Friday, December 19, 2008

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Now that I've gotten nicely settled into my winter riding routing (going so far as to change my work schedule so I can ride 3 weekday mornings each week), we are leaving for our winter trip to AZ. I went to the barn on Wednesday, but Steen had availed himself of the thaw on Sunday to roll roll roll in the mud. So he was filthy. I spent most of my time grooming him. Then I turned him out in the indoor arena and tried to get him to move around naturally a bit, but he mostly just wanted to hang out with me. Standing in the cold stall definitely makes him stiff, so I didn't ride that day, just led him around and tried to play some games, which may or may not have been successful.

Wednesday I went out in the morning again. I had 200 lbs of grain to unload, though, and not much time, so I did a very short bareback ride. We did a lot of walking to get him limbered up, and a little bit of trotting. Steen was good, and I could really feel that his spine is more padded now - much more comfortable for both of us, I think. He is also just looking burlier. He's put on more muscle and fat covering that muscle. I think I'll be able to decrease his grain intake soon.

This evening Brian and I went for a quick stop at the barn to drop off a heated water bucket for Steen's stall, some goodies for the kind folks who take care of our horse, and to say good-bye to Steen, who was out in the winter pasture munching on the big bale of hay. He saw us when we came to the gate though, and left the hay to come say hi. Then he hung out and got some pets - seeming happy to see Brian, who hadn't been out in a while. Then we explained to him that we'll be gone for two weeks. He seemed ok with that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter at the Barn

It has definitely taken me a little while to adjust to riding in the winter here. I got very used to my long, leisurely trips out the barn, taking my time with grooming, groundwork, riding and then lounging outside in the green and the sun while Steen grazed. Lately, the temperatures have not been at all conducive to lounging, and after a few times getting seriously chilled while riding, I remembered what I already knew - winter and saddles just don't go together.

So, this week I developed a system. I arrive at the barn, go to my locker, grab my bridle, helmet and bucket of grooming supplies. I then take the bridle to the office and put it on the heater to warm the bit up for Steen's mouth, and then take the bucket to Steen's stall. I let my fuzzy horse out into the aisle, brush him down, pick his hooves and comb his mane and tail. Then I go back for the bit, which is nicely toasty by then, return to my horse, put his bridle on, and lead him through the door to the arena. There I mount, and ride for about 45 minutes. I don't ride hard enough to make him sweaty, and cool him down sufficiently at the end so all I have to do upon dismounting is let him roll, flick the sand out of his coat and put him back in his stall with a little bonus hay. The entire process, including going to and from the barn, takes about two hours. Riding bareback keeps me warm (both thanks to Steen's body heat and the extra demand on my muslces to stay put), and I have finally devised a clothing system that seems to keep me from getting cold while grooming. I have decided I prefer to ride in the mornings - for the solitude and also so I don't have time to rethink the wisdom of spending so much time in an unheated building when it is around 9 degrees outside.

As far as Steen's progress goes, after a couple of rides during which I had to exercise a lot of patience, he seems to be settling back into his training to more or less pick up where we left off before the whole upheaval of his weight-loss. On Wednesday, when I asked for a trot he complied by going rough and fast for 25 solid minutes before finally settling into a comfortable jog. That was (and will be for serveral more days) quite painful. But today he was relaxed and smooth the whole time - which was good because my legs were more or less shot from the day before. He has also greatly improved in his ability and willingness to flex and bend, and since I put the slobber straps on his bit I can really tell an increase in his sensitivity. Since he can feel the slobber strap move before the rein actually pulls the bit, he can respond to my signals without any pressure on the mouth at all. Of course, he doesn't always choose to do this, but he can, and sometimes does, and on some level I think he knows he has the option. I have also noticed he's becoming increasingly sensitive to my balance and body language. Today, while we were "cruising" at the trot, I played a little bit to see how much I could get him to turn in circles just with the orientation of my shoulders. The answer, more than I expected.

So, I am looking forward to the rest of the winter - the great core fitness that comes with consistent bareback riding. Now that Steen is a more balanced and consistent horse, I don't feel the worries I did before about what too much riding bareback would do to his training. Of course, come summer, I'm probably going to have to retrain myself out of the forward tilt I always seem to pick up after going without a saddle for a while, but I can work on that when the long summer afternoon rides roll around again. In the meantime, there is a certain simple charm to a short ride on a cold morning.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Holey... Horse?

