Monday, August 10, 2009

Ground Driving on the Trail

Today Maisie and I went ground-driving on the trail. This was to work on some issues we had the last time we trail rode. That time, although she was good on the outbound, as we started for home she started to show some herd-bound behavior - she was a bit agitated and wanting to speed up, and as we got nearer to the barn, she was calling. She's been showing some herd-boundness in her stall as well - if one of the other mares is out of the barn, she calls and calls and even sometimes kicks and body-slams - just anxious about it all.

Now understand, Maisie is hardly ever what you might call bad, except sometimes when we're coming back into work after the winter (some spins and spooks) or if she's sore (small bucks and balking). What I'm getting from her now is just herd-bound anxiety. To make it easier for us to work on this, we ground drove. When I first brought Maisie to our barn, she had never been on trails before, and we ground drove a lot. To make it a bit more interesting, I got her out of the pasture at an earlier time than normal, and we went on a outbound trail which is one we haven't been on this year. I ground drove her in the halter with the fuzzy padded noseband, so she didn't have to worry about the bit and so there was less chance of her ducking under the bit when anxious or getting dinged in the mouth if she had a meltdown. Our goal was to have a reasonably relaxed outing both going out and coming back to the barn. If she started to get anxious, I wanted to do some things to help her get through this, with the goal to be able to ride more calmly next time.

Here she is, ready to set out:

First, we passed the dumpsters - no problem at all:

Then up the hill away from the barn - just fine:

This is one of the prettiest parts of the trail:

She didn't care about the play area equipment:

We went around a corner and up a hill - this is the beginning of the part of the trail we haven't ridden on since last year - I had to chirp to encourage her to take the new path:

Now we're come to the top of the hill and are coming down to a little group of trees - she's a little more forward and the ears are up and alert:

At this point, the bugs started to get even worse - lots of mosquitos and deer flies - she'd been sprayed but it didn't do much good:

She was still compliant, halting or slowing when I asked, although fretful because of the flies. When we got to the point where we'd be turning for home, instead of going that way right away, we turned down another path and went a few hundred yards to take a break by the fountain and the stores - we stood there for a while:

Then we turned towards home, and at this point I stopped taking pictures, as I needed both hands all the time. She immediately wanted to go faster - we slowed. She wanted to jig - we did serpentines. When I asked her to halt, she didn't want to, so I turned her one way or the other and got the halt. When we halted, we started moving again when she stood still - no weaving or pawing - I just waited for her to settle and off we went again. There was a bad wooded stretch where I walked at her head, and another swampy area where we were attacked for a moment by a B-52 fly - it landed a couple of times but didn't bite and luckily she didn't have a fit and we escaped by walking quickly in hand until it gave up the hunt.

Once we were past the worst of the insect predators, we went back to ground driving. More halts (with turns to one side if they didn't come right away), and I upped the ante a little by asking for good halts - quickly and straight without too much pressure. If we didn't get that - if I had to turn to get her to halt (I did this instead of upping the pressure since I didn't want to use more), we then backed until we got three good two-beat back steps with softness in her body - then forward again. After a while, I got the halt I wanted with a soft whoa, and little pressure - so no backing to get the softness since I already had it.

As we approached the barn, we kept going past it and made a circle around the community garden. And then we were done - we were both pretty tired at this point - or at least I was! Here she is in the paddock chilling out for a little while - but still looking for her friends!

Herd-bound behavior takes some work, but I think we made some progress today. There were no meltdowns, and we ended up in a pretty good place.


  1. I am tired just thinking about it, myself. Great technique for training, however. Wish my knees would let me do more of it.

    The bugs. Horrible, and getting worse this year than I can remember. All the rain is just helping them grow bigger and bolder. Once again, I highly recommend the bug armor. Mosquito Halt spray seems to work best on the woods critters, but I'm not sure anything stops the B-52's. (or Flyzillas, as Stacie calls them.) The Bug Armor does the trick on them too, though. Tucker has decided to "never go out without it."

  2. You and I worked on similar things today. :o) Glad to hear she's doing well! The ground driving is a good idea!

  3. Horrible bugs, especially since the nasty hot humid weather all weekend! Ground driving sounds very interesting. I like how you used it to work on her herd bound issues.

  4. and congrats on 28years :) A very special gift!

  5. You have a great network of trails that offer so many learning experiences! One of the reasons I had to move back here from New England was I couldn't take the bugs. I had never experienced anything like it, and I hope I never do again!

  6. Maisie is so pretty - especially the photos near town. She is alert and obviously listening to you. What a good girl.

  7. Sounds like it was a successful little outing. Sam and I are slowly going further on our long reining sessions out on the road. I really enjoy it. Pony still gets a work out and so do I!!!!

  8. Sounds like our English bugs!!

    Great description of your session. Once again you've inspired me Kate! I used to take Zeffy for long-reining hacks but haven't since he was backed. Great way of introducing him to hacking!

  9. What a pretty girl Maisie is. Looks like you had a good time! Although it does sound tiring. I should start doing something like that with Scout one of these days. Good exercise for both of us, and good exposure for him.

  10. Masie is a cutie.
    Thanks for the photos. You have some very nice paths there, Katie. It looks like you had a good round!

  11. That sounds tiring for both of you, but it was a good exercise to help her to be more independent from the herd.

  12. Sounds like good exercise for horse and human. I've been thinking of trying ground driving. Was it hard to master?

  13. A Bay Horse - there are a couple of different ways to do it - I do it without a surcingle, so my lines just drape. And some people run the lines through their stirrups - this does have the advantage of making it harder for the lines to get on the ground. I like the feel of the loose lines, and don't like the leverage effect of running it through surcingle rings. I really don't think there's one right way to do it. Mark Rashid has a nice DVD that teaches ground driving (at and there are other good resources.

    When you're experimenting, I'd recommend driving off the halter or a cavesson - that way if you have to drop a line - when you're learning it's easy to get yourself or the horse tangled up, at least it was easy for me! - and the horse steps on the line, it won't be attached to the bit and potentially scare/hurt the horse. Expect some awkward moments, and I'd recommend starting in an enclosed space to practice. Also, if you're learning, if you have a choice of beasts, I'd start with a horse that is calmer and less reactive. That way mistakes won't matter so much.

    It also helps to get the horse used to the feel of lines on its sides and hindquarter before you get started - fewer kicks and bucks - and then there's the excitement of getting a line under the tail! But I'm making it sound harder than it is - usually horses take to it pretty easily.

  14. Thanks, for the reply! that's great info. :) I think I'll make a project of it.

  15. Oh ,your Maisie, she is gorgeous!
    I love your trails too! Mine are a bit too off for the foot travel..should I try that..not level enough. Great idea though!
    Yea..heard bound is mine where ever I have been...just around theactual barn..but once I problems.


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