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You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.

So here we are. Good scores at third level, but it doesn't feel ok. I'm struggling with some things. I can hold him together, get good scores, look good. But I can't build on his trot work. Or get good medium or extended gaits. I'm held hostage by my constant need to micro manage.

It was falling down a rabbit hole where there was no Johnny Depp waiting for me. Not that in this day and age one would want to meet him, even if he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

Plus, Mav was getting spooky again which means I need to back off.

Mav and I took a step back. I explored some ground work. He was very excited by this prospect.

I called in Amazing Rider to help with some emotional control training. Because when you are stuck somewhere, ask for help. Do not just keep plugging away with each ride getting worse. Put up your hand and request assistance from someone who knows more than you about that issue. Since we all have our strengths and weaknesses, this should not be too hard to find. I happen to know someone who knows way more about dealing with animals than people, which she would readily admit to.

She got to work with what I like to call "bag on a stick" but of course it was much, much more than that. Although it does literally involve a plastic bag tied to a stick so it is not just a clever name. With skillful horse psychology and some patience, she had him wearing, following and stepping on a tarp, accepting bag on stick all over his body and not caring when we danced around shaking the bag, tarp, stick, flag and whatever else she could find in her car. And let me tell you, her car holds more things than my entire townhouse - and I have a literal store full of stuff in the basement. Check it out while you are here invested in my weird life.

What does emotional control training actually look like? Sometimes it looks boring. Sometimes it looks like everyone involved will get rope burn. Sometimes it looks amazing. It started as general fear response from him. Get away from the noise-making thing fast! Run!

It progresses to hey this isn't so bad. Apparently it's important to not flood them too much or they shut down. Which looks like they accept something, but really they are just so overwhelmed that they freeze. Huge lesson I learned from this is move the feet. They may do nothing standing still in almost an attempt to make it go away or pretend it doesn't exist. But once the feet move, they are freed from those constraints and lose it. I will not pretend to understand all of it, but the psychological aspect is right up my alley.

I got to take over and learn how to do these things too. I will need this for Freddie, although she will get most of it before I ever get on from someone else who is starting her. Biggest take away lesson - I really tend to not be super clear sometimes. I need to be clearer with him and not have so many grey areas. Mav likes to know exactly what is expected of him, which I can relate to for sure. This is one of those moments when you can see what life lessons you are learning by watching your horse spook at a bag on a stick. Who knew?

I also indulged in the Tristan Tucker methods at this point. I learned a lot from his videos. While not exactly able to replicate his methods based on only several hours of online videos, I took several things on board and learned more about groundwork. Check him out. I do not receive anything at all from recommending him, but I did partake in his free trial and learn a lot so this is me giving back. Kind of. I mean if only one of you checks him out, I guess he is doing well from this interaction.

This video was huge. Not literally, it is a short clip. But to pick a death bag up from ground by poking it with stick and move around with it is massive for Mav. Looks simple. Seems simple. Is not simple on a reactive horse. Previously, this would not even have been attempted. You would not actually have been able to get anywhere near the bag. The snorting would have started before he was even in the ring. The urge to run too great to resist while you catapulted sideways away from the bag of impending doom. You get the picture.

Also, this is why Mav has not worn coolers or quarter sheets. I had no faith it could be safely removed or left on the side of the ring without causing the whole ride to revolve around whether or not the material creature was moving, ready to pounce at any time, or may become the Blob and take over the world.

There is no photographic evidence, but Amazing Rider did work with a cooler and decided I was a bit strange for being worried about this. Mav did not care anymore if she flapped it, threw it, placed it, picked it up, put it down or wore it like a dress. Next winter is already looking a bit warmer.

Instead of cooler pictures, there are others. Here is "leading the parade" just in case I ever need to carry a flag. Unlikely, but never impossible.

This we will call "next to the flowing blue devil" or "Mav actually stands next to scary thing while it moves and walks calmly around while it keeps moving."

And finally, "carry bag on stick while in motion" which is related to the "pick up bag with stick" this piece details how far he came in just a couple of sessions while showcasing his hind leg range of motion.

I may never fully agree with waving a stick at your horse from the ground. And really, the stick waving is irrelevant to all of this. It is just a tool to help your horse learn to control their own reactions to the world. Does this mean Mav will never spook again? No. Does it mean we both have more confidence to go out in the world? Yes. I am less worried about him having a major panic attack and forgetting I exist. Less worried about things on the arena rail. Less worried about the flowers around the ring, I think. The flowers may always be a nice distraction for Mav from the work. Regardless, I have become a full believer in "bag on a stick" work.

What is next for Mav? You can look forward to, dread, or be ambivalent to; a return to the show ring, venturing into other related disciplines, a lesson with a 5* judge / international team coach and some trail rides. Trail rides sound anticlimactic after the previous activities, but are some of my favourites. I do enjoy a relaxing ride in the trees. And of course, we can not forget Freddie! She has an exciting future to unfold. with a sneak peak for you of this, which is not me but rather her extraordinary starter, trotting for one of the first times.

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