Sunday, December 19, 2010

Trims and Fidgets

Today we had our annual Christmas/Farrier potluck at the barn.  Brian and I baked scones and arrived a bit on the late side. Steen was really excited to see me, pacing along the fence-line as we approached. Bear was less proactive about being caught, but came with amiably enough once once Brian had the halter on. We went inside and groomed them. They were both just a tad on the mobile side. Bear has gotten very used to having a snack when he's brought indoors, and he knows the general vicinity in which the snack is kept. The result was a sort of constant creeping in the general direction of the chopped hay, but Brian kept correcting him and eventually he mostly cooled it.

Steen was ok. I didn't have anything to tie him to, which never helps his mobility, but he was mostly willing to chill out. He was great for the farrier, as usual, but the little split has reappeared in his right front hoof, right where the hoof meets the frog in the back. Duke said to try to get Koppertox in that crack as often as possible.

Bear is stiff in the hind end with the cold and everything, but Brian stretched his legs a bit before his turn and he did his best which amounted to merely pulling each hind leg away once. We wormed them both and turned them back out. I really don't think we're going to have to blanket Bear. He's got a nice, short, dense fuzzy coat and shows no signs of poor health. Really he needs exercise more than anything. Hopefully after the holidays both Brian and I can get back on a regular riding schedule.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cold and Wet

Today it rained for most of the morning and then the rain shifted to snow. Temps started to fall just after noon and tonight the lows are supposed to be in the teens. Although Bear has actually manged to put on weight as the weather has gotten colder (he's apparently the definition of an easy-keeper), we were a bit worried that the wet to freezing transition would be miserable for him. So, Brian and I piled in the car with a few dry towels and headed out to the barn, driving slowly on slushy, snowy roads.

We found the herd wet but otherwise fine. Steen came over to the gate immediately. Bear did too after a moment, but then got deterred by a puddle and went to stand by the wind-block instead. As usual, the bad weather had everyone a bit stirred up but we got the boys inside without any trouble. Steen's blanket was wet and filthy and crusted over with ice but I peeled it off to reveal that he's actually getting fatter too! Unbelievable. He was also totally dry and totally clean. Definite blanket perk, that.

Brian got to work on toweling off Bear while I groomed Steen and they both got a snack, and then we all did some groundwork. Steen was definitely antsy, but the groundwork soothed him a bit. Someone had put a mini makeshift jump in the arena (a piece of PVC pipe set on top of a cinder-block) and Steen knocked it off on his first attempt to step over it, so after that I just left it on the ground and had him walk over it, stop halfway over it, back up after he'd gone over it, and things like that. Steen really loves these littles challenges and gets quite proud of himself when he does things "right." I should try to set up such goals for him more often.

Bear was perky and energetic today, at one point showing quite a bit of spunk on the line kicking up his heels etc.. He was much drier and much warmer by the time we turned the two of them back out (Steen once more wearing his blanket), so hopefully our efforts will help him stay comfortable tonight.

I've really had trouble getting into a winter riding routine this year. Transitioning from lovely fall to frigid winter is always hard, and I must admit my recent fall has me feeling a bit more cautious than usual. But getting out there is always nice when I manage it, even on days like today when riding is not involved.  I just need to keep that in mind and rally more often.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Double Ride Day

I was in my office working around 10:00 when the sun came out. I looked out the window and realized it was a lovely, cloudy fall day and also it was surprisingly warm. I decided to play hookie for a bit, particularly since we still needed to try Steen's blanket on Bear to make sure we replace the too-small one with the right size.

Beyond trying the blanket on Bear, I didn't have any concrete plans. When I walked up to the pasture gate, both Bear and Steen were close by. Bear walked up to say hi, so I put the halter on him and took him indoors. I then proceeded to try Steen's blanket on him, which fits him just like it fits Steen - almost but not quite too big.

I then took the blanket back off and groomed him. He was being really quiet and sweet so I thought I might as well ride him a bit, but I neglected to bring riding boots out with me and was wearing boots with tread, so had to go bareback.

Bear let me mount off a stepping ladder without protest. He was then quite good while we worked at the walk for 15 minutes to warm him up. Then I decided to see what his trot is like. It's definitely not as smooth as Steen's, but it's not bad. However, being bareback I decided just to let him cruise. He then proceeded to trot in circles by the door for quite a while. I was ok with this, and he did relax as we kept it up, but soon another horse and rider were ready to enter the arena and I didn't feel like trying to steer and sit his bouncy trot bareback. So, I cooled him down and hopped off. Then I gave him a little snack and took him back outside.

I hadn't fully decided whether or not to ride Steen because I didn't feel like dealing with the kind of nervy antics he's been displaying that couple of times I've had him inside, but he met me at the gate when I put Bear back out so I took him inside. He then stood quietly while I groomed him, so I put his bridle on and took him into the arena. He proceeded to be almost totally awesome. After I mounted I spent a minute marveling at how different he and Bear feel just in the way they move. I like Bear a lot, but he's still new to me. Steen is familiar and when he's behaving, he's really relaxing to ride. I had a nice time on him. The only wrinkle was a certain inclination to crow-hop repeatedly when he was supposed to be loping. This is something we will work on the next time I have a saddle on him. :)

So, it was a fun, super long day at the barn.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Nerves, More Wugs

Brian is still suffering from a sore shoulder and doesn't feel up to riding again yet, but we've had the wug we purchased for Bear sitting around for a while now and we keep forgetting to take it to the barn with us. Today we decided we really needed to go try it on him to make sure it is the right size before we actually need it.

We arrived at the barn to find everybody a bit stirred up. The barn owners have been removing a lot of dead trees on their land and probably the noise had the horses excited. We brought Bear and Steen indoors and they were both a bit antsy (Steen significantly moreso than Bear, of course). We did our normal thing - groomed them. Neither of them were being horrible, but they were a bit more mobile than usual. After grooming, I started on some groundwork with Steen and Brian tried the blanket on Bear.

Well, we definitely guessed wrong as far as the size of blanket Bear would need. Since he's two inches shorter than Steen and Steen's wug is very nearly too large for him, we reasoned one size down would do the trick. Unfortunately, we apparently did not have a true understanding of Bear's girth. The blanket actually looked hilarious on him. We should have taken a photo but didn't think of it.

So then we thought, well, Steen's blanket is almost too large for him. Maybe he can use the smaller one.

It was a little small on him too.

So, we gave up on the blanket and I hopped on Steen bareback in the indoor. He was very responsive in his old way - doing everything perfectly (including backing) as long as I didn't ask him to stop. I didn't ride for long though, because there was more heavy machinery moving around outside and although he calmed down over the course of the ride, I'm in the jittery stage after a bad fall. He felt like he just might spook at any second and I really didn't feel like dealing with that.

After I rode Steen I decided Bear also need some exercise.  I almost just worked him on the line for a while, but then I decided I should really get to know him a bit better. Brian gave me a leg up and I had my first bareback experience on Bear.

I felt good on him. He is really a sweet horse, with a good, solid foundation of training. His sort of overall feel is very different from Steen's, but he is surprisingly responsive and supple for his age and demeanor, and he was great for me. I slightly overbalanced a couple times because he actually stops when you say "woah." I'm not used to that.  :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Birthday Ride

Today I told my clients I had late morning "meetings" and headed to the barn for a birthday ride.  I actually hadn't gone out alone for a very long time, and I was feeling excited about the prospect of a mellow indoor ride on Steen.

Everything was quiet in the pasture when I arrived.  Steen's weight has so far held steady as temps have slowly dropped, so I am hopeful I won't see the weight-plummeting phenomenon he's undergone the last two winters.

Plus, yesterday Brian and I helped erect a not at all pretty but highly effective wind-barrier in the pasture, which should further help prevent him burning all his fat off trying to stay warm.

