Archive for category: Ground Training

Days 91-97 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Categories: Correcting Bad Behavior, Ground Training - Tags: ,

If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training. This is an old military saying that echoes in my ears when it rains from my time on active duty (Army). It was very applicable to this week’s training. It seemed every time I tacked up Phil and started some warm up ground work the sky would just open up. Phil and I schooled in the down pours on several occasions. Holding up to my end of the bargain Phil and I used this opportunity to review basic lessons and try new ones such as w-t-c through puddles. It only took a reinforcing leg to encourage Phil to navigate through the puddle. If I wasn’t on top of my game he side passed or jumped the puddle.

Now, playing devil’s advocate, I could have easily untacked Phil when it started to rain and put him up. However, I would have taught Phil that when it rains he is going in his stall. As you can see I would create a huge training issue in the future. If riding in the pouring rain isn’t your cup of tea and you’ve made the trip to the barn already, then I would suggest tacking up (to give sense of work) and work on previous lessons that can be done safely in the barn aisle (head down cue, haltering, backing, leading etc.). This would also be a great opportunity to teach a trick such as bowing or shaking. Use your imagination and be creative.

Gymkhana Under the Stars. We showed at night under the lights. This was a new experience for Phil. He handled the new situation like a professional. We did show in pole bending, cloverleaf barrels, key hole, and arena race at walk-trot. Phil and I also tried our skills with the egg and spoon race. Phil brought home a few ribbons, but his future career is not that of a gaming horse; he is too slow.

Lessons for Phil at gymkhana. Phil had to bend and really listen to my cues in these games. He also was the model of good behavior for the geared up, excitable gaming horses that charged at full speed down the alley way. While the other horses were wild eyed and full of nervous energy, Phil was not the least bit interested in wasting his energy acting so ridiculous. I was very proud of him.

Whipper In Training. Fly whisk and Hunting Whip. Phil was introduced to a fly whisk and a hunting whip this week. Humorous note: The hunting whip was actually home décor turned training aid. The things we do for our horses. During the summer I ride with a fly whisk and experience has taught me that you don’t just grab the whisk and start shooing flies out on the trail on a horse that hasn’t had a formal acquaintance with the whisk. Not much bothers Phil, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All of my homework building trust and establishing a relationship with Phil has allowed easy introduction of new objects. If I am not concerned then Phil isn’t concerned. After our trail ride, when Phil was cooling out, I brought out a hunting whip. I desensitized the air and cracked the whip just like I do with any new object until Phil was unconcerned. When I felt Phil was relaxed I mounted and asked for softness. When Phil was soft I swung the whip on each side and above his head. If Phil felt like he had to move his feet that was ok, he was just going to move his feet under my direction. It didn’t take Phil long to figure out that moving his feet was just too much work and it was easier to just stand still. I cracked the whip in using rhythmic timing (the best I could) until Phil cocked a back leg and relaxed. As soon as he relaxed I stopped and released. Now, are the Aiken Hounds going to hire me as a whipper in, probably not, but it was great exposure for Phil when we do hunt with our friends this fall.

Fox Hunting. If you love to trail ride, jump, and enjoy the company of other horse crazy folks, but don’t want to compete, then Fox Hunting just may be your kind of recreation. The first time I was introduced to hunting, I had the preconceived idea that hunting was a glorified trail ride. Well, I was in for a huge surprise when I learned that there is a whole sub culture to fox hunting to include their own Bible; The Hunt Bible. To avoid any faux pas on your part, I’m going to suggest reading Riding To Hounds In America, An Introduction For Foxhunters, written by William P. Wadsworth, MFH. It is an oldie, but goodie filled with humorous illustrations. For those of you hunting with inexperienced horses, please tie a GREEN ribbon into your horse’s tail to alert other riders that your horse is a “newbie.”

Training isn’t glamorous. I was thinking to myself as Phil and I were working on more bending, flexion, and softness that I don’t want folks to envision Phil and I cantering off into the sunset learning lead changes. No, in fact, I hardly do any of the fun, exciting stuff. I rarely canter at this stage of learning. The time I do spend in the saddle I walk and trot. I would probably put an audience to sleep. For example, I spend a lot of time bending into the round pen panel and away from the panel. Phil has to almost hug my inside leg with in these tight circles. I have found that if you put a lot of time into your walk and trot everything else seems to fall into place.

