Monday, June 6, 2011

Drift Tries a Trick

The heat index is up to 94F this afternoon, and it's supposed to hit almost 100 tomorrow and into the 90s again Wednesday.  I've been turning my horses out extra early and bringing them in at lunchtime - our pastures have no shade whatsoever.  Pie gets very hot in his dry lot - he does have a shed but the ground is hard and bare and probably makes it even hotter than the pastures.  Pie also is still adapting to the heat and humidity, and he's also not fit right now which means his heat tolerance is lower.  He lets me know - he comes to his gate and asks to come in.

Any riding that gets done happens in the early morning.  When I brought Pie in to tack up, he seemed the slightest bit sore - not striding out as well as I'd like, so I gave him one gram of bute and the day off.  I think he might have found the hard rocky trails yesterday a bit too much for his feet - he got trimmed last week, and although we left his frogs and soles pretty much alone, the ground is like concrete - we've gone from torrential rain and cold to no rain and extreme heat just like that.

Dawn and I had a nice, very forward trotting ride.  She was enjoying the morning cool and was full of energy.  She did some nice shortening/lengthening of trot and some spiral in/out work, and her stretching down was pretty good too.

By the time Drift and I started work, it was beginning to warm up.  He was very good leading in and on cross ties - not a single scream, although he'd been screaming to Dawn from time to time while I was working her.  His initial trot work was quite good - his trot is starting to open up and relax and he rarely thought about cantering.  Then we did some canter work - it was really nice.  We started on the right lead, and although it took him a few tries to get the correct lead, once he was on it he cantered very nicely - his breathing was good almost from the beginning - regular and deep - and as a result there was very little head throwing or leaping and the canter is starting to be more rhythmical.  His right lead has always been the harder one for him, so this was excellent progress.  The left lead was easier, and we did some work using more of the ring.

We rested for a bit, and then I asked him to do some more trot work.  At that point he tried a trick that he hasn't tried with me before.  Although he's generally quite willing and cooperative now that he's accepting my leadership, I believe he also has learned some behaviors from his interactions with his prior owners and handlers - he's learned that if he does x then his handler does y - he's trained his handlers or they by their reactions to his asks have trained him to do those behaviors.  He's a pretty smart little horse and he was pretty used to doing just what he wanted when I got him.  This was the origin of his bad ground manners and his poor loading and his poor foot handling - he'd learned that if he barged or didn't load or wouldn't pick up his feet he could do what he wanted and he hadn't been taught what he should do instead.

We've mostly worked through the ground issues and the loading - there are rough edges but things are pretty good.  His bracing on the bit is pretty much gone and he rarely attempts to go where he wants when I'm riding - he started out trying to go to the arena gate.  He's much more able to work for extended periods of time - at the beginning he would get petulant if you asked him to keep working - his tail would swish and you could mentally hear him stamping his foot.

Today he apparently decided that it was hot and he was tired and wanted to be done.  When I asked for a walk/trot transition, he balked and attempted to veer around towards the gate.  I used my hand on my leg as a secondary cue and when that didn't produce an immediate response, I took the tail of my reins and whacked him (not very hard) on the shoulder.  After a couple of repeats, he trotted off again.  Now I should add that sometimes balking can be the result of pain, fear or badly fitting tack - I don't believe any of those were the case with him - he just decided to be done and used a technique he'd been "trained" to do in the past.  The other reason I think it was a learned behavior is that the bracing came back at the same time - he was reverting to his old way of going and the bracing was part of that.  Very shortly after that, we were back to doing very nice soft walk/trot transitions, and we did a whole set of those in both directions, as well as some nice trotting, before we were done.  Although some of his behaviors can seem dramatic, and were perhaps intimidating to his prior handlers/riders, it usually doesn't take much to talk him out of them - "oh, well, I guess I can trot if you really want me to" - if I'm just persistent and focus on what I do want him to do and reward him for doing it.


  1. It seems like yesterday I was reading about your cold, snowy weather. I don't envy that kind of heat.
    It's great that you can bring Drift's attitude / attention back so quickly and without fuss. I love watching them go from resisting work to learning to learn. It sounds like his whole perception of the process of learning and working is getting much more positive. Good work.

  2. Sounds like he has a few more buttons for you , but overall, a smart fellow who will learn to do it right sooner than later. Hope Pie adjusts to the weather soon poor guy

  3. We recently had a similar ride to yours with Drift, regarding acting out to evade trot work - Val gave me some popping up in the front and head shaking.

    My mind always heads to "what could be wrong" before "why is he being a pill"... but this time I believe it was behavioral as well. Smartypants ;)

  4. Good that you worked him through his little "I don't want to" behavior. He was most likely hot and tired and just didn't feel like working. Had the same thing with Blue over the weekend. Not in the mood but we worked it out.

  5. What a stinker, I guess you can't blame a guy for trying. It used to work. I'm glad he came back to your world quickly. Awww Drift. I imagine he's always going to have to test his boundaries.

  6. Drift may still be testing you, but it seems pretty clear he knows he's not really going to get away with it for long. I do like how quickly he surrenders and goes back to work.

    The heat is coming back here too. We did have some nice spring weather this year, but when summer strikes, it hits hard. Hope Pie manages OK.

  7. The heat here is just awful. I thought when school let out I'd get some serious work done outside. Well, haha. We've broken three records in the past week with temps going up to - and over - 102 (ugh). Thankfully, there's lots of shade in the pasture.
    Funny how horses like to try stuff sometimes to see if it will work *laugh*. Ours do it once in awhile too. I've even caught a surreptitious glance out of the corner of my eye right beforehand, as they check to see if I'm paying attention (sorry dude but yep, still here ;o)

  8. That's a dramatic weather change. That going hard to the gate sounds like something Cowboy used to do when I first got him. He'd even do a flying lead change to get the advantage. I hadn't thought about it until I read this because it's been so long since he did anything resembling it.

  9. Sounds like you've got Drift's number. In the long term, you and he will build a very strong bond through these types of leadership interactions.

    Poor Pie. He sounds like a delicate flower. Hopefully he'll acclimate to the heat and hard ground eventually, like the horses here in New Mexico have to do. Our ground is caliche. It's rocky and feels like walking on concrete all year long. Horses around here have dry hard hooves. My farrier requests that I soak my horses feet an hour before he arrives or he can end up breaking the nippers or straining himself trying to cut through the hard hooves.

    It's in the upper 90's here now, too, and with the high particulate from the AZ fires it's tough to breathe. Most folks don't have enclosed barns in our area. Three-side shelters are the norm. I told my husband we should make breathing filters for all the critters, designed like grazing muzzles. Hmmm.


  10. I've heard tell it's going to be an extra hot summer, seems that it's starting out that way. My horses don't have shade in their turnout pastures, I may have to rig some tarp shade shelters or give them limited turn out during the hottest part of the day.


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