Cricket and I spent quite a bit of time working on ground driving last week. We had a session nearly every day and he made some great progress! Cricket is three. And, while I’ve sat on him a few times, he really doesn’t know a whole lot about being ridden.
With our young horses, I spend more or less time on ground work, depending on the horse. With some of the friendly, laid back ones who are clicker-savvy, it can actually be pretty easy to teach them the basics during the first handful of rides.
I had sat on Cricket several times and he did okay wandering around a bit in our round pen. However, he clearly didn’t understand most of what I was asking and I could tell that he would really benefit from some additional time spent on ground work and, particularly, on ground driving. This is another case of what I talked about yesterday, listening to your horse.
Ground driving is a great way to work on riding skills from the ground. We spent last week working on two main sets of skills: go/woah transitions and improved steering. Both are important behaviors for him to have a solid understanding of for riding!
For my version of ground driving, I like to stay at the horse’s withers as I walk with the horse. In this position, I can hold my reins in approximately the same position as I will when I ride. I find if I work on ground driving like this, then the cues transfer over to riding pretty easily. Also, by standing near the horse’s shoulder, I can use a regular set of reins and I don’t have to get tangled up in a pair of long lines.
Before starting ground driving, Cricket had done some work with circling / lunging. So, he understood almost immediately that a little cluck meant to move forward at a walk. At first, he only wanted to move forward a few steps. That was okay. I rewarded his efforts to move a few steps and we gradually built up from there.
Ground work, if done right, progresses in layers. So, teaching a move forward cue on a circle transferred over easily to ground driving. And the cues we work on during ground driving will be used later under saddle. Each skill I teach should help make future skills easier to teach. If I get stuck somewhere, I often find I’ve missed an earlier step.
We’ve been using cones tied to the fence to work on steering, circles and changes of direction. Cricket’s done a lot of targeting, so he likes to find the next cone to touch. Moving from cone to cone helps him understand the purpose for the cues he is currently learning.
Overall, our week of ground driving practice paid off big time. When I rode Cricket on Monday, he did awesome! He moved forward nicely from a cluck and a little squeeze, was halting pretty well from a verbal woah and a light rein cue, and even did a few nice circles off of the rail. He’s a bit stiff for steering on one side, but this is something we’ll continue to work on, both on the ground and under saddle.