Thursday, August 25, 2016

Start simple

For anyone starting out, this can be confusing. It can be for your horse too, so I like to start simple so it is a good experience for everyone, both students and horses. I would rather use a surcingle and I have one so why not? If the horse is fresh, I give them the chance to blow off a little steam in the round pen or on a lunge line before we get started. This way their mind is settled and they're ready to work.

Because the livingroom floor doesn't move or fuss so I am able to take better pics this way. Besides it was raining again outside, probably because I had brought home a few sets of polos and the pad I use, had hosed everything down and hung it up to dry....

You'll notice the surcingle has a few sets of rings on it. For starting out, whether teaching someone how to do this or the first time in the lines with a horse, I like to start out with the lowest set of rings. These are the two out on the ends by the billets for the girth. These rings make it very easy for the person working the line and for the horse as well, to figure out that the right rein means bend or turn right, left rein, bend or turn left. Its pretty much the same concept with using a saddle and your lines run thru the stirrups. The pessure is coming from that side and the horse pretty much has to turn that way. With a young horse or one in the first few time in the lines, this also does a few things. It teaches them to bend and give laterally as well as making your cues pretty much exagerated with the correct response or answer being the obvious choice for the horse. So your teaching them to give to pressure, bend laterally and setting them up to do it right no matter what. Win!

So you're ready to start working your horse. Run the lines thru the lowest ring and snap them to your bit, you have your gloves on and you pick up your lines to get started. Again I like to keep things simple. I bridge my reins and if you've ever ridden with split reins you may already know what this means. If not, what this means is that the right rein comes into my hand thru the bottom and out thru the top, over to the left, in thru the top and out the bottom, laying out to the left side and behind me. The left rein comes up thru the bottom of the left hand, out the top and over to the right, in thru the top, out thru the bottom and laying off to my right side and behind. This way you can slide your hands up and down the reins, taking a shorter hold, letting the reins out and repositioning with little effort. With the lines spread out and going behind you on either side like this, it helps keep them from getting tangled and you ending up in a bad spot creating a mess in the making.

Ribbons has agreed to demonstrate bridging the reins, using two different colored phone charging cables to clarify things for us visual thinkers and below is how the reins go thru your hands, again with two different colors and only one hand since somehow I still had to take the pic.

I take my position a little behind the horse. For the most part I like to stay close enough they can hear me, but also just out of kicking range if they don't like the ropes touching them for whatever reason. It's also not a bad thing to just let the horse stand here for a little bit and take everything in. You don't want the horse to think, ok they picked up the lines we're ready to go now.... and start moving off without you. This is a good way for things to go south. The horse should wait until you're ready and ask them to move. With driving there are times you have to stop and wait so establishing that now pays off later on.

To begin I ask the horse to walk. That's all we will really worry about the first few times out. Later we can focus on developing the walk, but to get started we just want the horse to be relaxed and walk off quietly. I cluck kiss to get them going along with a firm "Walk on"". If the horse doesn't move, I may repeat it with a tug to the inside rein- whichever rein is on the inside of the pen or arena where you're working. If the horse still doesn't move I repeat it and tug a little more. The horse will eventually move off in that direction and may only take one step, but praise them for responding and moving. Try again and praise the response. If you get them moving and they want to turn around and face you, use your other rein to keep them from doing so.

If they walk off without much pushing on your part, again praise them and let them know this is what you wanted. Let them walk maybe a circle or two and quietly ask them to stop. You don't have to yell or haul in on the reins, but take a little contact and ask for the stop. If you don't get it, ask again. Whoa should be said calmly and soothingly. Stopping is a good thing. When they stop they get to relax and aren't going forward working. You're establishing your 'brakes' here and also building your horses trust that you're not going to be beating up their mouth with the reins and building their confidence that everything will be ok. When the horse stops, step forward and loosen up the lines a little. All pressure is off. They did what you wanted. Give them a minute to take it all in and process it and then ask them to walk on again.

