Ground Driving Horse Training Step-by-Step
Posted in: Horses for the horse crazy
I have logged here all of 2-yr.old Glendale’s ground driving training sessions, from mid-June 2007 til November 2007 when he was first hitched to a cart. Please see my Horse training disclaimer before you go further.
Ground driving is walking and running behind the horse as you teach him to move forward and steer in front of you, in preparation for hitching him to a cart. Here is Gilford in training as a 2-yr. old with Hubby. (Glendale’s ground driving videos are below.)
CAUTION– for SAFETY reasons, do NOT just jump into this type of training without the basic handling and prep work. Your ground driving position is often within easy kicking range! Know your horse, know how much he trusts you, what he is used to and what he can tolerate. You MUST be able to recognize his feelings of excitement and agitation and know how to keep him calm or settle him down.
Glendale outfitted for ground driving training: cavesson, surcingle, driving reins.
YOUNG HORSE SUBJECT
Glendale, arabian-percheron gelding age 22 months. 15.2 H, weight about 1000 lbs. Glen is a calm and sensible young horse and a quick learner, attentive to people. He is energetic and forward and seems interested in learning. He is not inclined to kick and has never kicked out at a person. He does not act up when separated short distances from mom and brother; I work with him within his comfort zone.
EARLY RELATED HANDLING and TRAINING (first 21 months of life):
Foal handling, ponying including voice commands, leading, standing tied, cross ties, desensitizing to ropes all over body and under tail, taught to yield HEAD AND BODY to pressure, including ropes against his body and tightened around his girth and ropes wrapped around his legs, and dragging ropes and leadlines. He has been well handled all over his body almost daily since birth.
Also he is familiar with a lunge whip and dressage whip touching his body all over and used for cuing in the roundpen. I got him used to feeling a rope under his dock and tail, behind his rump and behind his hocks. He has been worked several times in a roundpen, before age one and as a yearling.
I had fit a surcingle on him and then a light harness-saddle plus backstrap, crupper and breeching. Glen had no nervousness about this. Training sessions are given on a full belly and with enough fly ointment to deter the worst distractions. He usually gets a horse treat on finishing, after he’s untacked.
CAVESSON– a snug-fitting training halter with extra noseband padding and rings in the noseband, used for lunging. I do NOT drive him off a bit for this initial training. My cavesson is nylon, leather ones of course are available; they may vary slightly in configuration.
HALTER/BRIDLE– nylon halter and bridle combination onto which the bit buckles on both sides, making it fully removable. It has a halter ring at bottom of the chin for attaching a lead rope.
SURCINGLE– padded girth having 3 sets of side rings (turrets) from mid-barrel to top of horse’s back, and center rings on top middle back; I run the reins thru the lowest side rings at the middle of his barrel. Alternative 1, you could use a harness saddle and run the reins through the tugs. Alternative 2, you can use a regular horse saddle, tie the stirrups to the girth, and run the reins through the stirrups.
4-foot whip, dressage whip, short crop with flat slapper on end… (L to R)
CROP OR SHORT WHIP– I use a short crop with a 2-inch flat hand-shaped business end on it which makes a nice slapping noise on his butt and is visually noticeable. A dressage whip or other short whip can be used.
DRIVING WHIP– 4-foot (short) driving whip with 6-inch drop (lash).
DRIVING REINS– my leather 14-foot harness reins, ends NOT buckled together. I try to carry the extra rein length draped over each shoulder when working close to the horse.
LONG LINES– Cotton, about 30 feet long, rounded at the first 10 feet to slide easily thru turrets (otherwise like a lunge line.) Because of their length, I found the long lines way too cumbersome for beginning training; I would have to carry each one coiled when working close behind the horse. Once training progresses to working much further away from the horse, long lines are much more useful. I let the loose rein ends drag on the ground and hopefully step over them as I move around.
Our barn aisle is 12×36 ft. with sliding doors on both ends. Dirt paddock is approx. 20×50 with sloping ground. Grass paddock is approx. 100×150 ft., just behind barn, and has rolling hard-packed ground.
Session times given are actual times spent on the lesson; total times would include another 10-20 minutes grooming, tacking and untacking (which is also cross-tie practice.)
FIRST TRAINING SESSION June 12, 2007
SESSION 1. In barn aisle, 2 handlers, 15 min.– lead line, two 1-inch thick lead ropes with bullsnaps, halter.
