I was very proud of Drift yesterday. He had to cope with a number of distractions and ended up doing very well, although it took some time to get there. Fritz was in a small paddock - he's very lame and we think he's about to blow an abscess - and the small paddock was next to Dawn's small paddock. Drift did not like this at all. Fritz was nickering to Dawn - he thinks he's a studly dude with the ladies - and Dawn was whinneying back. Drift was annoyed - pacing his fenceline - he seemed worried that Fritz was going to get "his" mare.
When I brought him into the barn, he was fretful on the cross ties, moving around and trying to paw (I usually don't pay any attention when horses paw but do stop Drift from doing it since the striking episode - we're on zero tolerance with ground manners). By the time I finished grooming and saddling up, he was calmer. When I took him to the arena, Fritz's owner brought him inside the barn to soak his foot and more screaming/calling ensued. Drift wanted to scream too, but I asked him to stop and he did. We led to the arena, and he was still distracted - I had to remind him to behave himself and pay attention to me as well as the other horses. Once in the arena, we did some leading exercises and he began to settle down a bit - I think the arena is a "safe place" for him now where he has the security of clear expectations and a known job.
Just as I was getting ready to mount up, along comes one of the community gardeners with a huge walk behind heavy-duty mower. It was extremely loud - he was using it to cut the tall weeds and small brush that are on the borders of the community garden. And it was close to one end of the arena. I led Drift down that way and we stood for a few minutes to look. Drift's eyes initially got as big as saucers with white showing and his head went way up. But I had him on a loose line and he stood there, not moving a foot. I asked him for some head downs, and rubbed him on the face and told him what a good fine horse he was. We also did some mini lateral flexes with the bit to get him to softly give me his face and eye. Within minutes he decided the bush hog, which was still roaring around, was no big deal, and I took him to the mounting block and got on - the bush hog was behind him at this point and he didn't care.
Then Fritz went back outside to his paddock and more screaming from Fritz and calling from Dawn ensued. Drift and I kept working, and I kept redirecting his attention away from the other horses, who kept calling from time to time. He was able to do it, coming back to me every time I asked, and we ended up having a really good work session, including some spiral in/out work at the trot and the beginnings of some leg yielding at the trot. At the end, he gave me a lovely lengthening/stretching down in trot down the center line of the arena - I'm not working much along the rail as it makes it harder to keep him straight when he's as green as he is.
I think Drift is basically not a spooky horse, just inexperienced. He will startle and spook, particularly if something is behind him, but I think he's beginning to learn he can rely on me when I firm up and ask him to do something for me when he's worried - this is what I mean by a horse learning to "lean into" and welcome firmness (see this post for what I mean as firmness) as reassurance and support. His biggest issue is distractibility related to what other horses are doing - even though he's not a stud he still sometimes can act like one and I'll continue to handle him as if he were one.
I was very pleased. His nervousness and restlessness when we started didn't promise well, but he really was able to pull it together when I asked him to - good Drift!