I took Steen indoors and at first he was a bit antsy because I had a sprinkler set out in the indoor arena to get the sand a bit damp before we started to ride.  He settled down once I turned it off and let him go sniff it though.  I groomed him and put his bridle on and climbed aboard.

I hadn't ridden indoors in quite some time, and it was nice.  Steen never spooked or jumped or snorted.  We rode for half an hour, working mostly at the trot.  He was very well-behaved.  Afterwards he even let me take a photo of us holding the camera at arm's length.  It turned our horribly, but it's still kind of funny.

After I put Steen back outside, I brought Bear in.  I didn't do much with him - just a little groundwork and then gave him some chopped hay.  He was really good with everything.  He is such a thinker, it's really different to work with him than Steen.  Steen's typical response to anything is to fidget or shift or move.  Bear always thinks things through before moving and sometimes it might look like he's not responding.  However, as I asked him for various maneuvers, he would always get it right if I just gave him some time to mull over my request.

So, it was great to have an easy, positive day with our two boys.  Hopefully I can stay motivated as winter truly rolls in.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pearly Whites

Steen usually gets his teeth floated in the fall, and yesterday I got an email from our barn's owner, saying our vet was coming out to do teeth today, and would we like to be included? When Bear got his vet check a couple months ago, the vet's one comment was that he would need his teeth done soon. So, we put both our guys on the list.

It was a damp, dreary day at the barn. Brian and I headed out in the late morning and our vet, Jim, had already worked on a few horses by the time we arrived. We decided Bear should go first and also that I should do the handling because Brian's shoulder is still very sore from his recent fall. So, not knowing what sort of experience we would have, I let Bear into the stall and Jim gave him a sedative. He took the shot without protest and things continued in that vein. I have now helped a number of vets float the teeth of quite a few horses and I think Bear might have been about the sweetest about the whole ordeal of any of them. He was inclined to get droopy when Jim left to change the attachment on his pneumatic file, and I'd have to lift his head up and prop it on my shoulder, but I'm pretty sure his feet never moved, and he definitely never tried to pull his head away. He also took the cleaning of his sheath manfully and afterwards he perked up quickly from the shot.

Steen was not quite as great as Bear. While not bad, Steen is just such a sensitive horse, floating his teeth is never great. Mostly, he tries to back away. Even after two shots of sedative, Jim and I had to wedge him in the back corner of the stall. Even then he continually tried to raise his head above where Jim could reach it. I was pretty worn out by the time his teeth and sheath were done.

Afterwards, we gave the very wide awake Bear a snack of chopped hay and turned him back out. It took Steen another 45 minutes to perk up sufficiently that I felt OK putting him out with the herd. In the meantime he was pretty entertaining, making funny noises and plodding in circles around the indoor arena behind Brian even though he didn't have a halter on.

So, though I never enjoy the dental work aspect of horsemanship, this was a fairly easy round. It was good to get out to the barn again, at any rate, to see our two guys and say hello. Our two hard falls definitely took the wind out of our sails, but hopefully next week I can get back on the ball and start riding again.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I Do This For Fun?

On Friday, Brian and I almost didn't go to the barn. We were both tired, he'd had a long day at work, my neck was still stiff from my fall, and it was chilly. Somehow, however, we talked ourselves into going and so Friday afternoon found us tacking our two boys up in the barn aisle.

At first, it seemed like we'd made the right decision. Both Steen and Bear were good for tacking, grooming, leading, mounting and almost 30 minutes of riding. The sun was shining and it was pleasant to be outdoors.  Steen was actually extremely awesome - way better than the last two times we rode. Quiet, responsive, engaged, happy to go, happy to stop. I was wearing my new helmet (which I find significantly more comfortable than my old one) and feeling relaxed and happy.

Then we decided to call it quits for the day, but first to amble down to the bottom of the strip and then back up as a sort of cool-down. Amble down we did, then we turned to head back up to the barn to dismount, and that's when things started to go wrong. In the distance I saw the pasture herd had noticed us and one horse had decided to run over to say hi. From behind me, I heard Brian say, "Oh look, Star is coming." But I didn't think the running horse was Star. I looked back at the remaining herd members and saw Star standing among them. I pointed this out. There is not another plain red horse in the normal herd, which meant the horse running towards us was a horse we did not know. I almost said, "We should dismount." But then I told myself I was being silly. Our horses had been turned out with this horse for hours (if not days) and now she was on the other side of a fence. What could happen? Both Steen and Bear were walking quietly. They did not seem in the least alarmed by the new horse's approach. So I said nothing and we kept going. The new horse loped up, stopped and loitered near Bear for a moment. Steen and I continued to walk up the strip. I concluded the danger was past.

Except then the new horse decided it would be fun to run back to the barn. She started to lope behind Steen and passed him running in the same direction we were headed, mere feet away from him, on the other side of the fence. Steen decided he should definitely run with her.

So, here I must make a confession. Since we got Bear, my "good" snaffle has been on loan to Brian and I've been using the super-fat training snaffle I bought when I first got Steen and he had a lot of anxiety about bitting. I did order a second bit like the one I normally ride Steen in as soon as we switched Bear out of the Tom-Thumb, but that bit has been back-ordered for nearly two months. I've never had trouble controlling Steen before (or at least, not for years), so haven't been super worried about it, but on Friday I realized that the fat snaffle is inadequate for moments when Steen truly feels he needs to run. As he accelerated to chase the running horse, about all I could do was collect him and keep his lope controlled. I would have been a lot less worried about this situation except I could hear that Bear and Brian were also running behind us.

It actually probably took me less than 10 seconds to regain control of Steen, and as I pulled him up he spent one horrible instant fighting the bit and coiling his body up like he was going to throw a huge buck into the equation. The thought, "I really, really, really don't want to fall again," went through my mind as I rode through this moment, not losing my seat but coming close. Steen did not buck. He slowed to a trot, then a walk, then halted. I seized the opportunity and dismounted quickly.

Brain did not come out of things quite so well. While I have been involved in lots of runaway or pseudo-runaway horse experiences, Brian has not. Nevertheless, he did really well until Steen veered off the fence as I tried to get him to stop. At that point Bear redirected into the soybean field, where he began to sort of half-stumble in the deep, uneven footing at just about every stride, still lurching along at a very, very fast lope. Anyone would have had trouble staying on at that point. Brian fell.

Bear came running back to me and Steen. I was pretty mad at both of of horses just then, but was at least relieved to see Brian getting to his feet in the field. I collected Bear and met Brian as he walked back in my direction. We took our two idiot prey-animals inside, groomed them and turned them back out. Brian is ok, but it was a hard fall. He has some very sore ribs along with a badly bruised hip and shoulder. At least he didn't hit his head.

So, to sum up, it's been the sort of week that makes me wonder why I do this, and why I got my husband into doing this with me. We are, in general, safe and intelligent about how we ride, but the thing with horses is you never quite know what it going to happen. Even in fairly controlled situations there are variables, and sometimes even small mistakes have big consequences.

Still, I know myself well enough to know that ceasing to ride isn't really an option for me. Somehow, my happiness hinges on these big, unpredictable animals. So for now I can only redouble my efforts at staying safe and hope our bad luck has run out.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Spook

This morning we headed to the barn in high hopes for a good ride. The sun was out. The day was fairly still.  It seemed luck was on our side. That is, until we got to the barn. When we pulled up we saw the herd of cattle on the strip, but decided this wasn't a huge deal. They usually move away if there is activity nearby.

We took the boys inside and Steen was quite nervous, wanting to look towards the door and fidgeting way more than is normal for him lately. Perhaps I should have put a saddle on him at that point, but I did not. I did a little bit of groundwork with him in the indoor while Brian finished tacking Bear and he seemed to calm down, so we went outside.

