So I decided to get myself the "7-Clinics" DVD with Buck Brannaman. I had heard good things about it and had wanted it for a while but held off on getting it for no particular reason. Finally I decided to buy the series and I'm so glad I did!
The DVD is basically the out-takes from the movie "Buck" and takes place over a series of clinics from colt starting to under-saddle work. As I had been taking lessons on groundwork, I thought this would be a good continuation and hopefully give me new ideas. Did it ever! I will admit that I always looked askance at people who used a "carrot stick" or flags in doing groundwork with their horses. It was just so foreign to me and I thought it was for people who were afraid to ride that they only did in-hand exercises. Granted, I do think that it holds true for some horse people, but I've also come to realize what a great tool it is. I suppose it is more a tool for the handler, just as a clicker might be for clicker training - it is something that actually teaches the person to improve their timing and their aids and the timing of their aids.
In any case, I bought myself a flag (a bright orange one, as orange is my favorite color) and got to work with it right away. Since Mac seemed to be a little leery of it at first, I did use some operant conditioning to get him to accept it and not be afraid of it (meaning, I used treats, which really gets his attention and makes him place a higher value on whatever it is we're training). I used exercises from the DVDs and realized how difficult it is to get your point across accurately and at the right time, but with much practice, I did notice improvement in short order.
For example, I came up with an exercise whereby I would have Mac circle around me on the short side of the arena and then turn up quarterline and leg yield from quarterline to the rail. Doing this exercise to the left at the walk was fine and Mac caught on right away. To the right, though, he couldn't do it at the walk and trotted . . . our circles weren't very good, nor was going very straight. This told me that I need to work on his right side more because he seemed to not know what to do with me in that space. After the third day of doing this, we could complete it at a walk and he did it very well! That wasn't an exercise from the DVD, but a good exercise nonetheless.
So after working with this approach for a couple weeks, Mac is doing really well! I start every ride with 15-20 minutes of groundwork - having him move in pace with me, working on backing and coming forward, working on disengaging the hindquarters or moving the front away from me, moving off of a single leg aid, timing my leg aids or my hand aids very specifically - and so when I get on he is more "with me" and ready to work softly.
I also changed a bit about my bridle and he seems to go well - I dropped my bit a hole and I took the noseband off. Taking the noseband off actually lets me feel more directly when he gives and softens. I'm trying to be very diligent in using hands or legs, but not hands and legs at the same time. We're also working on "forward" (I mean, obviously we work in a forward fashion, but the concept of moving promptly and forward off my leg is something that I think I let slide a bit) and backing for a certain number of strides; turning on the forehand and haunches and/or a combination of the two are also part of our warm-up.
In any event, I'm very pleased with the way things are going.
I put my name in the lottery for the Buck Brannaman clinic in a couple months and was pleasantly surprised to find that I got in! I can't believe it! So I need to keep working on my homework to prepare. I will say I'm a bit nervous, as working in large groups is something that scares me, but that's what I need to work on so I'm looking forward in learning some tools to help me help Mac.