Do I finally have Phil’s respect? The answer is NO. I feel Phil has about 70% respect for me as a human. In some situations I mean more to him than other times. A good example is when I was cooling Phil out on the trail and I rode by the broodmare pastures. The mares came running up to see Phil and I knew what was going to happen before it happened because I was listening to Phil. Long before the mares appeared, Phil’s head was high, back hollow, and his body stiff. He wasn’t even giving me a thought. Just as the mares came thundering to the fence I emergency dismounted and as quick as I could get the reins over Phil’s head I backed him down the trail with a purpose (I was running, he was backing). I was trying to get his brain to switch from instinct to thinking by giving him a purposeful task. Once he softened (he was thinking now) I brought him back to the barn. To avoid creating a barn sour issue I backed him (notice I did not lead him, I backed him) to the round pen and put his feet into motion (going back to the barn doesn’t always mean it’s quitting time). Once I had “two eyes” on me. I put the rope halter on him and untacked. I wanted to make sure the last experience Phil had on the trail was one of relaxation, not excitement over greeting the mares. I purposefully went by the broodmare pastures and gave Phil a good tug every time he put an ear on the mares or tried to tip his nose in their direction. He was still distracted, so I put his feet in motion and let him choose to side pass or back in a hurry down the trail until we were out of view of the mares. Away from the mares we had a relaxing walk and returned home for bath.

Note that I did not reward Phil by dismounting. I put him to work ASAP. I also did not reward him when we returned to the barn. I did reward him when he was quiet on the trail and this was his last experience before going back to his stall.

Phil wasn’t excited by the mares because they were mares (not a stallion behavior), he was just excited because the mares were excited (somebody new was visiting and my mares are very nosy). If I had Phil’s respect 100% I would have been able to redirect Phil and ride past without much fuss. The herd still has a strong influence on Phil. I still have to work hard to prove my worth to Phil. It is easy to be fooled into believing the hard work is done because Phil has become so easy to work around. This is the most difficult part of the journey…..time invested into a relationship.


Days 84-90 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Categories: Ground Training, Jumping Training, Trailer Loading - Tags:

90 Day Progress report

• Extremely well behaved in all aspects of daily interaction from de worming to under saddle
• Balking has disappeared
• No problem with impulsion
• Rearing was not an issue and no signs of rearing present
• Ear sensitivity has disappeared
• Head shyness has disappeared
• Girthy behavior has disappeared
• Polite and patient on cross ties
• Stands quietly for bathing
• No snacking on grass while working for handler
• Trailer loads and hauls politely
• Tolerates lifting tail and taking temp
• No problem cleaning sheath
• Absolutely no threats of biting or kicking
• Halter broke-comes to be caught even in a large pasture, puts head enthusiastically in halter, tips nose towards handler, lowers head, ties patiently, ground ties patiently, can be lead anywhere and light on end of lead
• Enthusiastically accepts bit during bridling
• Rides in haltermore (no bit)
• Yields to less than 4 oz of pressure
• Responds to slightest cue from handler in round pen (I just look in the direction I want him to travel)
• Feeding manners are excellent
• De worms without halter or lead
• Rain no longer bothers him
• Comfortable with 24/7 turnout
• Noticeably more free movement from shoulder
• Increased flexibility
• Still tight in hindend, but improved
• Does not travel with nose in the air anymore or hollow back-still needs improvement
• Responds to pre cues such as cluck (trot), kiss (canter), whoa
• Absolutely loves the trails and has never spooked, bucked, or bolted
• Tolerates the hunting dogs on the trail and in his pasture
• Bending improved
• Backing softly
• Takes correct leads
• Free jumps 3’ with tons of scope and room to spare, nice tightly tucked knees, ears always alert and forward
• Turns on haunches and front end
• Beginning to side pass at walk
• Will open gate with rider in saddle

Days 70-76 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Categories: Ground Training - Tags: ,

Phil is back in training. To regain some lost conditioning from the past 2 weeks I have gone back to the round pen. Remember the round pen is not used to chase your horse around in circles to exercise him. I think up creative ways to move Phil’s feet right, left, back, forward, sideways. Phil was really tuned in to me and moved with just a suggestion from my finger. Now, that is communication. He did get a bit silly and wanted to canter when I was only asking for a trot, but he wasn’t doing anything disrespectful, so I stood submissive in the center of the pen and let him play. He only cantered 3 laps and circled right in to me; Phil was telling me he was ready to focus.

