This post is the second installment of my online training journal. I am currently training two different ponies to drive. One pony belongs to me, and the other pony belongs to “IHeartArabians,” a beginner to Very Small Equine (VSE) driving. To understand this post and future posts you will want to start at the beginning. Please see previous post “A Tail of Two Ponies, A Case Study in Training…Days 1-4.”
March 27, 2019…Day 4 for Moonshine
In my previous post, Moonshine did not get worked on the same day as her fellow pony in training, Apple Jack #2, putting her a day behind in training. Due to scheduling conflicts I was unable to work Apple Jack #2 on March 27 as planned, and was therefore able to catch Moonshine up. Because of the time I have spent on groundwork with Moonshine since we bought her, I feel she may progress faster than Apple Jack #2 in some areas. I ground drove Moonshine for two days with a halter and on day three spent my time fitting her with a bridle. On Day 4 we did our first ground driving session in bridle.
Moonshine took to the bridle very easily, and did not try to spin or turn once during the workout. I even attempted a few backing steps. Initially she refused, but when she understood what I was asking, she began to back with a light pick up on both reins. Moonshine was not as soft driving as my last pony who started out as a blank slate with no bridle training. That may be due to the fact, in a previous life someone wanted her to be a kids pony (and may have already worked her in bridle), or it may just be her way of learning to steer in a bridle rather than halter. Whatever the case, Moonshine will now move into our big back pasture for her ground driving workouts for the next week or so to work on softening, stopping, and backing.
March 28, 2019…Day 5
Day 5 was a successful day for Apple Jack #2. He was fresh off a two day break. I have been thinking a lot about Apple Jack #2’s tendency to spin when stopped or frustrated. He also displays the behavior when tied. IHeartArabians seems to think that he was taught to “Hide Your Hiney,” a method some trainers employ so that horses/ponies always move their butt away from handlers. While I get the importance of having a horse/pony turn and face you during groundwork, it’s equally important that you be able to work around their rear end. “Hide Your Hiney” training also requires that your VSE have a complete thinking reboot if you plan to drive the animal since the majority of your time will be spent behind them.
We spent about fifteen minutes just working with Apple Jack#2 while he was tied to the fence. Instead of approaching from the front, we approached from the back, scratching his little rear while we moved toward the shoulder. He was rewarded with treats for standing still during the process.
Once Apple Jack#2 was rigged up in his harness saddle and halter with drive lines, we worked on standing still while handlers walk from shoulder to rear around and back up to shoulder. We avoided approaching his face and required him to bend his neck to get treats while we stood at the shoulder. Then we practiced asking for a few steps and a stop. Anticipating the spin, anytime Apple Jack#2 took one rear step to the side for a spin, we cued for a front step in the opposite direction he was preparing to turn and put forward pressure on him asking for a stop the minute he straightened.
Initially this was very confusing for the little guy, and we spent ten minutes working on the “no spin when stopped” maneuver. Then we reverted to forward driving, giving the pony time to think while he worked on an activity he understood. IHeartArabians was not only able to successfully drive the pony through the entire obstacle course, she also anticipated pony antics before they became full meltdowns and corrected accordingly. I did not need to step in a single time. IHeartArabians also had several successful, no spin, stops.
AppleJack #2 is coming along nicely. This was a big step for the little guy, but I feel confident that he will be an expert within the next few training sessions, and then we can move onto full harness!
Moonshine Day #5
Today was a heavy training day for me since I had two ponies and two full size horses on my schedule. Moonshine was the last to be worked, and I didn’t have the energy to challenge her much. We mainly put some mileage on her tonight. Since discovering that Moonshine tolerates a bit and steers passably in a bridle, I took her into the back pasture with the big horses. I worked her for softness and suppling (small successes tonight) around cavaletties and ground poles. She turns when cued, but to put it in mechanical terms I want power steering vs manual steering. A light wiggle of the fingers versus an actual pull on the reins should be enough to get the desired result.
I will also focus on full desensitization. Sounds elicit larger spooks from Moonshine than visual distractions (most of my horses are completely opposite). I will begin adding noises like a blue tooth speaker blaring music, and dragging loud items in order to get her ready for the cart. It’s hard to remember I’ve only had Moonshine six months, and our other ponies were fully desensitized by dogs, the toddler, and the chaos of hanging out in our back yard for almost a full year before beginning their training.