Monday, May 17, 2010

Day Eight: Advancing Groundwork with drills


Drills are a great way to teach a new concept.  Being creatures of habit, the repetition can really help ingrain a concept in a colt's mind.  It's important to remember, though, that drills are a teaching tool and should not be used forever, or they can make a horse sour.  For this particular exercise, I use two drills, which can be used separately, or linked together for more variation. 

Drill number one:  Send, Squeeze, and Disengage

This is a very simple exercise that builds upon our previous groundwork.  The goal is to be able to send the horse in between myself and the fence, step his hips over, and send him back the other way.  Squeezing the horse through a narrow space builds their confidence; horses are naturally claustrophobic and avoid tight spaces.
  1. Send the horse forward.  Give the horse a pre-signal, a direction, and a motivation.
  2. Squeeze between the fence:  Send the horse between yourself and the fence.  Start off relatively far away, maybe six or seven feet.  Each pass your horse makes, take another step in towards the fence.
  3. Disengage the hips:  Push your horse's hip away from you and pull his eye in.  Get him to look at you with both eyes.  How little pressure does it take to get your horse facing up?  Challenge yourself!
  4. Squeeze between the fence:  Send your horse back through the opposite direction.

I work at this exercise until it is smooth and fluid.  Usually, if I have done all my prior ground work, it won't take much more than ten minutes or so.  Don't make it boring for the horse; increase the difficulty, change things up!

Drill number two:  Send, Stop, and Back

In this exercise, I am also sending my horse around me in a half circle, but this time, not between myself and the fence.  At either end of the half-circle, I aim to put my colt's nose directly on the fence, and have him stand there a moment, then move his hips and back up.  This will be important in the next lesson; I want the colt to think of the fence as a comfortable spot to rest.

  1. Send the horse forwardThe first thing you need to do is get your horse moving.  Stand with your back to the fence, and get your horse going!
  2. Touch the fence:  Direct your colt's nose right to the fence.  When his nose gets there, relax your body and let him stop.  If he leaves the fence (which he probably will!), just send him right back.  
  3. Yield the hips:  Move the hips over a quarter turn.  How little pressure does it take?  Can you just look at the hips and move them, or do you need to move your feet and put some real pressure on him?  Try to get it as light and soft as you can. 
  4. Back it up:  Get one single step backwards.  Put some energy in the rope and push those feet.  Start with one step, then two, then three.  Each time you do the exercise, ask for a little bit more to keep it fresh and challenging.  
  5. Send the horse back the other way:  Now repeat on the other side; send your horse back around you and do it again. 

Drill number three:  Starting sideways

This drill builds upon drill number two.  Send your horse around you and put his nose on the fence.  Before he has a chance to really stop his feet, use his forward motion to push his feet sideways a step.  Ideally, you want both the front and hind feet crossing over.

  1. Send the horse to the fence:  Send your horse out and around you, putting his nose on the fence
  2. Redirect:  As soon as his nose touches the fence, but before his feet stop, push him sideways.  Take a big step towards your horse's ribcage, driving your energy that way.  Get just one single step to the side, and let him rest.  Next time, aim for two, then three, four, and so on.  
  3. Yield the hips:  Get both eyes looking at you.  This is important, as most horses like to lag with the hips when going sideways.  If he only gets a break my moving those hips around, they'll tend to keep up better. 
  4. Back it up:  Get your horse to step backwards a few steps before changing direction
  5. Send him the other way:  Send your horse out around you in the other direction to start again. 

These drills all help get your horse tuned into you, build coordination, and make him more handy!

Please use caution and common sense.  Horses are large animals, with an exceptional amount of power and strength.  They are also concerned above all with their own personal safety, and will do whatever they feel it takes to keep themselves from harm.  Being individuals that act and react differently, the only certainty you have when working a horse is uncertainty.  I am a professional trainer with twenty plus years experience, yet even with the knowledge I possess, I still get hurt from time to time.  This blog and the accompanying media are for entertainment purposes only.  No responsibility will be assumed for injuries or damages incurred while trying to use these methods at home.  Please ride responsibly; protective gear can save your life!

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