Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Miracles

Brian and I were both looking forward to seeing how Bear went in the new saddle again, so on Wednesday we went out for another ride. We brought both the boys in and I hopped on Steen bareback. Meanwhile Brian tacked up and did groundwork. Bear was great and we still had high hopes for a nice ride.

Steen was quite good for me with the exception of stopping. He was again just super slow to stop, but once stopped would stand without protest. So we worked more on transitions but I didn't feel we made a ton of progress. Nevertheless we had a nice ride.

Brian climbed on Bear and things didn't go as well. Bear seemed fine at first, but after a while he bolted straight towards the middle of the arena when a horse outside whinnied. Needless to say, this is not normal Bear behavior. Brian walked him around some more but he was just kind of horrible, not wanting to stay on the rail, not wanting to stop, not wanting to go where directed. Finally Brian got off and I got on. After I mounted I bounced around a bit in the saddle while Bear stood to see if he was acting like his back was sore. He acted like he was going to fall asleep. So we started walking and he was instantly not interested in doing what I was interested in doing. I summoned up my best "firm but not mean" persona and within a couple of minutes he was not protesting so actively, but he wasn't exactly happy about the situation either. Eventually I asked him to trot, and he did and it was fine but he just didn't feel happy. At all. I trotted him for quite a while and while he sort of settled in, the feeling that he was protesting the situation with every step just didn't pass.

I hopped off and we spent a good long time poking around his back. I think we can safely say his back is not sore. But when we touched that spot on his right side, right over the rips where the cinch sits, he moved away from light pressure and seemed irritated. So I think we're going to have the chiropractor out again to see if she can figure out what's causing that spot to flair up, make sure we're not missing something about the way the new saddle fits him, and to get her opinion on the affect that sore spot might be having on his behavior.

With Bear done for the day, we put Brian and the bear trap on Steen. Brian rode for a little while but wasn't super comfortable after his mediocre ride on Bear. While Brian rode Steen, Bear stood quietly tied. He is such a sweet guy, I felt a bit bad after pushing him. It's so hard to know sometimes if these little issues are in the horse's mind or body or both.

Horseback Hours YTD: 8:10

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Report

Yesterday morning found Brian and I sitting on the floor by the coffee table. His new saddle sat on top of an old sheet draped over an old comforter, upside down. Armed with saddle sponges, neatsfoot oil and baby powder, we set out to make his new ride a little more comfortable.

It was a bit hard to dump white powder into the shiny new saddle's interior, but once we got started we warmed up to the task. We liberally applied powder to every area where two pieces of leather overlapped, then shook and banged the saddle to work it in deeper. Naturally when we turned the saddle over, a fair bit came streaming down out of the cracks.

Next we oiled all the untreated surfaces underneath the saddle and wiped off the excess powder. Then we left it hanging on the banister for a day and night with the stirrups looped around a broomstick to teach the fenders to bend in the proper direction.

Today we went to the barn early in hopes of a quiet ride. The barn was hopping though, with a lame horse, a frozen hose, and a very skittish-antsy-snorty Steen. I am not sure what Steen's deal was. He was fidgety while I groomed him and once I got on, more wound up than he's been in recent memory. I walked him around for a good 15 minutes just trying to get him to settle and pay attention. He spooked a couple of times in a minor way and was stopping badly, flexing badly, and not really standing at all. He was neck-reining really nicely though, so I worked on figure-eights over the pole and some tight circle work.

Finally, he did calm down and once he did, he shifted into being excellent. When I asked for a trot he picked up his super smooth jog and stayed in it quite consistently until I asked him to stop. So we worked on more transitions. I introduced him to the idea of going straight into the trot from standing. He seemed to be pretty interested in the concept and got really into trying to do it well. He'd drop straight out of the trot when I said whoa and then stand at attention, perfectly still, waiting to trot again. All of this without me using the bit at all. He is such an odd horse. I don't know how he can go from refusing to flex to learning a completely new thing and loving it in just half an hour.

By the end of the ride, there were two little girls getting their horses ready for lessons, and Bear and Brian had joined us in the arena. (I had a head start because I didn't do groundwork or put a saddle on.) Steen was content to stop and stand in the middle of the arena as Bear and Brian worked on their trot some more.

