Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why I Hate Halter/Mort

Here's my little colt, Leland. I saddled him for the first time this past weekend. Don't mock my fabric saddle. I borrowed it. It's light as a feather. I will never, ever ride in it.

Anyway, you can see how stressed he is. Not even a little.

I was saying hi to my little herd and visiting with my friend who owns the pasture when he sidled up next to me. I put an arm around his back and rubbed on him a little. He thought that was fine. So I put both arms across him and kept talking to my friend. I scratched his neck and his butt at the same time. Leland thought that was pretty cool. He air groomed a little.

"He's decided he's a gelding," I said.

"He is getting friendlier, he almost lets us pet him," she answered.

In case you are new to the blog or don't remember, this is my little colt that I'm experimenting with. I'm trying to train him in clean enough and clear enough steps that I only show him what I want once. Then he should know it.

He is about 2 1/2. I have had him since birth. He has been handled very little. He has never been fed anything by hand except wormer.

I've been loosely documenting what I've been doing with him. I can catch him, halter him, lead him. He trailers, allows other people to handle him, will pick up his feet, stands quiet for shots and worming.
Leland understands he needs to keep his shoulder clear of me and looks up politely when he sees me.

I don't think I've handled this colt more than 20 times.

So far so good.

I let him in the round pen and he sniffed the saddle and pad over. He pawed it a little, then ignored it.

I haltered him and led him next to the saddle and pad. I slung the rope over my arm and picked up the pad. I put it on his back and took it off. Then I put it on his back and slid the pad around.

Leland was interested and calm. I let the pad fall on the off-side.

He looked at the pad, then me.

I picked up the cloth saddle and put it on his back.

I ran the latigo through the cinch ring and pulled on the latigo without committing to cinching him up.

He humped his back a little.

When he relaxed I loosened the cinch, then finished looping it through and tightened it.

When I finally tighten my cinch on the first saddling I go ahead and cinch tight. I don't want a broncy colt to get scared with a saddle under his belly. I don't want to ruin a saddle either. Even if it's a cloth one.

I let Leland go and sent him around the round pen. He trotted with his tail clamped for a few goes, then relaxed. I sent him the other way and quit when he relaxed.

Then I left him in the round pen and messed with the other horses for a little.

I unsaddled him and let him go about 20 minutes later.

So now he's saddle broke.

Doing things this way has showed me some interesting results.

It has created a colt who is interested and respectful.

He just about says, "So what did you cook up for today?" when I decide to show him something.

He is incredibly calm. I can see his little baby brain work when I present a new task.

He has days, weeks, sometimes months between lessons. He hasn't forgotten one of them.

I think it has to do with the idea that each contact has meaning to him. He doesn't try to avoid me because what we do is interesting. He doesn't disrespect me because our contact has been minimal enough to not let bad habits develop from too much familiarity on either side.

My latest concern about my methodology is that so much of his training relies on muscle memory. Which is repetition.

His three-year-old year will be easy enough. He will be learning to carry me and to work a cow. Each lesson will build on the one before, so we should be good.

But what happens when I start his reined work during his 4-year-old year? Circles become perfect through repetition. Strength and calmness during each maneuver comes through repetition.

If I break each step of each maneuver down to it's smallest point, will we still progress enough to be competitive by the time he's 5?

Being able to count on a horse in the show pen depends on having trained his muscles to react automatically through muscle memory. Which comes from repetition.

Hmmmm. I'm giving myself a headache.

Why I Hate Halter

I wanted an all-around trophy so bad I thought I could die. Most of the local clubs offered a high-point trophy at the end of their monthly day shows.

Most of those trophies went to kids with two horses. It didn't mean I couldn't get it done. It just meant I had to do some figuring.

The speed events were not a problem. Not that we were consistent winners, but Mort and I had become reliably competitive.

Hot as he was, Mort wasn't particularly fast. He could place in barrels, flags and 75 up and back, but we were usually beat by at least one or two of kids with faster horses.

He shone in poles and keyhole. His lightening quick agility put him at the top of these two events pretty consistently.

But the morning events killed us. Pleasure? Ha. High headed and quick legged, we pretty much just lapped the rest of the group and were cut pretty quickly. Once in a while we would luck out and be in a class filled with even rougher stock than we were and Mort and I could place. I always entered, it was good for the both of us.

Horsemanship was a little better, but not much, I could ride, my seat was solid, but I didn't have the polish the other "morning" kids had. My weaknesses were glaringly obvious in those classes, but I watched like a hawk and copied the winners the best I could.

