I think most AOT's go through phases where they feel frustrated or stuck in a rut in their training. I have been feeling that a bit especially over the past couple of days, doubting my abilities and wishing I had some supervision and regular help in the process. I wasn't able to work Louie at all during the week because it was either raining or cold, snowing, and windy. So I worked him yesterday and it was one of those rides where I wish it wouldn't have happened. You know? Not really a bad ride, just not really productive on any level. I had a similar one today. I think what is happening is this- Louie gets confused or frustrated with some aspect of what I ask of him, grinds his teeth on the bit, ducks behind the bit, and then I get frustrated, and the more frustrated I get, the more Louie gets. So it's a big downward spiral. I need to break out of that cycle and get us both happy and making forward progress again.
After yesterday's rather disappointing ride, working on bending and flexing, leg yields and 3-tracking at the walk mostly, I tried to make a point today to work on the basic stuff first and make sure that was down pat, then try something harder, and go back to basics again- basically alternating between the things Louie is good at and working on the things that frustrate him a little bit at a time. I also added in a new obstacle today, not for added challenge necessarily, but for interest- a couple of poles to walk and trot over. Louie has done this before so it's not like it's a brand new thing. He did the poles pretty well, and the first half of the ride today went quite well- Louie wanted to trot long and low so I let him stretch his neck out and down like a hunter. He went along really happily and we worked on circles, walking and trotting, bending and flexing just the basics. Then we worked on the ground poles, that went well, so some haunches in at the walk- that went okay as well (better than yesterday). We were about 15 minutes into the ride and I thought, hey, let's just try a canter since he did it so nicely in the lunge line warm up. In the warm up Louie got his right lead about 3-4 times out of 4 or 5 (well, at least he switched his front to the right lead after picking up the wrong- so that counts in my book for now). So under saddle, tracking to the right, even when I set him up in a corner, haunches in, head bent to the middle, he STILL picked up the left lead! Multiple times! Argh. Well at least he cantered on cue and did it fairly manageably.
Then all of a sudden, Louie spotted the two neighbor boys playing with their monster trucks and driving them up close to the arena- HOLY spaz! We went cantering around, then trotting like a show horse! Tail up over the back, ears to the sky, snorting- I knew that was in him somewhere! Well this would have been okay if his whole body weren't hard as a rock during this episode and if he'd listened to my cues AT ALL during it. As soon as the initial scare was over, I just went with it and we trotted for a bit. Well now he is all wound up trotting fast, he's back chewing on the bit, tense, unresponsive to my cues. . . so I guess I didn't really have much choice other than to ride it out until he settled down. Unfortunately this sent us back down that spiral. I was really getting the impression that Louie thought he was (and he probably was) the one doing the driving at this point and that made me even more frustrated and doubting myself. :( After a ways in that spiral I caught us and we tried to go back to something he knows- walking and halting with my seat (which he used to do beautifully). That was frustrating because he wasn't really listening and his brain was fried by now, so I decided the whole lesson had to end because we had gone past what I wanted to accomplish and we were both frustrated, so I waited until he did a decent halt off of my seat, and got off.
Neither Louie nor I were very happy these past 2 days. I am at that point where I am doubting my abilities as a trainer and feeling very stuck with where we're at and this whole teeth grinding thing, as what I want most of all is a happy horse- and that is not what I've had the past couple of days. I think what needs to happen is I need to make a schedule of what we're going to work on so I am forced to not go beyond my plan and keep lessons short and fun for both of us. We also need to get the variety back in our routine- which is really hard to convince myself to do only being able to work him so infrequently with such limited facilities and unpredictable weather. I also need to get back into my Cherry Hill book- it was a really nice reference for teaching the basics, I bet it will be a good reference for getting through some of these rough spots as well. I also am going to look into a yoga/pilates class for myself and possibly some dressage lessons to supplement. As for Louie- I think he needs a little bit of a break from riding. We'll go back to long lining, free lunging, and walks around the block and try some other things.