When we got outside we discovered the cattle weren't just hanging out on the strip, they were mating. I am wondering if all the smells and hormones is what had Steen upset. At any rate they did move off after we showed up. Brian gave me a leg up and Steen was very quiet, so I thought all was good.

We rode for about ten minutes and Steen was better behaved than at the start of yesterday's ride. But I was a little too hot and wanted to take some of clothes off before I started to trot. And then (I am embarrassed to say) I made a mistake I already made once before. I decided to take off a layer without dismounting. Brian did dismount to tighten his girth and said he'd set my vest to the side of the strip for me. I unbuttoned the vest, keeping an eye on Steen's ears. He seemed totally fine, standing on a loose rein. I pulled my arms out of the vest, one at a time. Fine. I moved the vest around to my front. It touched his withers. Fine. I began to move it to one side of my body in preparation for handing it down. Why I didn't wait for Brian to come two steps closer and ask him to hold Steen, I do not know. At any rate, the vest went from being fine to terrifying in half a second, and Steen took off. I was off-balance, bareback, my reins were too long, and also I had a vest in my lap. In other words, doomed. I fell as Steen accelerated down the fence-line. Because he was so close to the (electric) fence, I clung to him a little longer than I otherwise would have, and that's probably why I came off so hard. In my experience, bailing early makes for easy falls, holding on for dear life make for hard ones.

I came to a moment later with Brian standing over me and a very uncomfortable sensation coursing through my body. My foot had gotten tangled in the fence on the way down and so I was receiving shocks through my boot. Brian helped me disentangle and Steen walked back up to me, looking for all the world like he was sorry. I sat on the ground for a while. My sunglasses were broken. My helmet was broken. I was disoriented for a while and couldn't remember a few basic facts, like how long we'd been riding before the fall. The thing I could recall more clearly than anything else was my last hard fall off of something moving. In that case it had been my road bike, and that time I'd had short-term amnesia, unable to recall even the town we were living in or where I worked. This time I remembered how freaked out I got that time, but also how I ended up all right in the end. I was thus able to take my own confusion with a little more equanimity and just wait it out.

Needless to say, we called it quits on riding. Once my vision realigned itself and I could stand, I regretfully took Steen back to the pasture. Mostly, I just feel idiotic - wasting a perfectly good fall day by spooking my own horses into dumping me.

A few hours later, my memory seems to have mostly restored itself, and I'm hoping that's the last hard head hit I take for a long, long time. I've got a new helmet on the way, and I hope I can accurately say I will not, at least, make the same mistake a third time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Perfect Fall Day

Today was a beautiful fall day - temps in the high 60's but sunny and relatively still. We thought it would be a great day to head out to the barn, and we were right.

I decided to go bareback today. I'm not actually sure why I've been using a saddle so much lately. When we're in familiar territory, I really don't need it. Steen's panic attacks and explosions have diminished so much, they really only happen when we're far from his comfort zone.

So, we got the boys ready and hit the strip. Steen was actually a bit distracted at first, not really interested in giving to the neck-rein. His figure-eights were completely the wrong shape and when I asked for the trot he was super erratic. However, through repetition of a few patterns, he settled in. Eventually he was back to giving me a consistent jog.

In the meantime Brian was having a good ride on Bear. Two months into their partnership they're getting along pretty well. Bear is obviously stronger, and when Brian asked for a trot, moved into it with much more ease and relaxation than on their early rides.

After about 50 minutes, the four of us headed down the strip. On the way back up I asked Steen for a lope and he moved into one fluidly and maintained a strong, steady pace for a brief stretch. I then pulled him up to wait for Brian and Bear. We dismounted a few minutes later and Brian pointed out that was my first time loping outside bareback on Steen. And I must say it felt great.

After returning the boys to the pasture we took another side shot of Bear to keep track of his slow transformation. You can see the whole series here.

Steen has now completely overcome his old fear of cameras and mostly wants to smear up the lense with his nose these days.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Another Trip to AZ

I recently returned from a vacation in Arizona, where I spent some time teaching my brother's brother-in-law, Simon, to ride my sister's horse, Jak.

It was a nice break from work, and the sun felt really good, but we got back later than expected and so on Tuesday afternoon I had only been back in town a few hours when I went out to the barn to meet the farrier. The boys were both happy to see us - Steen whinnied and ran for the gate and Bear also loped up to greet us. It is actually astonishing to me how much Bear has changed in the last two months. He's lost a lot of fat, gained a lot of muscle and is significantly more mobile and alert.

Things went well for the trims, even though Steen was in some remnant of his old restless mode. It was actually funny to see, because all his bad habits hadn't surfaced in a long time and none of them were actually coming through all the way. He was mostly standing still, but he was moving his head in his frustrated "nodding" manner, and he also called a few times and looked generally restless. Still, he was great for Duke and all in all it was encouraging to see he could be worked up but still remember his manners.

Yesterday Brian and I headed for the barn in the afternoon. Both Bear and Steen were quite good for their first ride in ten days or so. Steen was more relaxed than I expected after Tuesday. He was content to walk in circles and figure-eights, though his trot was erratic and as we went down the strip he did make a few attempts to turn for home. Nevertheless, it was great to be in the saddle again. Bear is either feeling great after we had a chiropractor work on him just before our trip, or perhaps he was happy that the bugs are all dead now, because he was just about as content and relaxed under saddle as I've ever seen and he wasn't doing the large amount of tail swishing I've noticed in the past. Now let's just hope the weather holds as long as possible and we can keep up with the riding well into winter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hitting the Hills

So far we've had a mild fall and Steen is still looking pretty darn good:

But we've started to supplement his diet with some chopped hay just to keep ahead of the curve.

The last couple of days Brian and I have continued our hill-hiking regimen.  Yesterday we were a bit disrupted initially because there was a massive (horse-eating) truck spreading something in the soybean field, so we had to relocate to a slightly different area than usual for warm-ups.  Steen and Bear were both a bit skeptical about this arrangement right at first, but Steen actually settled in quite quickly, with Bear remaining just a tad worked up which mostly reflected in his unwillingness to stand.  But Bear and Brian worked through the ansties while Steen was putting in more jogging time, and by the time the (horse-eating) truck was done in the field, the boys were pretty calm.

We decided to walk them up and down the strip a few times, which includes a fairly steep hill at the bottom.  Steen was relaxed and willing, and I do think we've already seen improvement in Bear's downhill motion.

Today we headed out again and this time warmed up on the strip.  Steen was great.  Soft.  Willing.  Relaxed.  Bear was also quite good from the start.  After circles and figure-eights from both horses and some more jogging for Steen we did a few laps around the soybean field, then returned to the hilly part of the strip.

Out in the soybean field, Steen had a pretty awesome moment.  We were crossing this sort of low overgrown area in the field.  There are big trees to the left and the wind really blows through sometimes, making lots of noise.  It's the same spot where Steen spooked a couple weeks ago.  Well, today Steen was crossing through the weedy area and he almost spooked.  I say almost because he sort of startled, then barely popped up onto his hind end and pivoted away from whatever scared him, but then he thought better of it.  I could see the little thought in his brain, going, "Oh right, it's nothing."  He dropped back to a walk and kept going.  I was so proud of him.

Bear also had one little moment of breaking into a trot in a semi-spooky way, but Brian had no trouble handling it.  He even says such little moments are good for his seat.  :)

Of course the melancholy end to the day was saying good-bye to Schooley.  He will be sorely missed.

No More School

I have been lucky in my dealings with horses in that although I'm going on twenty years of riding and owning these wonderful animals, I have not yet lost a horse of my own. This week, sadly, I am watching a friend have to say good-bye to hers. Jean's horse Schooley (AKA: No More School) has been fighting with navicular for the last many months, and although treatment did help for a while, he is now suffering a good deal.

