Thursday, May 27, 2010

Them Darn Bugs

We hooked and drove for the first time completely by myself back on Tuesday, and Louie did fabulously- an absolute gem.  We started out indoors, and did several laps at a walk and a trot, practicing changing directions at the trot, and really working on our corners.  Louie did just great, so comfortable and relaxed, it was as if he's been driving his whole life.

After a little work in the hot sticky indoor arena, we moved outside to where it was cooler and a little breezy.  It was just before dusk and a storm was moving in off on the horizon, but Louie handled all of that really well, not a care in the world.  Also, he got the challenge of driving with two riding horses in the arena, and he did great with that, though they did not stay for long, so we didn't get to pass them or work around them very much. 

We only worked for about 10-15 minutes outside, until the bugs became too much of a problem and we had to call it a night (we had gotten a really good drive in anyhow, so it was a good time to end).  I had doused Louie with fly spray before we went out, but even still he kept swishing and swishing his tail at them, and kept getting his tail over my lines.  Luckily, he never got spooked or reacted badly to that, and nothing bad happened, but getting a line trapped underneath the tail is not a good problem to have. 

So now my task is to rig up a fly sheet for driving to prevent, or at least decrease the frequency of Louie's tail ending up over my reins.  I was quite suprised to find that there is not a jog sheet specifically made for insect protection.  There are a few companies making quarter sheets for riding, so I could use one of those, but I wonder how well they would stay in place under a harness.  Also, several companies make fly nets like this, but there is something inside of me, perhaps it is my long lost fashion sense, that is repulsed by the idea of wearing one of them.  I have some nice cotton mesh fabric that I was going to use to make a fly sheet anyhow, so perhaps this is the perfect utility for that!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flying Solo

Well we did it- we went off leash tonight for our first time.  With how we've been progressing with our header getting farther and farther away, Louie almost didn't even notice that he wasn't there when we took the line off. 

We worked mostly in the outdoor arena, testing Louie with the wind, hard bumpy sand, walking, trotting, trotting off the rail and around obstacles, and taking diagonals at a trot. 

Louie did great, as always, and definately showed us that he is quite comfortable as a driving horse- pulling me along as if he's done it all his life.  So we got the all clear tonight to go ahead and hook and drive by ourselves.  We will have one final lesson next week, to re-visit the front of the barn where we had our accident, and for troubleshooting any issues we come across between now and then.  Our major struggles that I believe we may run into are cutting corners/not wanting to stay on path and keep a nice bend around corners, and anticipating- Louie is kindof a smarty pants and learns routines quickly, so we need to keep him on his toes all the time to prevent this. 

We also got some new equipment this week- a new whip with a drop lash, and a singletree for my cart.  Unfortunately the singletree did not come with all of the hardware necessary, so Steve took the yolk and caster and is going to get us fitted with some hardware to attach the singletree next week at our last lesson.  This will be nice as it will help to decrease the rubbing on Louie's shoulders around our turns as the singletree turns with the horse, allowing more movement of the harness between the shafts. 

Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with my little driving horse.  :)  The next (well, actually current) struggle is finding a saddle that fits us! 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photographic Evidence

I've been extremely busy, so I apologize for my absence from this blog.  But, we've been driving!  We've hooked to the cart 4 times as of today, and Louie is doing fabulously.  He had his "third time out" attitude on our second time hooking- he got bored with going around in circles and started getting a little bit fussy and anticipating/cutting corners, but we got him straightened out and put him to some new tasks. 

We haven't hooked without a ground person yet, but we will in time.  Louie is proving to be quite a capable and happy driving horse, though he still looks to me for reassurance from time to time.  We have done lots of walking, but have also worked a little bit on trotting, backing, and doing small-ish circles.  We are also working on standing patiently, and today we went back out to where we had our accident last summer, and drove up the driveway a couple of times.  Louie did great and proves to be a very safe and happy driving horse.  I am quite pleased to say that he is yet another horse who has made a recovery from a "wreck" and is driving without any slightest inkling of a problem. 