Reining was the best. We had that one down. Once Mort became consistent with the Monte Foreman stop, we won the reining every single time we walked in the arena. It was cool. Because we became contenders, I started to make friends with some of those dreaded morning kids. I was able to ride with them and expand my knowledge beyond what I could wrangle out of my friend Karen.

I needed another class though. That stinking Casey Heare was so good in the speed events she could take a day trophy without ever setting foot in the arena before the lunch break. If I was going to take her I needed some points from the morning.

So I decided to show in the halter classes. Even I should be able to pull off halter. All it took was a clean horse and a 4-H book, right?

I worked hard. Mort had a bad habit of moving a hind foot forward when his fronts were square and stepping forward when his hinds were square. But we practiced and practiced, I listened to the advice from the kids who knew what they were doing and got ready to give it a try.

We didn't place. I wasn't too surprised. I held my arms like I was balancing a tray of glasses, I smiled and remembered to keep my chin up.

It didn't get Mort square. He still stepped in and shoved me out of the line up with his nose. He thought halter was pretty boring. He wanted to nose the horse next to him, he wanted to snuffle the dirt. At one point he thought it might be a good time to roll. I was no fun at all.

So he sighed and cocked his hip. I sighed too.

After the class I went to talk to the judge, as was my habit after these classes, hoping for a tidbit of advice I could chew on. I was already thinking ahead to the next show.

"This isn't a halter horse," the judge told me.

"He's narrow chested and his front feet turn out."

"He's thin necked and it's set too high. You need another 50 pounds on this horse, that will hide a lot of his faults. You want your horse to look like a square."

I walked away in shock. I had no idea this class was about looks. I wouldn't have stayed out even if I had. Mort was beautiful.

I took Mort to the tie rail and tied him. I stood back and looked at him hard. My shining, race horse fit, beautiful headed boy looked different.

He was thin. He was so long legged he was a narrow, tall rectangle. Never a square. His feet turned out like a duck. Suddenly he looked shabby. My face burned in embarrassment.

Two classes later the same judge gave us a first in reining. It didn't change a thing. Suddenly the difference between my horse and the others at the show were stark, glaring and painful.

On our long ride home that evening I threw my reins out and let him trot. He stretched out and glided over the prairie. There wasn't a horse on the planet that could trot like Mort. It was miles out before I could sit back and admire the metallic glint of the setting sun against his coat.


  1. You and Mort both would have loved endurance. There's something good for the soul about a nice long relaxed trot. (sigh) God I need to get my colt going out on the trail... I miss that.

  2. Huh. When I showed 4-H I had a large pony, a Morgan/Welsh cross that was an incredible kid's horse. But built like a little brick house, and incredibly fuzzy. He started putting on winter coat in late August, and by early September he looked like a bear. It was hard to find his ears. Living in the U.P. of Michigan, he needed that coat - it gets COLD up there.

    One fall we had a QH judge for the county fair 4-H show. His verdict on my perfectly clean, albeit very woolly boy, in halter class? "He's too fuzzy, common-headed and short-legged. Clip him. I don't know if it will help, though." I was maybe 9 or so. I remember being livid - who was he to tell me to clip my horse - he'd freeze!

    We took a blue in bareback equitation, though, in spite of Shan's short legs & common head....

  3. Sunny-It's amazing how hurtful a judge can be to little kids. Ironically we were in showmanship. The weight, yeah, the behavior, OK. But the conformation? I don't think so.

  4. You always hit home with me. I was one of those kids that had a backyard bred horse, no silver and a make shift show outfit. And was terribly envious of those "morning kids". I showed in all the classes I could, but sometimes it was really hard to take the looks and comments. Sometimes I would place high or even first in a class and it was the best feeling ever. My best class was always Bareback Eq. being the little hooligans we were... we always rode bareback everywhere we went and it would payoff in that class.

  5. You guys! I grew up a city kid in Detroit. I love hearing the stories of your youthful equestrian mischiefs, heartbreaks, and triumphs. Keep em coming!

  6. I love the Mort stories. And I always want to tell that little girl that Mort is every bit as awesome as she thinks he is, and then some.

    We have so much more to learn from the challenging horses. Heck, if Mort had been a packer (a horse any one can ride) you may not have become a horse trainer.

  7. I had a vet tell me the same things about my horse (totally unsolicited, too). When I told my friend she sent me a poem attributed to Ray Hunt. It is called "Heart". It's long, but I'll post it if you want.