At 20-years-old, Schooley has had a long and impressive life, starting as a race-horse and retiring to compete in eventing with Jean.

(I swiped this photo off of Jean's facebook page)

Jean and Schooley have shared a saddle for 14 years, and in the last one of those years Steen and I have been lucky enough to ride beside them sometimes. Some of my very best moments out on the trails with Steen have occurred in the company of Jean and Schooley.

Jean has decided that tomorrow is the right time to end Schooley's suffering. I know she has chosen well, and in her shoes I would do the same, but Steen and I sure will miss their company.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Indian Summer

I guess this is what they call Indian Summer.  We've had sunny days in the 80's and no rain.  It's October.

On Friday Brian and I headed out to the barn in the afternoon.  We kept the ride pretty simple but after a little warm-up ventured past the strip into the soybean field, where we walked a few laps.  Steen was very calm and responsive throughout, and we had a nice time.  Bear started out nervous, wanting to trot the downhills, but with some quiet reinforcement, he settled.

On Sunday we headed out again.  Steen was way, way out in the pasture, but fortunately he saw me and came a-running:

OK, actually I think a bee was chasing him or something, but nevertheless he came flying back and saved me a long walk.

We let the boys graze in the airlock while we tacked up because they were power-washing the barn and it was hectic and noisy inside.  Once we were ready to go, we decided to skip the strip work and get straight to walking the fields.  Things went well from the start.  Bear seemed a lot more relaxed after his day off, and Steen was a model citizen.  We had a highly uneventful ride of about an hour.  We executed four laps of the soybean field and Bear walked up and down all the hills like a champ.  It was Steen was cheating by the end and trying to trot.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Jog

I am happy to report that I believe Steen has finally (2.5 years after he came into my life) mastered the art of the jog. It's a funny thing, because while the jog isn't necessarily something I strive to teach my horse, and I certainly would never go to great lengths to force a non-jog-inclined horse to poke along as a very low pace, it does seem undeniable that the quarter-horse type is suited to this particular gait and if you get a horse of such breeding relaxed enough, it will default into an uber-smooth shuffle.

Today I rode Steen bareback on the strip, and he was wonderful. His jog was like butter and he gave it to me without any encouragement on my end to slow down. He was really, really listening to my body - to the degree that when I turned my head left, his ears would swivel left and then at the lightest touch of a rein on his neck or my leg on his side, he'd turn. And the coolest part of all is he was doing all this outside, with a huge empty soybean field to one side and a herd of horses to the other, with Bear and Brian roving around at the same time. No fence was telling him he couldn't run, but he was just completely into the idea of paying really close attention and expending as little energy as possible.

Brian also rode bareback again today, but things with Bear were not quite as great. While Brian did wonderfully (his seat is just getting better and better) Bear was grumpy and/or uncomfortable. Eventually I suggested Brian get off and do some groundwork - not that he was having trouble, exactly, but Bear's body language just didn't seem right to me. Brian put him on the longe line and everything went pretty fine until Brian asked Bear to trot in a right-hand circle, at which point Bear exploded. He kicked, bucked and came down running and proceeded to race around Brian on the line at a rather frantic pace. Brian was handling everything without a problem, but I was curious to see how Bear would respond to me, so I took the rope after a while and tried some more exercises. Bear did some nice calm trotting to the left and more bucking and leaping to the right. So, we're not quite sure what's up with him. I think he's probably just sore or stiff (though you'd never know it from his action). I'm sure getting him back in shape is going to be a process, and there will be some hiccups. Luckily, we can rest pretty easy knowing we haven't been super demanding, so hopefully with regular light work these kinks will just work themselves out.

I do think we're going to give him some more time on the longe line though. Not to work him hard, but just to give him a chance to move some without a rider. At times today he seemed to be really enjoying himself.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Another Great Ride

Today Brian and I headed for the barn in the afternoon. Lately Brian's foot has been having issues, so he wanted to try some outdoor bareback work to avoid the stirrup. We set him up with his normal saddle pad underneath the bareback pad we bought a couple years ago and that set-up seemed to work well for him. He mounted from the ground again and proceeded to have a pretty great ride on the strip. He and Bear looked really good - balanced, relaxed and in good communication.

I did use a saddle, and had another very mellow, relaxed ride on Steen. He was again jogging like a western pleasure horse, standing quite willingly and beyond that just being his normal goofy self.

In fact, as much as I'd say Steen has always had a pretty distinct personality, lately his goofiness has just been coming out more and more. Today he picked almost every item out of my grooming bucket, one by one, holding each item in his teeth and shaking it around for a while before dropping it. In the end he grabbed the whole bucket and dumped the last few things out. He did all this while picking up and holding each foot perfectly for me to pick. I don't know where he gets it from, but he's just a complete joker.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Yesterday Steen and I did our own thing - something we've not actually done in a very long while. I headed out in the chill of the morning only after digging out some of my winter horse-riding gear.

I found Steen in the pasture looking fluffy and comfortable. It was an unusually still day and the wind seems to be a big part of what makes the herd sometimes feel cold. I took him indoors and he was so quiet while I groomed him, he was literally nodding off at times. This is a new thing for him, and definitely something he's learned from Bear.

I tacked up, went outdoors, set up cones on the strip and climbed on.  Steen was good from the start. The one thing he wasn't awesome at was standing for long periods of time, but other than that he was spot-on. We worked figure-eights and circles and he was giving me his smoothest little jog almost from the start. He's still erratic in the circles, having a tendency to accelerate in some places and slow down in others, but I've found if I just leave him alone and let him go the speed he wants, he settles in. I've also noticed that the strip is pretty slanted in some places and when he's moving consistently and predictably I can adjust my weight and position to help him with the grade, which in turn allows him to balance better and relax more which helps me to ride better and so on and so forth. After a number of minutes at the trot he was carrying his head like a veritable western-pleasure horse.

I didn't ride for long. I was tempted to push it and throw some loping in there, but sometimes I feel like when you're horse is just being perfect it's kind of nice to let them off easy. After half an hour I dismounted and we headed back indoors.

Today I'm taking the day off, but I've ridden five out of the last six days. I know and have always known that the only way to get a horse trained and relaxed and good at its job is to ride it a lot, but of course that's hard to manage when your horse is only your hobby. But to see such fast changes over the last week definitely drives the point home for me. Consistency works wonders.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Five Days, Four Rides, No Photos

It's been an interesting week and I'm well behind on the blogging so I'm going go try to catch up in one post.  I also have been horrible neglectful with the camera lately, so have no images to go with these reports.

Wednesday: Ride One
Steen and I rode with Bear and Brian on the strip.  I took it easy again, since my foot was still flared up, and Steen was quiet and mostly willing to walk and stand, giving me some decent figure-eights at the trot towards the end.  Bear was actually the worst he's been since we've owned him - sluggish, unresponsive.  Just "off" in general.  We couldn't identify any particular problem, so after Brian rode for quite a while I offered to ride Bear to see if I could figure out if he was just deciding to give Brian a hard time or if something really was up.  So, I climbed onto Bear for the third time ever and was immediately shocked at how "not Steen" he is.  Meanwhile Brian climbed on Steen and proceeded to mostly stand around.

Bear was definitely not his usual self.  He wasn't refusing to do anything, but everything he did was highly mediocre and not at all of a quality we've come to expect from him.  He wasn't resisting in any way in particular, he was just unbelievable unenthusiastic in general.  I only rode for a few minutes after dismounting since I don't feel I know him well enough to be able to tell yet whether it was a case of needing to be worked through something or if he was genuinely not feeling well and I feel it is, in general, better to err on the side of assuming there is a reason for strange behavior when it occurs.

