Thursday, December 8, 2011

Very Good Session With Drifter

Drifter and I had an excellent work session today.  The wind chill was about 30F and the arena footing wasn't fabulous but it's about to get much colder and windier and I wanted to get a work session in. I wasn't sure at the beginning how it was going to go - he was pretty up and made one attempt to nip me when I went to halter him in his paddock - he got a firm swat to the muzzle for that and after giving me a peeved look didn't try that again.

We've been doing a lot of work with him moving out of my space whenever I ask by moving towards him or holding up a hand or touching his body, and also on his maintaining an appropriate distance from me - I can come up to him but he can't come right up to me.  And we've been doing lots of backing away from me if I ask him to back using my voice, holding up my hand or moving into his space.

Today I carried a dressage whip for our lungeing session - I had a lunge whip on the ground in the middle of the arena just in case but never needed it.  I worked on being very clear with my body language and position, and our lungeing session went very well after he settled down a bit and realized I didn't want him to run in circles, even though I was carrying a whip.  There were no major meltdowns or difficulties - he did turn in a few times but I just calmly started him out again in the correct direction.  I worked on doing the least I could but doing as much as was needed, and ended up not having to get very big at all. By the end, we were doing lots and lots of walk/trot transitions with some halts thrown in - I used verbal commands as well as body language and if an upwards transition wasn't immediate, I used a flick of the whip instantly to reinforce it.

Once that was going well, I mounted up.  I carried my short crop, and my objective was to get immediate transitions to trot without a moment's hesitation - I was to give him the aid and if he didn't instantly move into trot add the secondary aid of the crop tapping his shoulder.  The first time was almost perfect - I cued and a fraction of a second later used the crop, not all the hard and voila we had an excellent trot transition.  I've been waiting too long to use the secondary cue - if I can be right behind the primary cue there's not time for hesitation/balking to develop.  I think the secondary cue won't be needed for long, although I'll probably continue to carry the crop just in case.  No secondary cue was needed on any other trot transition during our work today.

And, as suggested by several commentators, we did lots of standing around after he did something well, with lots of verbal praise and rubs thrown in.  I was pretty pleased - he just looked tired but his eye was softer and he seemed to understand he had done well.  We're pretty close weather wise to losing the ability to work in the arena, and I wanted to get things in decent condition with Drifter before I'm shut down for the middle of the winter.  I felt good about today - if this was our last work session before Drifter got the winter off, I wouldn't feel too bad.  But there are some warmer days in the forecast next week, so maybe we're not done yet for the year . . .


  1. Sounds like you and Drifter had a nice session and a good ride. I don't carry a crop anymore with Blue or Dusty but occasionally I would with Erik. Funny thing was I never had to use it just carrying it was enough to get him to pay attention. Hope the weather stays warm for a bit longer.

  2. You have me thinking of fairness today. I took Smokey on an adventure today, and I realized that he is similar to Drifter (and my 9 year old for that matter) in that he has a very strong reaction to situtations that he deems are unfair.

    I wonder where in horse rationale that comes from.

    I'm thrilled that you've found a better place with him. It's the smart, sensitive ones that are the toughest, but where the greatest pay off is, I suspect.

  3. I'm enjoying these posts about your challenges with Drifter. Very helpful.

    I hope you get some more rides in! :)

  4. I think backing work with a horse like this really helps--it sounds like he's got it down well. There is something about moving the feet that way that allows them to be more receptive. I change it up with my feisty mare when I ask for the back--sometimes I ask her to go a bit faster, particularly when I feel she's being begrudging about following through.

    Is he behaving with your other barn folks, or are you the one who's handling him most of the time right now? Good to hear he's got so much turnout--I'm sure that will help get him back in touch with his "new" body.

  5. So glad you had a great session. Don't forget to revel in your own success in those moments as well, pat yourself on the back too. :)
    Love your blog. You make me think and learn. Thank you

  6. Drifter is a challenging horse in many ways for sure, but just in the last three work sessions you have made a lot of progress. I was thinking about when you got him and even hoof picking was a challenge. I think you deserve some kudos as well as Drifter for the good work today.

  7. In some ways your Drifter sounds like my Bella. She's very sensitive too, and easily offended, she just doesn't show it as openly. I just recently realized she needs things slowed down and made very clear and deliberate rather than snappy and fast, and she responds extremely well to 30 seconds (or more, depending on the situation) in between requests. I can watch her eye go from hard and guarded to soft and attentive in a flash, and all I have to do is give her time to realize she's done the right thing. It's fun to see the parallels between the your horse and mine.

  8. Good work. I always have a whip when I lunge. It's an essential for all "those moments." Glad to know Drifter was responding well to it. That's a good sign.

    Also the "secondary cues," or the stronger aid, applied almost at once when the horse ignores the initial cue is another one of those essentials. Otherwise, all you do is make your horse dull. Once again, well done.

    Wishing you some more good weather so you can enjoy your babies. You are making such good progress, it would be nice to have some more time to work on things now.

  9. Sounds like it was a good session. Even a few minutes a day all winter long, can lead to such success :)


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