I walked around the pen and he happily hooked on/joined up. I set up a raised cavalletti for him to trot over. I also introduced Phil to a beach ball using approach and retreat method. The ball was left in our yard by the kids and I thought it would be neat to introduce the ball to Phil. When Phil nosed the ball and it rolled I thought that I may try clicker training to teach more tricks (read introducing new objects). Phil wasn’t really concerned with the ball, so I was able to toss it over his back and head, roll it under his belly, and roll it off his hindend. He was ground tied, so he did have the option to say “No thank you”. I am always looking at my surroundings and thinking “How can I incorporate this into a lesson?” Be creative!

Introducing a new object. When introducing a new object to your horse whether it is a ball, a garbage can, trash bag, a jump, or tarp you must ditch the human thinking and think like he does. Horses are prey animals, their predators ambush and attack from behind, so any new object should be displayed in front of him at a comfortable distance. If he is concerned about the object let him look at it and think the situation over. He may be surveying for the quickest escape route, so keep his attention with rhythmic tugs on the rope halter when he tips his nose away from you and be sure to immediately release for any effort to acknowledge you. If he feels like he needs to move his feet, give him a task such as backing. If he is snorting then he is really concerned or excited and he may need to burn off some freshness before you ask him to focus. If the object poses no threat to him, his curiosity will take over and he’ll inch closer to investigate. Remember, he will serpentine to the object, you should do the same.

Many times I have seen handlers either lead their horse directly to the object or bring the object to their horse; this is human thinking. Let your horse make his own decisions. You are there as his cheerleader. If your horse will not make any attempt to investigate you can pull the object away from him and let him follow (for example if you are riding and your friend is pulling the object away from your horse) or you can go up to the object as if you were a horse and bend down to smell the object. I always say “Monkey see, monkey do”. I sometimes have to teach the newly weaned foals how to eat pellets out of a dish. I bend down and pretend I’m investigating and eating the pellets. It doesn’t take long before the foal’s nose is in the dish checking out what I am doing. This technique works well if you aren’t worried about what you look like to the public.

Tail swatting and flatulence. 
Yes, you read correctly. I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand to be swatted in the face by a horse’s tail when I am bent over picking out back feet or grooming a hindquarter. In my opinion, this is a very disrespectful behavior. Over the years I have witnessed handlers take the abuse from their horses in the form of pseudo fly kicking, violet tail whipping, leaning on the handler when picking feet or grooming. I’m sure everybody can relate to the feeling of a violet tail lashing across their sweaty face at one time or another.

When Phil first arrived he showed me all of his rude tricks. One of the best tricks was Phil’s accuracy to swat me in the face at the precise moment I was bending down to pick up a hoof. I also endured Phil’s flatulence when I was bent over in a vulnerable position. I could easily see a pile of poop dropped on my head like a B12 bomber releasing a bomb on the intended target as Phil’s encore. In a herd, it is not uncommon for a higher ranking member to poop on or in close proximity to a lower ranking member to show dominance. This is especially true with stallions when they mark their territory with stud piles. Each time Phil attempted to swat me I grabbed his tail and said “NO!” Sometimes I would hold his tail and lift a hind leg and say “NO!” (you have a 3 second window). By lifting his leg I was mentally taking away his ability to flee. Obviously, I couldn’t physically hold him. I released when he gave a submissive posture like flopping his ears to the side, softening his eye, lowering his head, blinking, or licking his lips. Here is my secret to this exercise. First, I did ground work for respect, second, I sprayed Phil with plenty of fly spray, and third, I never altered the game plan. My goal was to set him up for success, so no excuses to swat at flies. I reinforce this exercise every time I am working near or around his hindquarters. Today, Phil politely keeps his tail still until I move out of swatting range. I no longer am threatened by flatulence or B12 bombings. You may be laughing and that is OK. This was a behavior I chose to rehabilitate.


Days 48-54 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Categories: Ground Training - Tags: ,

Week of May 25th – I have a funny story to tell about Phil this week. I am back teaching this summer semester, so Dan is feeding again in the mornings I teach. Dan told me that he poured Phil’s feed and headed to the gate without giving Phil the ritual head rub. Dan said Phil kept dancing around in front of him as he headed to the gate. He thought Phil was acting really strange until it dawned on him Phil was looking for his head rub. Dan rubbed Phil’s head and Phil trotted off to his feed.

Like many OTTBs our horses thrive on a constant routine.
We must always hold up our end of the bargain.