Friday: Ride Two
My foot made rapid progress on the healing front on Wednesday and Thursday, so on Friday Steen and I rode with Jean and Schooley.  We had an absolutely fabulous early-fall romp all around some new cornfields we found.  Much time was spent at the lope.  Steen pranced a lot and after the first few lopes developed a tendency to go off like a bullet when asked to accelerate, sometimes not exactly in the correct direction.  But it was unbelievably FUN.  It was significantly faster, harder, longer ride than Steen has ever gone on before.

Later in the day Brian went to the barn and had a wonderful solo outing on Bear, so that was a relief and makes me feel our choice to give him the benefit of the doubt on Wednesday was the right thing to do.

Saturday: Ride Three
It was cold and blustery and there was a whole lot of commotion in the barn.  We gave the boys a snack of chopped hay when we arrived to get their minds off how chilly and hungry they were, then went to the strip.  Steen proceeded to be absolutely horrible.  Spinning, prancing, trying to bolt, gathering up under me like he was going to rear.  After a few minutes I got off his back and did some groundwork with him.  That helped a little and I remounted and he stayed very difficult for another fifteen minutes and finally settled into a somewhat normal version of himself, so the last ten minutes of my ride were not as bad.  Bear and Brian, in the meantime, had a fabulous ride.

Sunday: Ride Four
I took the long line and the stick out to the strip and put Steen through his basic groundwork paces.  He was very, very good - trotting in a collected little jog, disengaging and backing perfectly, flexing, backing: the works.  After a few minutes, I got on and he continued to be unbelievable good.  Like - best ride on the strip ever kind of good.  He was soft and engaged, his trot was smooth and collected.  He was willing to trot in circles of figure-eights, then stop and stand and then walk some more before trotting again.  It was like he wasn't even the same horse I rode yesterday.

After half an hour on the strip with Bear being not quite as good as Steen but not bad, we decided to take a jaunt around the soy-bean field.  That went really well until something in the bushes scared Steen and he bolted and Bear bolted as well, but Brian handled it masterfully, bringing him back down to a stop from a lope so he could pick up his dropped stirrup.  In spite of the excitement, Steen was willing to walk (not prance) back to the barn, so all in all I count the ride a great success.

So, four very different rides in five days.  Ah, horses.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Pad

We had a couple of chilly, stormy days so Brian and I found the boys a bit hungry and dirty in the pasture.  We decided to let them graze in the airlock while we groomed them.

Steen apparently prefers the grass at the very edge of the fence line.

After we got the worst of the mud off we took them indoors and finished tacking.  I put Steen's brand new pad on his back and we retired to the strip.

The good news is I think Steen's new pad had a definite positive impact on the ride.  He seemed more willing to lift his back up into position and lower his head at the trot.  The bad news is my foot was really having issues, so I had to get off after about half an hour.

Steen was fine with that, though, since I mostly just let him graze while I watched Bear and Brian, who had a very nice ride.

Steen was kind enough to let me snap some photos while he had a bite to eat.

So, all told it was yet another lovely day at the barn. The weather was perfect, the boys were good.  Now if I could just get my foot healed, everything would be perfect.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh the Wind Blows

We had a super windy day out here (and Brian and I were both pretty tired anyway), so we opted for a quick indoor bareback ride after work. We fetched our boys and brought them inside. Brian managed to mount from the ground. I had to employ the stepping stool (it's possible I could haul myself up onto Steen's 15.2 back, but I am still not sure how he'd react if I just flung myself at his side.)

Once up, we kept things pretty simple. I did a lot of walking interspersed with some trotting towards the end. Steen was good, though Bear was having a "magnet" effect on him. I was constantly correcting little veers towards whatever part of the arena Brian and Bear were hanging out it. His trot was quite relaxed and smooth, though erratic in speed. Still, the whole ride was quite pleasant. There is something enjoyably simplistic about riding indoors without a saddle.

Towards the end of the ride activity at the barn really picked up, but both Bear and Steen remained totally calm in spite of intense winds and lots of crazy horse/people noises and movements. It is awfully nice to have two horses that are just pretty dependable.

Outside I took a couple side shots of Bear so we could compare him with himself. I unloaded him from the trailer four weeks ago today. Brian has the better shots showing how much he's changed in that time on his blog.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Strip Time

This afternoon I should have been working.  My "to do" list is so long I can't see the end of it.  But when Brian called and told me he was going to stop off to see Bear on his way home from work, I couldn't resist.  I met him out there.

For once Steen was up near the barn and I didn't have to hike out to get him.  This was particularly nice since my foot is still having issues and walking doesn't help.  We all tacked up and retired to the strip and I worked mostly on walking with Steen, with some trotted figure eights and circles thrown in towards the end.  He was mostly good, though excitable at times.  I had the super soft, fat, hollow-mouth snaffle on him because Brian was using the more solid, thinner snaffle on Bear.  The funny thing about Steen lately is he's so unbelievably soft in the mouth but will do funny things, like start to trot then tuck his head as if I'm reining him in and then continue at a compact, lofty prance even though the reins are loose.  He'll also respond to a touch on the neck as if I've just yanked him around by the mouth.  Sometimes I'm not quite sure what to do with his ultra-sensitivity.  Most of the time I just give him his head and tell him he's being silly and then he relaxes.

Today my main focus was keeping my weight off my foot, so I was trying to ride with a very relaxed lower leg.  At certain points Steen was really responsive and tuned in, willing to respond to just my lightest cues even when working in the figure eight (which isn't his favorite thing).  Other times he'd sort of spin out and try to make a break back towards the barn, but even at these moments I never had trouble bringing him back on line.

So, it's always interesting.  I achieved some pretty awesome circles and figure eights today, and Steen has also finally (hopefully permanently) learned to stand and relax between exercises.  When I got off he leaned his head up against my torso and took a huge, long, deep breath - then dropped his head and sighed.  If nothing else, I sure do love him and I think he loves me back.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bear Day

It's a day of haze and fog in Iowa, but luckily Brian and I already had a plan for our barn activities today. We thought another day with both of us focused Bear would be the best, so we decided to leave Steen in the pasture. Amusingly, the fact that I did not halter him did not deter him from walking right at my side back up to the barn.

It actually made me feel oddly guilty to close the gate on him and tell him he couldn't come.

We started out with ground-work, not because Bear really needs it but because I wanted to see how he felt about going right without a rider on his back. He was surprisingly jumpy on the line. I have a feeling he's used to be longed in the widely accepted "make the horse run like mad by scaring the shit of it" method, so I was very calm and gentle with him. He was great at flexing, right off the bat.

When I asked for him to circle to the right, he didn't want to go. I didn't have to do anything too dramatic to persuade him, but then he kept trying to disengage and go back in the other direction.

Steen watched all this from the other side of the fence - clearly a bit confused.

I didn't work with Bear for long. After I got some good circles in both directions, Brian got on. He then had a ride similar to yesterday's, except Bear was calmer and more responsive. He's already yielding to the snaffle extremely well, and also his woahs were excellent today.

Mostly I told Brian what to do and gave him the occasional pointer. Towards the end I had him doing sprials, keeping a circle but making it tighter and tighter until he was right next to me. Bear was absolutely great at this going left, but going right he was so bad we stopped trying after a few minutes.

So, I'm now more convinced then ever that Bear is stiff on the right side. Luckily, he was showing more ability to bend today than yesterday, so with any luck our gentle circling and bending exercises along with the extra strength and flexibility that comes with getting in shape will solve the problem.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Slowing Down

The season is just starting to turn definitively towards fall and today we woke up to a storm. The rain passed, however, so we decided to fill the late morning with a barn trip.

Our goal for the day was for me to pay close attention to Bear and Brian and try to help facilitate their communication after the challenges of their last ride. We've had Bear for three weeks now and in that time we've changed a lot of things up on him, and I think he's having trouble understanding exactly what we want of him. He's also definitively stiff when turning right, so we're trying to find constructive, non-threatening ways to supple him up.

