When I first brought Sydney home, his ground manners left quite a bit to be desired. He wasn't a stinker, but he was used to just pushing his weight around. I fixed that immediately as I am too small of a person to tolerate being shoved around by any horse. He now has impeccable ground manners. Under saddle was a different story, I was so afraid of "messing him up." I tried to be gentle with him from the saddle and acknowledged that he was a different breed from which I am used to working. While he learned to be respectful on the ground, he didn't trust me on board. He scared me several times in the beginning which started a pretty vicious cycle of behaviors.
I gave this situation a lot of thought. I realized that if I wanted to continue riding this horse, something had to change. I asked myself seriously what I could do about it.
There were several answers. The first one was that I admitted that I was afraid. Whew .. got that off my chest. And when I admitted that, I was pretty pissed at myself. When did I become afraid of riding? I've ridden my whole life and have been nearly fearless. I was afraid after Speedy threw me into a fence and cracked the back of my helmet, but I got over that. What was there to be afraid of here? That admission was liberating and empowering.
Here's the second admission. I started letting a trainer, whom I admire tremendously, take over for me. I started to doubt my own judgement and abilities. And when I admitted that, I was really pissed at myself! I may not have certain particular riding skills, but I reminded myself that I can ride and have a rather large toolbox of riding tricks. I can stay on a horse, dammit! I may be new to dressage, but I am not new to riding.
So on the day I set out to video Sydney's antics, I "cowgirled up." I told myself to get my ass out there and ride that horse. I didn't need to be afraid. What I needed to do was stop being afraid of looking right, and do whatever was needed to get control of my horse. Sydney needed a leader, and I hadn't been providing that for him. I knew how how to do it. I've done it many, many times. And that's what I did. If you've seen the video, you'll know things didn't go perfectly. He was still gravitating toward the gate, and he kept trying to duck out from under me to get to the gate, but he eventually started to work with me. And while being the leader, I kicked that fat-assed elephant named Fear, OUT THE DOOR!
I've ridden Sydney several times since that video, and each ride has gotten better. I am able to use the whole arena and he moves forward. When he gets too forward, I simply bend him around my leg until he relaxes. We've had one or two little squirty spooks, but they weren't any big deal. On Tuesday afternoon we had one of the better rides we've had. We did lots of changes of directions, and with a gentle scoop of my seat and a squeeze with my legs, he jumped neatly into an awesome canter. I squealed with delight! We spiraled in, and I slowed him to a lovely pace. He was "light" in my hand and responded quickly to my whoa. Woohoo! That was the first time I've cantered on him since July. Before Tuesday, I was terrified to canter on him because I didn't know if I would be able to stop him.
So ... Fluphenazine, or fear conquered? I don't know if the Fluphenazine just took his edge off which made it easier for him to hear me, or if my attitude adjustment has given him the leader he needed. And I am not saying this whole anxiety issue is conquered, but at least I am on the right track. I am no longer afraid of him from the saddle, and that is a huge relief!