Updated: May 23, 2022
I don't typically write blog posts back-to-back, but this is the day after the last post and I feel it's important to tell you how today went.
**Also I want to note: Molly has been able to get Gracie mostly over this behavior when she is at home. Of course, being here with me, just caused a set back emotionally for her. I feel if Molly was here she wouldn't be doing this because she has learned to trust Molly. I hope everyone understands that Molly loves this pony and has accomplished AMAZING things with her!
Today when I walked towards Gracie's pen, she stopped what she was doing and arranged herself so she was facing me. As I walked into her pen she swung her bum and kept both eyes on me at all times. Now, I know there are people that would think this is exactly how a pony should behave. However, what I would like to see is a pony that is comfortable enough with herself and understands that not everything is about her, so she could continue eating while I move around the pen.
Just because I am there does not mean she has to DO anything. Sometimes the answer is to do nothing. I can't imagine living my life feeling this way all the time. It must be so stressful.
Now, today the difference was, Gracie only felt the need to frantically race around one time. I had her change direction a few times and ended with her standing on the hay mat. This was PERFECT because then I could reinforce PLACE. This is something people who do positive + reinforcement like to teach. PLACE is usually a mat, or can be a frisbee, or small piece of board, that the pony is taught to go to when they are seeking a break, peace and comfort. When they are there normally the trainer will not ask them to do anything. However place can also be moved around and the pony gradually learns that comfort can be found in many different places and while different things are going on. (At least that is how I understand it!)
As soon as she was still I moved away from her and started a standing meditation. I focused on her fear, my fear and worry that I wasn't handling this very well. It's so hard to know just exactly how to make the right choices in the moment that the pony is losing its mind and panicking. But I am doing my best. I focused on my frustration with her and looking closely at her fear. Because that is all it is. She is afraid she is not going to DO the right thing. So, she becomes a bull in a china shop and barges around, bashing into others, the fences (She has run through Molly's fences causing $100s of dollars worth of damage to the fence, luckily not to herself! many times. She has an old scar on her eyelid from where she ripped it when at my mom's. Now we know she probably panicked and raced into a fence.) smashing into the wagon and me. I will protect my space as needed but try to do so without an ounce of anger or frustration. Just matter of fact. Similar to what another pony, who felt it could stand up to her, would do. Just a simple NO. Her panic insights a blankness in her. Her mind turns off and her body simply reacts. I really looked at how that feels inside the body so I could feel only compassion for her. While I was doing this she was doing a lot of blinking and licking and chewing. She was lowering her head and going into the grazing mode (not eating, but putting her nose on the mat) releasing fear and anxiety. She did this IMMEDIATELY when I started the meditation. Only once did she go a bit introverted during the session today.
I want to pause here and talk about an introverted pony. Lots of people think of an introvert as being lazy. So when a pony reacts and behaves as Gracie does they tend to think of her as an extrovert. However, she is very introverted in her actions. It's when she feels extreme fear that she becomes extroverted. And ironically when she starts to move her feet her mind shuts down and she panics further. Introverts will often have this happen. I know of two ways to handle this. Either have them move their feet until they can find comfort, or interrupt them so they have to keep engaging the brain. Different situations would need different solutions. When she is panicking in the pen I felt that interrupting the behavior helped her to engage her brain and settle faster. But when she was having emotional issues in cart while cantering, then having her canter in cart, in a controlled situation, until she could find comfort in the canter was the best option. This can be very scary to do as the driver because when she would start to panic in the canter it became a gallop and then a run away. Molly really stuck it out with her and kept at it. Last fall Gracie was able to canter around Molly's driving track totally calm and confident.
Was our session yesterday the reason Gracie was able to find comfort faster today? I'm not sure. And during my standing meditation I came to the realization that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter WHY she behaves this way. It only matters HOW I try to help her, in the moment. Because tomorrow when I go out there she would totally lose her mind again and behave just as she did yesterday, OR she could immediately go stand on the mat and just calmly watch me. At this point I feel it has little to do with how I did one thing or another today or yesterday and everything to do with how she FEELS about everything I am attempting, and about me as a human.
Through all this I keep thinking about Sky. She was behaving this way last year and caused Zorro and I SO MUCH DISTRESS. It was mind boggling how crazy her behavior became. I did lots of complete undemanding time with her, sitting in a chair while she ate hay all around me. Not asking her to do anything at all. Doing some positive + reinforcement training with her. I read the book Connection Training and that really helped. But this all brought back that it doesn't matter WHY they do any of the things they do. It only matters HOW we go about helping them through it. When I look at things in that light then it doesn't matter if they progress or regress. It only matters how I approach each session. No blame, no anger, just pure good intention.
Again I will reiterate it's not always beautiful. I wish things to could always be soft and sweet but the pony itself will dictate just how soft and sweet a session can be. If you have ever been bowled over and had the air knocked out of you by a pony bashing into you, you know exactly what I mean. You must always keep yourself safe, but always be 100% fair. If anger comes up, back off and re-set. Soon enough things can come back around to being beautiful, when that calm pony starts to emerge.