Monday, March 16, 2009

First Frogs and Ground Driving

When I was out walking the dog, I heard the first frogs of the season - Western Chorus Frogs - in a wetland near the barn.  Soon we'll have all sorts of frogs (and toads) doing their calls.  I call the Chorus Frogs "comb frogs", since they sound very like running your finger over a plastic comb.

Yesterday I took Maisie for a ground drive.  She's been very spooky on the trail lately, and somewhat herd bound.  When I first took her on the trail several years ago - she had only been an arena horse when I got her - we did a lot of ground driving.  I'm a big fan of ground driving for all sorts of purposes - working with a young horse, doing ground exercises, exercising a horse that's coming off an injury or layoff, evaluating a horse's way of movement and soundness, and getting a horse ready to drive in a cart.

Ground driving isn't lounging, which I almost never do.  I also almost never use a surcingle, and I can't remember the last time I used side reins.  Sometimes I use a bridle and sometimes I just use a halter - generally with the noseband padded with fleece to avoid rubs.  I like the flexibility of ground driving - you can do circles, just like on a lounge, but you can do all sorts of movements - serpentines, backing, turns on the forehand/haunches, almost anything you can think of.  Because you're not restricted to having the horse move in a circle, there is less stress on the muscles and joints, and because you're using two lines instead of one, there's a lot more ability to direct the horse's speed and direction - for example, if the horse is moving in a circle it's very easy to avoid having the horse cutting in.  To be fair, it is a little harder to do than lounging, since you have to handle two lines and adjust lengths as you go.

I usually don't use a surcingle, because that can add a lot of leverage to the action of the lines, which I don't want in most cases - I want a direct connection to the horse, and the ability to use the equivalent of an opening rein.  I also find that it's harder to give an accurate and quick release when the lines run through a surcingle.  I don't use side reins because they constrain the horse's head carriage, when I want the horse to carry its own head and neck in a soft posture in response to the pressure of the lines/release of pressure on the lines.  I also want my horses to be able to take breaks and relax, stretching their top line. 

Maisie has a very sensitive mouth - even the weight of the lines affects her - so we ground drove in a halter.  Here she is, ready to go.

I wouldn't purport to try to teach you how to ground drive - if you're interested, Mark Rashid has an excellent DVD on the subject.  I generally keep my lines separate (not connected at the ends), and keep one set of lines in each hand.  Making sure your lines aren't looped so you can trap a hand is important, as is not stepping on or getting tangled in your lines.  Obviously, staying well out of reach of a kick is in order, although due to the flexibility of the two lines you can walk somewhat to the side as well as directly behind the horse.  I don't use a whip of any sort, but use my voice (kiss or click) to have the horse move forward.  If the horse balks, I just keep them pointed where I want to go and encourage them to move.  When I first ground drove Maisie, it took her a while to get used to the lines hanging across her lower legs.  I tend to keep my lines low - not so low that she'll step on them, but low enough that, if we turn, they stay around her hindquarters and don't ride up over her back - or worse, under her tail.  I've had bucking (and, in the case of Lily, true caprioles), tails clamped over lines, etc. - all due to my inexperience.  I have found that, once the horse gets used to it, most enjoy it.

Here we are, setting out:

Without a surcingle, the lines are very "alive", and I have a good connection with the horse.  But it doesn't give you as strong a feel for the horse's thoughts as riding does.  Instead, since I can just see her ears over the top of her hindquarters, I keep an eye on them the whole time - they tell me some of what she's thinking.  When I ask her to do something - move forward, say, or slow down or halt - I watch to see if an ear turns back towards me.  When both ears are firmly forward, that's where she's focussing - which is OK - she doesn't have to be thinking about me every moment.

Maisie strode out confidently, and we took the route that had previously had monsters.  She was fine all the way around (about 3/4 mile), and didn't even try to speed up much heading for home.  She was very relaxed when we got back.  I'll probably keep doing this with her for a while, on different trails, and then go back to riding her on the trail.  I don't like her to have meltdowns, as it creates bad memories and results in frazzled nerves for all involved.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to use the surgingle, but most of my longling is for dressage training.

    However, I broke two young horses on the lines and it made the first under saddle work a cinch.

    I really enjoy it, but I have bad knees, so taking long treks is a bit difficult for me. Wish I could because it would be great to build some more "trail" confidence in my big guy.

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