I have been making it out to the barn more consistently again lately, though not as much as I was managing in the summer. For one thing, the cold hurts a little, and for another, vitzy's has actually kind of been booming, which is great in many ways, but does cut into my horse time.

Still, I don't feel as guilty about not showing up as much, since I know that Steen now gets personal human interaction daily, even if it is just in the form of ushering in and out of a stall and feeding.

The weight gain is going quite well. This weekend I took my future mother-in-law out for a couple of rides, and had to drop Steen's cinch down one hole on the latigo to keep the middle ring in the middle. Last week, I had to take the throat latch off his bridle and have a new hole punched because it was tight to the point that it started to pinch him a little if he put his head up high. So, judging by his tack alone, he is now bulkier than he's ever been since I've owned him, and judging from the look of his spine and shoulders, he is close to a nice round winter-horse-in-Iowa weight. He also seems more comfortable again. When I had Brian's mom riding on a line, he picked up such a nice little jog for her, rounding his back right up into the saddle and holding his head nice and relaxed, I thought to myself, "Well, he's obviously not uncomfortable."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fat and Sassy

Well, perhaps not exactly fat, but in the last couple of weeks Steen has definitely been changing shape and I am heartened by this. I wasn't at the barn for quite a few days because we left town for Thanksgiving. On Sunday the farrier came, so Steen got his feet trimmed and Duke took a moment to tell me what excellent feet Steen has, and how he wears them almost perfectly evenly and they are nice and solid and shapely in spite of never having had shoes. This made me happy.

I didn't ride Sunday because the barn was packed and the arena was full of little kids and lessons and I had a meeting with a client to prepare for, anyway, but I went back yesterday morning and, as usual, had the place to myself.

We got our first snow over the last few days, and while a great quantity didn't stick because temps were on the warm side, all the fields are covered in white, and lot of the whiteness has melted and then frozen on the roads between here and the barn. This made the going treacherous, but I just reminded myself that driving 10-20 mph slower than usual the whole way is still faster than sliding off the road and getting stuck, and things worked out fine. I do have my reservations about the curving, steep hill on the half mile of dirt road I have to cross to reach my stable, but I guess I'll deal with that problem when and if I can't make it up in my civic.

Anyway, I got to the barn and once again appreciated the fact that Steen was indoors and dry. I took him to the grooming area and got him all cleaned up, which didn't really take much doing at all. Since I like to try to teach him to have good manners even when he's not forced to by a rope, I have gotten into the habit of not tying Steen when we are the only ones in the barn. This usually works just fine. He hangs out where he's supposed to and has never once done anything other than stay put, even as I walk in and out of the tack room for grooming supplies and tack, and sometimes even leave the barn to use the restroom.

However, Steen's thoughts about the barn have apparently changed a bit in the last two weeks. Obviously, he's gotten more comfortable there. Also, since there are only a few horses outside at a time, when the horses come in for their meals, the barn worker just walks outside and opens the pasture gate, and all the horses come in and go into their stalls where they know their grain is waiting. So apparently Steen has concluded that he now has the authority to take himself all over the barn whenever he so desires, because when I came back out of the tack room with his bridle, he was gone.

Since there was no one else in the barn and all the outside doors were closed, this was more funny than anything else. I followed him, and discovered he'd walked all the way through the indoor arena and back to the entrance from there to the stall area, where he was apparently hesitating because that is not the way he normally enters the stall area. He made no attempt to get away from me when I caught up to him, and quietly followed me back to the grooming area, where I clipped his halter to one of the cross-ties. He then proceeded to swivel into the aisle a few times, but I corrected him and he soon settled back down. What a goofball.

It was windy, and that had him a little nervous, but for the most part the ride went well considering it had been so long since I'd done any real work with him. I worked on a flexing exercise that is supposed to help with suppleness through the whole body, and it seemed to accomplish not only this, but really seemed to relax him as well. As he walked in large circles, I could see his head come down and his body start to bend willingly. It was very interesting. Then, when I'd let him walk straight again, he'd slowly get more nervous at the wind howling around the outside of the building and his head would start to come up again until we worked on bending again. I will definitely add this exercise to our normal routine.

In spite of the wind, it was a mostly nice ride, though quite cold (probably 24 in the barn). I need to find a way to keep my feet warm. And once again there was something very nice about accomplish my whole ride without ever having waded out into the half-frozen muck of the mud lot.

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