Reflecting on memories from the rookie days of my horse training career, sure gives me plenty of opportunities to laugh at myself. I messed up quite a number of horses simply because I just didn’t know any better. As my grandfather always told me “No one is born knowing! You don’t know how much you don’t know, until you learn what you didn’t know before, then you will realize that you really didn’t know what you thought you knew”. The more that I grow as a trainer and overall horseman, I continuously find that my grandfather’s nugget of wisdom applies directly to me. I have another 2 year old story that I would like to share with you all.
One of Many Horses Ruined by Yours Truly
Many years ago, maybe back in 2006, I was contacted by the friend of a friend to come and start her 2 year old stallion. They thought he could be a big time pleasure stallion in the Michigan area and decided that the first step would be to get on him. They heard about me from someone and it was rumored that I could get a young horse going pretty well, so they decided to give me a call. After the women repeated to me all that she had been told, I will admit, that her comments caused my ego to swell just a bit. I told the woman, you bet I can do that for you! When do you want me there?
Armed with an ego that needed it’s own seat in my pickup truck, I headed off to Dowagiac, Michigan to turn this colt into something special. There I was, in the cold Michigan winter showing up to start this colt. The lady brought out a pad, synthetic saddle, a bosal and said “there ya go”. She went back inside and left me to my work. I was pretty good at getting the saddle on a horse, but as truth would have it, that’s where my skill level stopped. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to find out!
I had never seen or used a bosal before and knew nothing about how they worked, but my ego wouldn’t allow me to admit it. I headed to the makeshift round pen to saddle and buck the colt out. I got him saddled, climbed on and he did nothing at all. I was a bit surprised, but relieved at the same time. Convinced that this was a gentle colt, I figured that I would just ride him around easy and get off. I clucked, kicked and nothing happened. I pulled to the left, then to the right and still he didn’t take a single step. Next, I got a handy whip, pulled to the left, clucked and gave him a good spank. Finally we went on a few steps and before you knew it, I was up to a trot. I guess he got tired of going in one direction quickly because he just kept turning and going the other way. I would pull on the bosal to send him back the other direction but the colt would just push through me and take me where he wanted to go. This continued on for a while and the harder he pushed through me, the more I pulled, spanked and kicked! Pretty soon, I had a very angry and annoyed colt that was dripping in sweat trying to bite my legs in the middle of a muddy round pen. I couldn’t exactly say mission accomplished!
I hopped back in the truck for the day with my friend to head home and spent the entire drive telling her how bad that colt is. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that colt! That lady needs to can him and get something else!” I said repeatedly. If you remember my last article on building your horse from the ground up, I must judge this case according to my own words. I said that these babies come as a blank piece of property waiting to be built into a wonderful masterpiece. You lay the foundation and build upon that. The house that stands at the end of it is solely your doing! The results I gained from that day’s work were not a reflection at all on that colt’s mind or ability, but rather a reflection on me! I had attempted to construct a building with no foundation. It’s no wonder that everything went downhill very quickly. What critical step did I miss? Ground driving!
The art of ground driving has become an excellent tool that I keep in my arsenal. I don’t ever put the first ride on a young horse, these days, without putting them through this. Ground driving is much more than teaching your horse to go left and right from the ground if you pay attention. I use it to assess the horses attitude as well as finding out how the horse will respond when a little pressure is applied.
What you feel from the horses on the end of your driving lines will tell you:
1.) How light he is on his feet
2.) If your horse favors leaning right or left
3.) Whether your horse will want to hide behind the vertical or be pushy
4.) If the horse says “yes sir” easily or decides “nope, that’s not going to happen” more easily5
5.) How easy is will be to get body control
What do I need to ground drive my horse?
You will need:
1.) a rope halter of your choice (if your horse is too soft in a rope halter, you can go to a normal halter)
2.)two long lines
3.) a lunge whip
4.) determination to help your horse understand the next phase of his career
Next week, we are going to go in depth about the exercises to be done on the long lines! Be sure that you have all of the above equipment ready, and stay tuned for the continuation of this article next week!