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.

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