Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter Continues

After a brief respite during which Steen got to go for a few days without his blanket and it almost felt like spring, the weather has turned unpleasant again. Last Sunday was wet and chilly and we headed to the barn for Duke Day. Bear and Steen were both soaking and filthy and when we brought them inside and turned them out in the indoor arena. They both rolled and then proceeded to run around like mad, making their previous romps look pretty tame. They also kept it up for quite some time. Bear even fell over trying to dig into the turns too hard, and then proceeded to blame his mishap on Steen, punishing the poor innocent victim by chasing him around and trying to bite his butt. Everyone at the barn was quite entertained.

Eventually they ran themselves out and they were both good when it was their turn for the farrier. Duke even confirmed that Bear's feet are significantly harder and healthier than they were when we got him, and that letting him go barefoot has certainly had no negative impact on his overall health and probably some positive results. Brian has noticed that Bear is also more willing to walk on gravel lately and the outsides of his feet are chipping less, so that is definitely good news. I don't have anything in particular against shoeing horses when necessary, but there is no doubt it is simpler (and less expensive) when they can go without.

Bear does, however, seem to be having territorial wars with someone in the pasture. Every time we see him he's got a new bite mark somewhere on his body. They aren't serious wounds, but they do make him look a bit hen-pecked. Luckily he is always sweet and patient for application of antibiotic ointment.

Yesterday I gave Brian another lesson, starting off with Steen's bridle on Bear just to zero out our variables. Things went much better this time. Bear still showed some inclination to toss his head every now and then, but this didn't actually seem connected to the bit at all. He'd do it when asked to turn right, primarily, often when Brian was only asking with leg cues, and usually only for a moment. He's still stiff in that direction, which is probably the root of the problem. Hopefully the long walking rides will help.

After Brian got off I also did some free lunging with Bear, to allow him to move around and kick up his heels without being constrained by a rope. He actually seemed to have fun with it, and was willing to work in circles around me, stopping and going on cue, even though he was technically free to run off and stand in a corner. And I'm consistently surprised at how quickly Bear learns and how much he really tries to figure out what he's being asked to do. There's been a dramatic improvement in the quality of the groundwork between Bear and Brian in the last few weeks. So I think that's a good sign. Hopefully with continuing consistent exercise, Bear will supple up.

And although I've made a few solo trips out the barn in the last ten days, I actually haven't ridden. Maybe this weekend.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lesson Three

Friday found us pulling into the barn and grumbling a bit that there was another car in the parking lot. (I concede we are incredibly spoiled in that we often have the place to ourselves, but we still grumbled.) Then we went indoors and discovered it was worse than we thought. One of the other boarders was there giving her non-horse-person friend a little horse exposure. This involved a lot of the boarder regaling her friend with tales of her adventures on horse-back.

Brian and I took our time getting ready, but when he had Bear tacked up the boarder was riding around the indoor arena, going over jumps and loping in circles. Moments after we joined them, the boarder traded with the friend, who clearly had no horsemanship skills whatsoever.

All in all, this wasn't an auspicious start. Although the other boarder and friend certainly weren't behaving out of line in any way, the commotion had Bear a little distracted and Brian a little nervous.

We also tried to use Bear's new headstall and bit set-up again, and that went off very badly. We switched back to Steen's set-up after only a few minutes, and actually the other boarder and her friend cleared out before long as well, but things didn't really improve. Bear continued to toss his head now and then, but more strangely kept dropping his head and pushing against the bit, refusing to turn or listen to Brian while he did this.

So, I suggested Brian get off and I stepped in and did some groundwork with Bear, making him focus and work a little from the ground. I then handed him back to Brian and they did some good groundwork. Finally I had Brian climb back on and things were a bit better. By then we'd all had about enough though, so we called it quits. Although nothing about the day was really bad, neither was anything great. But, I guess that's how it goes sometimes. At any rate we'll not be putting that headstall on Bear again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Tune-Up, and Tunes

Yesterday we drove back from Chicago in the morning, and 1:00 found me at the barn waiting for Bear's turn while the chiropractor adjusted a couple other horses. To pass the time I brought Steen indoors and hopped on. He was good for our very brief ride, but soon it was time to transfer my attention to Bear. The chiro again commented on his tight hips, but otherwise thought he looked good. Brian arrived shortly after the treatment started, and Bear was pretty good throughout the whole thing, though he made loads of funny faces.

I also took the opportunity to expand my horse portraits portfolio. This is Doc, Gay's horse:

Today I went out for a solo ride. It was windy, and since Steen seems to be most often bothered by unidentified noises outside the indoor arena, I decided to hook up my iPod to the boom box in the barn to help combat the noise of the wind. His ears did some major swiveling when I led him into the barn and he heard The National playing, but after a moment he decided it was no big deal.

