Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rethinking and Starting With Ground Manners

By the end of the day yesterday (read yesterday's post for the details), I felt pretty certain that the free lungeing we've been doing isn't really helping Drift get calm or focussed - it's mostly an excuse for him to spend a lot of time not calm and not focussed with brief intervals of attention to me.  Not what I want at all.  And he doesn't work out of his nervousness by galloping around, either - in fact it seems to work him up.

Part of the reason we've been doing the free lungeing is that his leading and his ground manners aren't where I want them to be, particularly as we lead to the arena and then go in - it's just been easier to let him go and let him run than buckle down to the hard work of getting his attention from the get-go, which requires that I expect him to focus on me and lead and handle the way I want from the moment the halter goes on.  This isn't his fault, it's mine - if I expect him to be a crazy nut on the way to and when we go into the arena, well it's not surprising that that's the horse that shows up.  Yes, all the mares are in heat, but who cares?  That's just an excuse on my part for letting him act out.

And I also read a post by mugwump yesterday - funny how these things show up at the right time - which just reinforced my need to rethink how I was approaching things (and thanks to Anonymous for his/her comments).  The subject of the post is interesting - the ultimate objective should be for the horse to start the day with the same attitude the horse ends the day with - calm and responsive.  You don't get there overnight, but the steps on the road require working with that objective, and working each time until the horse is calm and responsive - anything else is letting the horse down.  Now I know that this is possible - both Pie and Dawn start as calm as they end, almost every ride.  It wasn't that hard to get there with Pie, but Dawn was a huge challenge and we got there, and even after a winter off when I bring her out to ride, I get on and ride and expect her to be calm and responsive from the get go and that's what I get.  We certainly didn't start out there, as those of you who've been following along know - in the beginning she was very difficult to lead and handle and completely inattentive and easily distracted.

It all starts with leading and ground manners.  If the horse doesn't lead well and pay attention to you, your space and your requests when leading, from the moment the halter goes on, you've got nothing.  So this morning, Drift and I went back to basics.  I got out the rope halter - I rarely use one but in this case if I needed to get really big with him I wanted to be sure he got the message clearly, no ifs ands or buts.  At turnout time, after Pie went out but before any of the other horses went out, we spent about 15 minutes leading around the parking lot and up and down next to the barn (and the trailer which is still hitched and parked next to the barn).  From the first step, I insisted that he stay an arm's length behind me, stop moving his feet the instant I turned to face him (front foot in air not passing front foot on the ground), not turn until I directed him to - no anticipation or turning in front of me, and back up when I raised a hand or took a step towards him - all on a loose lead.

Lo and behold, within 10 minutes his leading was perfect - there were some big moments when I had to forcefully move him out of my space when he came too close or turned too soon, or tried to turn his head away from me - I wanted his head in line with the direction we were going.  But I didn't have to nag at him - once he got exactly what I wanted, since I was being consistent and expecting him to perform, he was able to do it, even when he was nervous walking next to the trailer - what I expected was more important to him than his nervousness.   He got lots of praise, face rubs and cookies for his good performance.  And I also got some big sighs, a lowered head and neck and a soft eye by the end - he was actually relaxing into my consistency - this is the first sign of true relaxation I've gotten from him - how about that?

This afternoon, I'm going to try the same leading routine as we walk to the arena and then into the arena where we'll do more leading without any preliminary free lungeing or line lungeing - stay tuned . . .


  1. I think going back to the basics until he understands what you want is a smart move. Sometimes I have the tendency to move along too fast with training and have to reel myself in and take it down a notch. Good boy Drift!

  2. Two steps forward... one step back!
    How smart of you to analyze his actions/reactions and go back to the basics. I love reading your blog. I gain so much from your insight.

  3. Some horses just pump themselves up with free lunging. Nina is one of those, she just hits the adrenaline button and hypes herself up with every stride. We have to find other solutions for these horses. I think more about keeping her quiet and relaxed rather than burning off energy. The kind that can burn off that energy and then relax are soooo much easier to deal with.

  4. How wonderful that you got those sighs of relaxation! I've been reinforcing consistent leading expectations with Jackson - since that is all we can do at the moment. And, the biggest payoff has been the huge leap in his bond to me - which I thought was good before. :)

  5. I think my Chickory mare is similar to your Drifter. Free longeing her is a disaster, it just teaches her to ignore me. She is much better working in hand.
    Love your new blog color; it's easier to read.

  6. Good job Kate - praise and cookies for you too!!

    I've been through the same thing with Val. We had to go back to basics not long after I got him. One of the hardest parts for me was swallowing my pride.

    It all comes down to "riding (working with) the horse you have today" :)

  7. I love that you changed your background color from red to blue with this post.

  8. I think going back to basics with a new horse is never a bad idea. You're still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase. I have a horse who does not calm down with free lungeing. She never has, she never will. Yet, she is the calmest horse ever and the least spooky. I always keep her on a line and it works out well. Every horse is different. BTW, thanks for the info about the head shaking sydrome. I still hope it's a problem with teeth, but if not, I'll know where to start looking for answers. A lot of the symptoms do match him. :/

  9. Lungeing never worked with Tucker, so I certainly understand about Drift.

    Glad you are going back to the basics. Many of the problems we have with our horse start on the ground. We need to be the calm leader right from the start and expect them to respect us. Sounds like your quiet and directed handling of Drift actually gave him some confidence so he could relax.

    Good going.

  10. It was a great post by mugwump and I used it today in my work with Lily. She is in that place of fear and uncertainty after too much time as reluctant leader in her paddock (normally she's way down the ladder).

    I think we tend to rush horses, by passing certain components just because they are "broke", ignoring the refresher course we all need after too much time off from anything.

    Glad drift picked it up. I imagine things will smooth out with this slower pace.

  11. Sounds like great progress!

  12. Sounds like a good tactic change


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