HorseGal helped me at Glendale’s head. I used the ropes attached to his halter siderings, plus a normal leadline. She led him back and forth in the aisle a few times to get his feel, then I got behind his rump holding the two ropes like driving reins.
I told him WALK and pushed on his rump to give him the idea. HorseGal led him as I walked behind. At the end of the aisle, as they stopped at the closed door I said WHOA. She turned him around by leading and we repeated this a couple of times. Next, HorseGal would wait for me to start him moving before she led, helping him learn that I was directing him from behind.
Glendale actually seemed confused at this point about who he was supposed to be paying attention to. So I then asked HorseGal to step back more in line with his shoulder and less in a leading position and not to pressure the leadline or speak to him, so he began to listen more to my voice and more readily to move away from my pushing on his rump. She would guide him when needed.
In a few tries he had the idea to walk down the aisle in front of me and beside HorseGal. No steering was attempted, but I did say WHOA and pulled back on the reins each time he reached a natural stopping place. The barn aisle was just enough room for a first lesson and offered minimal distractions.
SESSION 2. In barn aisle, single handler, 15 min.– snug-fitting cavesson (preferable to halter,) two thick lead ropes.
I got Glendale to walk in front of me by repeating WALK command and pushing his rump. Since he was starting to do this fairly well, I introduced a little steering from side to side. At first the single rein pressure interfered with his forward movement, but he improved quickly. I found I had to exaggerate the steering in this lesson by turning him a complete half circle at the ends of the aisle. Verbal praise and verbal correction were effective from his previous upbringing and ponying.
SESSION 3. In dirt paddock, single handler, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, long lines, crop.
Starting in barn aisle, I added crop-tapping his rump to the pushing and verbal cues for WALK. Steering was getting better so I drove him outside via the walk-thru stall. He walked for me parallel to the barn pretty well but didn’t want to go downslope away from the barn.
Just as in leading or riding, whenever he was reluctant to go one way, I turned his head to move him a different way, the primary goal being to move his feet rather than to go in a particular direction. Further urging and tapping with crop got him down the slope, where I turned him in half circle and he readily went back upslope. 4-5 times back and forth was enough, lots of praise and a treat after untacking. (I later learned that he is sticky when leading downslope too.)
Initially I walk as closely as possible directly behind the youngster’s rump, without stepping on his heels. The closer you are, the less likely he can land a kick or get much power behind one, should he get real upset. Better however is to never take your eyes off his attitude, practice tuned-in horsemanship, and adjust your methods and tone as needed so as not to worry him.
SESSION 4. Grass barn paddock, two handlers, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, long lines, crop, mother mare in halter and leadline.
I had an inspiration to use mom mare to encourage Glen’s forward movement (as opposed to someone leading his head.) When Hubby led her around paddock, Glen readily walked because she was walking, and I began to direct him independently of her by steering him to veer away from her and back again, steering him in a couple of circles going beside her and also behind her, then in front of her. An aid to teach steering with longer driving reins is to use rein pressure against the side of his rump… IE., when steering him to turn LEFT, I step out towards his right and use the left rein lowered behind his butt to push against his left flank and rump, at the same time as I’m turning his head to the left. The rein pressure behind his rump encourages him to keep moving forward also. These things work because he was previously trained to yield to the pressure of ropes against his body.
I WHOAED Glen when his mother stopped, and also when she was still walking. 3-4 times I easily got him to trot by letting the mare get out ahead then catching up to her, using the TROT command and clucking to him (another cue learned from being ponied.) Soon we were circling on opposite sides of the paddock from each other. This was an excellent session– he walked, trotted, steered and stopped independently from his mom, and he even backed up for me, at the BACK cue and rein pressure!
SESSION 5. Grass barn paddock, single handler, 10 min.– cavesson, surcingle, driving reins, crop.
Drove in barn aisle twice, then out walk-thru stall, dirt paddock into grass paddock. Steered at walk, trotted a little. Often I needed to push on his rump to keep him walking (verbal WALK command isn’t always enough.) He is still learning that WALK means to KEEP walking until I tell him something different. He trots readily though so as I get more confident with his trot his walk will improve. He steers more easily at the trot, having more momentum. He stops at WHOA and rein pressure (always a good thing!)
Today his mom and brother were in adjacent grass area eating grass, but he worked for me agreeably so I ended after 10 minutes and rewarded him.
