Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Casting Shados

Yesterday Brian and I headed to the barn in the morning for Brian's first ride at the new place. Steen has gotten so mellow about being handled and tied. He was practically nodding off while Brian groomed him. I think the new environment and all the changes combined with consistent handling in spite of the changes has brought Steen some new-found flexibility, and he really seems to understand that he is mine and I am his and that's just how it is now. I know everyone who works with horses knows it takes a long time to really get to know each one, and though I feel like I've known Steen pretty well for a while, we're really rounding a new corner lately. I think it's that I'm beginning to genuinely trust him and have faith that he's not going to break down and lose his mind to panic or anxiety, or try to run off, or throw me like he did that first time I tried to make him leave the herd. It's amazing how long it can take to truly believe a horse is with you, all the way.

So we got Steen tacked and Brian hopped on and then the lovely Diana arrived just to pull her mare, Shado (yes, no "w") out of the pasture and show me all about her tack so that now Brian and I have the ability to ride together. Shado is a quarter-horse mare - mostly gone to white. I'm not sure how old she is - but certainly old enough to be "over it." She is solid and balanced and sweet, though completely on the opposite end of the sensitivity spectrum from Steen. She also only has English tack, which is fine as I've gone both ways. We got her ready to go, Diana watched me ride around a little bit and then she took off, generously leaving us to our own devices. What a friend!

Steen and Brian were having a little difficulty, though. Part of the problem is the new space. We had no arena, and riding in circles in an unfenced area is really not the easiest thing to accomplish. Steen was having some steering problems, so I mostly sat on the dozing Shado and gave Brian pointers, and things between them improved a lot by the end. Then I hopped off Shado and onto Steen and we did some good walk/trot work and he settled down pretty well and listened with only occasional and slight interjections of his directional opinion. Then we even loped for a little while, and he felt balanced and relaxed and willing to go, but not at all worked up when asked to stop. I think we really have three gaits now.

After that, we untacked and groomed the two horses and returned them to their pasture. We are now pretty excited about all the new doors having Shado access opens for us.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On A Roll

On Sunday I went to the barn, saddled Steen and then made him stand quietly and wait for around 20 minutes while 10 other people also saddled up their horses. Then we all hit the trail. We had kids and newbies present, so it was a walking ride. Steen and I ended up third in line at the beginning, behind Heater on Tommy and a neighbor on her horse - both pretty fast walkers. Steen kept up nicely without wanting to get too close to the horse in front of him. We ambled through a corn field and then had to stop at a gate to leave Cathi's property, at which point our six-year-old companion reached her maximum stress level and had to be taken back by Heather, and the neighbor decided to turn back as well. So, Cathi came to the front on Chewy, followed by Teri on Freebee, because those two horses, both young and very green, are happiest when they are close together. So I held my third place position.

Freebee was a slower walker than Tommy, which made for a slightly increased tendency for Steen to get closer than I wanted. He never got too bad, but he did start to get upset when asked to back off repeatedly. Freebee didn't seem to mind and we never got close enough to be impolite, but I'd have been happier if we had about another four inches of space consistently. Something to work on, I guess.

We continued to amble along a grass track and eventually curved along and our trajectory began to head back towards our starting point. We walked along a gravel road for a brief time, which Steen seemed totally fine with in spite of having no shoes, and went by Catalpa Corner - the evening facility that belongs to our vet. Apparently after the early August competitions are over we are welcome to ride there if we sign waivers. So that's kind of cool. Not that Steen and I will be going over jumps, but the cross country course is long and well-groomed and the jumps can be avoided. So, I might go check it out in the future.

When we returned to Cathi's land, she waited to close the gate, which put Freebee in the leader's position. But Freebee didn't want to go first so after a few unsuccessful moments of attempted persuasion, I offered to put Steen in front. We went, and he did great. He walked at a good clip and was looking around a whole lot, but never spooked or got upset about anything. We led the rest of the way home. Some of the other more advanced riders continued past the barn to have a little run, but I decided Steen's first memory of going out with a group shouldn't involving a lot of dashing around at the end, so I called it a day. I groomed Steen and praised him lavishly, then returned him to the pasture.

The ride took a little over an hour, and Steen's behavior ranged from downright relaxed to very curious to a little restless, but for our first trip out I am very pleased.

Most of the group stuck around after we put the horses away, and Brian and another husband and some extra kids and dogs showed up, and we had a fun evening of grilling and hanging out. It was a nice time.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Up a Notch

Yesterday I had a busy morning but decided I wanted to get two rides at the new place under my belt before the planned group outing on Sunday I intend to attend with Steen. So, I dashed out to the barn after a morning of work on a new logo for a client, and found Steen hanging out at the top of the pasture with the herd. I took his fly mask off to discover his eyes have not run any more since I cleaned his face, so that is a good sign. I tacked him up, did a little ground-work and we returned to the strip.