Since it was overcast and we had simple goals, we also took the SLR in order to get some good photos. You can see more on Brian's blog.

So, we retired to the strip. I didn't want to use a saddle (my foot's having issues again) so Brian had to give me a leg-up before mounting. I then gave Brian a pseudo lesson for about 45 minutes and we kept things very simple. We worked on flexing and turning and stopping, and little else. Bear started out a little nervous, but we kept our goals very short and clear and we let him stand a lot in between requests and he seemed to really settle down and relax.

For the most part Steen and I were not mobile. I sat on his back and he stood. At first he was a little unhappy with this arrangement, but before long his protests gave way to napping.

Since he's generally not inclined to stand still, it was great practice.

After Brian and Bear were finished with their ride, I did trot around on Steen a bit.

He was mostly pretty good. He's neck reining better and better, even when he's being all excitable and bratty.

In the end it was a very fun, relaxing Saturday morning at the barn. We returned the two boys to the pasture and took some more photos. Since it's supposed to be cool and rainy, we left their fly masks off for the moment. Steen's winter coat is just starting to come in and the storm washed him for me. He's looking pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Working the Strip

Today Brian and I headed out for our (soon to be) traditional Wednesday afternoon at the barn. The weather was again perfect. I had an easy start to the day when I found Steen up by the waterer, so I didn't even have to hike out to the pasture to get him.

The boys were good while we tacked them. Bear doesn't seem sore on his newly bare front feet, so that's a definite plus. We then adjourned to the grassy strip next to the pasture which has been recently mowed and now has the benefit of being wide and grassy and long with good footing. It's a good place for Brian and I to ride together while both doing our own thing.

Brian rode Bear in a snaffle again, and other than letting him mount up first and making sure there were no immediate meltdowns, I mostly left him to his own devices. My goal for today was to make Steen tired. He's been so so so full of energy lately, he's always raring to go. So I had him pick up a trot fairly quickly, and we did pseudo figure-eights around two large round bales for a long time. At first he was going really well - only a little excitable when heading towards the barn. Then we took a break and he stood quite well, but when we started again he was showing an inclination to prance and want to go fast on the way home.

Nevertheless, he's so light in the mouth these days it is amazing. Even when he's being "resistant" I pretty much only need to move my pinky fingers to turn him - so it's all relative, I suppose. I tried to work him in an S pattern and that didn't go over well at all - he got very frustrated and did a mini-pseudo crow-hop. So we went back to the more familiar circle territory.

After we'd been trotting for a good half hour, I started to lope away from the barn and trot back. His lope was collected but really, really vertical. I felt like we covered as much distance up and down as moving forward. But he seemed to be enjoying it, and would stop willingly when asked. And the thing he was doing today that was totally out of character was standing. He'd prance prance prance until I made him stop, then he'd drop his head and stand quietly for minutes at a time. Then when I asked him to move again it would be immediately back to the prance.

So, it was an interesting ride. I got a good workout but honestly I don't think Steen was particularly worn out by the end. Nevertheless I think it was a constructive day.

For the most part things went pretty well for Brian on Bear - except that Brian took another tumble. I was loping in the opposite direction when it happened, so didn't see, but you can get all the juicy details here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Perfect Ride

On Monday I almost didn't go to the barn. I had a lot to do, and was feeling stressed. But... it was an absolutely perfect fall day - sunny but cool. I was so so so close to bailing (even had a text composed to Jean) but I rallied, told myself, "work will wait" and got in the car.

And I'm so glad I did. Jean and I were out on the trails by 9:15. Steen and Schooley were in fine form - both relaxed but energetic. We headed out the east side of Cathi's land and briefly (unintentionally) trespassed on someone's long, sloped driveway. On the way back down Schooley showed Steen how to settle into a relaxed, collected trot that doesn't involve crow-hopping, snorting or spinning in circles.

From there we headed up the B road that passes between Cathi's land and Jim's land. When we reached a gate, we detoured onto the strip around a corn-field to the west and discovered a lovely new loop that I'm definitely going to add to my repertoire. The field is quite sloped but has a generous grassy margin all the way around. Jean and I circled the entire thing, scaring up both an owl and a red-tail hawk from the tall, encircling trees. On the way back up the hill we let the boys go, and they treated us to a lovely little lope back to the road.

Immediately after the run, Steen showed signs of settling right back down. But then we entered familiar territory and things deteriorated. He was quite prancy on the way home, but I was feeling too elated to mind.

We returned to the barn with huge smiles on our faces, and I gave Steen lots of extra rubs and pets. I have no photos to add to this post, but nevertheless it's not a ride I will soon forget.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Steen the Teacher

Yesterday was our first Duke Day with Bear. It was also scheduled to be a bit of a potluck. We hung out with the other barn people and ate home-made cornbread and chili and enjoyed the beautiful day. I also hauled along our SLR instead of our usual point-and-shoot.

Trims were uneventful. Steen was his usual perfect self. Bear is definitely still a bit stiff in his hind end (though markedly less so than when we got him) and once Duke did have to hold his hoof for a minute and wait for him to be able to lower it for trimming. Another time Bear shifted partway across the aisle. But for a horse that's been in a new place for less than two weeks getting worked on for the first time by a strange farrier, I'd say things went well.

We pulled Bear's shoes. Duke said probably with him standing and riding on grass he won't need them, but we'll keep an out for soreness over the next few weeks.

After the trim we had a chat with a young girl who is enamored with horses and putting in some time around the barn. She was there with her father, and they were both very impressed by Steen's looks and goofy personality. So, I used Steen to let the girl pick up a horse's foot for the first time. She was a bit intimidated by the concept, but Steen was a gentleman - picking up his feet on just a verbal cue and letting her get used to cupping the hoof with one hand and cleaning with the other.

So, it was a pleasant day. After all the festivities, we turned the boys back out into the pasture in their highly sexy fly-masks.

We all can't wait for the nights to get just a little cooler so we can get rid of all these bugs!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back to Bareback

Brian and I were both feeling a bit banged up today. I stupidly fell down the stairs in our house, and he's dealing with the aftermath of tumbling off his horse. So, today we decided to take it easy and just do a low-key indoor ride. Then when we got to the barn and realized we'd forgotten to bring Bear's bridle back (we'd taken it home for a better rein-repair job) we were definitely limited in our options.

One of the less ideal things about Bear is that he's been trained and ridden to go in a tom-thumb. My opinions on bits have got narrower over the years, and I pretty much feel most horses should be ridden in a snaffle unless they are thoroughly trained and can go in a curb. We did test out the snaffle on Bear during our second test ride, and he was definitely confused by it, so we decided to get a tom-thumb to use with him for the time being, with plans to down-grade to a snaffle this winter after he's more comfortable with us and vice versa.

But today it was either ride Bear in a snaffle or not ride at all, so we opted to give it a shot. And since Brian has a sore foot we figured we'd dispense with the saddle as well.

Bear accepted the strange bit with his usual good humor. Brian did some flexing exercises from the ground and those went well, so Brian mounted and asked for some more flexes once mounted. Bear was less keen on these, but acquiesced. The ride that followed was quite good, from what I could tell from my spot on Steen's (bare) back. Bear softened up considerably during the course of the ride, and though he had intermittent moments of resistance, nothing cropped up that Brian couldn't easily handle.

