Monday, January 17, 2011

Developing the Virtues - Drifter

This is a follow-on post to my post "Virtues Instead of Actions" and my posts on developing Dawn's virtues and on developing Pie's virtues.

Drifter and I haven't spent that much time together yet, but I was with him for about two hours, including almost an hour of working with him and riding him.  I think I've got some insights into where he stands at this point on the virtues - it'll be interesting to see what more I learn about him when he arrives (assuming all goes well with the vet check) in March.  Here's what I think we've got:

Attention.  I think this virtue is one that he innately has, but he hasn't recently had a leader who's asked for his attention under saddle.  The contrast between his behavior when doing groundwork and when ridden was quite noticeable.  He was very attentive during the groundwork - his owner had done lots of that with him and gave him the leadership he needed.  The benefit of this is that his manners when led are excellent, and he is very good about staying out of my space. When ridden, he wanted to ignore his rider, take over and make the decisions - mainly, I think, because he was used to doing this because his owner didn't provide him the guidance he needed.  I suspect this virtue will come through in ridden work pretty quickly.

Patience.  I think this is a virtue that should be relatively easy to develop.  So far, he hasn't been asked to hold his feet up for picking, or stand still when tied and being groomed and saddled instead of wiggling around, or stand still at the mounting block.  Once again, I think it's just a matter of asking him to do it and giving lots of positive reinforcement for tries in the right direction.  When his owner had a lot of trouble mounting him because he wouldn't stand still, I spent about five minutes working with him on it and he clearly was willing and able to do it once he understood what I wanted - I think he appreciated someone being clear about it.

Curiosity/ability to experiment/playfulness.  I was pleased with his work on standing still for mounting and also some softening work at the walk - he'd clearly never been asked to do either but pretty quickly figured out what I wanted.  There is a nervous edge on him - he seems to me like a horse that's been pushed and picked at and not given enough time to think and process - he worries that he may be wrong and about what's going to happen when he is wrong.  I don't think this part of the equation comes from his current owner - it probably dates back to some other earlier training he received.  He did walk right up to me in the pasture, and sniffed my face, so he's curious and willing to investigate.

Forward/impulsion/responsiveness.  He's got good natural confirmation to be able to carry himself using his core with a relaxed top line - he just hasn't been asked to do it.  He struggled initially with the softening work at the walk we did in our session, but once he got it, it was really there - I got some moments where he was using his core and relaxing his top line.  I think he's going to find this work a bit easier physically than Pie will - Drifter does travel without using his core but he's not as inverted as Pie is.  He's pretty responsive to the aids, but also a bit rushy - this is a bit of the worry and nervousness coming through, and to be fair he hadn't been ridden but a few times over the previous 5 months.  I did get some resistance to the aids - some bracing on the bit and even some tail swishing - but I think this was more about his reluctance to give up leadership (since he'd had to provide it because his owner didn't) than about him being touchy or resistant.  I think he'll turn out to be plenty responsive without being hyper-sensitive.

Willingness/softness.  He showing his willingness in the work on standing for mounting and softening at the walk - his owner was delighted with the progress he was able to make in the short time I worked with him.  I think once I can show him that I will provide consistent, fair leadership, he'll be pretty happy about that and able to further develop emotional and mental softness, hand in hand with the physical softening work we'll be doing.

Kindness/sociability.  He seems to have a sweet, people-friendly disposition.  Any variation from this seems largely due to his having to make decisions since his owner didn't provide him with guidance and direction, or because he's developed bad habits - such as taking his feet away rather than holding them up for picking.

Calmness/relaxation.  There's that edge of worry and nervousness, but I think that's an overlay on what is basically a pretty laid-back personality.  I think the worry and nervousness will dissipate once he can rely on me for leadership - he isn't really a dominant horse, he's been forced into the leadership position and I think will pretty happily give it up.

Self-confidence.  I think he's a pretty confident horse - he was able to step up and make his own decisions when his owner didn't provide leadership, but I think he'll be happier having a human leader to rely on.

Trust/trustworthiness/supportiveness.  This is one that will take development - he's not sure that he can trust people to direct him - I think the trust will develop along with the mental softening that will come with the rest of the work we do together.  I suspect he's going to turn into a great partner.

I'm hoping that the vet check will go well, and looking forward to starting work with him when he gets here, and seeing how accurate my preliminary assessment is!


  1. You seem to have a good sense of Drifter even though your time with him was limited. Hopefully, the vet check will be passed with flying colors and he will be yours soon. Then you can see if your assessment was right on. Good luck.

  2. Pie=virtue on almost all counts. Drifter=potential virtue on all counts. What more could you want.

    You've come up with keen analyses for both horses, that's for sure. It makes for a nice plan of action and a good sense of where you want to go.

  3. Kate, That's a great analysis on various virtues for Drifter. I especially noticed the mentions of how a horse does well with a good leader. I think this is one of the most important aspects of horsemanship - that horses in general do better with clear, fair, good, strong leadership. Learning how to be a good leader, and when to be really, really firm and when to be just firm enough, has been one of the most challenging, and most fulfilling parts of owning Buckshot. I'm sure you are an excellent leader for your horses as you understand the importance of it so well. Thanks for an insightful post!

  4. I have horses here who are worried about making a mistake. It is just their personality, not any past history has caused this. They are over achievers and worried they aren't going to be good enough so new things stress them just a bit but they settle in quickly and learn easily. I wonder if that is the root of this for Drifter.

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  6. Great post, Kate.

    I've been trying to work a lot with Bar on what I expect from him and rewarding him when he gives it, rather than over-correcting when he doesn't. Half the time, just giving him that time to think is the right path.

    It seems to be working (at least most days), so I'll stick with it. :)

  7. Hey just a note to let you know, I linked to you on this blog award thing. No pressure to participate but I wanted you to know how much I adore your blog!

  8. I gave you an award on my blog

  9. Drifter sounds a lot like my horse, Cowboy. I'm very curious to see how he turns out and how you see him in these categories when and if he arrives this spring. It appears that a lot relies upon how he changes once he has leadership and consistency. It'll be fun to watch his transition and growth under you.....assuming the vet check works out, etc.

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