Emergency dismount. This week I worked on the emergency dismount. If you ride, you are going to have a fall. It happens to everyone, eventually. A fall doesn’t have to be scary or dangerous if you have taught yourself and your horse what to do in such a situation. You may be jolted out of your seat by a few rough strides, your horse may trip, you may have a sudden sliding stop due to a terrifying, horse-eating monster (possibly a rabbit or a bird, or a flapping plastic bag). The last thing I want to do is scare Phil, have Phil trample me, or have to go catch him after a jolting fall. So, I am going to give myself a plan and desensitize Phil to me jumping off his back. Ultimately, I am going to teach him to stop if I ever fall off.

Safety First. There are several safety measures you can take, to minimize the effect of any fall. You always must wear a helmet; you don’t know when you are going to fall, and you don’t have enough time to zip over to the tack room and grab your helmet on the way down. You may feel dorky wearing a helmet, but think how much more dorky it would feel to wear a wheelchair. I will tell you I was once bucked off so hard by a youngster that my helmet cracked when I hit the soft grass. Food for thought.

This lesson was to benefit the both of us. I wanted to teach Phil that if I ever fell off he is to stop. It was also important to desensitize Phil to me coming out of the saddle. Starting with ground work I asked Phil if he was ready and his ear on me and quick responses to my requests told me he was ready to get to work. Using the haltermore (I didn’t want to risk pulling at his mouth) and riding bareback I practiced a dismount off the right and left sides at a stand still. Phil doesn’t seem bothered by this. I dismounted at a walk and then a trot. Phil was somewhat bothered by me swinging off at the trot on the right side. This may be because I was uncoordinated dismounting off the right side. I need more practice; Phil was fine. Each time I dismounted I said “Whoa.” I used the mecate that was tucked in my belt loop to back him once I was on the ground if he didn’t come to a complete halt. Once he halted he immediately got a release.

Leading without a halter or lead rope. Phil is now leading to and from his pasture and the barn without a halter or lead rope. I am looping the lead around his neck, but will eventually not even use the lead. Phil will eagerly follow me without me holding on to the lead. The lead is just a prop. Watch a herd follow the Alpha mare and you will see them follow her without asking any questions.

More ground work. I introduced Phil to a new ground work exercise. I put the lead rope around his hips. I pulled the rope until it disengaged his hindquarters and Phil moved around 180 degrees facing me. He was very worried about the rope behind him. I observed this “hole” and went back a few lessons to desensitize him to the rope behind his hocks and hips. This is a good example of how I started with a planned lesson on disengaging the hindquarters and ended up going back a few lessons to basic desensitizing based on Phil’s behavior. This is what I call student directed learning. Phil told me he was not ready to move on and needed a refresher on rope desensitizing. I reviewed our previous lessons of tossing the rope over his back, shoulder, and head. I ended the lesson when Phil stood relaxed with a cocked hind foot. It was a good confidence builder for him.

Riding lesson. My 10 year old daughter, Paige, rode Phil in a lesson this week (see pictures) She walked, trotted, cantered, and jumped some 18” crossrails during her lesson. Phil took both his leads correctly for Paige. I was impressed.

Days 33-39 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Categories: Correcting Bad Behavior, Ground Training - Tags:

The ground work is reinforced every day whether it is actual moving Phil’s feet in the round pen or by simply leading him from pasture to barn. I try to be creative and my have him serpentine or walk backwards while going from barn to pasture.

In the arena I have been focusing on softening and lateral flexion at walk and trot. Phil and I have been bending around the barrels, trees and every single corner in the arena. Tuesday Phil did have a mini meltdown and wanted to drift to the gate. I held him steady and just kept riding. When Phil became ugly I shouted a firm” NO” and kept the outside leg pressure on until he figured out his own release. As long as I had control of his nose and feet he could not rear, buck, or bolt. He did briefly think about rearing and I kept him to task. Contrary to popular belief if your horse is giving you a warning (they always do) instead of stopping their motion, push them into the motion by switching directions every two-three steps, ask for a roll back, drive them into a tight circle, etc . Remember stopping their feet is a reward. By stopping them you are allowing them to collect and thus have more power to buck, rear, bolt, etc. Instead, get control of their nose using the built in foundation of lateral flexion, keep the head up, and disengage the hindquarters. A horse cannot buck if his hindend is disengaged. A horse cannot rear if his feet are in motion. A horse cannot bolt if you control his nose. These are just basic theories of physics. I let Phil work through his mini tantrum while continuing to bend around the barrels until he softened in my hands. I released the reins and let him rest. After the meltdown, Phil was a soft, relaxed horse and I even had to check him with halt halts every once in a while. His work ethic was renewed.