Unfortunately, Bear was not quite the perfect horse today he was on Friday. He was ok, but not excellent. He was stopping badly, which is unusual for him, and at the trot was rather inclined to veer off the rail. Sometimes when he did this he'd execute these lovely little half-passes in a nice fluid line. It would have been beautiful had Brian been asking for them. He also threw in a couple flawless side-passes once when Brian was asking him to back.

On the bright side, Brian's saddle didn't creak at all while this was all going on.

After the ride I went over Bear's back pretty thoroughly, poking and prodding and trying to see if I could find sore spots. Of course this is tricky, since there are places on Bear that have been a little sore for a long time. The one spot on his right side where the girth sits seemed the only truly tender place on him today, and the chiropractor identified that as a problem spot for him months ago. We put the saddle on again without the pad and spent quite a while looking for pressure points and hot spots. We found nothing. Bear even started to doze off before we'd quite finished.

So, we're going to give him a few days off and see what happens. It's still a little hard with Bear because we still just don't know him like we know Steen. I think his antics today were just the Bear equivalent of Steen trying to fling the tack-locker closed every time I turn my back and refusing to stand still for more than half a second under saddle, but his overall demeanor and body-language are so mellow it can often be a lot harder to pin down what exactly is bothering him. I think today there was just a lot going on and he wasn't very focused. The freeness of his movements when he was not doing what Brian wanted indicated to me that it wasn't soreness that was causing the problems. At least, that's what we're hoping.

And of course the good thing about all this is even when Bear is being a bit naughty he's a pretty darn good horse.

Horseback Hours YTD: 7:30

Friday, March 25, 2011

Best Lesson Yet

I was definitely curious to see Brian ride in the bear trap again and Friday is lesson day, so even though I was battling the yawns this afternoon, I rallied and we headed out. Bear was in a funny mood to start. They'd put out new bales yesterday and Bear had clearly been gorging himself silly for the last 12 hours or so. We brought him in and he was at first distracted and gassy. He pooped twice during groundwork alone (twice more under saddle). He also wasn't paying attention to Brian super well, but Brian preserved and  Bear began to come around.

When Brian got on, things improved considerably. I think Bear really likes his new saddle. He was about the best I've ever seen him. Walking, turning, stopping, standing, all looking just super relaxed. They even had a nice long trotting session, which Bear actually seemed to enjoy. There is no denying Bear is still prone to a tightish hind end, and his right turns are not as good as his left turns, but I really think that saddle was causing most of his little issues. Live and learn, I suppose. I'm glad we discovered it now and not in another six months, but it does make you feel a little foolish when you sort of overlook something that seems so obvious once you've figured it out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Four Short Rides

Ok, well, the title of this post might be a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit. In the last two days I've been to the barn twice and I've ridden both of our horses both times. I'm not sure I've ever actually done that before.

Yesterday my mission was to spend a while working on Bear's trot. Last fall we were just trying to let him settle in and between changing his bit and his stiff right side, we were mostly just doing walking rides. Then he had some time off in the winter and since Brian's been riding again regularly he's been feeling a bit uncomfortable in his saddle. Combine that with the fact that no one has trotted on Bear in months and he hasn't been super inclined to push the ticket. So I went out to the pasture yesterday carrying Bear's halter, but Steen saw me and came from all the way across the pasture and then Bear came from by the bale and pinned his ears at Steen and so then I had to take Steen because otherwise I'd just be rewarding grouchy behavior.

Steen was perkier than the day before but still super mellow. I only rode him for 20 minutes, mostly trotting. He was absolutely great, remembering his stopping lessons from the day before. I gave him some chopped hay and took him back outside.

Bear did not come to me the second time, so I had to slog through the mud to get him. He was not in the greatest mood and seemed a bit disinclined to come with me, but didn't do anything bad. I took him inside and groomed him, tacked him up and climbed on. Immediately I was shocked at how 'not Steen' he was, but we walked around and got him warmed up. Then I asked for the trot. He picked it up willingly enough but was pretty ready to give me a lot more loft and action than I was really interested in. I like a jog, not a real trot, so I reined him in and tried to get him to settle. It took quite a while, but he did eventually seem to hit his stride. His trot got a lot more consistent and quite a bit smoother. We switched directions and kept going. He was worse going right but still ok. Eventually we switched back to going left and then we stopped. I gave him some chopped hay for being so good.

