Thursday, May 28, 2009

Plump Rump

Here is a good photo of how round Steen is getting.

Never a Dull Moment

Yesterday I had an interesting trip to the barn. We'd had rain so it was a little muddy, but Steen came to the gate to meet me when I went down to the pasture and we went inside.

While I groomed him, I was really pleased with how he looked. His spine is finally a canyon along his back instead of a ridge. He's not fat, but he seems to fill out visibly between each of my visits to the barn, mostly growing muscle. I don't know if he's just had a lot of catching up to do in the last year and he's finally reached "healthy," or if he did have a parasite all along and the barn-wide aggressive worming program finally got that under control. Whatever the reason, though, he looks good, which makes me feel good.

I decided I've been a bit lax about my groundwork lately and should get back in the habit of doing it, so when I finished saddled up we went to the indoor arena and started off with basic stuff we've done a million times. And Steen kind of freaked out. Although he'd been totally calm all through the grooming/tacking process, he just got super agitated - popping up with his front legs, tossing his head, squealing. I couldn't figure out if it was just high spirits or something wrong. So, I took his saddle off, thinking something might be rubbing him. No change. Then I thought it might the halter, since the bottom portion of his nose is light-skinned and a little sun-burned. So, I took the halter off too and he ran off and rolled a few times. Then he came back to me, and seemed more relaxed.

So, after that we did some ground work with the stick only, and this went quite well. He stayed right with me, turning both to the inside and outside at my shoulder, circling me when asked, disengaging and coming back to me on cue, just like he would if on the rope. I just went with it for a while. Sometimes when I asked him to trot he'd run around and toss his head and get distracted for a moment or two, but he'd always come back before long.

We did that for a while, and his behavior normalized. I put his halter back on and went through more groundwork without antics on his part. I put his saddle on and mounted, and he behaved really well. Better than my last indoor ride, even - except he was really not interested in staying on the rail when we were going counter-clockwise. Clockwise, he was a doll.

So, who knows? Either he was just full of energy, there was something bugging him that rolling took care of, or some combination of both. Anyway, at least we managed to work through the problem and have a nice ride anyway.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Sister and My Horse, Act II

My lovely little sister came out for a visit last week, almost exactly a year after her first time visiting us in Iowa. Last time she was here, Steen and I were still working out the particulars of our relationship. Since her initial visit, Steen and I have learned a lot about each other, though honestly I have done at least as much learning as he has.

Meryl and I went to the barn a few times in the week she was here. The first time we rode indoors, and he was so good for her it nearly made my heart burst. Sure, he's still got his quirks. Standing isn't his strong point, and his trot is fast when he's nervous, but he's become so much softer all around, and although he was uncertain of Meryl at first, they were working well together within minutes.

Our last trip to the barn we had a dry, sunny day and we took Steen outside. This was our first serious outdoor ride of the season, and it went pretty well. Steen was definitely nervous and excited, and took off once or twice at a lope after I asked for a trot, but he settled back down without much difficulty. We didn't ask a whole lot of him - mostly just let him get used to moving around outside again.

Me and Steen, walking.

Steen taking off a little when he was supposed to be trotting.

Meryl and Steen, walking.

Mini and Bruno keeping Meryl company after the ride.

So, it was pretty fun to show Meryl all the changes a year has brought about for Steen and me, and certainly our time at the barn this summer was much more relaxing. The best news of all was Steen broke a light sweat and when I took the saddle off the dry spots that were plaguing me last fall were not there. He is so much fuller in the shoulders, withers and haunches now, I am really hopeful he's grown into his saddle.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Balance

It's been an interesting week at the barn. On Sunday the weather was great, and I went out to see Steen with the intention of finally riding in one of the pastures. The herd is now free of the mud lot, and I found Steen and his buddies grazing in the field I had intended to ride in. No big deal, thought I, we'll ride in the middle pasture, around the pond. When I arrived at the pasture gate the whole herd galloped over. Spring fever, I guess. I extracted Steen, took him inside to tack him up, and then took him back outside.