SESSION 6. Grass barn paddock, single handler, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, driving reins, crop.
Took Glen out while mom and brother were shut into their stalls. Really challenged him today in terms of keeping moving, working further away from me, and with me walking out to either side of his rump. Did not have to push his rump today, he walked by voice command and sometimes I tapped his butt with crop to keep him going or liven up his pace.
I worked further behind him than before, about 3 feet from his tail. By my waving the crop in the air and clucking to him, he understood to move along thanks to previous roundpen practice (where raising or waving the lunge whip signals him to go faster.) From a stop, I was able to stand on one side and turn him around away from me towards his rear using the rein away from me.
As he’s walking ahead of me, when I move out to the left side of his rump, I use the right rein behind his rump to encourage him forward while steering him with the left rein in a slight bend towards me, continuing to cluck and actively wave the crop in the air as needed. Effectively then I am walking beside his left and slightly behind his mid-barrel. Then when turning him to the right, pulling the right rein pushes his butt around as I turn his head to the right, meanwhile positioning myself opposite his right hip to walk beside him on his right.
FYI, here is Gilford again to help you visualize; he is out on the long lines, much further than I have tried with Glendale yet. At this point his right rein is flipped over the top his back (rather than behind his rump.) He is working off a snug-fitting halter.
This type of steering is already more advanced than in Session 4, where he was just learning to respond to rein pressure by turning. This is preparing him for longline work when I will gradually be able to move him further away from me and to drive him in a circle around me, or on a serpentine ahead of me.
Glen trotted willingly, to voice cues mostly plus more active crop waving or slapping a rein against his butt. Initially I asked for trot when he was heading towards barn, but soon he trotted out away as well, and he steered pretty well at the trot. He backed well, whoaed well, and stood pretty nicely when I was talking to a visitor. This session he started really looking like a driving horse!
SESSION 7. Barn aisle, single handler, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, driving reins, crop.
Today was raining so we did a bit of fine-tuning in the barn aisle. I walked him back and forth and we practiced steering in tighter turns, steering in a small circle around me, steering figure eights, yielding his haunches by turning on his forehand. I wanted to reinforce the individual cues, and for him to be learning better how to put together each different command and signal.
Playing in our barn aisle works for Glendale because he is agile and responsive enough to make tight turns (it might be too tight for a larger or less agile horse, or it might be challenging for a less forward horse.) It keeps Glen’s speed to a slow walk; there are few distractions; I enjoy the level smooth footing for myself (rubber mats); and I can observe him a little more closely.
Today he steered better than ever; he was making the connection that light pressure on his rein means to yield his head, and stronger and/or continued pressure means to turn his body. I was able to regain his attention with a light rein squeeze when it began to wander. He responded well to rein pressure against his rump when I was beside him. He walked from clucking and very little tapping with the crop; I would touch him or tap him lightly only if he began to slow down on his own.
I had him stand still while I moved my position and moved the reins across his back from one side to the other. This took some extra cueing… at first he wanted to back up when I shifted to one side of his body and moved the reins across his back, so I kept one rein behind his rump to hold him in place. Then once he understood not to move when I moved, he stood in place without the rump rein. What I ultimately want is to be able to move all around him and flap the reins all around and fuss with him without him moving his feet; this is prep for harnessing and hitching.
Then when I asked him to walk again after the standing session, he was a little hesitant at first, looking at me to be sure he was doing the right thing. So that was good practice to help him differentiate that sometimes just standing in place is what I want him to do, and sometimes I want him to move.
I was facing his head front on and had both reins in my hands, so just for a lark I said BACK, while pressuring both reins, to see if he would back AWAY from me. I probably stepped towards him slightly or leaned my body towards him, but he did actually back away from me a step or two! His regular backing when I was behind him was excellent, he is starting to put 2 or 3 back steps together at a time.
At end I steered him to walk into his stall and untacked him there while he nibbled hay. He gets his treat after his tack is all removed!
SESSION 8. VIDEOS July 22– Grass barn paddock, single handler, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, driving reins, dressage whip.
This session was a little more challenging, as I continue to push the envelope to increase Glen’s understanding of the signals. I am moving out more directly beside him now, and out to the ends of the 14-foot reins. I am expecting him to keep walking when I say walk, until I ask him to Whoa. When he hesitates I get more active with cuing, move more directly behind him, repeat my voice commands, etc., whatever it takes to keep him moving. I am turning him frequently and moving my position relative to his body as he turns. I am doing a little more trotting.
