It's great to hear about other people's experience with giving the horse a say.
I was wondering, Dr.Deb, can you give any thoughts on what to do when I become aware that Traveler's focus is wandering? I mean when he's alarmed, or - as it feels - looking for things to maybe get alarmed about, either in the public arena where we ride, or on the trails. (He's great on trails through the canyons once we get there, esp.with other horses; can be quite skeptical of backyard trails, traffic, etc., and we spend a lot of time in retreat-and-re-approach, building his confidence.)
You said to catch the birdie before it's already flown, which is a great goal. I've noticed, in the last few days of taking your thoughts to the barn with me, that often I sense he's losing the connection and I call his attention and that's nice - at least that prevents him bracing up totally, which was his m.o. and is the reason I got such a fine horse so cheaply - so I make some progress, but it's a continuous thing. I'll call his attention, seat, leg, voice, rein, whatever it takes, and then he'll go back to the thing that's bothering him and I'll call him again, etc. Sometimes the rocking-back-then-forward thing is called for, or the classic circle-back-and-re-approach-and-wait... eventually he'll settle and we'll proceed. (I don't even want to get into the subject of some of the friends I ride wi8th, plowing ahead and calling to me not to "spoil" him - let's not go there.)
I guess I should also level that I'm challenged to stay emotionally neutral when he does "go into business for himself" and decide something is worth bracing about. My natural tendency is to feel disappointed about that and get mad - after two years of doing my best (well usually) to build his confidence, and his trust in me. So that's a spiritual challenge for me, to stay focused and accept his nature, and even enjoy it - not always so easy when there are other frustrations in life that are no fault of his.
My question is - when I feel his attention wandering, can you or others on the forum please share ways to stay in touch with him before the connection breaks - when I feel like the rubber band is starting to stretch?
I have suddenly hit a brick wall with my horse. We were doing so well with our riding relationship and now he doesn't' want to go forward to the trot calmly like I have taught him. The other day I had to just walk him for about an hour before his eye softened and he did the snorting like he does when he is finally with the program. He appeared to be holding his breath. Because I won't allow him to go badly, I didn't allow him to trot because he became completely braced the minute I asked for it. He is back to spooking every time I ride when it is dark outside the arena and he will not be calm at all, at those times. The only time I have felt that he was present was the other day when I let him go over a couple of baby jumps. He seemed very happy to do that work. Does this mean I need to let him be a jumper again and he is maybe bored with our dressage? His lack of calm/focus is sort of scary to me.
Is this a case of the birdie being gone? I really don't understand this. He is great when we do our ground mannering exercises, it's just in the saddle he seems very unhappy now. Does he maybe just need a good swift kick? Maybe I'm being too nice to him. How do you decipher if it is a discipline, or truly a focus problem?