I have GOT to post up my experience today. I have to say the first half of this will be hard for me to admit publicly - but I'm SO proud of what we did today I just have to explain!!
So my mare has been learning to go in and out of a new stall, this one travels through the aisle of the barn and out a slightly narrow back door. The first few days she's been fantastic - some slight hesitations, but each time easily moved on.
For the past few weeks I've just been feeling crumby about CT - perhaps it's reading all the negative posts about it, or talking to other trainers in real life - I've just been dissuaded. So I've been working on my mare's other skills using pressure+release. We practiced lunging and line-driving in her new paddock and she's doing very well. She's definitely not as thrilled about her job and not as eager to work - she used to come running when she saw I had her bridle or lunge line or surcingle. Now she'll even walk away a bit, always lets me catch her - but makes it clear she's not really into it.
But regardless of her obvious opinions I carried on - She's lunging very well, making smooth transitions walk/trot/halt - I never canter horses on a lunge. Her voice commands are definitely getting solid. I also worked on her with leaving her paddock and getting further from home. 3 days ago I took her just out for a walk around all the paddocks, the next day down to my riding ring (there's no fence around it - just footing, so it's not actually ideal for working in over a paddock). She continued to do well - she learned about my large white barrels, which she'll eventually use as obstacles. The next day we went as far as my neighbor's hay field, then to their farm area (they have a large path cleared for their trucks to move through - and being winter everything is dead). She continued to impress me, while she's tense and nervous she has not spooked or lost control of her manners for even a half a second. I'm a proud mommy!
And then tonight happened. She went out to her new paddock, on our way in we made a trip to the neighbor's farm, walked around, then came back to the barn. My fiance was cooking upstairs (we live in an apartment upstairs of the barn) she's used to most noises - but the vent for the stove lets out right at the door of the barn. She froze.
Her entire body was tense and trembling - eyes wide and head high, she was terrified of going inside. I pulled and disodged her, shifting her side to side, but nothing made her take that step up into the barn. Having been focusing more on pressure+release and thinking back to some methods offered to me in my very first post on this forum about her freezing issues - I switched her to her lunge line. Luckily the line is hanging within reach of the door, so I never let up pressure on her halter - she stayed taught against it.
I lunged her but off, right at the door - like loading in a trailer I thought. Then back to the door - each time I got to the door she froze. She wasn't that stupid. She'd rather trot a million circles than walk through that door. So with my lunge line I stretched out far enough to reach my lunge whip - this is where it gets real terrible. This was a suggestion made to me when I first presented my issues with her, almost a year ago I think - by someone highly regarded on here, the suggestion was widely backed by members of this forum. I've sense seen other threads with similar issues with similar suggestions with positive results. I stood beside her to lead her into the door, she froze, and I swung the lunge whip at her hind end. Every time I applied pressure she backed up more - she knows **** well she's stronger than me. I hit her awful hard ;-; (feeling pretty terrible about it now). My fiance at this point came downstairs wondering why I'm lat for dinner - he of course left the stupid fan on. I then followed a suggestion made by someone else on this forum - equally widely accepted and all the same stuff as the other person's suggestion with hitting her with a whip to drive her forward. The suggestions was to have someone haze her from behind. He did - she tenses up so tight her tail was sucked in SO far, she was so terrified.
I lunged her again - it's been over 30 minutes now. This time with the whip, then go toward the door - she freezes, I spank her butt - she lunged forward and around me, not forward through the door. Rinse and repeat this terrible process for many more minutes before I decide to bring her in the front door of the barn, another door she's never seen. Same situation, same results.
It's been over an hour, we're both exhausted and dripping in sweat - it's 25 degrees out (f) and we're boiling hot from all the work we've done. This is more exercise than my mare has had in a long time.
At this point I'm crying, I'm hating what I'm doing to her, I can't make myself any more forceful, I can't be any more assertive, I can't be any more aggressive.
Then it occurred to me. I've encountered this issue before an found the solution before.
I dropped the lunge line and went to my barn (I couldn't reach these things while holding it -and this was stupid and terrible, but I just let her go). I went into the barn and got my target and a pocket full of hay stretcher. When I walked back out I thought my heart exploded she's solid black and it's dark night time now - where was she? I thought she was gone. But there she was, in the broken paddock (a tree had fallen in it and took out a fence - I've just been using it for dumping manure). I go up to her and find she's gotten her line tangled in tree branches - so I unclipped her, cause she couldn't move anywhere.
So I show her my target and put a smile on my face and say "touch it"! She says "OH!! I know how to do that!!" She touches it and gets her click+treat. She follows her target up to the barn door and freezes a few feet in front of the door - her black lead rope is invisible now at night and I can't find it so I carry on without it. This time I just put the target 1 step in front of where she is, she inches her way to the door and freezes. Now the target is at the point where she has to take that one step through the threshold. It took about 5 minutes of me chipperly saying "touch it - I know you can!!" My Belgian is making all sorts of noises out side that keep making her jump, but she keeps focusing and reaching for her target. Finally she takes the step!! I clicker and jack-pot treat her!! She comes all the way in and we walk to her stall with no more issues.
I feel so stupid for taking SO long to go to CT - maybe I needed to prove to myself that this was really the right path. I'm so upset with myself for having hurt her, when I clearly didn't need to. I'm so happy that she trusted me and what I was asking of her enough to do it, even though she was scared.
Maybe there would have been ways to physically force her into the barn, outside of extreme violence I couldn't think of anything. Had CT not worked I would have brought her around to her old door and walked her in there, but that would have been 'giving up' IMO.
I don't know what else to say.
I guess in the moment I was stuck on the idea that I was 'bribing her' into the barn, I wanted her to go into the barn because she trusted me, not because I had a pocket full of food. But I think - in hind sight - she had to trust me, that I wasn't asking her to do something that was dangerous. Previously - every time I asked her to enter the barn and she didn't she would get hurt or worked - or some other terrible result, only reinforcing in her mind that the door is terrible. While now, approaching the door and touching her target gets her something good. It's scary and makes her nervous, but I'm continually focusing on the positive, each step like it's a miracle.
Keeping things focused on the positive kept her thinking positively - not reinforcing her fear. I also can't understand how hurting her in anyway makes her trust me at all! How can whacking her with a stick make her trust me to go somewhere scary? Maybe it could force some horses to go somewhere scary, but she'd take a terrible amount of pain before taking chances on something scary. But I don't see it earning trust - only submission. Rather than being forced to go somewhere because otherwise she'll be in pain - she's being told, to come with me because it's going to be wonderful when we get there!
Anyway.. Sorry for my forever long story - how is everyone else doing with their horses? I'd love to hear some updates.