Walk Stand Trot VIDEO– Glendale (almost-2 yr. old arabian/percheron) in his 8th ground driving session. Practices walk, steering, stand, & trotting to my voice, whip cues and body language. Glen wears cavesson & surcingle; 14-foot driving reins are attached to siderings of his cavesson (no bit.) Today I’m using a dressage whip because it is a bit longer than the short crop; as I move further from the horse I will use a longer whip, to be able to touch him with it if necessary. He can see this one when I wave it in the air, and he can hear the whoosh if I flick it quickly.
At this point in his BASIC training I am NOT asking for a smooth forward walk or steady gaits, I merely want him to understand moving, stopping, and standing on command. If I were to correct him now for not walking fast enough when he is already walking, he would just get confused and frustrated. Later on we will practice quality and consistency of the gaits.
Walk Whoa Back VIDEO– Shown here, besides walking and steering, are WHOA and BACK. As mentioned before, Glen was already familiar with voice commands for the gaits from being ponied (led) beside him mom mare since he was a 2-week old foal.
FINER POINTS: I am trying to carry the loose ends of the reins over each shoulder, to avoid stepping on them; however, they don’t stay there very well so I have to readjust them often. I am now changing my whip hand when he changes directions so as to keep the whip in a driving position aimed at the horse’s rump (the same as when round-penning or lunging the horse.)
Back Away VIDEO– It truly surprised me that he could do this this the first time I tried it… I have both reins on one side of his body, face him, and ask him to back while pressuring the reins. I step my body towards him also. Granted, BACK has been practiced with him in his ground handling, by facing him head on, stepping towards his head, and pressing against his chest to move him away from pressure. Still, I like to think he is pretty smart to get this in the ground driving setup!
Trot Whoa Walk VIDEO– Once he trotted without me really asking him to… in which case, I go with him and let him trot a little but bring him back to a walk gently with increased rein pressure and saying WALK in a relaxed voice. I love how Glendale listens for what I want him to do!
With youngsters and greenies, you WANT them to move forward, so you don’t want to discourage them if they go forward a little too quickly at times. They can easily become balky if they are pulled up short every time they try to move faster, especially if you have a bit in their mouth.
That being said of course, if they are highly excitable or jumpy, you want to do whatever it takes to reassure them, so they can calm themselves down. An early sign of nervousness is when the horse’s head goes up in the air. Getting the horse to lower his head down is a relaxer (yield to poll pressure) and also refocuses his attention on you. I use the voice command EEEAS-Y (spoken in 2 long syllables) as an attention-getter and soother while we are moving along. I use it when he starts to speed up all by himself, when going through rough footing or downhill, to steady the horse and alert him to collect himself, slow down and pay attention. They all seem to understand this.
SESSION 9– Grass barn paddock, single handler, 15 min.– cavesson, surcingle, driving reins, dressage whip.
More practice on all of the maneuvers in Session 8. Uneventful, except a couple of times he was a little harder to WHOA today. Made me decide he was ready to drive off a bit.
SESSION 10 Aug. 6– Grass barn paddock, single handler, 20 min.– nylon halter/bridle with egg butt snaffle bit, surcingle, driving reins, short flat-ended crop.
For bitting training I use a halter/bridle, which has a detachable bit, because it’s easy to slip the bit into his mouth after the bridle is secured in place. Fasten it to the off (right) side before putting the bridle on, then slip it into his mouth and buckle onto the near (left) side. I rigged this training bridle with an egg-butt snaffle bit approx. 1/2 inch in thickest diameter at edges of his mouth. He has been bitted several times before with a very thin snaffle and allowed to wear it in his stall while eating grain and hay.
I start at about a year old bitting with a thin snaffle, I feel it’s easier to get used to than a thicker snaffle and easier to learn to eat around. Some trainers will not agree with letting horses eat with a bit in their mouth; I think it helps them adjust to a bit, giving them something enjoyable to do. (When bitting, be sure the young horse does not have wolf teeth which would be hit by the bit and possibly cause pain.)
Using the thicker snaffle today (because a thinner bit is considered more severe) I ground drove him as before; the only new thing being introduced was the bit having driving reins attached to it. Because he has been driven prior to now off a cavesson with no bit in his mouth, he was overly sensitive to a bit and had to get used to the feel of it. He was over-steering, often stopping mistakenly from the pressure applied to one rein, and needed more encouragement to move forward through turns when he felt single-rein pressure.
