Ground Driving

It’s hard only getting to see my horse once a week — twice, if I’m lucky and staying at a friend’s in the area — so I try to make the most of the time we have together. Luckily, come next Sunday, I might actually have some daylight at the end of the day to jet off from work and go see him in the evenings. Yay for Daylight Savings!

My best friend and surrogate sister, M, came to meet Image today. She and I have been friends for seven years now, and even though our lives have taken separate paths, our friendship picks up from right where it left off. I met her at K’s, where we spent two weeks quietly working separately, until our common interest in horses and similar personalities brought us together. We’ve spent a lot of time on horseback together talking about our dreams, so I was excited to have her come and meet my dream come true.

I brought Image inside, where he promptly but politely searched me for cookies. Stinker. I gave him one, and noted that for the first time since he moved home, he looked dirty. The snow is starting to give way to mud, and I foresee a very long mud season ahead of us.

M and I worked in tandem, currying and buffing him until he was soft and shiny again. He thoroughly enjoyed the attention, heaving a contented sigh and resting a hind leg. It pleased me to see that, because up until now, the only time he’s been truly relaxed was after he and I had worked some of the tenseness out of him by working his brain.  During the time that I was pondering this, I realized that my sweatshirt was no longer blue, but black…shedding season is out in full swing, and he is dropping his coat quite quickly. Thankfully, if temperatures drop again, I’ve picked up a midweight blanket from work, that combined with his lightweight, should be more than enough to keep him cozy during the next few months.

My plan for the day was to begin with stuff he already knows — a little bit of lunging, some flexing, dropping his head, some disengaging of the hindquarters, ect. — and then to find out whether or not he ground drives. Ground driving is something that I’ve seen done, and helped with, but never actually attempted myself. I did a lot of research yesterday while doing some household chores, and watched about six million videos on YouTube, starring people who were doing it right AND doing it wrong. Now, I’m the first to understand that watching a video and actually DOING something is very different, so I was prepared for a little bit of operator error on my end once I got us set up. This is an approach I wanted to attempt because I felt it will help him learn to trust me a little more — he can’t see me, and the cues are very much the same through the bridle as they would be if I were up in the saddle.

First, though, we worked on relaxing at the end of the line at a quiet walk. I got a lap in each direction at a quiet walk, and a few laps in each direction at a relaxed, stretchy trot. The snow is at a funny depth at the moment, and a strange texture, so it made his workout a little harder than I would have liked. He is also much more apt to trot/pace/rack/runwalk the entire time. I can kiss him up until a canter (and he has an ADORABLE canter from the ground!), and ease him back into an intermediate gait, but getting him to walk is a challenge. I played around a bit to see if there was a button I was missing (highly likely at this stage in the game), but I honestly found none. Something tells me he was immediately pushed into a faster gait when he was put on the end of a line. I like a horse with a little “get up and go”, but I also like a horse with a well-installed “chill out” button. He’s got enough energy for forward movement, but focusing on getting him to relax and take it easy will take time and repetition.

On the other hand, he has picked up the softening exercises I’ve taught him quite quickly. He drops his head down with the lightest touch, and he is getting better and better about flexing to each side when I ask him. He was EXTREMELY stiff when I first started asking him to give to pressure, so this is a huge improvement. He backs up off of voice, for the most part, and leads like a dream.

Once we had gone through everything he knows well and engaged his brain enough to have his attention on me, it was time to see if ground driving was already in his repertoire.

Well. I learned damn quick that is isn’t.

I’m starting to realize that as long as I’m in his direct line of vision, he honestly isn’t worried about much. However, the second I am in his blind spot or up on his back, we’ve got problems. He was not thrilled with me being behind him, and it was quickly apparent that he did not have a clue as to what I was asking. His immediate reaction was to spin away and out from under one of the lines, so he was facing me again. I would quietly reset, and cluck. Rinse and repeat, until I decided to try asking him to turn. This “unstuck” him for a stride or two, and I would sing his praises the entire time.

Some of his moves were a little on the “hold on tight” side of things. Thankfully, I only ended up in the snow once, and that was because I tripped over my own damn feet and couldn’t get my balance again. That, of course, spooked my poor guy and he went “what in the ever lovin’ hell?!” He scooted forward. I was on my stomach, which gave me a little more leverage, so I was not about to let him get away. The second he felt the pressure from the lines, he stopped and faced me. The look of pure surprise in his eyes when he saw me lying on the ground at the end of the lines was comical — “Uh…what…are you doing down there?!” M had a good laugh at my face plant, and I decided at that point to try a surcingle. M ran and fetched it for me (she rocks!) and I got him situated.

I actually moved out onto the plowed driveway, as keeping up with him in the deep snow was proving to be troublesome. I wanted to be able to give him an immediate reward once he yielded to pressure in the form of a release, and it was difficult to do so slogging through the snow.

He was unsure, and definitely not at all enthused with the idea that I was behind him, but it wasn’t long until we were doing small laps in the driveway (which is the width of a wide road and unpaved). There were a few moments where he became a little bit panicked, but he relaxed some to the sound of my voice. It was a real treat to see the proverbial “lightbulb” come on when he finally understood what I was asking. Once we got a few good laps in each direction at a walk, I called it quits and had a pony party. What’s a pony party? It’s a ripoff of the ever popular “puppy party”, which is when you make a really big fuss over a dog when it’s done well. A puppy party is usually much more frantic and high energy. My pony parties consist of head rubs, ear rubs, and lots of verbal praise. He responds very well to this approach, and thoroughly appreciates getting his ears scratched.

We brought him back into the barn and finished his pampering. He has been clipped at one point or another, because after an initial dragon snort, he actually rather liked the sensation against his muzzle. He looks quite handsome with a neatened muzzle, clipped bridle path, and trimmed ears. He’s such a fluffy, wooly beast. I can’t wait until he’s all slick and shiny come summer!

He made me very, very proud today. I was not at all sure what I was going to come up against when I asked him to do something that he obviously was not comfortable with, but he continues to show me that he is smart, willing, and trying to do the right thing. He is slowly (very, very slowly) giving me a little more of his trust every time we work together, and I’m honored by that. I adore him more and more as I spend time with him, and I’m more and more certain that with a lot of time, understanding and patience he is going to be a rock star. I’m also learning so much in a very short amount of time — hell, I ground drove a horse today for the first time and no one died. There were a few technical difficulties, but we figured them out. It was a wonderful experience for both of us.

One final thing, before I head upstairs and settle in for the two hour movie conclusion to television series Firefly: after I had put Image back in the paddock, M got ready to leave. She stepped out of the barn, and I followed. I raised my voice to talk to her, and all of a sudden, Image’s head popped up from where he was inspecting the ground for more hay. He came directly to the gate, his ears forward. M and I laughed, because he was obviously watching me. It was a sweet little moment — one I won’t soon forget.

Tomorrow starts another long work week. I may actually make a trip up midweek to spend some time with him, because going a whole week without seeing him makes me a bit antsy. However, spring is right around the corner, and I have another five days of vacation left at work…I think a little time off in May/June sounds mighty fine, doesn’t it?

One thought on “Ground Driving

  1. Madeline C. March 5, 2013 / 1:28 am

    So I'm starting to think that Brantley and Image are from the same place… Like honestly. He was the same way when I was ground driving him. If he can see me and put two eyes on me, he's perfect. Even with someone on his back. But as soon as I'm out of sight… All hell breaks loose. He picked it up really well, I'm glad it worked out for you! Can't wait to “hear” more. 🙂


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