Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Ground Driving Test

We had a nice bit of cloud cover this morning, so I went outside to see what I could do with the horses before the sun came out.  The one neighbor with the dump truck and tractor was still doing his construction project, so I decided to take Rock for a walk down to the construction zone to see how he would handle it.  I know how my other three horses would handle it -- not well, but it suddenly occurred to me that I've never had Rock spook on me when we've been out on the trails.  I was curious about how brave this horse might be.

I led him down a trail beside the road, and wouldn't you know it, as soon as we started approaching the construction, they shut off all the heavy machinery and went indoors.  Where are the loud noises when you need them?  So, I walked him down to a busy road, which turned out to not be so busy on a Sunday morning.  I leaned against the gate and waited for vehicles to pass, and then spotted what Rock had been alerting on all the way down the trail.  Any time that a horse looks off in the distance with interest, I know there are other horses nearby, but I can never see or hear them before my horses do.

So, here came a couple of ladies on horseback.  We greeted each other and they saw my carrot stick and said, "Getting in a little training?"

I said yes, that Rock needed work with leading.  She said he was a nice looking horse.  I watched how these riders crossed the street.  The one in front stopped, looked both ways, and then crossed despite a car coming.  The driver slowed down until both riders were through the gate on the other side.

Rock did puff up a bit and get a little excited seeing the other horses, but he didn't get out of control.  He didn't lead as well as he did the day before when Gabbrielle was with him, but he wasn't too much to handle either.  We've just got to keep working on it.

When we got home, I put a surcingle and bridle with a bit on him and ran some long lines through the rings to ground drive him.  I have no idea if this horse has ever been ground driven, but by the looks of his hind legs shaking when the long line touched his hocks, I figured this was a totally new experience for him.  I had to desensitize his hind end and legs to the ropes before driving him.  Fortunately, he got over that fear pretty quick.

As I tried to step behind him with the lines, he kept turning to face me, so I tried lunging him from the middle with the two lines, the outside line over his back.  But I couldn't get him to move out.  He just kept doing these tight circles around me.  Just when I started thinking I was in a jam and needed to do more research about ground driving, he let me step behind him.

I clucked him forward and he just stood there.  I said "walk", and he moved off.  I followed him anywhere he went at first, and then began giving specific turn signals with the reins.  I thought this was the area he would have difficulty with, but he turned just fine -- way better than what I get out of him in the saddle.  He was cruising all over the place like a pro.  Occasionally, he gave me trouble when he wanted to go back to the barn and I didn't.  It turned out that he was really thirsty after our long walk, and I probably should have let him drink for a while before transitioning to ground driving.  He also needed to pee really bad, and had to do that in the barn for some reason.

At one point Bombay walked up to us and decided that he was going to engage Rock in play and I threw one of the reins at Bombay to chase him off, but it swung back and whipped Rock on the butt, so he took off at a fast walk.  Oops.  But at least I knew he would speed up with the slap of a long rein.  Then Gabbrielle started bullying him and I instinctively tried to chase her off by throwing the rope at her, and this time it really whacked Rock in the butt on the rebound and he took off.  I was able to keep up with him and just worked on steering at the faster gait.

He halted well, moved off well, turned well... I was thinking we wouldn't need to do many more ground driving sessions.  Then I decided to jog behind him so that I didn't have to walk so fast, and he bolted as soon as he heard my feet move faster behind him.  I did not want to let go of those long reins, because they would get wrapped around everything and cause a wreck, especially with a bit in the horse's mouth.  However, running behind him while he galloped not only was in vain, but it was causing him to go faster, so I had to pull back steadily while saying, "Whoa.  Easy.  Whoa." and while slowing down my own feet.

He stopped, but his muzzle was pinned to his chest and his front feet were running in place.  Each time I tried to move up the lines to approach him, he jumped away from me.  I had lost his trust.  So, I just stood there and waited for him to calm down, and then asked him to walk again.  When we fell into the old routine, I was then able to halt him and approach him to remove the reins and tack.

I think the psychology behind his over-reaction is that he is a horse who understands herd behavior better than human behavior.  In a herd, if a horse suddenly ran at you from behind, it is because the horse is trying to chase you out of its territory.  The fact that he immediately responded the second my feet sped up tells me that he respects me and considers me to be dominant over him.  That's a good thing, but I also have to teach him to trust me.  I don't want him to be reactionary and afraid of me.  I want him to view me as his leader, and take calm direction from me.  That will take a while, but with each experience I have with Rock, I learn a little more about him and about what we need to change.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I just discovered that somewhere in the course of ground driving Rock, I ripped both thighs of my jeans.

Katharine Swan said...

I would actually interpret Rock's taking off slightly differently... More like, "If she's running, I should be too!" and possibly a little of, "If SHE is scared of something, it must REALLY be bad!" So I would actually say he DOES trust you -- enough that he would respond to what he interpreted as "Let's get out of here now!" cues from you.

Of course, I don't necessarily want my horses reacting to MY fear if I startle at something. I occasionally like to pretend to be scared of something while I'm riding Panama (my spookier horse). I gasp, tense up, clench my legs and "accidentally" kick him in the belly, etc... and then relax, laugh, pat him, and tell him he's a good boy. I want him to be accustomed to the things I might accidentally or unknowingly do if I'm startled by something, so that he doesn't overreact, but I also would like him to always think it's possible that Mommy is just messing with him again. ;o)

Allison B said...

Ground driving is tricky, especially if a horse has never done it before. They don't understand why you are behind them. Seems like he got the idea pretty quick, he just needs a little desensitizing with the lines. One suggestion (and this is purely from a if you ever want to drive him perspective), carry a whip to cue him instead of using the lines on him. Glad you kept working with him and didn't stop when he was upset :)

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like he will get t he hang of it quite quickly, maybe lock the others up ?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

fernvalley01 - Yup. That's what I normally do, but I was so scatterbrained today that by the time I realized the other horses were within pestering range, it was too late.