Terror in the Park. Sunshine's First Ground Driving Lesson
Chapter four - Sunshine’s first lesson on ground driving in Golden Gate ParkGround driving was quite natural to me as I had driven horses for years. When I was a child I had several plow horses that I rented out and I drove them to plow our grape vineyard each spring. It took two of us. I drove the horse and my Dad operated the plow. He had to pick up the plow when we came to a vine and place it on the other side of the vine. It was a lot of work. The plow was way too heavy for me to pick up. So my job was to manage the horse when the horse was pulling and let him know when to stop. Plowing could be done with one person, but my Dad wanted to build a work ethic in me and teach me more about horses at the same time. This is when I learned how smart, willing and honorable horses can be in their roles with humans. After I learned how a plow horse would work with you and how you could depend upon them, I then focused on getting these qualities on to any horse that I had in training.
Driving horses was so natural to me that with Mustang I did not train him to drive at all. All I did was hitch him up to a cart, that my Dad made for me, and off we went. Knowing what you are doing has an amazing positive effect on how your horse responds to you. I liked driving as much as riding.
In general I am a cautious person, but I also listen to my instincts and know when to throw caution to the wind. This is a good skill set to have with horses. I was cautious for two reasons. One, because of my Dad’s emphasis on safety around horses and the second, because of my own caution which came from my experience with the wild mustangs in Gardner Valley. In that kind of situation with horses one could not be too safety minded.
Because Sunshine was a solid and optimistic mare by nature and she was well seasoned to the trails I skipped a step when I tacked her up. When I tacked her up with a surcingle I went ahead and put both drive lines through the turrets. I have always started a horse out with one line going through the turret and the other directly to my hand. This way if I lose control by the horse spinning around or bolting I could stop the horse with the direct line. One of the benefits of my "Leading from Behind" Ritual is teaching a horse not to turn back on you or bolting, which of course is very helpful when ground driving.
The reason I wanted to have the lines through both turrets is because I got a much better feel and more control over my horse as long as she did not try to turn around and face me, which can cause a horse to get tangled up in the lines.
She had no problem stepping out in front of me when I asked her to, but for some reason one of my Dads warnings ran through my head - “Better to be safe than sorry, Carolyn”. If anything is going to go wrong it will be at the times when we are introducing a horse to something new, and this day was no exception. Because of that little voice I chose to put a third line on her just in case I lost control with my driving lines. This truned out to be a very good idea.
The Lesson of this Story - How to Start a Horse in Ground Driving:
Start with the horse standing perfectly still. Pick up the lines so there is a lot of slack in the lines. Ask a horse to walk forward until the horse removes the slack out of the lines. When the slack is removed by the horse, he steps into the contact himself. Just before the horse reaches the end of the drive lines say “whoa” rather than pulling back on the lines. The horse will be stopped by not giving to him when he reaches the end of the lines. This approach develops a horse to move up into the contact as well as knowing when to stop. When the horse stops release the lines so the horse can stand without the influence of the lines. This approach keeps a horse soft, willing and feeling a contact with his driver rather than feeling trapped by two lines. It also keeps the vitality alive in the gas pedal. Approaching your horse in this manner gives you that feeling of a dance partner.
I never liked to see a person introduce ground driving by taking the slack out of their lines when the horse was standing still before asking the horse to move forward. Because when he does move forward, while the driver is keeping the contact rather than the horse moveing into the contact, they have taught the horse how to pull and stiffen in the neck. When the trainer takes the contact by shortening the lines he is in danger of trapping the horse and corrupting the gas pedal by the horse feeling that he should not go forward because of the tension he feels from the lines. This might be fine on a horse that has too much energy but never the way to start a horse in lines in the beginning of training.
When I started out for the park with Sunshine in font of me I clucked asking her to step out and she did. She walked out in front of me until she reached the contact of both lines. Then I said "whoa" and she did. I could feel her adjusting herself in the lines and then halting when she had reached the end of them. I stood for a moment until she was completely still and then I urged her on. When she stepped out she felt like heaven in my hands. I could feel her evening out the contact when she came to the end of the lines. I could tell she loved the feeling that we were sharing through the lines. We were sharing an altered state of being. This connection brought us closer. Our souls we were no longer two, but one. This is why I like ground driving.
We had been out in the park for about twenty minutes when we had reached a wide grassy part of the park. We were on a dirt path along side of the cut grass. The wide grassy strip ahead was curving to the left so we could only see less than half a footballs field distance in front of us. Then around the bend came a sight we had never seen before. At first I went on alert and so did Sunshine. It was a marching parade coming right at us. Sunshine got rigid and was looking straight ahead at them, but still moving forward towards the marchers. At first she was scared but then settled down and started walking towards the marchers with a determination that they were not going to scare her further.
Then it happened like a blast from a volcano they began double timing and playing drums and bag pipes with a vengeance of going into battle. It was a force that was meant to intimidate the bravest warriors into retreating to the hills or would freeze and give up.
It was a kind of chaos that erupted that had some kind of unity in it as the band kept marching towards us. I dropped the drive lines and held on to the safty line to bring her to me. She took to the air like a kite only to come down long enough to take flight into the sky in a new direction. This went on from a long time.
Did the band stop playing, of course not. We seemed to be the object of their charge. Every ounce of me knew I could not let Sunshine go because she might run out on to a busy street that paralled the park and get hit by a car. She headed out towards the trees where we had hidden in the past. I got her stopped by rapping the long line around a tree.
Luckily the line was not connected to a bit or I would have had to let her go and let fate take over. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting tangled up in the lines. My concern was being drug to death. In the end we wound up with only miner abrasions as we both stood together catching our breath and listing to the bag pipes and drums passing by until they vanished in the distance.
So there it is, our first day ground driving in the park. On that day we became a little older and a bit wiser. I went back to the stables and dressed our wounds and told nobody of this incident. I got permission to use the arena for a few days to ground drive Sunshine to build my confidence before heading out into the park again. I had become afraid of my best friend Sunshine and asking her to do anything for me.
The next chapter is how I over came my fear of Sunshine.
Have a great weekend! Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.