Our ride around the pasture was mostly a success. The biggest difficultly was the terrain is uneven and the grass is high right now, so it was hard to trust the footing. Also, there were horses in the pasture on each side and Steen was curious about these herds. Add this to the fact that there is no path in the pasture and I didn't have a particular route in mind, and our course around the field was rather a zig-zaggy one. Mostly, I was pleased that Steen, while excited and curious about the new environment, never stopped listening to my instructions. We walked around the pond a few times and then we went indoors, where I decided to continue the ride in the indoor arena.

This went well, until I asked for a lope. I am still not sure what happened. Steen definitely lost his footing a few strides after picking up the gait, and then I think he sort of crow-hopped to get all his feet back under him and followed that with a huge acceleration the way horses sometimes will when they are feeling unbalanced. I came off in a way I've never come off before (which is saying something). I fell to the back and Steen's right side, and landed hard, mostly square on my upper-back.

Yeah, it hurt a lot. Still does, actually. Anyway, I got back on and we loped some more and it went better after that initial false start. Then I left and came home and felt sorry for myself for a few days.

I returned to the barn yesterday, still stiff but thinking an easy ride would be good for both Steen and me. When I arrived at the large pasture, I saw the herd in the distance, hanging out in the green grass. Steen was lying down among them. I called to him, and waited by the gate. He rolled, stood up, meandered his way out of the herd and then trotted up the hill to where I stood.

I must say, if lying on the ground after falling on Sunday was one of the most upleasant moments I've ever shared with a horse, yesterday morning was one of the greatest. To see one horse detach himself from a cluster of his buddies way off in the middle of a green field and not only come to me, but trot so he could get there faster, was more than a little heart-warming. Though I know Steen and I still have a long way to go, at least I have good evidence that we've come a long way, too.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thrush and Broadening Horizons

It was a lovely weekend of sunshine and warm temperatures. Saturday was Duke day. Steen got his feet trimmed, and I had Duke take a look at the frog on his right-front, which recently shed out in a way that worried me a little - too deep in the back. Duke agreed it looks like he's got some thrush in there, so I get to add koppertox to my typical routine. But, the good news is Steen doesn't seem sore and Duke said it is probably nothing to worry about, and all three other feet look great. He did suggest in the future treating with koppertox preventatively whenever the ground gets wet. Which means pretty much always in Iowa...

I also talked to my barn owner about riding in the pastures, and she said go for it. I have been wanting to find a way to expand Steen's horizons for a while, but there aren't exactly trails or public land near where I board, and also I feel like Steen and I both need a warm-up before we launch into completely uncharted territory. Luckily, there are enough pastures at our barn that at least one of them is always empty, and they are all good sized, some of them with little hills and muddy areas that will be good new things for Steen to encounter with a rider. So just as soon as things dry up enough for the footing to improve slightly, Steen and I will start some explorations. I'm looking forward to riding in a space large enough that, at times, we won't notice we're within a fence.

The bad news it looks like it's going to rain every day in the near future...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Mud of Spring

On Wednesday I went to the barn to find the mud lot truly living up to its name. I could not be more grateful that Steen comes to the gate to meet me now, because even walking into that soup of muck that covers the ground from fence to fence would be difficult. On Wednesday I got Steen pretty well cleaned up, but when Brian and I arrived at the barn last night, we discovered it was all to no avail.

This is how Steen looked when we pulled him out of the mud lot. Lately I've been letting him graze while I groom him because he's losing weight again (he doesn't like the round-bale hay he gets in the mud lot - but hopefully he'll plump back up once they're on pasture grass full time in just a couple more weeks) and it takes so long I figure I may as well get him some nutrition while I scrub away.

After a good deal of time and effort we conquered the grime at least to the point that the saddle and pad area was clean. I figure the rest of him is just going to be dirty for a while...

We went indoors and Brian had a good ride, working on walking, flexing, stopping and standing. Then I hopped on and we threw some trotting in there too. After a while we were joined in the arena by the barn owner and the barn helper on their young, green, new horses. One is a retired racehorse and the other is a huge draft-mutt. They were both on the antsy side last night and I was so pleased at how well Steen did, not catching their anxiety at all, just keeping up his nice jog, staying mostly on the rail and responding quickly to all my soft steering queues even when it was clear he was curious and kind of wanted to get closer to the other horses.

After the ride we went back outside to give him some grain and let him graze an little more. I snapped a shot of him and Brian from the other side of the fence.

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