Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ground Training: What's On Your List?

I took Gabbrielle for a spin in the round pen. There are days when I ground drive her, and she performs like a dream, but then I free lunge her, and I realize she still has a lot to learn. Today was a day in which she free lunged like a dream, but was not as responsive as I would have liked her to be during ground driving. I'd cluck my tongue and say, "Walk!" However, she'd just look back at me as if saying, "Can we stop now?"

I'd slap the ropes against her sides while commanding her to walk, and she'd just ignore me. I'd stomp my feet, and then she'd sigh and walk off. In the picture below, she is trotting. See how she throws her head up high when she trots? I worry about how that's going to translate under saddle.

I also lunged her in the bit with the reins tied to her saddle. I started out with them fairly loose, so that she'd still understand that she needs to move forward. Once she made a few rotations, I tightened the reins and moved her off again. When I got the reins right where I ideally wanted her head set, I walked away to pick up the lunge whip.

A shot of adrenaline pumped through me and I heard my neighbor's voice in my head saying, "Don't tie the reins to the saddle like your trainer taught you to. It's dangerous!"

In that very instant I whirled around to find Gabbrielle in a panic backing up and rearing in an attempt to break free from the bit pulling on her mouth. Fortunately, she stopped when I said, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!"

I then loosened the reins, realizing that despite all of our training on giving to the bit and giving to pulls on the lead rope, she really still is not ready to be restrained by reins. I tied her to a fence post with her lead rope and let her stand for a while with the reins tied to her saddle with enough slack where she can still move her head around without panicking. There weren't any more problems.

The whole thing got me thinking that I should ask my readers what is on their ground training lists? What do you teach a young horse before you get in the saddle? I'll start the list, and add anything that you feel is a must do before mounting a young horse for the first time.

Handling the hooves, mouth, and ears
Pressure and release
Lowering head
Tying and standing
Giving of the head side to side and back
Turn on the hindquarters
Turn on the forehand
Lunging at all paces
Ground driving

What would you add?


Katharine Swan said...

I think that's a pretty comprehensive list. My trainer did all of that before getting in ther saddle, except for turning on the forehand and hindquarters. She taught him that from the saddle.

Panama carries his head high when he trots on his own too. I wonder if it's an Arab thing, but it could as easily be a young horse thing. My trainer taught him the correct head position with draw reins.

Another comment, though -- it looks like she's trotting really fast in that picture. If she tends to trot fast that would make her head come up. If that's what's going on, you could try to teach her to slow her trot and see if that helps.

I wouldn't assume that Gabbrielle's freak-out episode means she's not ready to be ridden. Having the reins in your hands is much different than tying them to her saddle. When you hold the reins, even if it means she's restrained, she can feel YOU. Furthermore, a good rider releases the pressure as a reward when the horse does what they want. Having them tied to her saddle, she can feel constant pressure but nothing else -- AND she can't see what's got her. I think that's a very different, much scarier type of situation for a horse.

Alex said...

have you tried side reins with a rubber "donut" I have them and love them for green/young horses. There is enough "give" in them that they usually dont set back against them, but you still get the right head set. just a thought

Paint Girl said...

I haven't saddle broke a horse before, but when I hired my trainer, she would longe them with the reins tied to the saddle just like you do. I still do that from time to time. Once they are used to it, they don't resist.
I am just now starting over with ground work on my Paint. She needs to learn to back off! She is such a people horse and has to be right by me. She is going to learn to respect my space!

Sydney said...

My list:

Leading anywhere without running ahead, running you over or balking
being able to be away from the herd and not have a meltdown (see tying)
Hobbling. Saved me more than once. Of course I only do it supervised and on a lead rope. Example was a colt that freaked when driving over a cow that was loose and popped up behind the bushes. He made a beeline for the neighbors barbed wire fence and had two legs tangled in it before I could even holler WOAH. He stood like an angel wile I cut the wire because he had been hobbled.
having any part of their body handled
Trailering has never been an issue for me, mine all hop in when I say git.
Lunge/free lunge.
Ground driving. Lots of it before they are even two.
I drive most of my horses a few months even if their future is a riding horse. Nothing fancy I just want them desensitized to noises and the shaves, turning, pulling weight etc. It translates to stuff like a horse panicking when going through a tight door, things banging off their legs and the first time they have a saddle on after they have been harnessed is nothing new. They don't even blink.