The setting was much the same as our first ride, except minus the farrier and the other boarder. So, that means we only had a construction crew and an overly interested baby to contend with. Steen was visibly calmer about the ride this time, which I took as a good sign (and since his eyes have cleared up I'm thinking infection-induced lethargy is likely not a factor). He was great at the walk and trot. He was good about keeping his trot slow, and wasn't as nervous about heading down away from the herd. So, we did a lot of walk/trot work (with the baby always parallel to us on the other side of the fence) and finally I geared myself up and asked for the lope.

I must admit I was a tad nervous about loping. I knew the baby would go nuts (which she did) and this also marks the first time I've ever gone that fast on Steen in an uncontained environment. I believed he would do just fine, but feared he might get up to some hi-jinx if he felt he could get away from it. So, I asked for the lope and he picked it up and he was excited, and exploded up the hill, and the baby started squealing and galloping in circles, and Steen started some high-spirited kicking-up of heels. I let him go until we started running out of space and then brought him back to stop, which took quite a bit more doing than usual, but was by no means difficult. Then we loped a little more, trying for some circles but achieving a shape perhaps more reminiscent of a broken egg. He was excited, and sloppy and I wasn't giving him his head, so all in all it was not an ideal ride, but it did show me that my horse can be trusted to continue to listen even at high speeds (and not buck) in an open, fairly unfamiliar space with lots of external distractions in place. I feel this is good knowledge to have before sallying forth in a group.

After a little loping I made Steen walk until he was calm and I called it a day, untacked him and put him back in the pasture. I'm looking forward to Sunday. I think it will be a good opportunity to scope out "the trail" without having to go out alone, since Steen is way way calmer in the company of other horses.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Yesterday I was sitting around kind of wasting my beautiful pre-work morning and I suddenly wondered, why am I not out riding my horse? It is funny how hard it can be to get back on track after the disruption of a pattern. My entire set of horse habits got chucked, by necessity, when we moved to the new land, and I have not yet established new ones. So, I finally decided to quit thinking of reasons going to the barn might not be all that great and just get out there and get going on adjusting.

It was a beautiful day, temperate with sun and a slight breeze. Steen was eating off a large round bale recently placed in the pasture when I arrived, and a little reluctant to leave it, but I persuaded him without difficulty. He was still wearing his fly mask, so that was good. I led him out of the pasture and past the partially built barn and he was not at all bothered by the fact that there was a whole construction crew swarming over the roof, complete with a gigantic crane and several smaller and rather strange-looking vehicles. I guess he's used to the construction, because he didn't give any of it a second look. I took him to the trailer and tied him and groomed him. Part way through our farrier showed up, so I chatted with him a bit. Then another boarder arrived, who was meeting the farrier, and I put Steen's tack on. Then I took his fly mask off, and discovered both of his eyes were draining goobers down his face.


Well, last year we had a runny-eye deal go around the herd, and the vet said it didn't need to be addressed unless it really persisted, so I guess I'll just keep an eye on this for now. A couple of the other horses seem to have the same problem, so I imagine it's just the same sort of thing. I cleaned off Steen's face and put his bridle on, then led him to the mowed strip between the pasture horses and the corn field, went through the gate, and mounted.

The ride was ok. There were a lot of distractions, but the biggest one was the filly. She was pretty blown away when I hopped up on Steen. I have never seen such a look of astonishment on a horse before. I guess she'd never seen a horse actually ridden. She seemed pretty agitated about the whole thing, and kept parallel with us on her side of the fence as we rode. Unfortunately, this strip of grass is long but narrow, so there was no getting away from her. When I went too far, her mom would get anxious and start calling and then sometimes run down after her and bring half the herd along.

All things considered, though, Steen was quite good. He was definitely curious about his new surroundings, and slightly prone to distraction, but he mostly did a good job staying in the gaits I told him and going where I pointed. He'd get nervous when we started to get far from the herd, so I adopted the yoyo strategy, making him go further then he wanted but then turning around and going back before we got way beyond his comfort zone. In this manner we made it down quite a long ways, almost to the end of the strip, and the last time he got a bit agitated and wanted to trot on the way back (I'll admit I wanted to run, but I need to be careful about forming bad habits right at first), but it only took a few disengages to convince him the attempts weren't worth it.

Back up by the herd, we did a fair amount of trotting, and got a compliment from the farrier on how evenly he moves. Go Steen! And that's with slightly long feet, too.