    Excellent post. I had it the other way around. I cleaned up in the morning and failed miserably in the afternoon. We did okay in the precision speed events but my heart was set on screaming around the barrels. I finally gave up on that and settled for screaming around the junior gand prix jumps.

  8. LMAO - I love my saddle like that they sure hold up to quite the abuse. Mine has been thrown, rolled soaked in water and chewed on and still goes down the trail. However there great trail saddles there not the best speed event saddle. It is all I have but I can't wait for a real saddle.

    I love the Mort story to... I never got to compete as a kid, not much shows around here and Gymkhana's have slowly picked up here. In the last 2 years the finally got a JR. rodeo going it has been awesome for the kids. Can't wait for next year rodeo at the fair. I am hoping to do flags on my horse should be awesome.


  9. Leland also sounds like he's smart... and has the ability to retain what is taught - I have known some horses that seem to "get" something then are given a break and you have to re teach things again. Really frustrating when in summer it can get so dry that you can hardly ride as the ground is like concrete, or its so wet in winter that you'd wreck the paddock... the other horse that was at the same level of training, and taught the same way didn't have the same retention issues.

  10. Leland also sounds like he's smart... and has the ability to retain what is taught - I have known some horses that seem to "get" something then are given a break and you have to re teach things again. Really frustrating when in summer it can get so dry that you can hardly ride as the ground is like concrete, or its so wet in winter that you'd wreck the paddock... the other horse that was at the same level of training, and taught the same way didn't have the same retention issues.

  11. Great Mort story, as always.

    Your work with Leland is fascinating and your headache-causing questions are good ones. How do you build muscle memory without drilling? Even if he understands the job and is obedient, he'll need the smoothness that repetition develops. Hmm.

    Keep documenting this work. It's going to make another very interesting book.

  12. I always tried to compete with the morning kids with my little gamer horse too. It went about as well as it did for you. Like someone else said earlier, we always did shine in bareback equitation though. I am pretty sure that most of those kids only rode bareback at the show for that event. I still do not think I am the prettiest rider, but at least I did/do not have to use my hands to balance myself.

  13. I have to say that I really enjoy your stories. It brings me back to the days that I rode my calf kneed, short strided pinto gelding- I trained him myself and like you, expanded my list of things to try bit by bit and mostly by watching others. Although we started with the slow stuff and tried to get fast. I still remember racing a little shetland and my horse was so proud when he actually beat him. Sigh, those were some good times. He went on to give many kids their first experience riding a horse and now he is retired with arthritis just about everywhere. Thanks for having such an informative and fun to read blog

  14. I too will be following along with your Leland training. He sounds like a perfect candidate for your experiment. I love that type of horse.

    My first actual horse of my own was a $125 special from the neighbor gal. Broke as could be and did everything I asked...except pick up her right I was always out of the ribbons in the pleasure classes...but I kept trying. Jumping was her forte...she'd beat the fancy TB at the few 4-H and open shows I got to go to. She was a gem...worth her weight in gold.

  15. Kel-You got it, I loved the bareback classes.
    Whywudya-I can gaurantee Mort is the reason I became a trainer.
    AK-Send it to the and I'll post it tomorrow.
    Anon-Leland is smart and he has the good-minded foundation breeding that makes him a horse I can experiment on.
    My thoughts on the harder horses...if each step is a building block and you made them smaller and closer together in concept then that should help.
    Also, I'm wondering if the trainer was more consistant and did make sure to work the horse at least three times a week if that wouldn't help.
    Since I'm flying by the seat of my pants here all thoughts are welcome...
    gttyup-Those bad leaded horses sure teach a kid about leads, don't they?

  16. Yippy, another Mort story! do you have any more pics of Mort that you could post along with your story?

    That pic of Leeland is cute. My boy is set to get gelded on Oct 7th. He will be 15 months old, and I just wish he would hurry up and grow up so I can start him! NEVER will I get a baby again, takes to long!

  17. badges- yes you will. I kept Leland because I just couldn't face the thought of never starting another colt. It gets in your blood.

  18. At first glance I thought your title meant why you hate halter and mort. I knew that couldn't be right! Great Mort story.

    I love reading about how you're working with Leland. This is fascinating to me.