Hmm, I think thats about it. Oh I always make sure they are cool with ropes being swung all over any part of their body. I find it makes that first swing of a leg less scary.

I'm telling ya, you gotta get a bitless bridle ;) makes those first rides all the much easier without the head flipping, rearing fear.

City girl turned Country Girl said...

Good thing your instinct kicked in there!! Well your neighbors voice anyhow!! I do think your list is pretty much everything I can think of...

lytha said...

I use the side reins with elastic too, but at this point in Baasha's life, I'm not really sure the elastic is entirely necessary, just a bit kinder.

Guess what? I had a dream I came to your house and met your horses and helped you separate them! I remember taking Bombay to your hitching rail - a big standing railroad tie that was built to withstand horse silliness, and I tied him there. I remember he was wearing the pale blue halter/lead set, but I had trouble cuz your lead was a bit stiff, the knot took me a while. I remember there was snow somehow, and an very blue sky.

Sadly I don't remember what happened next. Did he freak out? Did the mares? I seem to recall he just stood there like a good boy. But what next? Agh, I hope I get a chapter two of that dream.

~lytha, too far away to help

sue said...

I just wanted to "ditto" Alex's comment, I would try side reins with the "donut" too.... they worked very well with my big draft, it was enough to keep him in place, but if he were being "too strong" they do have a little give and allow you a moment to step in and re group. BTW you said your neighbor made the comment, what are you being spied on yet again????

sue said...

me again, sorry re-read that and you did say "voice inside my head"... just one other thing, when i looked carefully at the photo, not only is her head high, but she is looking outside the ring and seemingly not giving you much of her attention... the side reins should help with that as well... as my trainer says when working a horse in the round pen (or arena) "there's nothing out there that is scary... the scary thing is in here with you"......

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Katharine - All very good points. I had the same thought about hands being able to give and the horse knowing what it pulling its head back.

Alex - I'll look into them.

Paint Girl - Staying out of your space is a good one. I work on that too, but didn't have it on the list.

Sydney - Good list.

City Girl - It was weird. This neighbor is a friend who bred, trained, and showed horses her whole life. She has 70-some years of experience while my trainer has also bred, trained and showed horses her whole life, but is only 20-something. They often contradict one another in their advice.

Lytha - That was a vivid dream. We did take the horses out to pasture another time, only I tied Bombay back at the paddock and I had worked Gabbrielle for an hour and a half before going to pasture. (There was some rest in between.) Anyway, G didn't cause any problems, both mares settled into eating right away, Bombay whinnied once, but otherwise waited while tied for us to come and get him. I'm not totally separating them yet, because the grass is so long that I need them all out there mowing it down.

Sue - Yes, this was the voice of my neighbor friend who has been one of my horsemanship mentors over the years. The neighbors who spy don't know anything about horses, but they've opened a horse boarding facility in which all they do is give the horses water and hay, while the boarders have to clean up. As they bring in more and more boarders I've got more and more people watching me in my yard and more and more traffic on my drive.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Wow, if you have succeeded in all those things on your list, you are definitely ready to hit the saddle!
I think it's important that they know voice commands. Also, make sure they will stop with whatever head gear you choose to use. It looks like you've already done that so climb on!

The biggest problem I usually have is making them go and I've started a dozen or more. It's only after several rides that the buck comes out and I've never had a rodeo event with my youngsters. It's usually just a rebellious buck or two at the canter.

Only Riddler caused major problems and that was because I had NEVER worked with him before attempting to get on. I got hurt the day I bought him. I was very stupid for trying him out that day before preparing him.

It took me more than three months to heal and then I had a horse to train. Because he was such a potential problem, my husband lunged him while I rode him the first few times. You may want to think about that. My husband knew very little about lunging but he was there holding an anchor, or a lifeline for me. It gave me tremendous confidence when I needed it.

I like to start my youngsters in a rawhide bosal (I wrap the nose to make it softer) and a horsehair mecate. You have to use two hands and ride loosely and just "bump" the nose for stops. It helps when the horse knows voice commands. The mecate is very itchy so you must use gloves.