Today Brian's new saddle arrived in the mail. His new Bear Trap Rancher (yes that is actually, genuinely, what the saddle is called) by American Saddlery:

So, the two of us had to go try it out after work. I brought Steen in, but he was skittish and restive at first and there was a lesson going on in the arena. We put Bear's new saddle on without the pad and it seemed to fit. We added a pad and Brian finished tacking. I hung out with Steen outside the arena while Brian climbed on. Things went well from the start. The last few months I've really been noticing how Bear has gotten pretty disinclined to really step out with his hind legs, preferring to pull his strides up short. I thought this was because he was tight in the hind end. Today, however, the short strides were gone. Although we had no real evidence that our other saddle didn't fit, after today I'm more or less certain it was a major factor in Bear's issues with turning right. I watched Brian turn him in all the right-hand circles he wanted without any resistance from Bear. Gone also was the head-tossing we've seen lately.

I hopped on after Brian rode for a while and could immediately feel the difference. Even Bear's walk was smoother. I asked him for a trot and he picked up pretty willingly, then fell into a smoother jog than I ever got yesterday. So, even though we mostly got the new saddle for Brian it seems like it will benefit Bear just as much.

I only rode Bear for a few minutes, then swapped with Brian again. The lesson was finished by then, so I brought Steen in and hopped on bareback. In spite of his early antics, he was actually great. His trot was smooth but energetic. His stops were spot-on.

I didn't ride for long. We soon hopped off and gave the boys some chopped hay (it's super wet and chilly, so they need the extra calories.)

I also put Steen's blanket back on. He's notably dropped weight since I took it off. Le sigh. He also got his tail all full of mud again.

Horseback Hours YTD: 6:30

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tail Envy

When Steen gets any compliment more specific than, "He's so pretty," it is more than likely to be, "Wow, what an amazing tail." It is true, Steen's tail is possibly the fullest, longest, most impressive tail I have ever encountered on a horse, and it is also true that it is more or less wasted on me. I don't show him. Every year I hack off a good twelve inches to keep it from dragging in the mud. I refuse to bag it because I feel horses have their tails for a reason, and plus I like looking at his tail too and I can't do that if it is in a bag.

But I must admit sometimes I fall behind on caring for his long, thick, lustrous tail-locks. The last six months or so I have been particularly neglectful and the last handful of times I've been out there I tried to work through it a section at a time and didn't make much progress. Finally I broke down and bought some Cowboy Magic when Brian and I were at the tack shop looking at saddles, and today my main goal was to brush all the way through Steen's formidable tail.

Steen was a bit lethargic today, and disinclined to bend his neck to the right. I am pretty sure the vaccinations left him stiff and a little sub-par, so it was a good day for me to spend excess time on grooming. I gave him some chopped hay, rolled up my sleeves and set to work. It took a long time, but in the end he was looking much better. The mats and little chunks of mud and leaves clinging to layers so far deep inside his tail that you couldn't see them without digging for them were gone, and I think the recent rainstorm has him looking a bit whiter.

After the grooming, I hopped on for a brief ride. I didn't ask him for much but one thing I have sorely neglected with Steen is transitions. He was so sensitive about the bit and particularly about standing still after stopping when I got him that I really didn't reinforce "whoa" and "stand" like I should have. The result is Steen associates the word "whoa" with the beginning of a rather lethargic transition from whatever speed he's going to a slightly slower one. Since he was feeling low-energy today anyway, I thought stopping a lot would be something we could handle. So we worked on stopping from the walk following by stopping from the trot, and in just half an hour I saw notable improvement. He didn't get upset at all like he used to when corrected for moving on after a stop, so I am hoping that means we've reached a point where I can enforce this without creating loads of anxiety for him.

I returned Steen to the pasture and he stood, looking highly fatigued after our very short ride. But his long beautiful tail flowed behind him in the wind.

While I was taking his halter off, Bear left the bale to say hi to me.

I gave him lots of pets and then he tried to follow me out of the pasture, but I didn't have time to bring him indoors, although I am thinking I might ride Bear tomorrow to gauge where he is at with his trot before Brian tries it again.

Horseback Hours YTD: 5:10

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Steen the Stoic

Today the vet came out for spring vaccinations and teeth. Bear and Steen both had their teeth done in the fall, so only needed the shots. However, our barn is also switching the way we handle worming and now our horses are going to have their manure tested twice a year so they can be treated only for what they have, instead of being repeatedly dosed with wormer they might not need. I think this is a good change, the only downside being that the pasture horses can sometimes be coy with their poop.