  19. I loved the whole post! The training of Leland is really interesting and gives way to me thinking of training 'just one more'. LOL!
    Mort....I love Mort! Haven't we all shown Mort, ridden Mort, trained Mort and been heart broken by Mort? LOL! As a judge, I can never imagine saying such negative things. I always find something positive to say because I could be killing the hopes & dreams of anyone who asks those questions of a judge. I wouldn't want to have an exhibitor leave the show world because of something I said to them. They could be asking about a horse that is built like a dachsund, moves like a kangaroo and has the topline of a giraffe and I'll always say something nice. He looks very fit; his coat is shiny, you must feed a well balanced diet; he's very versatile; how old is he? he looks good for his age or he's still growing; how long have you had him? you're still getting to know each other or don't become complacent; are you in any clubs (pony, 4h, oprc, etc) it's always fun to share & learn from others....never would I say he has the movement of a kangaroo, the topline of a giraffe and the proportions of a dachshund! That's just rude even to the adult exhibitors! I would however, in a polite way, tell the truth at clinics.

  20. Geez. When I was in 4H there was NO halter class except at the big year-end show. And at that one Halter didn't count for points. I guess 4H in our state was pretty egalitarian. Silver on your tack and a super-expensive well-bred horse wasn't supposed to give you an edge. (Of course, having an nice-moving horse certainly helped in the pleasure classes.) Everyone HAD to do showmanship (even the kids who only wanted to do gaming), but your horse's conformation was never considered in the class. Turnout, and how well you presented the horse in hand was all you could be judged on. There were a fair number of kids with Mort-like horses that did pretty well. You would've liked them Mugs.

    Now that I'm thinking about it, chaps were disallowed (even in bareback equitation!) at the state show for the same reasons...some kids couldn't afford them so they leveled the playing field. (I got my ass handed to me in bareback eq. Wasn't used to riding without them.)

  21. Ambivalent - These were club shows back in the 70's. The judges were local horsemen, so they set their own standards. I had some great judges too.
    Thinking back,he had no problem placing me where I excelled, so that's something.
    These were the days of the bull dog quarterhorse too.In his mind he was just telling me like it was.
    I never showed in halter again though.
    When I was coaching a 4-H group in the early 90's I had to bring in some help for the halter. I had such a huge mental block against it I couldn't take it seriously.

  22. Yeah - we realised that unfortunately that particular horse couldn't have any real "down time" until things were really well cemented in. Which was unfortunate as we did not have access to any sort of artifical surface/covered area, and mid summer "el ninio drought conditions/mid winter bog really wasn't fun riding. This horse was what is known in NZ as a "station bred" a TB/draft x - this one was percheron for the draft 1/8, and the stationbreds are very popular as normally they have good brains... she was a lovely horse with great movement... just stood behind the door the day they gave out brains!
    It was sunny - at the time we had an OTTB, a TB/QH (appendix or racing lines I think) a more "foundation" bred QH/TB x and the stationbred - all except the stationbred were super smart - but in slightly different ways.

  23. Two Deered and Mugs and everywon else:

    Even tho we awl mispell werds and make misteaks typing, we can all figure out wut u realy ment without an explanation or correction. Jest thought eyed let ewe no.

  24. I LOVE Mort stories, just about as much a Sonita stories, because Mort sound just like my Legend. And your stories of showing as a kid, I swear your telling them about me. Out where I showed 4-H the playing field doesnt exist, if your not riding a $65000 show horse your not going to be place any where near the top three and if your last name isnt well known you can foreget even placing in the top 20. My last year of 4-H they brought in a new judge, she didnt know about these politics and placed me and my mustang first in hunter eq, I was surprised she actually did that and then came up to me and complimented me on my horse and riding. The next year I went to watch and she wasnt the judge, they brought back the crust old fart who was so stuck in his ways he didnt know a good horse when he saw it, oh did I mention he was also the All-Around buckle winner's GRANDFATHER!!! Anyway that judge that liked me sent me her three year old to ride for her this summer, she even rode my mustangs!! So I guess what I mean by all my rambling is there are good judges out there, people who honestly care and arent stuck in there ways, just dont expect to see them in the Box Butte County show ring.

  25. Oh, I forgot to mention. Leland is super cute!

  26. I know nothing - I know you can figure it out, bad spelling and all, but in case you guys haven't noticed, I'm just a tad anal retentive. I simply can't leave my errors alone.
    Ironically, yours don't bother me a bit.

  27. I must have mentioned this already, but your Mort reminds me so much of my ol' red horse. The description of him in the halter class? Word for word!
    He was one of those hot-attitude horses who wasn't as fast as he seemed to think he was. Oh, and the fast trot - that too!