Steen, meanwhile, was in perfect mode. Turning, stopping, standing. Hanging out with us afterwards:

We've had Bear for two weeks now, and I couldn't be happier with him. He keeps getting friendlier. He was obviously happy to see Brian when we arrived today after a couple of days off, and after just half an hour working in a snaffle Brian had him stopping, flexing, backing and bending around his leg. Very good signs. So we've got another awesome Friday afternoon at the barn to add to the books. We celebrated with a Coors in the lounge, and headed home.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Steen the Bad Influence

Today Brian and I headed to the barn. We hoped for a longer trail ride, but things didn't quite go that way. The real problem was Steen. It was really windy and he was a bit antsy at first. As we headed down the strip, though, he relaxed and I thought he was going to settle in. Even when we headed back towards the barn and he started to prance, I tried a new technique to calm him down. Instead of trying to control him with the bit, I pushed him in circles with my leg and the rein on his neck. He was willing to turn in tight circles, which helped him think more and be less inclined to prance. By the time we neared the end of our warm-up area, he was walking on a loose rein and seemed quite calm.

We veered onto a little double-track that runs by a shed and that's when things got less fantastic. Something scared Steen and he spun around and tried to bolt back towards the barn. I'm used to this sort of thing, so it didn't phase me. Unfortunately, Bear was between Steen and the barn and he took Steen's behavior as his cue to run home. So he spun and bolted as well and Brian, who is not so used to this sort of thing, tumbled off.

Steen and I intercepted Bear before he made it back to the barn. Brian caught up soon thereafter. We repaired a broken rein and went back to the scene of the incident. I then led Steen down the road to be sure he didn't pull any more stunts to rile Bear up, but it soon became clear that Bear was not at all worked up or worried about what had happened. So, we retired to a big grassy area and Brian worked Bear in some big circles and figure-eights. I think it was productive for them, since my belief about what happened is Bear basically took a cue from another horse instead of his rider. This is totally understandable and almost all horses do it, but in an ideal world it wouldn't happen. Brian didn't work Bear hard or demand anything unfamiliar, and as I watched them trot in circles I thought Bear relaxed and softened up. Steen, meanwhile, got an easy day - even though he instigated the whole thing. Sometimes life isn't very fair.

Relaxing Last Days of Summer

Things have continued to go well in the Bear department. Brian went out and rode him alone on Friday with good results. You can read about that here. We're going to have to make sure to continue to ride and handle the horses independently of one another, as it would seem and Bear and Steen are getting along just fine. Better than just fine, actually. This is what Brian and I found them doing on Friday evening when we took a break from the barn party we were attending and walked out into the pasture.

Apparently pretty fond of each other after just one week.

They're on 13 acres of grass and feel the need to share one square foot of grazing space. It's adorable. We shared a few pretty relaxing moments with Steen and Bear as the sun set behind us.

Nope, it's Iowa.

On Saturday Brian's parent's came out to meet their new grandhorse. Things went a whole lot better than when we tried to introduce them to Sham. They both rode Steen and they both gave Bear a lot of pets, but since Bear is used to being ridden in a Tom-Thumb and Cathy is used to riding English with a snaffle and contact, we thought we'd save their first adventures on Bear's back for a later date, after we know him better and (hopefully) he's going in a snaffle.

Luckily, Steen was happy to take a few turns around the arena with first Cathy, then Dutch on his back. Brian rode Bear around and everything went off without a hitch, except that Steen's indoor trot has gotten rather fast again (I'm sure it's because I've been controlling his speed on the outside). Other than that, he was quite a gentleman and everyone had fun.

Brian and his mom on horseback together for the first time ever!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

One Day, Two Rides

Today I had a problem. Jean wanted to ride with me in the morning, and Brian wanted to ride with me in the afternoon. The only possible solution (much to Steen's chagrin) was for me to ride twice.

First I met Jean at the barn in the morning. We tacked up Steen and Schooley and headed out. Things started out very low-key, but when we turned around to head back up the grassy strip between corn-fields we often use as a warm-up, we decided to trot for a bit. Steen wanted to go faster than a trot. When I didn't let him, he started to crow-hop.

Now, this is the first time Steen has ever done anything like this under saddle. Other than the one time he threw me (right after I got him) his hind end has never even tried to come up on me. I stopped him and quickly looked him over to make sure he wasn't getting bitten by a horse-fly or something bizarre wasn't happening with his girth. Then I did a little remedial circle work, making him wrap around my leg and flex while moving in circles at a trot. This seemed to turn his brain back on.

The ride went more smoothly from there. Steen still showed high spirits and an inclination to prance. When I asked for a trot again later he did a lot of spinning and scooting sideways before I finally could get his propulsion moving in the right direction. Then he settled into the gait and went nicely.

So, mostly I think it was just that he's feeling good. He's in great shape, the weather was cool and he wants to go. Given his still quite limited work outdoors at the trot and lope, I have to give him a pass now and then.

After the ride I came home and worked for a few hours and then Brian and I headed out again. Steen was a bit surprised to see me, and even more surprised when I put his saddle on again.

Bear continues to be absolutely easy. He is getting sweeter and more relaxed out on the trail. Brian has had a moment or two during which he has a little bit of trouble getting Bear to go ahead alone or turn away from home, but nothing major or unusual at all.

My first ever shot from off of Steen's back!

During ride two, Steen was a little better though at first inclined to prance. I worked him in circles again.

Brian captures me pulling Steen in a circle.

We rode for about 45 minutes and Steen was quite ready to go home by the end. I probably won't make him go out twice in one day very often, but for today I think it was good for him.

Bear is just a little uncertain what I'm doing with the camera

Indoors untacking was easy, and Bear got some compliments from a boarder he'd never met before. He's already put on some muscle and I think he's going to be looking quite sharp in no time.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Trio for Three

Yesterday Brian and I headed for the barn again and pulled out boys from the pasture. Bear was his usual mellow self about being caught and brought indoors. We tied up in the aisle and had just a little bit of drama when he sniffed noses with a precocious filly. She 'winked' and squealed and kicked, and he kicked at the wall of her stall in response, so we pulled him away from her and tied him up by a gelding and all was quiet again.

After that Bear stood quietly through tacking and Brian and I headed out in the company of Jean and Schooley. We meandered around for a bit, mostly walking. We headed up the overgrown pathway to the edge of Cathi's property and then turned back. I dismounted briefly to remove a piece of barbed wire from a hazardous location and while I was off Brian and Bear got a little ways off ahead of us. I got back on Steen and he switched from angel mode to "oh my god I have to catch up" mode, so I don't know if he's already super attached to Bear or what, but he pranced along until we caught up to Brian and Bear.

The ride continued quietly from there. Jean and Schooley left us. Brian and I continued on. Brian and Bear had one directional disagreement probably spurred on by the heat and the fact that Bear is quite out of shape and after many days of riding in a row, must be tired. But Brian won without much trouble and we soon finished our ride, sponged down the boys and put them back out on the grass.

So, all in all, things are still going very well. Today and tomorrow will probably be non-barn days, but hopefully Brian and I will head out again on Wednesday.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Two for Two

We've had absolutely beautiful weather the last few days. This morning was no exception - cool, sunny, breezy. A perfect morning for a ride. Brian and I woke up and attended to the puppy we're looking after for the weekend, then headed for the barn.

We found Steen and Bear grazing happily (as usual) and brought them indoors. Bear seems even more settled in today. He and Steen both stood like angels while we groomed and tacked.

Steen and Bear tied in the aisle

In no time at all we were out on the trails. I showed Brian most of my new favorite ride, though we turned back sooner than I usually do because we were mostly walking to help Bear get back in condition so it was taking a good deal longer than when I lope long stretches. Steen's such a fast walker Brian did trot to catch up a few times (and Steen had to stand and wait a few times, too).

The ride was as close to perfect as they come. Steen was a laid-back version of his usual self. He got a bit antsy at certain points, but nothing bad.

Steen trying to edge his way into the soybeans

We were out for an hour. We came home, untacked, groomed, then put our boys back outside.