Bear is a big eater and the result is he tends to grace us with a pile of his manure at least once every time we bring him inside. Steen, on the other hand, seems to be of the mind that potty time should take place in the pasture. The only time this doesn't hold true is when he's nervous. While normally I appreciate this trait in him, today it meant we were at the barn a good deal longer than we might otherwise have been.

We started by bringing Bear and Steen inside. They were both good about getting their shots. Then we groomed them thoroughly, including shampooing their lower legs and feet to get some of the crusted mud off. We turned Bear back out but were still waiting on Steen. The sound of the tooth drill going and all the commotion of vet day was just not having any impact on him. He was totally relaxed, willing to stand and look around, eat chopping hay, whatever. Even when he stuck his face in the soapy bucket and got suds all up his nose, he didn't appear to mind much.

Finally we got tired of waiting and asked Cathi if we could load him in her trailer. Steen literally hasn't set foot in a trailer since the move to the new barn almost two years ago. Before that he hadn't been in one since the day he was delivered to me, so I thought loading might get his nerves stirred up. To further add chaos to the scene, there was a mini stud horse in the run next to the trailer who had quite the little attitude, prancing around and squealing every now and then. He belongs to a neighbor but was on site today to get gelded. There was also a large tractor not far off that Cathi's husband was using to scrape the manure out of the winter lots and use it to fertilize the big pasture.

Steen, however, wasn't worried about anything. He approached the trailer with only mild suspicion.

I let him sniff around for a while, then asked him to load. He stepped up onto the trailer and his weight made it wobble a little. He stepped down quickly. I let him wait a minute, then asked him to load again. This happened three times, with him coming further in each time. Then he stepped right in and hung out with me inside for a while.

But he didn't poop. I let him back out again and took him over to meet the mini horse, thinking that might get him a bit riled up. It seems lots of large horses find little horses terrifying.

That didn't work either. The two had a civil round of nose sniffing that included nothing more dramatic than a little strike from the mini. Finally, Nadir's owner appeared, also waiting, and decided to try the trailer. Nadir pooped right away after loading. His owner tied him up, and I asked if she'd mind if I took Steen in as well. She said no problem, so I led Steen into the trailer again. He stepped up without hesitation. Gay closed the door, and moments later we got what we'd been waiting for.

On the way home, we swung by the only tack store in the entire region. Brian has been feeling his saddle is too small for him, and with his long legs this has been preventing him from getting really comfortable while riding. So, we had him sit in a few different sizes and models. Nothing they had was quite right, but we did determine what size he'll need. When we came home we ordered one we've been eyeballing for a few days. I won't go into too much detail here because you can read about it on his blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Drying Out

Today the pasture was significantly less mucky when we went out to fetch the boys. I again brought Steen in for a quick bareback ride while Brian got Bear ready. We did more work at the walk and trot. His trot is just getting smoother and steadier each ride. In spite of the fact that it was cooler today and he spent the day without out his blanket, he was still super quiet, not even bothered by the sounds of moving equipment outside.

I only rode for about twenty minutes, then hopped off to give Steen some chopped hay and water down the arena (dust control) while Brian did groundwork with Bear. Bear was also in super mellow mode today. He didn't mind me wandering around with the hose. In fact, he cared so little I continued to spray down the sand after I put Steen away and Brian climbed on for his ride.

Bear and Brian are doing really well. Brian is getting more and more confident and firm with his commands, particularly in the groundwork. Under saddle Bear is continuing to relax and supple up. Today Bear didn't toss his head even once, so hopefully whatever little issue he had with that other headstall has now been smoothed over. The only rough spot remains turning right, but I'm still hopeful replacing more or his fat with muscle will help that work out over time.

Horseback Hours YTD: 4:40

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Today I did what I should do more often and headed to the barn before starting to work. It was a bit breezy and hazy, but with temps in the 50's it felt great to be outside. I fetched Steen from the less-mucky pasture and brought him indoors. He's shedding full force, and I swear his white bits produce longer hairs and more of them. He's looking practically roanish because the white hairs work their way into the darker sections and stay there.

