Saturday, June 28, 2008

Padded

Today I spent several hours at the stable with Steen. It is windy today, and that had him a bit riled up. Also, I can tell I haven't been spending as much time with him lately. He was just a bit more inclined to be fussy today than he has been in a while, although he didn't do anything bad, by any means. And he's back to accepting the bit without the slightest protest, so I count that as a good thing.

The best news, however, is that although the start of my day with him was a bit frustrating due to a very extended grooming session born of his filthiness (it has been rainy and muddy again) and then the utter failure of the first of my two potential corrective saddle-padding solutions, it rapidly turned around when my second attempt succeeded. While educating myself about saddle-fit, I read that some pads can actually cause saddles to sit incorrectly, and I came across one trainer's opinion that everyone should always ride with a 1" thick felt pad under their saddle. Now, I am not one to say things like "always," but I thought her prescription could be worth a try. So, this was the second thing I tried today, and it seemed to do the trick. I noticed as soon as I placed the saddle on top of the pad that the extra width in the pad itself prevented the saddle from dipped forward like it has been doing. Then I got on and before long started to notice hopeful details, like as we trotted Steen was more willing to drop his head and relax than ever before, indicating he is more comfortable with me on his back than ever before. So, feeling increasingly optomistic, I worked him until I could be sure he'd broken a good sweat, then led him back to the tacking area. When I took the pad off, oh wonder of wonders, no dry spots! Just to be certain, I let him roll in the fine dirt in the arena because his withers are white and sometimes it is hard to see the dry spots when they are on such light hair. The even coat of dirt on Steen's back when he stood up confirmed all my hopes. No dry spots. None at all. I am quite relieved, and am excited to put in a good long session tomorrow without worrying about anything having to do with how his saddle is fitting.

In case anyone was curious, the first (failed) corrective saddle-padding attempt involved something called a wither-widening pad. Don't ever buy one. They are rubbish. Fortunately they are also inexpensive. =)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bareback

I have been having some trouble with Steen's saddle - mainly as his shape changed with his new lifestyle of working out a lot and unlimited access to fresh grass, it stopped fitting him correctly. I have been reading and researching and think I've found a way to fix the problem, which required the purchase of a new pad. The pad, of course, could not be found locally, so I had to order it off the internet and wait.

So, the last couple weeks have not been as Steen heavy as the earlier ones. I have still been going out consistently and doing ground-work and grooming and hanging out, but not riding. Yesterday, however, I just couldn't wait any longer. We got another couple of severe storms, so it was too wet to work outside. I decided to take advantage of the reduced number of variables in my environment and ride bareback indoors.

I have not been riding Steen bareback because I have felt that he needs a really balanced rider and really consistent handling to get him back up to speed on his training. Yesterday, however, I rationalized that as long as I didn't lope, I was certain to be able to ride in the way he needs.

I was right. And it was lovely. I do love riding bareback. I often feel like a more solid and comfortable rider without all that space and material in between me and the horse. I still believe loping on Steen bareback will definitely not work for a while - he is so inconsistent in speed, balance, trajectory, responsiveness, and leads at that gait I would end up yanking his mouth and falling off a good deal. Needless to say, a rider doing these things is not an effective teacher. However, his trot has gotten much steadier in the last two months and one of the lovelier things about Steen in general is that his trot is smooth even when it is fast.

So yesterday, we trotted. We trotted all over the indoor arena for about 45 minutes, working mainly on controlling his speed, turning away from leg pressure (instead of speeding up) and getting him to relax. Today I am fantastically sore. I can never get over how much more physically demanding it is to stay on a horse using only your upper leg than to be able to brace against the back of the seat and the stirrups with your whole lower-body. This is another reason I often prefer to ride bareback - it seems more fair. At least when the horse is working hard, I am too.