I've also started them in snaffle bits. Again, use those voice commands to enforce the whoas.
I also like to use a half breed sidepull with a snaffle bit. This is always my bit of choice on older horses. I cover the rawhide noseband with fleece to soften it up. This way, I can direct rein and they get double the message. As they begin to understand, I use less and less reins. I also begin to lay the reins over their neck along with the side/direct rein so that they learn neck reining. My horses travel with very light reins.

I don't want to scare you, Riddler was an exception. What I do want to stress is that whatever makes you comfortable is best for you.

Horses train up all different ways. I don't expect you to have any problems with Gabbrielle. She looks to be very sensible. Just proceed lightly and with common sense. For the most part, all you need to do is sit there. Use your legs lightly at first and then stronger as needed. Use your voice a lot because she knows you. Be relaxed and don't worry or expect bad things and all will be fine. Just go for it!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I do still tie a horse's head side to side a bit before getting on, but not straight back to the horn because it is difficult for them to find the release with the reins in that position.

I like the other's idea of the donut reins, but have never used them myself. I don't know if you do this, but I'll tie a horse's head a little bit to one side and then ask them to move around the round pen. I used to let them "soak" like this for a while, but don't so much anymore. I think it is a bit of overkill-who would want to stand there with their head kinked to the side? Now I just move them until they seem to undertand that they can move forward and give one way and then I switch to the other side and do the same thing. Once they are comfortable with the one rein on each side, I may or may not tie both reins to the cinch ring. It depends on the horse. If I have one who is stiff in the poll and really seems to want to pop their head up, I will do it. I set them about like you have G in the last picture. Let them loose and make them move forward. Some horses do want to back away from the pressure and throw their heads, but I just keep after them until they move forward.

I think you have a very comprehensive list of what you like a horse to know before you step on and that is a good thing. But as you know, not everything translates from groundwork to riding. I've found that even if there are areas that aren't working perfectly in the groundwork, that sometimes a horse is just ready to be ridden.

Haha-the way I read "your neighbor's voice", I immediately thought of your nosey neighbors and thought "Hmmm, I didn't realize they knew anything about horses". LMAO-I forgot about your other neighbor-the one who actually does know something about horses. Too funny!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Fantastyk and Browneyed - All really great advice. I like to hear your experiences, what worked and what didn't work for you.

HorseOfCourse said...

As habits and riding differs in what you do over there and what we do in Norway, I don't know how much value you'll get out of my input!
With a horse here I would longe her with side reins and rubber inserts (donuts?) to help her accept the bit and help her to find her balance and work in a correct outline, over the back.
Then the step over to working correctly under rider is not so large once you are to back her. It will be easier for the horse to understand how to carry the rider (with a rounded back) and the horse will be used to voice commands too.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I don't have anything else to add to your terrific list. Sounds like you covered everything very well.
Has Gabrielle done all those things already?

Do you feel she is ready?

I think I'm most amazed at how filled-out and mature she looks. Her barrel, legs, and back end look strong and just like a full grown horse.
It's her tiny head and slender neck that often throws me off and makes me think she is still young.
But her body is built solid for riding.
I look forward to seeing and reading more about yours and her future saddle riding experiences. I bet she will do really great, as will you.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

HorseOfCourse - Input from Norway is more than welcome! Nice explanation.

Lisa - Gabbrielle has done all those things, but hasn't mastered some of them. I think she's ready. I just don't trust my memory, so I thought I'd throw the question out there to see if I was missing anything. She does look very filled out in these pictures. That growth spurt just happened in the past month. Before now she was quite petite.

allhorsestuff said... gteat to come to this -in- full- swing session!

I have never trained a horse from the ground up.. but have watched my sissy and been involved through her.
Firstly, for your mare's attitude with contact I would highly recconmend "The Balance System" -Dover has one and other catalogs too-It is very giving, being elastic.
It is used with a surcingle(always handy) and elastic lines attached to a bumper pad like thing that goes behind butt and above the hocks for them to come under themselves...I love mine.
It teaches them to bring the hind under as you place the elastic staps where the particular horse needs it's neck for it's developement and contact(3 choices).
Also-- with the regular side reins, with donut...till they understand the concept..only use one side attached starting out the sesson..or they may feel trapped..inside or outside..and then on your Lunge may also choose inside ring front ring or outside ring for contact.

