My job as Bellaria's teacher is to figure out what is going on with her. It is the examination of hundreds of pieces of information, so I can put the puzzle together.
In checking her out, here's what I know so far...
1. Bellaria has weak hindquarters. I'm working on strengthening her stifles. She has a huge chest, shoulder and heart girth. Then she slopes sharply up into her flank. She carries herself level or slightly uphill most of the time. She has a magnificent walk, her trot is worth millions, her canter is unbalanced.
2. She is very kind and gentle, with huge, sometimes vacant eyes.
3. She explodes for no apparent reason.
4. Her ground manners are in there somewhere.
5. She will not make eye contact. Connectivity is impossible right now. In fact, she puts a lot of effort into not relating.
6. She has difficulty with movement around her head, neck and over her back. A nonchalant hand movement that has nothing to do with her, causes her to jerk backwards. Doing anything unexpected over her back causes her to bolt in panic.
7. Bellaria is dull to human communication unless a treat is involved.
What I'm working on:
1. The left stifle is weak and the right hind is tired of compensating. Backing helps strengthen the hindquarters. Bell has difficulty backing with her head at wither level and taking slow, even steps. There's some pain involved. I take it slow. I want her to know that I will not force her, instead I will take whatever time she needs. We will, however; get the job done. I am asking for straight line backing. I intersperse some arced lines every now and then to load the hindquarters differently. When I begin riding, all the backing will be done mounted.
2 and 3. I use kindness to motivate. Bell gets it. My kindness does not mean I am a pushover. She will begin to trust me only if I behave like an equine leader would. She shows some interest in scratches and grooming, therefore I show her this kindness when she gives me something. I notice that her eyes go vacant sometimes. This is a precursor to something I call non responsiveness. Bell has gone non-responsive on me several times, then she explodes to come out of it. Wherever it is she goes when she becomes non-responsive, is not comfortable for her. That's good. I never want her to get comfortable in there. Actually, I want to make that place inside her a very uncomfortable place, a place she refuses to go to. So I have begun exploring different ways to "set her off", push her buttons, so to speak, to cause her to go in there. I want to find and fix every one of those spots and teach her to cope instead. In doing this the past few days, Bell has learned that I am always there when she comes out. She has learned that I will not abandon her, that I will give her safety and kindness when she returns to me. All of the "button pushing" work I do with Bell, I do mounted on Berlin. He is big enough to handle her explosions and keep me safe.
4 and 5. The first few days, Bell refused to acknowledge any of her prior training. Oh, it's all in there. The problem is, Bell thinks groundwork is autonomous. She does it all, but she does it by herself, without any connectivity to the handler. She looks away from me, keeping her neck bent as far as possible so she can avoid eye contact. It's actually quite fascinating. My job is to teach Bell that groundwork is not some boring, tedious job that gets her through some steps to gain her freedom. Instead, my job is to teach the groundwork with a fresh new perspective, which will bring her to me, interested and curious, always wanting more interaction.
6. Sometimes I wonder if people avoid the things that horses are sensitive to, instead of getting the horse used to those things. There is not enough paper in the world to write down all the times I've been to a dressage show and was told by some rider that I was not allowed to "walk next to my horse, he's afraid of people", "drive that golf cart near my horse", "stop so I can walk past without spooking", the list is infinite. So when Bell decides to act afraid of something I do, I continue that movement until she stops acting afraid. Her highly sensitive areas are around and above her head, neck and above her back. Well!!! For me this raises some interesting issues. How can one safely ride a horse that is afraid of things above it, afraid of things around it's head, afraid of pressure behind the ears. Rather than avoid these issues, I'm jumping in with both feet and fixing them. Bell is already 50% better than when she arrived. Now I'm looking for things to startle her in these areas. Eventually, I'm going to shoot weapons while I'm mounted. Seem drastic? Maybe so, but at least she'll be able to go to a dressage show and stay calm and relaxed when some handler snaps a lunge whip so loudly it sounds like a gunshot!
7. I tested this issue just to see how bad it was. She is highly food motivated to run over her handler, but her owner has made huge progress in this area already. Bell won't get any food treats from me. She does get twice daily organic carrots during bucket feeding.