Yesterday afternoon, my new pads arrived, so hopefully I can work out his saddle fit issues now. Still, I think I'm going to start throwing in a consistent bareback ride here and there because in truth, it is my favorite way to ride.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Video 2

video

Here is another not particularly exciting video of Steen. This one features Brian, and backing.

Easy on the Eyes

Brian came with me to the stable again today. The sun was out and the day was beautiful so we seized the opportunity to take some new photos.

Brian ventured into the pasture all by himself to get Steen, who seemed happy to see him.

And what girl wouldn't love to see her guy and her horse getting along so well?.




We started out with ground-work and then progressed to riding. It was very nice that the ground has finally dried out a little, making work outdoors possible.

Brian is doing well riding, considering Steen is a far cry from polished still.



And Brian got a few photos of me on Steen as well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reroutes and New Riders

Things are a bit nuts in Iowa City, but I've managed to make it out to the stable the last two days anyway. I really have nothing to complain about as far as being affected by the flooding goes - I still have a home and a job and a safe place to keep my horse. However, since I can now only cross the river at one point, my route to Steen has changed.

The blue line on the above map represents the way I normally take to Steen. According to google, it is 15.1 miles long and takes 27 minutes. In my experience, this is very close to the truth.


This blue line represents how I must go now. As you can see, I have to start out driving in completely the wrong direction to get to the freeway and the one open route across the Iowa River in the area. According to google, this route is 26.7 miles long and takes 42 minutes.

So, although it's a bit of a bummer, I'm still counting my blessings. At least I can still get to him.

And today I did just that, and took Brian with me. Brian hadn't been out in a couple of weeks, and Steen has really made significant progress in that time. He followed me quietly into the barn, stood in an utterly relaxed attitude while we groomed him, behaved quite well for Brian as the two of them did some ground-work, and then continued on in a calm, responsive manner while we tacked him up, I rode him a little, and then Brian jumped on.

Steen still does have a tendency to trot quickly, and the one-handed way Brian is used to holding the reins (the only other horse he's ever ridden is Jak who wears a curb and neck-reins like a dream) isn't conducive to the two-handed see-saw technique I generally use to control his trot, so that was a little bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, Steen was paying good attention to Brian and trying really hard to do well. I couldn't be more pleased with how their first ride went. They walked and trotted for about twenty minutes, and then called it quits.

One of the reasons Steen was so relaxed was I've finally solved all our bit issues. Although the bit Meryl and I bought served its purpose in getting him to cool it with the bucking and respect me as a rider, in reality any kind of shank bit it too harsh for the kind of refining work I'm trying to do with him now. It made him responsive to a level that bordered paranoid, and obviously a horse that is paranoid is not relaxed.

So, after some failed experimentation and a good deal of reading, I went back to very nearly the most basic bit there is. A nice fat single-joint (for some reason he hates and is very confused by "comfort" snaffles with three joints) loose-ring snaffle:


He was good with it yesterday, but today he was more relaxed with me on his back than he's ever been. The biggest difference was evident in his lope. He was so smooth and balanced, I was astounded. Granted, there are some fun aspects to having a speed-demon horse, but I'd rather only have him running like mad when I ask him to.

So, things are going very well in our happy little family of three. Both the boys seemed to enjoy the day, and then Brian and I came home for tea and cucumber sandwiches.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Going Strong

In spite of the massive flooding that has shut down much of Iowa City, I made it out to Steen today. I have cut back some on the frequency of my visits, but Steen stays responsive and friendly.

Today Steen stood (albeit nervously) while I sprayed him with a water bottle - so very good progress there. I also got him a loose-ring snaffle bit (no shanks) and think I am going to ride him with that from now on. I have been working on his flexibility, and disengaging his hindquarters from the ground, and he's continued to go nicely under saddle.