So, all in all I am satisfied with our first voyage on the new land. He was never even close to out of control or truly agitated, in spite of all the commotion and the fact he hadn't been ridden in quite a few weeks. So, I can only imagine it will get better from here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Picking Up

Well, I'm back in Iowa and ready to settle back into my routine. I arrived home on Wednesday, late, worked Thursday and Friday and so didn't have a chance to go see Steen until Saturday. However, Saturday after a late morning, Brian and I headed out. I didn't think to take my camera, so can't illustrate the progress that's been made on the barn, but the building is definitely recognizable now, and I'm more than a little curious to see it all come together.

We found Steen in the pasture, without his new fly mask (we found it later, utterly dismembered, by the feed area). He seemed happy to see us, and we took him over to the trailer that currently acts as the tacking area. He was very good about weaving among the construction equipment and the new above-ground pool, not seeming bothered by any of it, though he was a little disinclined to stand quietly right at first. He was pulling his "back up until the lead rope is too tight and then get upset about the tight rope" stunt a few times, but I just made him walk forward each time and he stopped before too long.

Brian and I groomed him and then decided to go for a walk. We returned to the scene of his little meltdown the last time Brian went out, and apparently he felt safer in our herd of three than he had out with Brian alone, because he was quite well behaved. He walked along with us happily, though was kind of a pill about trying to graze from time to time. We walked a long way, and scoped out about a third of the circuit I hope to soon make into our regular trail-ride. We stopped a few times to let Steen eat, and another few times to make him do some basic groundwork when he started walking too fast, but all in all I was really pleased. He was fine tromping over all sorts of different terrain, including some pretty deep, crackly dry vegetation in a place or two.

We returned to the barn without incident, let him graze for a while longer and returned him to the pasture.

So, I'm hopeful my first ride at the new place will go well when it finally rolls around, and Steen won't have too bad a case of nerves, though I don't think I'm going to venture real far afield without another horse and rider with me for a while...

In other news, I've been having fun reading some other horse blogs (mainly by endurance riders). I've added links to their posts to my side-panel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Date Night

On Wednesdays Robin and I always have some sort of date night. Sometimes we stay in and eat cheap Chinese food or just have leftovers and watch silly movies or TV shows. Other times we go out. Last week was a particularly enjoyable date at Giavanni's with great food and a super tasty bottle of pinot grigio.

But this week Robin is out of town. So I had to take Steen out. I don't usually bring things to date night, but as Steen and I are still getting comfortable together when it is just the two of us, I thought it would be rude to show up empty handed. So I brought him a new fly mask. I'm not sure how he feels about it yet, but he did take it.

It was a nice night, and there was not much happening at the "barn." I went in the evening because that is when dates usually happen, but also because I did not want any construction crews with nail guns ruining the ambiance. And it is a good thing I waited; things have been happening.
On the left you can see Steen by the red gate sporting his new fly mask.

The lack of construction crews was great, but then we had a date crasher. When I picked Steen up from the pasture his little adopted nephew would not stay with the herd. I don't do threesomes and did my best to send this message to the little thing. He didn't take it too well. Steen and I had a ways to walk to get to the gate, and the baby would go tearing back and forth, kicking his heels up, and then stop a few feet in front of us, hind quarters facing me. I used this moment to prove to Steen that I was a worthy, and somewhat tough, date. After many snaps, shoves and smacks with the lead rope, he relented. Steen was remarkably calm throughout all this.

Then I tied him to the trailer and we had a nice grooming session. I could not remember the proper knot for horse tying, but I kind of remembered what it looked like. So I imitated as best I could. It might not have been right, but he could have easily gotten out of it. Thankfully we were having a good time together, so he was in no hurry to leave.

After the grooming, hoof picking, and grazing we went for an after dinner stroll down a pretty gravel path. Things were going great. Or so I thought. After we rounded a bend and walked into a corn field Steen started to get antsy and did not want to be there. Perhaps he thought I would try to take advantage of him now that no one was around.

I didn't push him, but as he grew increasingly antsy and nervous I felt I should take a minute to give him a job to do and calm him down. So we disengaged the hindquarters and did a little backing. He took a few steps back and I still had plenty of rope in my hand and wanted to get one more enthusiastic step back. I gave the rope a rough shake, put my hand out, stood tall, and firmly said, "back, back."

Instead, Steen decided to run around me in circles. Great. Now our easy stroll turned into a crazy version of groundwork where I was trying to cut off Steen as he whipped around me. I got him to do some quick disengages a couple of times, but this wasn't enough to relax him. Right after the disengage he would just turn and run in the other direction.

I finally managed to shorten the rope and get him to come to me. With his head down we walked back towards the rest of the herd. He only gave a few snorts, and when I slowed his fast walk down, he was OK with it.

He didn't ask me out again, but I think I might just show up sometime anyways. In the meantime I'll enjoy the nice St. Bernardus Tripel that I picked up tonight.

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