Today Sandy and I worked on Louie's fear of the far end of the arena. Sandy stood at the far end of the arena and coached us around the corners, and with a few exceptions like him spooking at a few steamy turds he had left the lap before, Louie did fabulously- almost like there was nothing scary on that end at all. We walked, trotted, and cantered and felt almost like we were making progress again- almost up to where we left off 3 weeks ago.
Then Sandy left, and I wanted to work on just a little bit more trotting with Louie. Within 2 passes after Sandy left, Louie was back to his same usual BS- looking, stiffening, shying, scooting, etc. I thought about it a bit and it occurred to me that the difference between that time and 5 minutes before was the lack of a human at that end and the talking that was occurring back and forth between Sandy and I. It was eerily quiet in the barn and you could hear the snow shifting on the roof and the melting drops of water falling from the roof. So, I started chatting to Louie (I almost never talk when riding unless it is to somebody on the ground) and it seemed to help for a pass or two. Then the third time, a small piece of snow fell down from the arena ceiling. Louie planted down on his hind end, did a 180 and took off at a moderate paced canter. This is his same bolt that he's done with me in the past once or twice, and while disturbing, it doesn't really seem so sincere as he stops quickly after just a few steps.
I got him stopped and was so filled with rage and frustration, I couldn't help but take out some anger with a swift hand to the neck. I screamed, then cried. We sat there and pouted for a while as I tried to think of what to do next. After I had finished my mental breakdown, we headed back to the same place again at a walk or a trot, I can't remember, and scooted by that end again a few more times making half-circles on that end of the arena. Another boarder walked in and I still had tears in my eyes, but I hadn't seen her for a few weeks, so naturally we chatted for a little bit while I rode. Strangely enough, Louie shaped right up, still looked and stiffened a little bit going by that end of the arena, but he felt so much more at ease having another person on that end of the arena. I get it! He feels that he needs the reassurance of having a human on the ground by him in this situation (he is just fine when leading him or lunging him on that end)- two conversing humans is even better! Huh! How about that?
Well obviously the scary obstacles at the end of the arena are something he needs to get over, but it has been taking an excessively long amount of time and is honestly starting to wear on my nerves and my confidence. We are not really making progress on our dressage homework and our next lesson is scheduled for Thursday. While I am hesitent to stop working on it under saddle for a while for fear of making it a bigger issue than it really is and build my own anticipation more, I really think that we could probably benefit from some more work in long lines for a while. . . While I would love to be driving him right now, there's not a chance in heck that I'm going to hook him to the cart with this kind of behavior. When we ride, we will probably end up doing most of our dressage work at the "safe" end of the arena so that we can focus and try to progress, and for those trips around the other end, I will probably set up some obstacles like jumps/poles, or barrels on the insides of the corners on the "scary" end to keep his mind occupied and focused away from the wall, and maybe turn on the radio in the arena. If I have the chance, I may even try to ride him outside a time or two through the snow.
What do you usually do to help your horse overcome his/her fears?