In spite of the wind, Steen was very relaxed, though he did feel the need to check out a suspicious-looking new object hanging at the edge of the area:

I trimmed his tail and groomed his as best I could given the circumstances, then hopped on bareback indoors. We worked on walking and trotting in a figure eight over a pole on the ground. I kind of wish we had more than one, but this was at least enough to give Steen something to think about. He was not highly energetic, at any rate, which was nice from the perspective of sitting his trot.

After the ride I gave him some chopped hay (he has definitely slimmed down some - for some reason the seasonal transitions just seem a bit hard on him). Then I put him back outside, blanket free! I think he'll be more comfortable.

I did say hi to Bear, who was dozing and guarding his spot on the bale just in case he woke up starving:

I don't think he minded not having to come in and work. Plus, he'll get his turn tomorrow.

Horseback Hours YTD: 4:20

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anniversary Ride

Brian and I have now officially been married for two whole years, so we decided to celebrate by spending the early afternoon at the barn. It is warmer today, though still super mucky, but we brought the boys in and cleaned them up. We wanted them to run around a little in the indoor arena but they mostly just wanted to stand around. Finally, Bear did deign to roll. He tries to be dainty but he doesn't always pull it off:

I hopped on Steen bareback while Brian finished grooming Bear and did groundwork. Steen was a bit pushy during grooming, almost to the point that I thought I'd need to do some groundwork with Steen too. But he calmed down so I decided to try riding, and he surprised me. He was actually great. We did some work at the walk and a lot at the trot, and the gait is getting more consistent and natural feeling again. He's also slimmed down a bit, which isn't ideal, but I can tell he's building some muscle too so hopefully it all balances out. Maybe I'll try to get loping back on my list of things I do regularly in the next couple of weeks.

Towards the end of the ride, Gay and Doc joined us, which meant we had three horses and riders in our tiny little indoor. While not ideal, it went ok and as they are all geldings and pretty quiet, nobody got excited about anything. It's actually probably good for all of them, to get used to being near other horses who aren't necessarily connected to what they're doing in any way.

After our ride Steen got a snack of chopped hay and Bear got an apple core. Bear didn't think that was super fair, particularly since he has also slimmed down a bit.

Horseback Hours YTD: 3:50

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spring Steen

It's muddy around here lately, and there is still melting snow and more precipitation falling from the sky. This means the horses are muddy and the road to the barn is muddy. However, in some respects its better than frigidly cold. Today it was in the mid-thirties when I headed for the barn in the late morning.

Steen and Daisy (a paint mare) were grooming/playing with each other when I arrived. I watched them for a couple of minutes until they noticed me, at which point Steen left Daisy to walk towards me. I took him inside, and he proved to be in a very mellow, somewhat goofy mood. He wasn't at all antsy, but he was a little opinionated about certain things. He was also pretty dirty everywhere that wasn't covered by the blanket, and he's shedding now which means his white bits spread hair all over his dark bits. So he was looking a bit comical:

Still, the ride was nice. I rode indoors and bareback, walk and trot. Steen was very good, with only one or two rather odd little points of resistance that we mostly worked through by the end. His trot was very smooth and only a little erratic. He also felt very content to be inside being ridden, though he was still quite happy to stop after our grueling half hour of very mild exercise.

Horseback Hours YTD: 3:20

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Relaxing Barn Sunday

Today we went to an open house. The property was west of town and included a small barn and several pastures on 5 acres. The house was nice, but really just a whole lot larger than we need. Although the barn itself was very cool, and pretty perfect scale-wise, the land was very sloped and there was nowhere at all good to ride. So I don't think we'll buy it, but it was fun to look.

Afterwards we braved the muck and headed to our barn. The boys were dozing in the sun, and they were both quiet and relaxed when we brought them indoors. I did a quick bareback ride on Steen while Brian tacked up and did groundwork. Then I gave Brian a late lesson (since Friday the weather was simply miserable and we didn't ride). The entire trip went quite well. Steen was relaxed and responsive at the walk and trot when I was riding, and afterwards happy to just chill with me while Brian rode. Bear was also better than he has been, only tossing his head once or twice and only when asked to turn right. After Brian rode, I did more work off the line with Bear, even managing to make him trot to the right briefly (very much against his inclination).

By the time we left we'd been in the barn for quite a while, during which time we had the place to ourselves. It also wasn't as cold as it has been, so I think that helped with the overall feeling of relaxation. It was nice to just spend quality time with our horses. I need to get back in the habit of going more often.

Horseback Hours YTD: 2:50

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