Thursday, May 5, 2011

Drifter Curls Up

It was another busy day with horses, before the rain arrived in the late afternoon.  I had a good ride on Pie - we did more work on consistent softening at the trot, and then did some work on our canter departures.  The left lead is still not consistently there - I think it's more of a communication issue than a physical one.  The only arena work he's done previously was in a medium-sized round pen where leads would happen naturally - he's never had to take up one lead or the other when asked.  He understands "canter" but he doesn't yet understand "right lead" or "left lead".  To help him out, we did some figure 8s at the canter with simple (trotting) changes of lead in the middle.  He began to get the idea.  Then we took a brief trail ride - the weather wasn't too bad - around 60F - although the wind was blowing pretty hard.  Before I turned him back out, I loaded him in the trailer (the last time he was on a trailer was his trip to our barn at the end of October) - he hesitated for a moment, then walked right in.  Good Pie!

Drift and I had a good work session too, although he was pretty wound up and distracted and took a good while to settle - we did more lungeing than normal and it took a long time at the walk to begin to get some relaxation.  Then we moved on to trot. Drift and I have barely scratched the surface of his trot work.  On a loose or long rein, he rushes, braces/pushes down on the bit and falls on the forehand.  If you take up contact, he rushes and curls up behind the vertical, which also means he's on the forehand - in neither case is he soft, relaxed or rhythmical - this is quite how Dawn was when we started her softening work - if you look at the photo essays in the "Working Towards Softness" sidebar you'll see other examples.  I rather suspect at some time in his past he was ridden a lot in drawreins.  When he curls up, it looks like this - pretty ugly (I'm not pulling on him here but rather trying not to give him a release when he's in this position):

As our work progressed, there were glimmers of progress as he began to relax a bit:

In the second photo above, you'll note that in addition to his face being behind the vertical (although not as badly as before), his neck is "broken" at a point several vertebrae down from his poll - there's a brace in there.

Finally, we got something a little better:

This isn't too bad, and I like his expression - there's almost a Zen face and his ears are relaxed - although note in the enlarged header photo that he's still keeping an eye on the photographer so he's not completely focussed and relaxed - and my contact is very soft and he's engaged behind.  Due to his build, his head carriage may always be this high, but we'll have to see.  Paradoxically, I need more forward to get this softness - it's when he's cramped up and tense and rushing that he curls up or braces.  To see that he's able to do this bit of relaxation and softening, although at this point inconsistently - he's not completely sure of what I want yet - is very encouraging. (And thanks to our wonderful p.m. barn lady for the pictures!)

And here's my good Drift after our work session - he's finally pretty relaxed, although still alert:

And then to finish things off, we did some more trailer loading (see yesterday's post for our first, fairly long, session).  I led him over to the trailer, and after a token show of resistance involving a little fish-tailing and one pull back, on he walked - it took about 3 minutes.  We did it one more time because I wanted him to stand on the trailer for a moment until I asked him to back out rather than deciding to back out himself.  After only about a minute, on he got, and stood nicely with his head out the window until I asked him to back off after about 10 seconds.  He's a smart boy and has figured out that getting on the trailer quickly is less work for him than trying not to get on the trailer, since he's going to get on the trailer in any event. We're not to my objective yet, which is to just lead onto the trailer like Pie does, but we'll get there. Good Drift!


  1. Your header photo is gorgeous. I'd be happy with that! I think forward is the answer to a lot of issues.

  2. Nice work and pictures. You can see some differences in the pictures.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. That's a lot of improvement in one ride. Good ride.
    Someone (or maybe multiple someones) tried to beat and pull Nina's head down and make a peanut roller out of her. Every step in normal carriage, every time she gets nervous and DOESN'T drop the bit and tuck her head between her legs is a victory. There needs to be special karma for people who do this to a horse.

  4. Lots of progress with Drifter in that series of pictures. *LOVE* the new header photo!

  5. I am more than familiar with the horse that curls! This was one of my main issues with my leased horse. I'm told he was broken in draw reins. Bah!

    I think forward is pretty much the basis of the solution to many things (not to be confused with rushing) and is not really all that paradoxical.

    Looks like you've got a good start in teaching him that tucking isn't the answer; though I'm not a big fan of open rein fingers. For us, the key has been to make sure I'm sitting up, shoulders back, and setting the horse back, all while he has forward drive.

    Sometimes I have to lift more firmly (mostly leg but also in conjunction with outside rein)and give the release when he comes up, otherwise he'd stay down forever.

    I think behind the bit is much harder to fix than somewhat inverted. I'm sure it depends on how long certain techniques are used and the horses' personality, but this is still Brumby's default when things get tough, even if it's been months and months since he's done it last.

    Looking forward to seeing how you deal with this, especially since you take your time more than any rider I know.

  6. He is such a gorgeous horse! I so enjoy reading about your work with him.
    Thank you for sharing!

  7. RuckusButt - I was taught to ride with a closed hand. I've found that, for me at least, when I close my hand I have to use larger muscles in my arm to respond to the horse's pressure on the bit and there's more of a tendency for me to hold tension/braces in my arms. With the partially open fingers, I can use very small amounts of finger movement to change the pressure/respond to the horse while keeping my arms relaxed. Technically incorrect, but seems to work for me - but I'm not advocating it for others.

  8. This may be the first time I've really seen or paid attention to Drift's looks. I like a pony with some substance, and he looks great: nice deep barrel, broad chest. That's the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like 'em.

  9. You are sure keeping busy (just read the post below too) and it shows in the improvement in your horses. Love the new header photo too.

  10. He's a beautiful horse when he's relaxed. You're doing great with him and come a long way.

  11. He's looking so much better. I love his trot in the header photo, and I like the last shot too.

  12. Curling up like that is a very hard habit to overcome. Drift really does need to learn to take that contact.

    Had a Saddlebred that was "too light" in the bridle like that. I went to a very thick...eventually rubber snaffle...until he began to get confident about the contact. It took quite a while.

    I tend to "play" the reins with my fingers too. Never quite a completely open hand, but never a fist, either.

  13. It's sometimes hard to get them to figure out what we want but he's getting there. Good work with the trailer too. And as always, Good Pie.

  14. Kate, I completely get what you're saying. I think I try to have my hands closed but not closed hard in a fist. There is plenty of "give" in the ring finger. I think what matters most is what works for you and the response of the horse.

  15. It's so frustrating when they do that! Glad you're on top of it. So many people think it's 'pretty' and end up encouraging it. It's a very annoying habit to correct down the line. Good luck :)

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