During our ride he was mostly relaxed, though inclined to speed up incrementally at the trot and get agitated when I tried to slow him down. So I just surrendered and let him cruise for a while, which I hadn't done in long time. It is always a challenge to ride gracefully (bareback) when he's trotting fast and changing direction frequently, but it is a good exercise in balance and confidence for me. As usual, he cooled it after about 10 minutes and was then content to trot more slowly.

But while Steen was trotting enthusiastically, I discovered that his least favorite musical instrument is the snare drum, but he is surprisingly just fine with loud saxophone solos. Also my current favorite song seemed to be his least favorite.

Horseback Hours YTD: 2:15

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another Ride, Another Lesson

On Monday I went to the barn alone and had a simple but lovely bareback indoor ride on Steen. He was on his best behavior and although I only rode for a short time, I enjoyed the trip out quite a bit. I intended to go again mid-week, but we've had crazy-cold weather (like -18°). So I stayed in.

But today it was warmer and Brian and I headed out for lesson number two. I stayed inside when Brian went out to get Bear so Steen would not see me and get jealous (I'm soft-hearted). Bear stood really well through grooming, in spite of the crazy bird that was hopping around near us, at one point even going to far as to perch on Bear's back.

We got Bear ready and got Brian on-board, although with a new bit (just like Steen's that we've been using on Bear) and no saddle. Something about this combo didn't fly though, and Bear was antsy at first, walking fast and eventually beginning to toss his head when asked to stop or turn. As this is not at all normal, we put Steen's headstall back on him and added a saddle to the equation.

After that Bear settled down, and I encouraged Brian to work on things like precise turns and controlling speed at the walk. I think it was a productive session for everyone involved.

When Bear and Brian were done, I went out and grabbed Steen. We had another quick, bareback ride, and again he was amazingly good. Relaxed, responsive. His jog was a little inconsistent but otherwise he was great.

This weekend we're going to be out of town, but next week it is supposed to get quite warm (50's), so I'm hoping to ramp up the ride frequency.

Horseback Hours YTD: 1:20

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Romp and a Lesson

We had a warm day today with temps in the 30's. Brian and I figured the barn would be quiet this afternoon so we headed out with a plan. I'm going to attempt to give Brian a 'real' lesson once a week. Of course I'm always around to offer advice and lend a hand, but that's not quite the same thing as setting aside time to make Brian and Bear my sole focus.

The only slight problem with the plan is Steen does not like it when we show up and I don't bring him inside, so I thought I'd do some groundwork with him while Brian got Bear ready. Steen was in a super easy mood, which surprised me a little since he was quite antsy when I went out mid-week to put antibiotic on Bear's leg.

After I took Steen's blanket off we turned the horses out, since they do seem to have the urge to kick their heels up inside when they have chance. It was, again, a pretty entertaining show:

After the romp we got down to business. Steen was so great with his groundwork that I decided to keep him inside while Brian rode Bear. He just hung out with me the whole time, for the most part content to stand next to me and get the occasional pet. He only got pushy when I pulled the camera out. He's turned into such a prima donna.

Brian and Bear had a really good ride. We kept it quite simple, only exercises at the walk.

Still, between the running around beforehand and 10 minutes of groundwork followed by 40 minutes of riding, Bear did seem a bit tired by the end. He was quite docile and responsive the whole day, so it was an excellent way to get things moving again.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Perfect Patient

The storm that was blowing in on Tuesday night stuck around and dropped nearly two feet of snow on us. Cathi advised us that there was no getting to the barn, certainly not for someone without 4-wheel drive. And that worked out because there was also no getting a car out of our garage. Brian spent nearly two hours shoveling and there is still no way we are leaving via vehicle without a lot more work.

Luckily, Cathi lives right next to the barn and has a husband with a lot of farm equipment who keeps things plowed. She reported that she removed Bear's leg wrap in the late morning and he was a doll for her. She checked in on him a few times over the course of the day and he was sweet, even inclined to follow her around the pasture after she examined the leg. She says the cut appears to be healing without complications and she's grown to like Bear quite a lot.

These are the instances when I am so grateful to have found another horse who is easy to handle. When I was young and stupid I always sort of half-dreamed of having that crazy horse who was perfect for just me, and wouldn't let anyone else near it. I suppose this seemed romantic (and implied I was pretty much the greatest horse-person ever). Growing up has changed my opinions on a lot of things, including difficult horses. The longer we have Bear, the more I feel very lucky that circumstances aligned to bring him into our lives.

I took this shot in the summer when Brian's parents were visiting. (Some day I'll get a photo of Brian and I on horseback together, but for now we have him and his mom.)

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