If they move off without you asking them to, ask for the stop again. The horse is testing the boundaries and who's in charge. You don't need to get mad at them, just ask for the stop and wait for it. Just keep asking as long as it takes. Remember there is nothing personal about this. They are not trying to annoy you or piss you off. Eventually they will give in and stand, maybe even cocking a hind leg and really relaxing. Do a few stop and go's, then ask the horse to turn while walking and go the other direction. Stop and go some more in this direction, maybe change direction a few more times and quit there for the day.

Also when the horse is walking forward, remember to let the reins loosen up a little as you follow along behind the horse. You're asking them to go forward and when they are, you need to let them. As long as they are moving, you're job is to simply guide them and keep them going straight ahead, between the lines. You want your horse to work on a loose rein and this is no different.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Long line work, Part 1

A while back I had posted about doing long line work and Ground driving 101 and after reading it again, I really didn't give any tips or "how to" info.

Nope. Not much info there. So what to do? Well how about we start with equipment. If you plan on spending a good amount of time on the ground teaching the horse how to use their body, you'll probably want to invest in a decent surcingle. These are available online thru a number of companies- Dover, Jeffers, Spart Pak, Stateline, Big Dee's, Greenhawk and Valley Vet to name a few. Prices range from around $30 to a few $100 depending on what you want (synthetic vs leather, generic vs name brands) and how much you plan to spend. If you're working towards driving, the harness saddle can be used. I have the one from my good harness and also my old leather harness I started Kat in. I use either one, depending on the day.

You can also use a western saddle, tying your stirrups together underneath to limit swing and running the lines thru the stirrups. An English saddle can likely be used the same way or with the stirrups run up, but I personally haven't used mine or seen things done this way. That's not to say it can't be done, but just keep in mind the lines will be sliding thru your stirrups and possibly across the flaps if the stirrups are up and may eventually damage the leather.

Lines- can be either purchased or made. Local hardware and home improvement stores have 5/8" nylon rope in 100 foot lengths for around $10-$15 in a variety of colors. They also have snaps and you'll want to buy 3 snaps. Measure out 30' of rope and cut there. Melt the ends to stop them from fraying. Attaching a snap to this gives you a lunge line. The remaining length of rope should be 70'. Putting the ends together and cutting this in half, melting the ends, gives you 2 lines, 35' long. This is plenty of line for working a horse or pony. Attach the other 2 snaps to these lines and you're all set.

Bridle- this can be either a western or English bridle, I use both and or thos work, the reins will need to come off. My choice of bits is typicallya snaffle of some kind. Either a plain loose ring snaffle (on Kat), half cheek snaffle, an offset D-ring snaffle, regular D-ring snaffle or a loose ring French link. All relatively mild bits and something the horse/pony can be comfortable with. That's the biggest thing is using a milder bit and teaching the horse they can be comfortable with it and still respond. I did use a pony size pelham on Kat once. No it is not a 'legal' bit for driving and yes I did need to use 4 lines (that was interesting and fun) and it did accomplish what I was trying to get accross to him, but we ddidn't make a habit of it.

Another thing I like to use is gloves. Lets face it- riding or driving we wear gloves for a completed, finished look. Driving it is a requirement. May as well get used tp it now, right? My gloves are a heavy leather that I use not just for long line work but when doing stalls, loading/unloading hay? Moving brick, wood or whatever, to protect my hands. If the horse should pull the ropes thru your hands for any reason, gloves keep you from getting rope burns.

The next post we will get started. Hopefully things will have dried up enough that I can get some pics of the work and ways to start out to keep everything simple for both everyone and their horses.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


I went out to see the horses over the weekend, feed and figured I would slip a little driving time in. I managed to do all three even though the skies were showing signs of a storm coming. Oh was it a storm....

I got Kat out, dusted him off, put the harness on and hitched him up. We headed off down the driveway without issue, Kat calmly walking out. When we got to the road he picked up his forward, ground covering troy. We got to the end of the road, took a right and kept on cruising. It felt really good to be back in the cart and Kat seemed happy to be exploring the new 'hood too. Although he had been putting his tongue over the bit again, I was back in AZ for a bit last week and picked up a new snaffle for him ($5 at the local feed supply. Woot!) so we could get some ground driving in and sort it out. Yeah we managed one session in the round pen in the lines and that was it.

