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.

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