Monday, January 5, 2015

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

For those who have not been following my adventures with Cole Train from the beginning, let me bring you up to date. When I got Cole, he was an untrained 4-year-old. He was halter broken, had round pen experience and had a saddle on his back. My first couple of months were spent leading on the trail and lounging. We were a complete failure as far as lounging was concerned. He was mostly horrible on a lounge line—and still is. We have a miserable first 5 minutes with bucking, rearing (lots of it) and general hyperness. We then have a good 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of refusing to go at all.

I gave up on lounging and just started to ride him. I now only try it occasionally when I can’t turn him out to play and I think he might be too spunky to ride right away—usually in very cold weather.

So, I would say that Cole really hasn’t had much ground work. It hasn’t been a problem, but in my search to make winter more interesting, I decided to add a little to his repertoire—just for fun. It is more practical than teaching tricks. Cole loves learning tricks—why not learn practical tricks? With the aid of clicker training, I think this is going to be fun for us both. Besides, it will give me something to write about.

Years ago, I bought a dressage book with an extensive chapter on ground work, and I decided to use that as a basis of our training.

Day One:

After our ride in the arena, I was ready to introduce our first lesson—and I think it will be the hardest—though it is technically the easiest. You see, the first lesson is to step forward on command to a light whip tap on the hock. The problem—Cole loves to park out and bow. He tends to get stuck. If he is parked out, he thinks all commands mean to bow. I had to get him to see things in a different light.

I dismounted, and Cole immediately parked out. I lightly tapped his left leg by his hock—continuing until he took a step forward. It only took about 10 taps. I clicked and treated him. By the third attempt he got it right away!

Now, I had to do it on the right side. That was a whole different story. I would tap and tap and tap. It seemed like forever before I got the first step. I clicked him for that and started all over. He parked out and it seemed to take just as long on the second request, and the third request. Whenever he took the step, I clicked and we started all over—and he was just as reluctant as in the beginning. Finally, I started seeing improvement and since I was nearly out of carrots, we quit.

Here is the sequence of his behavior. I tap, he parks out, I continue to tap, he bows, I continue to tap, he steps forward and I click and treat. It’s not what the book says, but it works in the end.

Day Two:

I rode Cole in the arena for a while with Dante, and then we went outside to wait for Ellen to get Ranger ready. I decided to do his ground work while we waited. Since he is used to playing “Park and Bow” whenever we wait for horses, the first step on the easy side was really, really tough. I remained patient and just kept tapping lightly and he finally got it. Subsequent steps were much easier. I switched to the hard side—and he got it immediately! Cole is a genius. I think once he realized we were playing a different game, he just knew what to do. I was so proud of him. We then took Cole and Ranger down the hill.

When we got back, Cole wanted to practice standing ground tied in the driveway. We do that after most rides. Just as he parked out, I noticed a car coming our direction, and I had to move Cole. I lightly tapped his hock, and he stepped right out of the way. In the past, this situation could be a problem with Cole refusing to move in a timely manner. Ground training is already benefitting us! We then practiced ground tying, and he was happy.

Day Three:

Ellen and I rode Cole and Dante 3 trips on the hill. The rain from the night before turned our frozen river into a raging torrent. When we got back to the barn, I took Cole in the arena to work on our ground work.

He understood stepping from a single light touch on the hock with the whip on both sides. He is skipping most of the parking out and all of the bowing! He realized he will get the treat faster if he just steps forward. I love working with him.

It was time to move on to the next step—moving forward to a touch on the croup. I was doubtful that this would go smoothly, because I have tried to use it in the past when Cole was stuck in a parked position and didn’t want to go forward—and I would end up with a bow. To my delight—he understood immediately! I guess the previous work put the idea of moving forward in his mind, so it was an easy mental leap.

Ellen came in and wanted to see what we were doing. I showed her the hock tap move from both sides and the forward on the croup tap. I then told her I was going to try the next step. By holding both reins on 1 side of his body (one by his mouth and one by his lower neck), I would ask him to go forward in a small circle. This involved a certain amount of awkward coordination on my part with a signal forward with the whip. In less than a minute on each side, he understood.

On his next lesson, I will practice this maneuver until I feel he is ready to move on.

My goal is to spend 5-10 minutes each time I am with him to build on what we are learning. We will both have fun—because Cole loves stuff like this—and I will also learn new skills and coordination to use with my future colt.

My ultimate goal—Piaffe—which is trotting in place. I know this will come physically easy to Cole when he is ready. When I first started riding him in the saddle and asked him to trot—he gave me a Piaffe instead. I had the hardest time moving him forward. I am hoping that as I progress through the program, we will learn to communicate well enough that he will understand what I want. The joy of working with Cole Train is that he tries so hard to get to that click. He is creative and likes to volunteer his ideas.

Stay tuned…

By the way, Ellen is inspired to start doing this with Ranger. He started his intro lesson after his morning stroll, and is just starting to understand it.

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

Yay for clicker training! I love it! This makes me want to start working on it again with Chrome. He learned all of his ground work with clicker training since that's all we could do for his first three years. We did head lowering, backing, yielding haunches and shoulders, etc. I still need to do sidepass. I'm probably going to teach him the in hand stuff this winter too. :-)