March 10, 2010

Introduction to Ground Driving

There's such a fine line between anticipating and nagging, between creating a responsive horse and an unresponsive horse.  It's like all equine instincts have been bred out of Shae and he's a big lap dog with no concept that humans can hurt him and make him work.  Today I round-penned him in an effort to push him out of his comfort zone and get him to focus on me.  I'm not sure who ended up running more, me or him.  He listens to voice commands very well, but not all the time and more downward than upward.  I'd say he's near 100% on downward and only about 50% on upward. 

Getting him to canter, even while at liberty in the round pen with me wielding a lunge whip, was challenging.  Sara was watching and finally said, "I think you're going to have to actually hit him - pop him on the butt if he doesn't listen."  So I did, and he didn't flick an ear.  I could legitimately strike him with the whip - real cutting strokes - and get nothing.  He'd just want to come into the middle and say 'hi'.  He has no concept of work, no desire to move forward.  I ended the lesson fairly frustrated, though always on a good note.

I wasn't planning on doing an evening session with him, but then Dr. Marks (his owner, chair of the equine department) hung out with me in his stall for a half hour this evening and said she was going to come watch me work with him tomorrow.  Uh, pressure!  I know she's not keeping an eye on me or anything, that's not how she is, she's more interested in how her baby is handling training.  She's so professional with the rest of her horses, but Shae's the one that can give her "barn blindness."  He's her Black Stallion.  My plan had been to introduce ground driving tomorrow, but instead I took him out tonight.

He did fairly well at it: only got turned around once and only took off in frustration once.  I had more directional and speed control than I anticipated having - I thought it'd take a small army to get him to trot with me behind him, but he actually moved off without much resistance.  He was wiggly - one small correction to him meant that he should turn in a circle, but by using the rail and the inside line as "guides" for his hips we were actually traveling fairly straight by the time I quit.  I quit on a solid trot-walk-halt transition in which he stayed quiet, relaxed and did not fight the bit.

I liked the amount of focus I got from him when I was ground driving him.  For whatever reason, he's a very tactile animal: if something is touching him, it has his attention.  With a bit in his mouth, I was in his mouth in a way, and whether it was the newness of the concept or that, I won't know, but I had his attention more than I have in the past.

We didn't do much tonight; I just wanted to introduce it.  The meat of the lesson will be tomorrow where we'll continue to work on straightness and turning.  I know that if I got on his back right now he wouldn't care at all, so now it's up to me to decide how much control I want/need to have before I get on his back.

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