Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ground Poles, Gate Work and Babies on the Run

Maisie and I have been doing a lot of arena work as part of her conditioning - due to the lack of rain our trails are like concrete.  Although we've been trying to keep it interesting with lots of figures and focussing games, we can't do anything more strenuous yet since she isn't fit enough.  To keep it fun, and give us something to think about, yesterday I brought out some ground poles.  I put some down at intervals along the quarter lines, parallel to the long sides - so we could do serpentines and circles, and threw in a couple parallel to the short sides and off the rail.

I brought Maisie into the arena and left her standing at one end with the reins looped over her neck as I dragged all the poles around.  She stood there patiently with an interested expression on her face and didn't move a muscle.  I've never really taught her to do this - she's not actually ground tied - but I find more and more that I can have the intent for her to do things and she'll just do them as if she can read my mind - maybe she can!

We had fun with the poles - we did lots of changes of direction at the trot and then we did some canter work, first on one lead and then the other.  She was relaxed but forward, and didn't rush over the poles.  I think the extra lift required to step over the poles is good for her conditioning, and it was fun for both of us to focus on a pole, then turn to focus on another, and so on - it was like a game.  We had an excellent session.

This morning, Dawn and I ended up doing some gate work.  For me, how the horse goes through the gate and how the horse acts while I am getting ready to release the horse in the pasture is just part of leading out.  I find with the horses that can be more difficult at times, the thing that makes the difference in all my leading work is how consistent I am with them.  With these horses, it's important that I adhere to my intent about how they should lead, and be clear about asking for the behaviors I want - and if I don't get the behavior I'm asking for, work with the horse until the horse offers me the behavior I want so I can confirm it by rewarding it.  For me, it's about developing and rewarding the behaviors I want, not stopping or punishing the behaviors I don't want.  Those pretty much go away if I focus on the desired behaviors.

Although it was pretty warm, Dawn was very up as I led her out to the pasture.  We had to stop a number of times on the way to break up the momentum and get her attention back on me.  When we got to the gate, she gave a grunt (Dawn has an amazing range of vocalizations, including a number of different grunts and squeals) and tried to charge through.  This is not the behavior I want - I want the horse to follow me through the gate on a loose lead and not act up once inside.

Dawn was ready to bolt, or perhaps buck or rear, once inside the pasture, so my first job was to get her to calm down sufficiently so we could do some work, while being sure I was safe.  I closed the gate (leaving it unlatched), with Dawn inside the pasture and me outside, and held the lead rope draped over the fence.  I asked her to wait at the gate.  The only pressure on the lead was if she tried to move away from the gate.  After a minute, she stopped moving around and stood.  Then she started to graze a bit, which meant she was beginning to relax.  I thought she was ready to listen to me at this point, so I opened the gate, went in and led her back out into the pasture aisle.  We waited outside for a moment, and then I led her back into the pasture, asking for slow steps.  She did it.  We stood inside by the gate for a minute, and then, since she was sufficiently calm, I led her down the pasture towards her friends.  We slowed down or stopped at several points to reinforce good leading behaviors and refocus her attention on me.  Once we were close to the other horses, I took off her halter. She walked away and rolled - when she was done rolling she sprang up with a great squeal, bucked and took off running, with much head-flinging from side to side (a characteristic Dawn gesture).  I was proud of her for restraining that energy while we were doing our work.  None of the other mares were interested in playing, so she soon settled down to graze.

We were worried yesterday about the Killdeer hatchlings.  When I checked the nest yesterday morning (see the pictures in the prior post), all four hatchlings were in the nest and not yet up and moving.  Later that day, I came back to find the mowers had been, and that there was no sign of the nest or the hatchlings.  This was concerning, since there were chopped up bits of the warning flags we had put out around the nest strewn all around - the guy doing the mowing (on one of those giant riding mowers) had apparently just mowed over the flags, the nest and everything!

But then this morning, what did I see but two parent Killdeers and four tiny hatchlings running around our arena!  The arena is very close to where the nest was, so I expect these are the same birds, and the little ones were so tiny they looked just-hatched.  Somehow, between the time I saw them yesterday morning and the time just a few hours later that the mower arrived, the parent birds got the hatchlings up and moving.  It's always amazing to me how quickly Killdeers are able to run after hatching - it was a good thing in this case!


  1. I love ground pole work. It is one of the main things I use to get Syd refocused and back in shape. I practice course work with poles on the ground instead of jumping all the time. My favorite ground pole exercise is the clock. You put the ground poles in a circle kinda like this
    ____ _____


    hard to illustrate, but I think it shows the idea. I trot around all of them then trot over them then around them a few times and over them again, just really working on Syds attention and responsiveness. My girl tends to have a lil Attention deficit disorder. We canter them as well, its a super fun exercise. Sounds like your conditioning work is going well. Thats Great!!

  2. SO what good are the warning flags if the mower man just ignores them!!!??? Hope all the little ones are OK. Good thing, as you say, that they can run so soon after hatching.

    I think poles and raised cavaletti are great training and conditioning tools. Some gentle hillwork is good to add to the program too if you have hills.

  3. If it's the same family (probably is) they are now along the fence line between A and B paddocks. I only saw two babies, but there was tall grass and the other two could easily have been hiding in there.

  4. I'm glad it sounds like the little ones are hopefully safe and healthy. Reading your post made me want to beat the mower over the head with the warning flags.

    I am a huge fan of ground pole work and also working with raised cavaletti. I love the exercise that the first poster mentioned with having the poles (or jumps) set up at the four "corners" of a circle. There are endless variations you can do with that exercise.

  5. Sounds like you had a very successful day with the pole work and ground work! Well Done! Glad the birds are ok.


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