Monday, April 11, 2011

No More Baby Stuff

Drifter and I had a marathon work session this afternoon.  By the time we were done, we'd been working for well over an hour and a half.  My objective going in was zero tolerance for baby stuff.  I was going to expect him to act like a grown up horse, and I was going to be very clear about exactly what I expected him to do so there would be no questions.  I went and got him from the pasture, and we started our work right there with leading.

My requirements for him when leading is that he stay an arm's length from me at all times, and that his head stay pointed towards me - no passing me to one side, or turning his head away from me and popping his shoulder towards me.  I've been slacking a bit lately on being consistent with my requirements and his leading has gotten worse as a result.  Behind me, at an arm's length; on turns, he's to wait and follow me at an arm's length - no cutting the corner or getting ahead of me.  We got there; parts of it weren't pretty.  Every time his attention would stray or his head would turn, I would ask him to bring his head back in line - most of the time it didn't take a lot of pressure, a couple of times I had to get pretty big.  Every time he started to creep too close, I made noise and when necessary, bopped him in the nose with my hand.  He got the idea pretty quickly.  Once things were going better, I would stop and praise him whenever he halted nicely at an appropriate distance.  This wasn't easy - it took a good ten minutes of work to get him to that point.  No exceptions, no allowances - those are the rules and he's to stick to them.

Here are some photos of leading showing what I mean - these are from after our ridden work session as we were doing a review when things were a bit calmer, but they give you the idea of what I was after.

The other horses were still out in the pastures and there was a lot of activity - Charisma being groomed and then going down the trail, horses coming in.  It took a while for him to be able to focus - I had him loose and basically urged him to move until he decided that he could focus on me.  Once I had his focus, we did a bit of lungeing on the line - I asked him to walk, trot, halt and change direction as I directed - no baby refusals to move or trying to turn in and stop work, and I had zero tolerance for any sort of resistance or acting up - he pawed once and that got a big reaction from me and it didn't happen again.  The lungeing went pretty well.  Then we ground tied and groomed and saddled up.  I had zero tolerance for wiggling, fidgeting, or other baby behaviors like sniffing the ground or trying to pick the lead up in his mouth - this is a trick that his former owner seemed to like but that I find to be baby behavior that I want to eliminate.  He's to stand still for grooming and tacking, period.  He did well at this.  In all of this, with the exception of space intrusions, which did get a bigger reaction, all I did when he didn't do something the way I wanted was to just clearly and calmly keep asking for what I did want.

Before I mounted, we did a little bit of work on backing softly in hand:

Then I mounted up - again I was looking for him to do it right, no allowances for almost right - this is really much more about me being clear and consistent than about him.  He did very well - here's a sequence of photos showing what we did.  In the first photo, I'm sending him around the block again since he didn't line up correctly:

He's lined up pretty well here - I don't steer him, I expect him to do it on his own - but I'm asking him to take one more step forward:

And up I go - two things to note about this series of photos - there's no pressure on the reins at any point - he's standing still by his own choice - and he's a bit distracted: I don't care as long as he's able to do what I want:

Then off we went on our ridden work.  I was looking for a nice walk, without bracing or rushing - any time there was any bracing or rushing, we circled - we did lots of circles for a while:

Finally, he began to relax a bit:

We threw in some halts and backing from time to time - again no bracing was the requirement - this back is good but not great - he's only letting go in the upper part of his neck, not the lower part:

The quality of his walk was improving and the softness was beginning to come through:

Note how much better this back is than the previous one, which wasn't bad:

Over the poles:

The picture was beginning to get much nicer:

At the end, I asked him to walk softly and nicely around all the cones and away from the gate to the middle of the arena - he tends to want to finish at the gate as I expect that's what he's used to - where I would halt and dismount.  We were interrupted by a brief episode of screaming for the other horses and some circles until he could focus again, but we got there.

After I dismounted, I had him follow me and we did a little refresher on paying attention to staying out of my space - he should be able to do this whether he's on a lead or not:

I was very proud of him and told him so - we made a lot of progress together in just this session.  Good Drifter! (And many thanks to our wonderful p.m. barn lady for the pictures - I rarely have a photographer.)


  1. So nice to see the training session in pictures. He's looking very nice. I'm impressed that he's relaxing and softening so well already.

  2. Good post. As a visual person I appreciate the pictures so tell your barn lady thanks for me.


  3. What a great foundation you are laying out for him. Clearly and consistently. You two will go far!

  4. Looks like he's paying attention to your giving him "the finger" in the last photo! ;)

  5. Sounds like he's coming along nicely and is a very smart and sensible horse that is willing to try without much argument.


  6. Your patience is truly commendable. It seems like he's the kinda guy if you give him an inch, he'll take a mile. Reminds of my own children when they were young. :-)

  7. Mary - I have to be patient in order to take the time we need in each work session to get to the point I want - otherwise we won't be able to get this baby stuff taken care of and it'll keep cropping up. I think it helps that I don't blame him for his behaviors - it's what he's learned (or not learned) from his human handlers that's the problem, and he has to learn new behaviors - which means he has to let go of old behaviors - and that takes time. And I expect we'll have days where things go a step or two backwards before they can go forwards again.

  8. A good work session with Drifter to get him to give up his baby stuff. The key is to be consistent, I think you two had a really productive day with lots of progress.

  9. Wow! It sounds like you're making great progress with him. I really like how clear you are with what you ask of him.

  10. Those little evasions and bratitudes are so important to deal with; and it's so easy to ignore them and just get on and ride, but in the long run training sessions like this one pay off in better communication and more pleasant rides. Good job, Kate.

  11. What a great sequence of pictures illustrating your work. I am such a visual person - the pictures make it so much easier for me to understand. I really enjoyed seeing the mounting block pictures. I can see that I need to do a lot of work with that... and set my expectations up a bit higher, well, a whole lot higher!

  12. He's the kind of horse that just really need a western saddle. Dressage looks a little funny on him. ;-)

    With you at the reins, I'm pretty sure he'll come around and be awesome.

  13. Great progress. Drifter looks so good in these photos. Patience is truly a virtue and it certainly paid off for you.

    My horses walk with me off lead too. I started it with ground work. Walk. Halt. Trot. Halt. Turn. It is very gratifying to have a horse that will do this. Kudos to you and that sweet boy.

  14. Talking about baby stuff.... my mare has some bad habits I have been wanting to nip BUT I'm not exactly sure what to do.

    She stands still for grooming and tacking as long as I am engaged with her (i.e. touching or talking to her) but if I step away for a second or turn my attention to the other horse, she paws at the fence or picks things up from the grooming bucket. I know this is spoiled baby behavior but I'm just not sure how to take care of it. Her other deplorable habit is that she doesn't walk away when I'm loading but she takes a step or two to the side to juuuuuuuuust be out of reach. Oh Rosie!

    Any suggestions?

  15. Sprinkler Bandit - you're right, he's just made for a Western saddle. I'm hoping to get him an About the Horse (Black Rhino) saddle soon - want him to lose some of his flab and muscle up first.

    Rachel - it's very hard to give advice at a distance, but when the horse is learning to stand or not to fuss with objects I want to do something - your choice of what to do - if you don't want the behavior say something about it and keep asking for what you do want. If the horse moves or wanders off I immediately grab the lead and circle the horse until there's an offer to stand - doesn't matter if it's in exactly the same place. With a horse that already knows how to do this, I'll just readjust the horse's position slightly - move a foot, say.

  16. Sounds good Kate. I'll give those things a shot!

  17. Great post, nice to follow a training session in pictures. You could really watch his progress in the pictures - nice work!


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