I expected all this to happen. He is now learning to go forward WITH some resistance in his mouth, the very beginnings of accepting the contact of a bit. I strove to keep my rein pressure as light as possible; often it took merely a slight pressure and release to start him turning, but sometimes I had to apply continual pressure. The weight of the reins themselves creates some pressure against the bit, and is something else he must get used to as he learns to put all this together.
I worked on expanding WHOA to also mean STAND quietly until further instruction; he was sometimes backing up a tad after whoaing, so a light touch on his butt and repeating WHOA told him NOT to back up. His BACK was excellent; with the slightest pressure on both reins evenly, he would take a step backwards, putting 3 or 4 backwards steps together, even without a voice command.
After much quiet walking and maneuvering, I felt he was ready for a little TROT; however, he told me that that WASN’T comfortable for him by humping his back and lifting his hind feet up for a couple of crow-hops. Fortunately his did not kick out at me. He did trot then and after a few trot steps I whoaed him and walked again. I had trotted him in a slight curve, so I wanted to trot him curving the other direction as well and asked him for TROT again. This time he sort of jumped into it but didn’t show me a crow-hop, so after a few trot steps I slowed him back down.
Since he has not previously resisted trotting off the cavesson (without a bit,) I can only speculate as to why he semi-bucked like that going into the first trot while being driven from a bit. Possible reasons: perhaps he was still uncomfortable or confused about the bit in his mouth, being overly-sensitive to the rein pressure on them; perhaps I was exceeding his tolerance level before he had adjusted fully to bit pressure; perhaps the surcingle was pinching him (after I took it off he DID have to scratch himself a long time on his girth area.)
Whatever his reasons for this show of resistance, it tells me to slow down a bit, practice more on simple walking and steering off the bit, and do NOT rush moving on to the the next stage, which would be longlines. I want him to have very good understanding of moving forward, steering and stopping off the bit before I move out further away from him on longlines, which lessens my control a little and has the potential of speeding up the action but also of getting into a bigger mess, as longlines are easy to get wrapped around his body or legs accidentally.
One other reminder to myself– today while leading him back in, he dropped his head to grab some grass and stepped on one of his reins, which pulled on the bit and made him react nervously. I need to desensitize him to that, and to repeat a dragging-the-lead-rope-off-the-halter lesson.
_________________________ (timeline skips ahead one month)
SESSIONS 11-15, October 2007
Five ground driving Sessions were done after Glen came back from starting under saddle (September). I began long-lining him, which means working him out further away from me, which you can do once the horse is working well close in front of you. These videos show us in Session 11, early October. Sessions 12-15 practiced the same stuff, all leading up to his first hitch to the training cart in his sixteenth training Session.
These videos show examples of the horse NOT behaving so well– he is distracted, inattentive and resistant. Training does not always go perfectly of course… the Sessions after this were much better, otherwise we would not have gone ahead and hitched him.
Glen starts out pretty well walking further away from me on longer lines…
This shows him reluctant to stand still after whoa-ing and he pulls on his reins a few times. He is walking off all by himself. The impatience of youth! (Also probably the cooler weather has made him more energetic.)
Then he realizes he has more freedom out there, and becomes tricky to handle.
Above I let him get really too far away from me, and he gets overly excited, throws in a kick/buck and starts cantering. I have to stop him and gather him together again. It’s not on the vid, but he actually broke loose from me shortly after this and ran up to the barn, fortunately without tangling himself up enough to bother him. I went too far too fast… and perhaps he was rusty after not doing the ground driving for over a month. My bad. Very bad.
Back in hand on somewhat shorter lines, he decides that behaving himself is in his best interest and he walks along, steering and stopping nicely.
And in this vid he trots a little, then whoas and backs for me.
Four more Sessions practicing this same stuff, and that’s it for his driving preparation work. This training lays the groundwork for being hitched to a cart. If there ever are any issues with being hitched, or (heaven forbid) any accidents or scary happenings which make the horse nervous about pulling the cart, you would go back to the unhitched ground work to retrain him, as far back as necessary to where he is not nervous about what you’re doing.
Now see Glen’s first hitch in SESSION 16, Green driving horse first hitched to cart!
Thanks to HorseGal for the October vids, sorry no sound though on this camera…
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