In related exciting news, Brian got a pair of cowboy boots, so he's going to start putting in some time at the stable too.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weekend

This week was certainly the most horseless one I've had since my purchase of Steen a month and a half ago. When I arrived at the stable on Saturday, my main goal was to do some ground work and attempt to take a step in the right direction in getting him used to the spray bottle. I did both of these things, but Steen seemed pretty distracted and nervous through the whole thing, and I was a little worried that leaving him alone four days out of five was going to put me back a few big steps.

But today I went out just wanting a nice, enjoyable ride, and I got just that. Steen was good while I tacked him up, good with the few ground things we did and he was just great under saddle. After I rode I fiddled around with the spray bottle some more, but didn't push it too much. Regardless, he seemed less afraid of it today than he was yesterday, so that's a good sign.

And even though it was the weekend, I never encountered anyone else riding, so that was kind of nice.

I imagine the bad weather has something to do with it...


*** Post Script *** I wanted to put in here, in retrospect, that this is the day I ordered Clinton Anderson's book, and when it arrived I adopted his training methods.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Lag, and Mud

Early this week I let Steen go two days in a row without seeing me - something I had not yet done since I bought him. I could have gone on Monday, but I just didn't feel like getting in the car and driving out there after work. I figure the whole point of having a horse is to enjoy it, so I shouldn't set the stage for making the whole thing into an obligation.

On Tuesday, of course, I spent the afternoon at my other barn.

So, yesterday I headed for the stable feeling more than ready to see my noble steed again. Unfortunately, the off-lever on the Iowa rain spout is apparently broken, and it is just wet wet wet around here. Since Steen has the unfortunate gene often associated with primarily white horses that makes him roll in the mud whenever possible, he was more than a little dirty when I arrived. Beyond that, the vet was there doing a few things to Cathi's horses, so there was a lot of activity in the barn, horses yelling to each other, etc.

However, I am pleased to say that although Steen was paying attention to all these goings on, he was not fidgety while tied even though grooming took a while, was very, very good with his feet even though picking was protracted due to the two days worth of mud that was packed into his hooves, and furthermore never even added his own voice to all the calling.

In the arena he was pretty keyed up at first, but still so responsive and tuned in to me I really have nothing to complain about - except although he's gotten much better at standing with me when I'm on the ground, he still doesn't like it at all when I'm in the saddle.

We did a lot of loping in very tight circles to help him with his leads, and a lot of figure eights to help him with his trot. He is still very erratic in some of his responses. When I touch him lightly with the rein on his neck, usually he turns gradually, but sometimes he turns sharply for no apparent reason, and while I can control his speed at all gaits with only very light occasional touches on the bit, he hasn't quite put together yet that there is a preferred speed he should start off at until I instruct otherwise.

But, I am confident these things will come eventually. In the meantime, his inconsistencies sure prevent boredom. And have I mentioned he's just a joy to ride?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Company

Yesterday my friend Katherine accompanied me to the stable. She was curious to meet Steen and excited to get out on such a nice day, so we took the scenic route out there and then I showed her around. She hasn't been around horses much since her childhood, but Steen was very polite and clearly on his best behavior. He stood like a dream while she brushed him, took carrots from her like a regular gentleman, and when I showed her how to do basic leading exercises, he followed her along perfectly - all willingness and relaxation.

I rode him as well, and he remained extremely calm and responsive the whole time. He's getting better about understanding that leg pressure means turn, not go faster (at least when he's not distracted and excited) and he's continually showing greater interest in people in general. The farrier really liked him because every time he stood up, Steen had his face right there asking for some pets. When Cathi was watching me ride on Sunday, even though he was acting up a bit, switching leads constantly on the fly, and never engaging his hindquarters, she said, "I think you got a really good buy."

Yesterday, I rode for a while, explained to Katherine potentially more than she wanted to know about horses and then we did another brush-down before returning my noble steed to the pasture. All in all, it was a far more gratifying experience then the last time I introduced Steen to someone. I stayed in the saddle, Katherine seemed to enjoy herself tremendously, and Steen certainly didn't object to the extra carrots.

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