    And I believe you that Mort was beautiful. I have seen a picture you posted and I was impressed. I knew my gelding was beautiful even though he apparently had all kinds of "faults." Plus, he was looked down on by QH people because of his Arabian sire. And disdained by Arabian fans because of his QH mother!! How could I possibly win?

    I entered Showmanship even though we both hated it. I just figured it was good for us, to do as much as we could. It's too bad you were so on your own. I was too, until I found a few experienced mentors to take me under their wings. Kids should be taught that these classes are stupidly objective, and in my opinion, totally unrealistic! I'm glad you figured out on the way home that he really was worthy.

    Looking forward to seeing how Leland turns out!

  28. One more thing: I rode all day in the same tack. No silver. I'd change bridles for the afternoon classes but that was just to have a different bit and reins.

    And I was in my 20s but the rejection still stung!

  29. completely off topic...I posted on equestrian ink and Laura Crum replied that Mugs may have some insight.. see below

    I haven't found the cure but I sure have one with an annoying habit. He is in a stall with a paddock and when he gets bored, he plays in the water. Not just a little, he can literally flood his stall in a matter of hours. We have tried taking the auto waterer out and giving him a tub and he will splash in the tub until he can get a hold of it and dump it. We put a bigger tub in and put rocks in the bottom and he still manages to turn it. We gave him a galvanized low profile watering trough and he practically had his front feet in it and water was everwhere. If he is out on pasture he will stand at the water trough and splash until the ground in front is deep and muddy. This goes on all year long and you pretty much never catch him in the act. You just get to see the results of his actions. Horses need lots of clean fresh water so it isn't like I can just take it away. Any suggestions?

    September 24, 2009 8:21 AM

    Laura Crum said...
    kel--My horse Gunner used to play in his water. He broke several automatic waterers (water squirting everywhere--now there was a mess) and overturned troughs. But he wasn't obsessive about water. He leaned on gates, rested his butt on panels and tree branches...etc. He just liked to fuss with things. As an old horse, who is turned out in a big pasture, he doesn't do this. I'm not sure if its old age, or he was just bored when kept in corrals. So, I guess if I had a suggestion, it might be to address the boredom factor--whether by turn out or more work or whatever comes to mind. I've tried hanging those rubber balls and the horses just ignore them, so that hasn't worked for me.

    Mugwump once told me that horses playing in the water can be a sign of pain. She saw it twice, with a persistant sand colic, and one other horse...I can't remember. Is there any possibility your horse could have pain issues? I don't actually know anything about the play in the water/pain connection, but you might ask mugwump.

  30. FUNNY, I said NO MORE BABIES after all my trials with Jazz..(I LOVED starting colts. I was the master of ground work, but knew nothing of finishing, which is still a work in progress.) . Then what do I do? go out and buy another one. Sheesh.. But I REALLY REALLY MEAN it this time, after hes grown up, I will not do babies anymore!

  31. I believe you guys were lucky to have so many different classes to show in.
    You had a good chance to find something that suited you and the horse, I guess?
    When I was a kid it was just show jumping and dressage.
    That was all.
    Still it's pretty much "all" here, if you want to show.

    And I love to hear about your Leland-project, Mugs.

  32. I hate halter, too. I took our little boy (he's 3) to his first youth 4-H show at the county fair this year. There were probably 15-20 geldings in the sr. gelding class, and happened to be the class we were showing in. I know that the horse my little boy was showing has a bit of a long head, and could use another 50 lbs to really be competitive in a halter class---BUT (!) he's not horrible by any means. He got 8th. I was LIVID. He's only 14.1, I guess the taller the better for a halter class, lol. They picked a horse over ours that seriously looked like he should've been hooked up to a plow. Nothing wrong w/plow horses as they go, but I was just a very frusterated mama. If I knew how to post pics, I'd put one up..

  33. kel- my gelding Pete plays in water. When he's stressed he'll play more.I guess it's two years ago now, but I almost lost him to a wicked sand colic. He was sick for months and had to be oiled and given psyllium on a regular basis for six months.
    He was really sick. He had to have been symptomatic for weeks. The only sign was playing in the water.
    My vet was the one who pointed it out BTW.
    It happened again with a horse I had in training who colicked. He ended up showing colic symptoms because of cancer. When things got bad he started messing with the water tank.
    BUT some horses are just troublemakers.
    I would make 100% sure there wasn't an ulcer problem, then I would give him a tub and try floating apples in it. Let him screw around with the tub. When he dumps it refill it.If it's too much trouble try two water buckets.That should last him. I get he's a pain in the rear, but hey.
    Sometimes stall toys work, but they aren't going to be nearly as fun as a tub of water.
    One thing I have noticed is if you take away one vice the boogers will think of another. He's just messy, not cribbing, or excessively drinking or....

