A couple of folks suggested I try a running martingale on Trax.
So as always, when someone suggests something, I take it to heart and try to determine if it is the right answer.
I did some reading, did some thinking, and then discussed it with my trainer.
He basically said that they work great for some horses. He also said that some horses get into trouble with them, because they feel "trapped". He said we could try it if I wanted.
I let that sink in for a moment.
What happens when Trax feels trapped? He runs like hell.
And if that doesn't get him untrapped? He bucks...like hell.
I envision previous roper owner sailing tits over teakettle into the dirt. (ok, yes I admit I giggle a little)
I've not been through that with Trax. Nor do I care to.
I think some more.
I think about our training sessions. I think about flexing him at the jaw. I think about how in just a couple of months I/we have been able to get him to trust me enough as a rider to let him self relax and drop his head. He is learning to move off the hind. He is learning, in spite of my lack of riding skills. In spite of me, and with Marks help, we are slowly undoing years of damage. It is taking time.
It reminds me of when I was new in recovery. I was broken. I wanted an easy fix to make me better again. I wanted a magic potion that I could take to help me instantly make better decisions, quit with the bad habits, change my way of thinking. There wasn't one. I had to do the foot work and ask God to guide me. I fell down, I made mistakes, but I kept pushing forward. Slowly, over time, and only by the grace of God, (and the help of a sponsor) was I able to get better at it. But it took a long time. It is still an ongoing process.
Thus, is the story of "Makin Trax". He is broken, just like I was. He needs help learning to make the right decisions. He needs to decide that he wants to get along. It needs to be his decision to rate me when I ask, it needs to be his decision to stop when I ask. He has to make the decision to trust me. Granted, there are things I can do to help him make the right decisions,(insert "Make the right decision easy and the wrong decision hard") but the decision still has to be his. Other wise it is just a tug of war, and I will lose every time. If I lose, he fails. Trax has begun to make the right decisions, all on his own, unless he feels like he can't trust his rider. Then he takes the control back.
That arena, that event, was like a trigger for him. I'm sure it took him right back to his roping days. "run fast, pain, run fast, pain pain pain, run away, get out, I want out, I want out, I can't handle it, I want out"
Then I was nervous, I put expectations on him that he wasn't ready for. He was trying to tell me that he was uncomfortable in the situation I had put him in. Instead of understanding, I got frustrated, and yes I got angry at him. Instead of backing up and breaking it down to a place he could relax, I let my emotions escalate which triggered him even more. That's really sugar coating it, the truth is, I got mad and I took it out on him. Yeah, we didn't get that part on video, but it wasn't pretty. He said, "Hey I'm really bothered here." and instead of showing him that he could trust me, I showed him that he absolutely could not. In doing so I set him up to fail.
I failed my horse.
The only thing I did right that day was recognize what was happening with me and stop it. But truthfully it was already too late. He "relapsed" because I took him into a "trigger" situation without giving him the support he needed to be ok. I took a horse with serious trust issues, took him to a place that does not have good memories for him, and then reinforced everything he believed to be true.
I failed my horse.
So what do I do different next time?
Well I start by going back to the drawing board at home and with our lessons. Break it back down to where he is relaxed again at home and at Marks. I have to rebuild the trust again. I don't think it will take much. (he still follows me around like a stalker, he still runs to the gate when I come out in the morning) Then I will take him to the fair grounds to ride at least a couple of times before the next show. It will be just like at home only at the place where he/we fell apart, but without the pressure.
Then for the next show I will just focus on us and our riding. I will warm up properly, and I won't stop warming up until he can rate me and drop his head and relax. It might take longer than normal because his stress level will be higher, but it will take as long as it takes and I will be okay with it. We will flex at the jaw, we will move his feet, we will do all we can to take his mind off of his running away. If we miss the class because we are still warming up, then we miss the class. If we warm up and he never comes down, then we won't run the class. I won't lose another game of tug of war. No matter what I will support him mentally. I will understand where he is coming from, what his weaknesses are, and help him get past them. I will not set him up for failure. No matter what, I will stay calm. I will mentally remove the pressure from myself, which in turn will remove any from him. I will show him that he can trust me. Right now that is more important to me than anything else.
And if I can't stay calm? Then I will pack him up and take him home, and know that he is not the only one who isn't ready.
Not too long ago when I was stressing over bits, a very wise Blogger said something that really made sense and I have tried to follow it ever since. She told me, "You know your horse better than anyone, follow your gut." And she is right. My gut says a running martingale is not the way to go for this horse. Good training, and time is what he needs. Lots and lots of both.
Now for those of you who made the suggestion of the running martingale, I want to say an extra thanks. It was your suggestions that took me down this train of thought in the first place. I seriously needed to go down this road. I needed to examine what really happened to us on Saturday, and I needed to woman up and admit that I was at least 50% of the problem that day....if not more. I mean inside I knew it, but in order to change it, I needed to say it. I was not fair to him, I did not bother even try to understand what he was telling me. I just wanted him to listen to me.
That is not the relationship I want with my horse. I want him to be able to say, "I'm not ok." and for me to hear it. I want to be able to clearly say to him, "I will help you be ok." and have him believe me. It is the foundation of the relationship...isn't it?