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 . . .