I found an AWESOME Long line video you may be interested in...I have it on my sidebar on my blog.... HORSE HERO . A new twist to how you are doing it, and maybe helpful too!It is MY next training direction for the Wa and I...even though we ride. I REALLY like this man's way with the horse. It is about 25 minutes...but good till the end!

I admire you so! You're list is so awesome and about complete as far I I can about hoses and water? I jsut found out the trwo gelding I board with are deathly afraid of running water!

I sometime wish to do as you are with a young horse all clean slated like!

PS thanks for the generous comment today on the eye reflection!

allhorsestuff said...

PS...have someone with you and GET ON the beautiful mare!

Andrea said...

I think Syndey and I do a lot of the same stuff. I make sure they are broke to swinging ropes. I will get a rope and swing it around their heads, and then toss it all over them. A nice hard rope, not a lead rope. And I don't beat them with it, I just toss it and I expect them to stand there.

I sack my horses out with everything, from feed sacks to tarps. I don't go crazy with it, but they wear tarps like blankets, and I put tarps on the round pen, I put flags on the round pen, and I make them walk over tarps. I put ground poles in the round pen for them to walk, trot, and canter over. Just to give them something to go over.

I do all that you do too.

One thing that might help you with her putting her head up while line driving.....Take some baling twine and tie your stirrups together. I never line drive with out my stirrups tied. It keeps them down and close to their belly, so their heads will stay down too. Then when you go to turn, your stirrups don't flap and go everywhere. It's a trick I learned from Clark Bradley, the Ohio QH President, from back in the day. It works!

And if she was flying backwards, I would have just loosened the reins and drove her forward and made sure she was relaxed. Then as she can do the walk, trot, and canter with loose side reins, then you can start to tighten them. Nothing major. She just needed some forward motion. I also don't tie down horses until they are totally responsive to me in the round pen free lunging.

I can get my horses to job, long trot, then jog and whoa, with simple body movements before I tie them down. That way if something bad happens I can jump infront of them and say whoa.

I love ground work. It's lot of fun, and it's really rewarding. Keep up what you are doing, and work on perfecting what you are doing, and things will fall into place.

Oh, and with the bit in her mouth, you can pretend you are riding her. Just stand to the side of her where the saddle is, and face her head. Take the reins in your hands and ask her to bend to the left and right, then ask her to back. It might help with the strange pressure from the reins and bit.

Good Luck!!

Andrea said...

Oh, and I forgot one more thing, try line driving her with the bit in her mouth. That helps too. I also line drive with a bit tighter rein. I also am a bit closer to their hind end. You can put cones in the round pen too and weave in and out of them. The more contact you have with your reins/lunge lines while driving the more she will get used to being driven.

I do start out with a halter for driving, but I would add the bit. You could also drive her while having the lunge lines hooked to the later and just have the bit and bridle on her. The more bit time she gets the more used to it she will get.

I leave mine tied with the bit in their mouths. Just so they have time to get used to it before I go "pulling" on it. Oh, I so wised we lived closer. I would come over and help you, and for free!!

Andrea said...

OH, and BrowneyedCowgirls, has a good point about tying them around to the side just so they get a little bend. You can start them out with just standing to the side and walking towards their belly. Stand on G's left side, and take the left rein in your hand and pull her head around and put your hand up by the pommel. And walk toward her belly. Staying close to the horse. She should cross over in the back and walk out in the front. The horse should move away from you.

Okay, I will stop with my novels and thoughts!! I hope this all helps.

Jenn said...

Ground drive her fully tacked with the bit and carry with you a driving whip.

As for the head in the air...honestly, she's still green. Ignore the head. Her head WILL come down when she 1. Gains strength in her back and butt and 2. Becomes more balanced and confident. She's still learning. When a horse is moving forward properly, the head will naturally come down. Side reins, draw reins, "lungeing systems" are all for horses who have much more in-saddle training than Gabbrielle. They are for tweaking the trained horse, not for forcing a green horse.

Fix the body first and the head will follow. Trainers who concentrate on forcing the head into a frame end up with a horse who doesn't use the rest of its body properly.

You are on the right path and she is doing well. At this point in her training nothing she is doing is abnormal...nearly all horses start out with their heads in the air because they are unbalanced, unmuscled and GREEN.