Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ground Training with The World's Smartest Horse

Okay, I know I'm going to start an argument by claiming that MY horse is the world's smartest horse, but after this latest lesson, I feel like I could train my four-year-old mare Gabbrielle to fly over the moon without wings, simply because she is so brilliant. You may recall that in our ground driving session last weekend we nearly had a wreck when she took off at a fast trot that I couldn't keep up with on foot, which caused me to pull back too hard on the bit, and she reared up, turned and got tangled in the lines.

Many times when I have a problem with my horse, I just have to sleep on it and let the experience seep into my unconscious before I can come up with a solution. I broke the experience down to two things:

1. My horse didn't stop immediately when I said whoa and when I pulled back on the reins.

2. My horse turned to face me as soon as she did stop, causing her legs to get tangled in the long lines.

Looking at it this way, I knew I had to first work on whoa, first at a walk in each direction, then at a trot in each direction. That involved first free lunging her and stepping in front of her shoulder to cut off her exit while saying whoa. I then attached one lung line to her halter and did the same thing. Once I was getting and immediate response to whoa, I started working on teaching her to remain facing in the direction she was moving at the time I say whoa. That's a little more complicated.

When she stopped and turned to face me, I walked up to her and pulled her around to reposition her in the direction she was previously moving in. I then said whoa, stepped back, then stepped forward and stroked her wither. Once she stood facing in the correct direction for a few seconds, I clucked to ask her to walk again. It only took around three times of me respositioning her body for her to understand that I wanted her to stop turning after halting.

When she did immediately stop facing the direction she was moving in, I immediately rubbed her shoulder. We did this routine at a walk in each direction, the moved up to the trot. Gabbrielle gets excited at the trot, so she forgot the point of the lesson and turned toward me at the halt. I repositioned her and I could see that something clicked in her mind. From that point forward, she was stopping at the trot in the correct position.

I know I once asked in a post whether it is more "correct" to train a horse to face you when they stop or to train them to face the direction they were moving in. I've heard good arguments for both cases, however since my goal is to prevent my horse from getting tangled in the drive lines when I ground drive her, it is important that she not turn to face me every time we stop. Could you imagine driving a horse from a cart and having the horse trying to turn to face you in the cart every time you say whoa? Yikes.

Once I knew that Gabbrielle fully understood the point of the lesson, I ground drove her outside of the round pen with one long rope attached to her halter under her chin. I decided to avoid the bit so that I didn't get into a situation where she takes off and I pull back on the bit. I also decided to start with just one line so she'd have less to get tangled in. She's really good about steering with two lines, so my goal wasn't necessarily to fine tune her steering. Obviously, you can't do that with one line. I would have liked to take Sydney's advice of having someone lead the horse while I drove from behind, but I don't have anyone to help me.

I walked behind Gabbrielle with the one long line attached to her halter. When I said whoa, she had to stop immediately and remain facing forward. That was my goal, along with keeping her attention on me in a less controlled environment.

She did well following my directions until she got around the other horses, and then she tried to head for the herd instead of listening to me. At one point, she purposefully crowded between Bombay and Lostine, which caused the rope to get tangled in Bombay's legs. I dropped the rope to the ground and said whoa. Gabbrielle halted, but Bombay walked away. Fortunately, he diligently stepped out of the ropes instead of panicking and taking off running.

I corrected the herd-bound behavior by leading Gabbrielle instead of driving her past the horses. After a couple of passes, I then drove her past them, but used my body movements more to push her along and prevent her from turning into their huddle. Obviously, I would have made it easier on myself if I simply didn't drive her around other horses, but this was all a part of her training. If you are training your horse to march in a parade, you don't want it to veer out of line every time it sees another horse or someone waves a carrot in the air. You have to practice marching your horse around other horses while people are tempting it with carrots.

Anyway, I was very impressed with how quickly Gabbrielle picked up on each lesson. I think a big part of why it was so successful was because I had a clear and simple idea of what she needed to work on, I had a game plan for how to fix it, and I knew how to teach the correct behavior in small increments that would cover all the bases (i.e. same behavior from each speed, each direction, each location...)

I rewarded her by letting her graze on the RV lane. We usually don't get grass on the lane in the fall, but because we had those early snowstorms and rainstorms followed by a lot of sunshine, the ground is behaving like it is springtime.


fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like a good lesson all the y way round! great work MN and Gabrielle

Lulu said...

Way to go! Very well done!!

Maery Rose said...

Good analysis of the problem and working towards a remedy! Sounds like you made good progress.

Reddunappy said...

Its really fun to have good training sessions with our horses! and very satisfying. Sounds like she did great!

Shirley said...

Don't you love it when you can figure things out and make progress and have a happy horse all in one shot!

Katharine Swan said...

I agree with the not-facing-you thing. I wouldn't have known it to begin with either, though. My trainer was the one who said I need to make sure he doesn't get into that habit, and I think it makes sense!

As for the "smartest horse" thing -- having horses is kind of like being a parent, you always believe that yours are the best and the smartest. :o) But then there are the days when you're pretty sure your horse is actually the dumbest one in existence!

Leah Fry said...

A very good lesson indeed. My trainer told me working ranch horses are often taught to turn and face you. Poco does it.

jane augenstein said...

Great job!!! Wish my brain could work out solutions at well!!! :-)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Great lightbulb moment...and wonderful training from you, for Gabbrielle! Feels good, eh?

Baby Doll was trained in Natural Horsemanship so she always turns to me, licking and chewing and waiting for me to invite her in to me. Sometimes it's annoying, when I'm just stopping her and planning to have her change directions and move into a trot or a lope. But it's also rather sweet when she moves in for some affection and to walk with me at liberty.


Sydney said...

That is good!

You seen clinton anderson already? Well with the herd bound (gate bound, mounting block bound etc) he remedies this with his cruising technique. Basically you work them where they want to be and let them rest elsewhere. Every time they have the need to hang out someplace (like with other horses) make them work a little extra harder there and let them rest away from it. Eventually they learn that stopping means work.

Horsemanship said...

That's great! training horse on a ground is like doing training ourselves to understand how a horse can understand the body language of a trainer.Thanks for the information.