Bear is not only diplomatic, but a tad philosophical as well

So, really, I couldn't be happier. I haven't had to step in and help Brian with Bear at all so far. So from here forward my focus can stay on Steen - we just won't have to go it alone so much. :)


Yesterday Brian and I headed to the barn in the afternoon. We arrived optimistically, with a bridle set up for Bear "just in case." From up by the barn we can't see the whole pasture, so we grabbed our two halters and headed out. We found Steen near the creek in the low part of the pasture, with Bear grazing on the other side with Nadir. Bear looked good, though his legs and belly were spattered in mud. He didn't have any bite-marks or bumps or bruises and he was grazing happily.

I haltered Steen and Brian headed down to Bear. Bear walked a few steps in Brian's direction and then stood quietly while Brian put the halter on. We headed up to the barn.

Once inside, Bear stood when tied. So did Steen. It was a remarkably drama-less and relaxing undertaking, having them both inside together. We groomed them and Brian tacked Bear up. He took the bit like a gentleman. Steen and I retired to the outside of the arena and Brian climbed on.

And Bear was awesome. He was quiet, responsive, and relaxed. Brian rode him indoors for a few minutes without a single problem, so I tacked Steen up and we headed out on the trails.

We kept it short and easy, since Bear is out of shape, but we rode out on the strip between the corn fields and strolled around for about half an hour. Bear was a total doll, and he also had a calming affect on Steen.

We came back to the barn and untacked. Bear refused carrots from another boarder (Steen got a double portion). We took them outside and turned them out together and our two boys ambled over for a drink of water and then off to join the herd. I was so easy, after all the challenges we faced with Sham, it was almost surreal. Day two of owning Bear and we went on a trail ride. I'm really looking forward to the fall!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Take Two

I've had a number of rather dramatic days in a row (the details or which really aren't worth blogging about) but the most exciting element of the upheaval is we have finally managed to find a replacement for Sham:

This is Bear. Yes, he's another bay quarterhorse gelding. But he's quite different. He is older and more experienced. He's also quieter and sweeter. We're hoping he's going to be a better match for Brian. He arrived yesterday (after we drove up north a couple of times to ride him and get him checked out by a vet). He is such a relaxed guy. He likes people. He's happy to just hang around. He's also surprisingly responsive and supple under saddle. So, updates to follow!

More photos and info can be found on Brian's new horse blog.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Two New Gaits

After I spent last week house/puppy-sitting and thus not getting to the barn, Steen and I had another good ride today. We did the same route again, and he was a little better behaved the whole way around. We walked for most of the ride, and I loped him again for two sections of the route. After the second lope he was inclined to prance, so instead of getting him frustrated by yanking on the bit constantly, I worked on pushing him from one side of the grassy strip to the other using my leg and a little contact on the bit. He yielded beautifully, so I'd just push him back and forth across the margin a few times until he calmed down. I think the yielding helped engage his mind and once he started thinking again, he stopped prancing.

I must say it is very enjoyable and exciting for me to have loping be a regular part of my ride experience again. Steen's lope is very fast and energetic at this point and he gets riled up after we run, but I've never worked him consistently at the lope before, which means no one has. So I'm looking forward to getting this gait dialed in a bit better (even if it comes with its less desirable cousin - the prance).

Friday, August 06, 2010

The One?

Today I finally went to the barn again. Steen's feet were trimmed on Saturday, but we were out of town half of Friday and all weekend, and the insanity of a few rush jobs coinciding with our trip kept me chained to the computer all week.

However, this morning I woke up to see a cool, sunny day out the window. I ate breakfast and got in my car.

Since our last long ride I've been playing more with the idea of a route that involves two large loops instead of one big one. The main reason is there is simply no way to do a loop around the barn without riding on gravel more than I want to. So today I implemented a new experiment - something sort of like a gigantic, lopsided figure eight.

Steen was nervous setting out again, and reluctant to leave, as usual. I ignored his antics. I must admit after our grand adventure on Monday I trust him more. If he didn't come apart that day, I doubt anything in familiar territory is going to put him over the edge. So, I nudged him past the farm equipment (it rearranges itself slightly every time!) and up and down our familiar strip, then I crossed the road and went into the margin of another field I rode once before with a group, almost a year ago.

And here, we really started to have fun. Steen was a bit fixated with the fact that he could see the barn, so I decided to do some trotting and loping to give him something else to think about. I wasn't sure how he'd handle running all alone in a mostly unfamiliar space, but he went great. He did get pretty excited and was inclined to prance on the way home, but I took the indirect way back and by the time we reached the barn he was walking again.

So, I am hopeful. The ride took 45 minutes, was almost entirely on grass and good footing. I could even extend the route some if I wanted to. Best of all, I think it will be really relaxing, easy and fun once Steen gets used to it. So, perhaps I've finally found my groove here in Iowa.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Uncharted Territory

A week ago Monday I decided one of my biggest problems with Steen is that he and I still don't have a "ride." With all my previous horses I had access to miles and miles and miles of trails, but there was still just one ride I did most of the time. It varied slightly per horse, and it was my go-to circuit I could dash around in 45 minutes or so.

The problem for me here is I don't know the land around the barn. By the time I got my first horse in AZ I had biked and hiked every trail within a large radius of my house. Here, the only places I know are the ones I've already gotten to on horseback, and there aren't many of them.

Last week I told myself I just have to explore. Even if this means going out alone on a horse whose behavior on trails is far from docile. The truth is I see the value in arena work, but I'm never going to love it like I love a good trail. I have been feeling increasingly frustrated with my riding set-up lately.

So, I pulled up the satellite function in google maps and planned a route that went in a loop along the margins of corn-fields and returned to the barn after just under two miles. Then I planned a back-up route that consisted of mostly gravel roads, in case some of the "trails" I saw online weren't passable.

I set out and things did not start well. Steen was jumpy and disinclined to leave the area around the barn. Once I got him past all the scary farm equipment behind the machine shed, he improved for a while, then deteriorated once we got to the end our familiar grassy strip between corn-fields. In fact he got so worked up at that point I considered turning back. But I didn't. I kept on.

Not long after, we left Cathi's land, and that's where the real adventure began. Two gates, one "no trespassing" sign, two groups of three huge dogs, two SUV's, a swarm of biting flies and the necessity to revert to the back-up route later, Steen and I finally made it back to the barn. We'd ridden about 3.5 miles, half of that on gravel. But he'd weathered the chaos so well, I could hardly believe it. His behavior was by far the worst in familiar territory, but as soon as we got off into land he'd never seen before he seemed to relax and trust me to get him home.

Nevertheless, it was not a good route. There was way too much gravel involved, and not enough fun landscape. Steen is not shod, and his feet were a bit chipped by the time I got him home. So, then I had to wait all week for the farrier to come fix him up before I could ride again...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

And Again!

Today I went to the barn and found Steen and the pasture herd were back out in 15+ acres of grass. He and his buddies had clearly been gorging themselves for many hours, and as a consequence he was a bit gassy and grumpy when I brought him indoors. He was also stiff in the hind end from our ride yesterday, so I took it easy on him today.

It is really interesting for me to see how Steen has changed in the 2 years I've had him. When I bought him I didn't know nearly as much about horse nutrition and weight. I thought he was on the thin side, but it didn't quite register with me that he had been at least somewhat malnourished for a significant period of time. I had this vague thought that he'd fatten right up on a good pasture.

Steen on the day after he arrived. The main thing I find shocking now is how big his head used to be in comparison to his neck.

As anyone who's read this blog knows, it has not been that easy. But today I looked at my horse and realized he's actually starting to resemble other horses with quarter-horse/paint bloodlines.

The other benefit - he's now a lot more comfortable to ride bareback.

I think it just takes a long time to change a physiology, and we'll see how he does this winter, but I'm hopeful the worst of our weight problems are behind us.

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