Although he was a little strong in the bridle at times, I didn't fight him amd just kept making small adjustments to the reins. He would look left so I would take a hold of the right rein and tug, tug, tug, until I felt him soften up and same with him looking right and tugging the left rein to get his mind back in the game. Working him like this, I don't think he put his tongue over the bit once. Yay! Small victories... we take them and always celebrate them.

We got a ways down the road and I figured the sky isn't looking too promising so we had better turn back. Good thing we did. Just as we were in front of the property next door to the barn, it started to sprinkle. Not little, misty drops, but the big drops here and there. I was having Kat walk back this part, but figured it was only going to get worse so I let him bust into a trot again. By the time we got in the driveway it was starting to come down a little harder...

As I unbuckled everything as quick as I could, Kat stood like a statue like I had always taught him to. Everything clear, I flipped the cart up on its seat back, shafts in the air and pulled him into the barn as all hell broke loose and it started pouring. Lucky for me, as we came in the driveway, somebody there at the barn came out and was asking how to help. She pulled the cart into a shed while I took Kat in the barn. My tarp, lock and my friend K's cart was also whisked inside, doors shut and all good. I pulled the harness quick as I could and put Kat in his stall so I could help the woman and her girls get other horses settled and situated. There's a mare that I seen the other day and I have to say, she is Nice!!! She's also for sale. And was stuck out in the rain... I brought the mare in and then I had to go drain the water out of my boots. Literally. Seriously.

Because of This- view from the front porch of the barn

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Take aways

Someone asked me the other day- what are some of the things I have either discovered or remember from the early part of training my pony to drive as I was learning the game myself?

Your flaws and mistakes in riding can and often DO carry over. Waaaay back in the days at one of the Arabian horse farms I worked at, the trainer asked me one day if I had ever ridden a bicycle? I had a tendancy to hold the horse with both hands. I asked for the turn with one hand, but didn't release the other hand allowing the horse to turn. I thought I had fixed it, but figured out I was doing it again with driving, just before our first clinic in the driving club.

I can remember doing BIG circles in the beginning. Lots of big circles in both directions. At one of the CDE's I believe, I was standing around near the dressage arena and remember hearing one of the upper level trainers say how much harder it is to do big circles than it is to do the smaller ones. I thought he was crazy. We had done a Lot of big circles. They seemed easy to me. Big circles is one of the things I feel helped me to win the reinsmanship class at our first driving show. Moving up a level, I always made sure to work on all size circles.

The value of ground driving and long line work is priceless. It is an art form in and of itself. I figured that once I put Kat to the cart, we didn't need to do anymore long line work. Ever. I could not have been more wrong on this. At one of our first ADT's I think it was, the woman who was consistantly beating us in dressage and then in turn the outcome of the day, told me that she probably does more work in long lines without the cart than she does with the cart and actually driving. She was beating us so there had to be something to it, right?

Although Kat is smart and tolerant beyond all means, while I have been treating him as a 'Point & Shoot' pony for the most part, he needs me for guidance a lot more than I have been there for him. At one of our last ADT's I realized that I may set him up for a cone, but usually we are a ways off. I line him up and expect it to happen. Seriously. Kat doesn't know his numbers, the pattern of the cones or probably that red cones are supposed to be on the right. But I expected him to perform and do the job, given half the information of where to go.

Trust is key. He trusts me to keep him safe, show him where to go and allow him to do his job. In turn I trust him not to do anything crazy, to behave himself and to listen to me as I try to be the herd leader he needs and respects. Sometimes one of us doesn't trust the other enough and things start to fall apart....... Like at a couple of the ADT's at different times, places and always in the hazards. Little man doesn't think I'm making the right choice on where or how to navigate a gate. For a moment or two it's a battle of wills to decide who wins. This usually ends with him almost doing a faceplant or smacking into a pole or something. You know, we just come really close to crashing into something. Next time around? Little man is submissive and relents, puts it all in MY hands to not blow it. He doesn't want to get hurt having a wreck. Neither do I, so we agree on that.