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12/3/13, Blair, NE - Yesterday was the third training session for the Shires.  Don and Taunia found a good deal on a used team harness, so the objective for the day was to get them in harness and start ground driving them.  The dayís goals were met, but Ruben needed a little work to get him to the point where he could be worked with.

After a three week lapse, I put Ruben in the round pen for another join up session.  To say the least, he was a real handful.  He had forgotten the part about being a subservient horse and we had to start all over again.  However, he didnít forget the part about how much fun it was working in a round pen. For the first ten minutes he acted like I was another colt that he could play with. Playtime for a young horse can be a little rough, so I had to pick up the buggy whip to help keep me out of range of his kicks and bucks,  Even after he settled down, it still took another 20 minutes to join up.  After that, I moved right into another session with a rope, where I snake coils around him as he moves around the pen.

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I hadnít forgotten Rubenís earlier antics, so I kept a buggy whip in my hand.  Better to be prepared than catch a hoof upside the head!

Using a rope to desensitize a horse for touch really works wonders.  In about five minutes they didnít care what I placed on their bodies

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This is a picture of Royal with coils of rope draped over him. By doing this right before I harnessed them, both of the horses had no qualms about accepting the collar, harness or bridle. They stood right without being tied while I dressed them for work!

Then, I spent about 15 minutes with each horse adjusting the harness.  Before I harness them again, Iíll have to punch some new holes in the harness - they were just a little too big. Also, Ruben will have to get a new collar. The one that came with the harness is about 2 inches too big for him.

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With a little bit of ground work first, a horse should stand still while you tack him up.  Even fitting a bridle isnít too bad if you use the right technique.  I lift it in place by the top of the head stall and put a couple of finger behind their front teeth to get them to open their mount.  If they throw their head up, gently push down on their nose until they relax and they lower their head, allowing you to reach up and pull the head stall past their ears.

After the harnesses were fitted, it was time to start ground driving them. A horse doesnít automatically know how to respond to a bit and commands from the driver walking behind him.  Since heís in front and has blinders on, he canít respond to any visual cues so he has to learn to rely on vocal commands and changes in bit pressure.  So the horse isnít confused or gets a hard mouth from the bit being yanked in his mouth, I like to start his first driving lesson with someone leading him.  Then as he makes turns I only pull gently on the driving lines while telling him ďGee, Haw or WhoaĒ.

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Taunia leading Ruben for his first couple of figure eights in the round pen.

 

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For the next 10 minutes I had Taunia walk in front of Ruben without a lead rope. You can tell by the line tension that I now am driving him with a live bit (about 10 pounds of pressure in each hand), so that I can Ďfeel the bití in his mouth. Heís responding well and learning how to respond to my commands.

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After a few minutes, I turned Ruben around so that he passed Taunia on the right.  Now, heís only following the direction I give him.

After another ten minutes of this I drove Ruben through the open gate of the round pen and back towards the barn, where I tied him up.  Royal was next up and took less than half the time of his brother to master the same lessons.

Next week, I plan taking the Shires training a step farther. First, Iíll drive them single to reinforce todayís lessons.  Then, Iííll connect up a single tree and get them used to the sound and feel of something being pulled behind them.  If everything works out good, Iíll pair them up and start them with their first team driving.