Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adjusting the Plan and Off-Topic Radio

Dawn and I did more ground-driving yesterday. Based on how it's going so far, I think I need to make some modifications to our program when we're ground-driving outside the arena, and particularly when we ground-drive on the trail. It's always interesting to me how the work with the horse is a back-and-forth interaction between us that shapes the plan of work - the work needs to address the issues that this horse has, not the ideal horse or the horse in my head - and the horse will tell me if something I'm trying isn't working and needs to be changed.

The primary issues Dawn has are her distractibility, her spookiness and her reactivity - these are all related. In all the work we're doing, my goal with her is to teach her to focus on her work and also look to her human handler/rider for guidance and direction when something worries her. (If you're interested, I did a post on why I'm doing what with Dawn: "The Horse is Thinking About Leaving . . ." ). We've made great progress on this in our leading work, and in our ground-driving work in the arena. She's much more focussed and attentive to me and what I'm asking, and we've successfully worked through some smaller worries - ground poles, water crossing - so far. But once we're ground-driving outside the arena, some of the old behaviors are reappearing, which isn't surprising at all.

Outside the arena, she's easily distracted and prone to having thoughts about what she wants to do and then taking action on them - grabbing a bite of grass, stopping and staring at things, stopping to sniff the ground or a pile of manure. The thought leads to the action, and she doesn't think much about looking for direction to her handler. Her go-forward cue when I'm driving from behind also isn't as well established as I'd like. Now all of this makes a lot of sense - we're in a new environment for our work, I'm directly behind her so she can't easily cue off my body language, and there are lots of distractions.

To work on these issues, we're going to make sure we've got a good go-forward cue when I'm driving behind. I don't use whips, mainly because I find them difficult to handle while working with two lines. So a verbal cue may do the trick - I've been gently flapping the lines on her sides and that may also work. And when we're driving in a straight line with me behind her on the trails, I'm going to use a surcingle and run the lines through the rings. Normally, I don't use a surcingle when ground-driving, because it limits my flexibility to use an "opening rein" from the side to direct the horse, and because it also creates a leverage effect by the lines running through the rings that I don't want. I particularly don't like this leverage effect when I'm using a bit. But Dawn and I are using the fuzzy-nose halter so the leverage isn't really an issue, and I don't need to use an opening rein on the trails as I'm directly behind her, so the surcingle may allow me to more easily ask her to keep her head off the ground, and there's less risk of line entanglement if she does drop her head. We'll continue to ground-drive without the surcingle when we're doing figures and patterns, and scary object training (yet to come) in the arena.

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And now for something off-topic. I've been having some fun with an internet radio service called Pandora. This site allows you to create custom "channels" based on things you like. You select an artist or a song or a piece of music, and then, based on the musical characteristics of what you chose, other songs are suggested that you can accept or veto - each choice further shapes what is offered next. You can also add artists/songs to a particular channel to further shape what you want. The site is based on the work of human musicians who classify each song on the basis of many different musical characteristics - this newspaper article does a better job of describing it than I do. They have over 300,000 (and rapidly growing) songs or musical pieces, ranging all across the musical spectrum. The really fun thing is that you don't have to hear stuff you don't like - you do the programming - and you get to discover artists you've never heard of who are really interesting. There are pop-up ads and occasional sound ads, but I haven't found those anywhere near as annoying as the ads on the radio.


  1. You are the second person that has mentioned Pandora. I need to check it out!

    I always run the lines through the surcingle when I ground drive simply for safety (entanglement). I usually ground drive with a halter as well, rarely a bit. Ground driving is a very useful tool!

  2. I love Pandora! My brother showed me it. I'm not usually an "early adopter" of new things, but he is. I'm really happy he did. Glad you like it too!

    Armani tends to get really distracted when we ride outside. I've found singing to him can help bring his attention back on me - and keep me breathing. But that could be hard I guess if you are using verbal queues and don't want to confuse them.

  3. Pandora's been around quite awhile, but it just now seems to be catching on with a lot of people. I started using it 4 or 5 years ago while in school. It's a fun way to listen to music!

    Since she's pretty comfortable in the arena, how about starting some now with scary objects and obstacles in the arena? I would think this might help with her confidence on the trail and in new/distracting environments.

    Mary H.

  4. I love pandora!

    Also I think what you are doing with Dawn is great. It has inspired me to try ground driving thinking it may be a nice trail activity for us as well. I had never thought of using ground driving on the trail before. Keep us updated on the go cue. I too find it hard to hold a whip. Ground driving takes a lot of coordination I don't have :)

  5. I always use the driving reins through the surcingle rings too. Makes for a neater and, I think, safer alternative.

    Once when the animal communicator talked to my Toby about why he was better when I long lined him in the arena...mostly on a circle with me in the center....as opposed to riding, and he said, "I can see her that way."

    Perhaps if you tried longlinging from the side the way they do in some of the Spanish Riding School exercises, it might help. You would walk alongside Dawn a bit behind the girth area. Kind of short long lines, but ground driving nonetheless.

  6. I found this post quite interesting because I'm having some similar problems with Panama getting distracted, now that I'm trying to work him in a new place. I know the issues will most likely disappea as he becomes more comfortable at the new barn, but it still presents itself as an opportunity to work on his focus.

    By the way, I used to love Pandora too -- until I discovered they were downloading third-party tracking software onto your computer. Read the sign-up agreement! I am very particular about what I download, as I like to keep my computer running at optimal speeds, so I tend to avoid anything that I don't absolutely need.


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