Even though Pie had a rest day today, we actually did do a little bit of work. His ground manners and leading are already excellent in almost all respects, but there were a few small things I wanted to fine tune. It's clear he was taught to lead level with your shoulder, and I want him to lead behind me when he's the only horse I'm leading. This means he's truly following me, can't lead me as we make turns and makes it easier to do turns to the right and also means if he spooks he's less likely to end up on top of me - not that I think Pie's a big spooker or that reactive. (I was really pleased with something yesterday - when I went into the dry lot to retrieve him after his play time with the geldings, I haltered him on the far side of the pasture, and just as I did, Scout bolted away from Pie to the gate. Did Pie bolt or pull on the halter? No, he just looked and stayed right with me. Really, really nice!)
We walked around a bit and I worked on making it clear to him how I wanted him to lead - he's good at getting out of my space when asked - I only had to make little popping noises to get what I wanted - his first response was to want to go around me on the right but he quickly got what I wanted and was happy to oblige - leading an arm's-length behind me on a loose lead, and stopping, turning and moving as I did. He would call from time to time, but never got agitated.
He also tends to root or push on the halter sometimes - I expect he may have gotten an unintended release for this and has learned the behavior. The man who owned him also showed me his head-down for bridling, and he tended to pop right up after responding to the pressure - this is really the same thing as the rooting/pushing against halter pressure. So we worked on our backing in hand and our head down with the halter, without him getting a release for bumping/pushing/rooting against the halter, using my hands as a barrier - no pulling - just as I described in this post which is one of a series I've been working on. The next post in the series, which I need to get done, is about just this sort of stuff - in-hand softening work. Pie and I did this in short sets, mixed in with leading work. He was pretty braced at first, especially for the backing - his first effort was to back his feet very nicely while staying completely braced in his head and neck. We kept trying, and he figured it out and after that I was able to get a couple of repetitions of softer backing, where the feet moved in a relaxed manner and he was able to soften in his head and neck.
Pie's a quick learner, and I think this is the sort of work we'll be doing - making very small adjustments to what is a really solid foundation for such a young horse.
I also worked with him some on picking up his feet - I noticed when I was trying him out that he didn't do this all that readily. I got the "Pie face" on this one, and although I did get his feet picked, we've got more work to do on this one.
Next we did some "just-standing-around" work - I really like this work. I think it helps a horse learn to just "be with" you and also builds a relationship where you provide them a safe, calm place. For a nervous, anxious horse like Dawn, this work, in hand and under saddle, has been critical to building her trust and relaxation. For Pie, it was to start on building a new relationship - my just spending time being with him is good for that. I know sometimes it's easy to get into just "doing" things with or to the horse, rather than "being with" the horse - I try to carry that "being with" feeling into all the work and the just-standing-around is a good start on it. So Pie and I stood on the grass field behind the barn for a bit, with the loose lead draped over my forearm, and just watched what was going on. If he fidgeted, I let him provided he didn't intrude into my arms'-length space. He was pretty good about it, but it was clear he wanted to go back to the other horses.
Tomorrow I'm hoping to get in a trail ride with Sugar's and/or Scout's owners!