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.)