We've got at least one more lesson with Steve, but he is very pleased with our progress and imagines we will be flying solo shortly.  He does want us to continue without blinders for a few months until Louie gets very comfortable driving without them, then slowly introduce them back in to the routine. 

Without further ado, here are the photos that Steve managed to snap of us today while we were working.  I couldn't be more pleased with Louie- and as you can see here, he looks pretty pleased with himself as well.  :)

The view from the driver's seat

Sorry for the awful frame here- trying to get Louie's attention as I ask him to make a turn- but clearly he is rather interested in the view ahead of him.

Making a very nice turn, quite comfortable without his blinders.

So proud of himself.  Yay Louie!
Ahh, what a great way to enjoy a beautiful day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

We Did It!

Hooray!  We finally took the big leap tonight- and guess what?  It wasn't a big leap at all, it wasn't scary or nerve-racking, or the least bit unpredictable.

Tonight was our fourth lesson with Steve, and we started out like we usually do, building up slowly from long lining, to working on our turns in the training shafts, to working with the sled.  Last week when I was working Louie myself, we encountered a little trouble with making tight turns in that Louie would bend just his neck instead of moving his shoulders and crossing over both his front and hind end and pushing into the inside shaft to make the turn.  Well, we worked on that tonight with the aid of a whip and a rope.  Steve used a rope that was hooked to Louie's halter, then wrapped around fhe far side of Louie's body and behind his haunches- as we made turns, Steve applied pressure to the rope which applied pressure to Louie's outside hip, as a shaft would, teaching Louie that he needs to step away from the pressure and towards the inside as he makes a turn.  I worked the long lines and the whip at Louie's barrel, asking him to step over to the middle.  This method worked great and Louie had a lightbulb moment with his turns tonight- this kind of though process is something we don't see every day, but is really cool to watch. 

We worked Louie again in the sled and he did great, not a single sign of anxiety with the sled on the sandy arena footing.  After a few trips around in the sled, we brought out the cart.  We walked a few laps with the cart beside Louie on either side, going both directions, then we put Louie between the shafts and walked a few laps in each direction, making sure that that was all good as well.  Then we hooked the traces.  No different, I long lined Louie, Steve led him with the rope, and we made a lap or so.  I moved to walking right behind the cart and Louie took it all in stride- looking for me out of each eye as we changed directions. 

Finally, the moment of truth, I slid onto the driver's seat and put my feet into the stirrups.  We walked off in our 1-3-5 step method, and Louie showed no signs whatsoever of being anxious or not ready for the transition.  In fact, I'm pretty sure Louie thought that pulling the cart was great.  It is so much lighter, easier to turn, spacious, and quieter than the sled, it's like a walk in the park for him after the preparation that he's had.  We walked several laps in each direction, Steve dropping back to next to the cart for the last lap or two to observe how Louie would do by himself, without the visual aid of a ground handler right at his side.  The worst Louie did was shorten up his stride by an inch or two when we passed between the rail and a jump that was only about 6 feet away from it.  Otherwise, Louie drove around tonight like he'd been doing it for years.  He made his turns beautifully, crossing over both his front and hind feet and respecting the shafts and the whip beautifully.  I'm so proud of my boy, he's going to be quite the driving horse. 

At the end of the lesson, Steve asked if I wanted him to come back next week.  Of course I said YES!  We may be starting to take flight in our driving, but I want at least one more lesson to make sure we're progressing as we should, and to have an opportunity for troubleshooting before we're flying completely solo.  Steve has been so instrumental for us in rebuilding confidence and teaching me how to read what my horse is telling me through his body language, not to mention stepping us through the process and providing the expert assistance that we needed.  He is really impressed with Louie and our preparation up to this point, and he loves Louie's calm, level-headed nature.  I'm pretty sure Louie thinks the same of Steve. So we will have at least one more consecutive lesson to make sure that we're progressing alright, but we did get the okay to hook to the cart so long as I have a confident and comfortable ground person to take the rope.  I'm so very pleased with our progress, and I can't thank Steve enough for helping us get there!  :)