  34. I agree about about taking vices away and them finding goofy barrel horse will crib if he's stalled. He hates being cooped up. If you put a cribbing collar on him, and then put him in a stall, he'll kick the wall until you'd think he won't have any legs left. I can hang a bit in his mouth while he's tied or penned up, and he won't crib. I'm not entirely sure why, but so far it's worked. He's 100% sound, checks out w/the vet A-OK, he's just a nutjob when it comes to being penned or stalled. I think at some point in his life he had limited turn out, or maybe no turn out at all and literally lived in his stall. He's perfectly happy now, he lives w/our 3 other geldings in a 5 acre trap. Being turned out 24/7 and having a herd, living like a horse fixed his issue. I'm scared to think of selling him, I don't know for sure that someone else would manage his issues like I do. I love the goofball, and don't want him to be basket case.

  35. I remember that day. I was not there with you, but I had one of those days. The only difference was I was a grown woman. Suddenly the most beautiful horse in the world had flaws that I couldn't fix.

    It is a strange frustrating feeling

  36. i have a halter bred paint, never showed her, yep she's square. but you know what? when i switched training methods to the clear and get it and then let it be like mugs is doing with her colt, she became a doll. after 3 1/5 yrs of her being bitchy, all of a sudeen she is willing, responsive, respectful. yes, after a week off she challenges me, but we work through it quietly and she yields. this rocks!

  37. I hate any type of conformation classes. A long time ago, I bred collies, and found out really quickly that to win you had to pick a well-known handler, have a lot of money, and also have the type that was the judge's favorite. Lost interest really quickly. Never picked up interest in any type of conformation again, found out that actual working groups were more interesting than just the breed ring.

    Same with horses...we all know that *most* of the time the halter horses don't perform well, or last long. Our *not-so-perfect* horses are the ones that can get us to where we are going.

    I remember getting upset when Starlette got a small capped hock...she wacked it on something, and it's barely noticeable. It bothered me for a while that she was no longer "perfect" - not that she doesn't have her conformation faults, but this was just one that I could easily see and felt was I might have been able to avoid.

    Then I realized I still loved her, and let it go. It's about how we feel about our horses, not what others feel.

    Hey, had a neat thing happen today...quickly wrote it up on my blog! And it's horse related!

    Oh, my word verification:

    Vughtfun! (What fun!)


  38. I have a beautiful mule but she only places in halter under certain judges.
    Ya know what?
    The apple-butt, perfectly-straight-legged mules that look like halter QH's with long ears pack up and leave when halter is over, or just hang out the rest of the day at the showgrounds.

    I was thrilled out of my chaps to place at an open show against reining horses (4th, hey, in a big class!) with my mule. She may not get halter or showmanship and I may forget my patterns for horsemanship and equitation, but I don't care!

    She went from being the runaway mule that few people could handle to a nice reiner/pleasure/trail mule. Only I know how much work I put into her and it's wonderful to just come to a show and have a good ride.

  39. I love what you're doing with Leland--yeah, it helps a lot that he's a smart horse, but it seems to me the key to training him in your "minimal" way, is that every time you handle him, you have to never make a mistake--and make his experience positive and memorable.

    I've never done or even thought of training a young horse based on your approach to Leland, so my opinion is based only on what seems to me like common sense. And it seems like you've been successful so far--you teach him one specific lesson, make it fun, positive and memorable, and then leave him to work things out.

    I wouldn't worry about "drilling" to create muscle memory. You already have his mind--and isn't that 99% of teaching? He may follow you the other 1% by himself.

    Remember that Marguerite Henry story about the horse who turned a mill for years, and then lost condition when he was retired, until he heard the far-off factory siren and created his own job to do (walking around a tree for a little while until he felt like grazing?) Yeah, fiction, but Leland may turn out to be the kind of guy who tunes in to what he enjoys (stuff he gets to do with you) and practises some of his conditioning himself.
    By the time you start really working him under saddle, it may not seem like a drill to him, he may be like, "yeah, let's go, I already know what we're supposed to do, what this stuff is supposed to feel like in my body."

    The whole thing you're doing with Leland fascinates me, please keep us posted!