated and confrontational to work (occasionally), or nervous, distracted and jiggity (mostly). I have been playing around with ways to promote relaxation and my coach has been helpful as well.
In my own rides I am focusing on two things:
I need to draw firm lines of what I expect and not slack off on those lines. This means mounting block manners are nonnegotiable and pissy attitude under saddle is getting a quick correction every time. This may seem obvious and basic but it is amazing how many little things I let slide under the radar when I don't remind myself to be strict. She is the boss mare in her paddock now, so I need to be diligent in showing her she is not top of the pecking order out of the paddock.
Not just in Shiraz, but myself. I have had some great sessions lately in the indoor on my own. Shiraz has issues going past the large door at one end in particular as that has the most activity outside. The door is closed now for the winter but you can still occasionally hear people walking by talking or horses in the paddock close by. My instinct was to ride 'ready to survive a spook' going by. I tried very hard not to tighten up but I also stayed aware of keeping my legs long and seat deep, reins not too long. This has been a huge fail.
On Friday, I put myself on a 20-meter circle and forced us to go past the scary door over and over. I tried everything I could think of to relax. I put a standard in the center of the circle and focused on it. Then at the trot I worked on correct bend and tried to find a steady rhythm. Every time we approached the door, Shiraz would raise her head and tense. On every off-side to the door she would relax and step longer. With her tensing, I reacted every time with prepping to be safe, adjusting the reins slightly. With her relaxing, so would I relax. Hhmmppphhh.
I decided against all better life-preserving judgement to change the pattern. As we approached the door and her head came up, I lengthened the reins and breathed out. Instead of scooting by the door, Shiraz lowered her head and TROTTED BY RELAXED. fml.
We all know, our reaction to our horse's actions reinforces their actions. But when your horse's action is dangerous, it is near impossible not to react in a self-preserving manner. I need to work on how I react. I mean, I want to live, but there has to be a way out of this cycle of fear begetting fear.
My coach is has been wonderful about helping with this. In our last lesson we worked on finding relaxation. We started with alternating one circle on the bit and focusing on a specific task like correct bend, outside flexion, working on my two-point, etc. and then one full lap of loose-rein trot, and repeat. As we went, Shiraz started to relax and loosen up over her back. Her steps are naturally so short but after a while her steps were definitely getting longer and posting became easier as she started to use her body better. It proved to be quite helpful in getting Shiraz on board with the remainder of the jump lesson and relaxing us both.
My coach said something I found very helpful at the time:
"It's not about trusting Shiraz. She is young and has moments that you are not going to be able to avoid right now. But trust yourself. You have ridden some pretty freaky moments with a great seat and are not coming off. Trust that you can handle it because you have already proven you can."
The truth is, most of the spooks are ridable and the fact that I am letting anxiety take over and ruin how I feel about riding needs to stop somehow. Anyone have success shutting down anxiety with riding? I have a few ideas to work with (and not just more alcohol, lol), but would love to hear any advice on calming the F down when it comes to spooks.