Thursday, October 29, 2009

Best Yet

On Wednesday I went to the barn in the morning. I was a little tired. It was a little cold and a little muddy. I went and got Steen from the pasture, groomed him and briefly considered going without saddle and just doing an indoor bareback easy day. But I rallied, thought about how sick of indoor rides I'll be in a few months, tacked him up and went outside.

At first, he was a total pill. He was having a "starving" day and trying to eat grass was at the forefront of his mind. He wasn't, however, pulling his turn-around stunt, so I was willing to take the eating attempts in exchange for walking in straight lines. We went all the way down to the very bottom of the strip, I tried to turn him to go back and then, inexplicably, he started refusing to go back to the barn.

Mystified, I let him go where he wanted. He promptly reached over and dove into a thick stand of tall, luscious grass. He had his stomach on his mind, all right.

So, I began to employ some judicious use of my legs. Because Steen was so sensitive to contact of all kinds when I bought him, I've been avoiding touching him with my legs to keep him relaxed. But when he started bracing his neck against the bit I thought, "there has to be a better way." Instead of pulling on his mouth, I began rhythmically thumping his outside flank with my calf - gently, but consistently. He yielded almost immediately.

After that, we had a great ride. I concentrated on riding actively, using my hands, legs, seat and entire body. He just seemed to click "on" and decided grass wasn't all that important and he was going to listen. I took him up to the makeshift dressage arena and we worked on trotting within the cones but near them. I couldn't believe how responsive and soft he was, and when he completed a full circle without stepping outside the cones, I'd let him stop and pet him and praise him and he looked very pleased with himself, too.

I rode for 45 very excellent minutes. Then I hopped off and let him graze for 15. I took him inside, gave him some grain and turned him back out, and in retrospect I feel silly for keeping my legs out of the picture for so long. I guess I just got into a "no legs" habit and stuck with it for way longer than necessary. He's now so good about yielding to pressure on the ground, it only makes sense he'd be able to translate that to under saddle work by now.

So, I am excited and curious to see how it goes next time. Now if it would only stop raining....

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