Thursday, April 10, 2008

Driver's Ed: Training Horses to Ground Drive

Ground driving is one of my favorite training tools. It teaches a horse to listen for instructions from behind and builds his confidence as he learns to go straight and steady without the support of a handler at his side. For an endurance prospect, driving is also good preparation for tailing up hills.

Ground driving with a bridle is a familiar training technique many trainers use to teach a young horse to respond to the bit. I do some of that, but I spend much more time on simply driving the horse with a rope halter and ten-foot lead -- first in the round corral, then around the alfalfa fields, and finally along country roads.

Consolation had her second driving lesson a few days ago. Before starting on driving, I made sure she was well grounded in the prerequisites: Lunging, giving to pressure (including turn on the hindquarters, turn on the forehand, and vertical flexion of the poll), and response to a verbal "whoa." Responsiveness is also key -- note that throughout the lesson, my hand doesn't close on the lead rope.

I started the lesson by lunging Consolation at the end of a ten-foot lead.

Gradually, I stepped toward and behind her while asking her to continue moving forward. At first, she was unsure of what I wanted. Searching for the right answer, she offered to stop, turn toward me, and trot. I kept trying, returning her to circling around me when necessary, until she understood that her job was simply to carry on while I walked along near her hindquarters.

Once she was comfortable with our relative positions, I started asking her to turn to the inside (toward the side on which I was walking). I turned my body away from her to "open the door" to the turn. Because we've done liberty work and she is accustomed to responding to my body angle, she turned easily.

We practiced a few circles of various sizes.

Outside turns (away from me) were a bit harder. Again, I used body position, this time angling my center to push her away from me. To Consolation, this seemed a strange request, so I reinforced it with a rouch on her girth, essentially requesting a turn on the on the hindquarters.

After a few tries, she got it.

When asking Consolation to stop, I wanted her to remain facing forward with me by her side. However, she thought she should turn and face me. I simply kept stepping back into position and commanding "whoa" until she stopped and didn't pivot to face me. Her reward was a scratch on the tailhead and a few moments of standing still.

"Walk on" was a simple matter of using body language to make my request clear.

And off we went.

Good girl!

No comments: