Saturday, April 30, 2011

Steen the Solid

We had threats of storms today but nothing materialized, so Brian and I headed out to the barn in the early afternoon. We found the horses a little more settled than yesterday, and were out riding on the strip before long.

I was bareback and after Brian gave me a leg up Steen did something amazing. He didn't try to move. He didn't so much as shift his weight. Standing has been my number one challenge with Steen and usually when I mount I make him hold still for a few seconds and then just let him walk because if I try to make him stand it upsets him so much it ruins the whole ride.

But lately Steen and I have been working on standing a lot and today when I slipped onto his back his feet didn't budge. He even stood still as Brian led Bear off to mount. Unbelievable!

When I started to walk Steen around the strip I noticed he felt very different than usual. Steen is one of those horses that is sort of ready to go any direction at any moment. He is usually distracted by anything moving on the horizon. But today immediately after I mounted, Cathi's husband drove up on a bobcat and moved some huge black pipes off a trailer at the top of the strip. We moved the horses down a ways when he told us what he'd be doing, but I expected Steen to get a little worried about this. He literally never looked at the bobcat though. Not once.

I rode for an hour. In this time he was nearly perfect. He was jogging like a champ, even when I pointed him straight down the strip and gave him his head. After a while he started feeling like he wanted to lope, but not in an antsy, I'm upset and nervous and want to run away kind of way. He just started to feel springy and energetic and his ears were half turned back in my direction waiting for permission.

At first I didn't give it to him. As awesome as he was being, I haven't loped him outside much this year, and I was bareback, and I didn't want to spook Bear.

We rode for about 45 minutes, Steen and I mostly either trotting or standing. Then I had Steen parked at the bottom of the cones we had set out. Brian and I had discussed the possibility of him asking Bear for a lope today but I wasn't sure if he would do it or not. Then I heard a kiss behind me and Bear and Brian went loping past.

Steen? He didn't budge. Didn't even turn his head. They did this again and it had the same lack of impact on Steen.

Bear's lope looked great, and Brian looked comfortable in the saddle. So it's really been a week of milestones. Steen and I had our three year anniversary, Brian loped Bear for the first time, and also today was Bear's 16th birthday.

But after Brian loped his horse it seemed I should really lope mine as well. So Steen and I practiced our transitions. He is great at picking up the lope, not so great at returning from a lope into anything other than a jack-hammer trot. He was pretty good, though definitely got excited and after loping was inclined to prance. I can't really blame him, though. I still just haven't worked his lope like I have his trot. And it was really fun anyway.

In total, we rode for just over an hour. After the ride, Bear got an apple core for his birthday. Unfortunately he had to share with his pushy brother. Apples might actually be the only food Steen genuinely cares about. I should try to remember to give him one from time to time.

Horseback hours YTD: 17:25

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Stirring in the Herd

While in general I am pleased that we are able to board our horses at a place that offers a large pasture and a small herd for the social and physical benefits this affords our horses, every now and then upheaval in the herd causes some issues. Today we found the boys in rather a state. A new (very cute buckskin Quarter Horse) gelding named Cowboy joined the pasture herd this morning, Daisy got moved to the stall lot, and the pregnant mare who's due to foal at any moment got moved to her own lot.

Interestingly, Steen doesn't tend to be hugely bothered by this type of change. When I first got him he was really herd-bound and would get stressed and distracted any time he couldn't see the herd (and want to stay as close to his buddies as possible when he could see them) but over time this problem has all but disappeared. So today Steen was pretty much his usual self.

Bear, on the other hand, was not. One of the women who works at the barn told us she saw Cowboy and Bear having some serious "who's boss" encounters. Bear was completely covered in bites and scrapes. He was also pretty wound up and for once he was the antsy distracted one.

While we were there Gay arrived and discovered that Doc had apparently been involved in some of the warfare as well, even though he lives in a different pasture. He had a large cut on his rear leg between the hock and the coronet that looked like the result of kicking through a fence. So they were out hosing him down and doctoring that while Brian and I groomed and tacked. As if that wasn't enough, it was massively windy.

We'd been planning on riding on the strip, but with Bear's sub-par behavior we changed our plans and went into the outdoor arena. The footing was still wet though, and I was worried we'd tear up the grass so I mostly sat and watched while Brian and Bear worked a few things out. Bear actually was better under saddle then he'd been with just his general manners. After a while we moved to the strip after all, where I trotted Steen around a fair bit and he was absolutely wonderful for me. I was bareback though, and with Bear's behavior not real keen to try to my first outdoor bareback lope of the season.

So I mostly "worked" on Steen's standing (which has improved dramatically the last few weeks) and I watched Bear and Brian and gave the occasional pointer. They did pretty well without my input though, and although Bear was never great he also wasn't ever bad. He's also just looking really good. He's lost a lot of weight (finally) and put on serious muscle and overall just looks and moves like a much younger horse. Hopefully we can keep the weight off him through the summer with consistent exercise.

After our ride we doctored some of Bear's wounds and turned them out again. Hopefully the wind dies down and Cowboy and Bear work out their respective places on the totem pole so we can have some more relaxing rides this weekend.

Horseback hours YTD: 16:25

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Looking Back

Yesterday Brian and I realized Tuesday was the three-year-anniversary of the day Steen stepped off the trailer and into our lives. It's been a pretty amazing three years. Steen has definitely challenged me more than I ever expected, but he's also convinced two completely non-horse people to make horses a significant part of their lives, become a favorite around the barn and, of course, I adore him.

Still, training him has been an interesting hodge-podge of forward and backwards progress. When I bought Steen I thought he was basically trained and I just needed to smooth out the rough spots. Now I think of a training as more of a life-long project. Like fitness, training is not static. A horse's training is either improving or eroding every day. I also consider the overall relationship of the horse and rider to be much more important now than I used to, and believe many, many problems can be solved with a little ground-work.

As this blog grows, it is becoming an increasingly useful tool for me to help me look back and remember where I've been. Last night I finally went through and added labels to all my old posts, which I've been meaning to do for a super long time now. In doing so I skimmed over most of what I wrote the first year I had Steen and was surprised at the way I've misremembered a few things.

Still, it's been a great three years, and I hope the next three are even better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Indoor Lope

Brian and I headed out to the barn today with the intention of riding outside. But it was honestly kind of horrible out. Granted, it wasn't raining. But it was chilly and windy. We walked to the pasture, Steen saw me and he literally came running for the gate. I brought him in to find he'd visibly lost weight in the 48 hours since I'd seen him and he was upset about it.

At least it is touching to know he considers me the solution when he feels bad.

So, I gave Steen a big snack and scrubbed all the mud out of his coat. By the time we had both horses clean and tacked, Steen and calmed down considerably and the indoor arena was empty and inviting. We decided to stay indoors. I hopped on bareback and Brain climbed on Bear.

We started off getting used to the tractor that now lives in one corner of the arena. Steen can sometimes take a ridiculously long time to get used to things. But after roughly a million laps, he wasn't snorting and shying at it any more. At that point I asked him to trot, and as has happened lately he was more relaxed and focused at the jog than at the walk. We continued with loops and figure eights for a while. Steen was also stopping great today (for no reason I can decipher) and willing to stand and back like a champ.

Bear was having some issues with his right turns, so I spent a while watching Brian ride and giving him my opinion. Then I decided to have a little bareback lope on Steen, since I haven't done that in a long time. To the left things went great. Steen felt smooth and balanced, if a little inclined to lean on me. To the right things were rather more erratic, but not bad. At any rate, it was invigorating.

We hopped off and Brian explored Bear's back, finding a knot in a muscle there. He treated Bear to some massage. Hopefully with a bit more TLC the tightness will pass.

I put Steen's blanket back on (again), as it is supposed to be in the 30's and rainy tonight. I have to say I'm pretty sick of "spring" and am ready for summer already.

Horseback Hours YTD: 15:45

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lope, Lope, Lope

I hadn't been out to the barn alone in a while so today I shuffled my schedule around to fit in a late morning ride. I found Steen a bit antsy. There is now a house going up next to the barn, and apparently the heavy machinery had him excited. Beyond that the weather is odd today. It is chilly and dim and it just has that off feeling about the air.

I brought Steen inside and groomed him and gave him a snack. I threw the bear trap on his back and headed for the strip. He was nervous heading out, starting to prance a couple of times before I even got on. I ignored him though, once walking him in a slow circle to keep him from getting ahead of me. I set up cones a bit further down the strip than usual to gives us as much of a buffer from the machinery as possible. Then I climbed on.

At first, Steen was not great. He wanted to hang out near the herd and he was also inclined to break into a trot. So I decided to let him do what he wanted... while working. I made him trot in loose circles and figure eights right next to the herd. After maybe five minutes he'd settled down and was back to being supple and responsive.

We walked and trotted for quite a while and then I asked for the lope. It was fast, rough, high, and inconsistent at first, but I got him going in a circle and things improved steadily from there. We kept it up for quite a long time, and he relaxed steadily. It was still on the fast side and I was never fully able to give him his head, but after going in a small circle for a quite a while I was able to widen the circle considerably and let him have some straightaways, and he stayed pretty consistent with his pace even with the whole open strip in front of him.

I stopped him and let him rest, then worked on circles in the other direction, which were not quite as nice since that is his 'weak' direction. Then I worked on loping him down the strip, asking him to stop and stand for a moment, turning, and loping back up.

And while his lope was far from perfect, I have to say I had a total ball. I absolutely love loping. It is arguably the reason I even have a horse. :)

I rode for 40 minutes and spent about half of that at the lope. That's a harder ride than Steen is used to just now, and though he was damp he wasn't actually as sweaty as I expected him to be. Of course, it was pretty chilly out.

I took him back inside and groomed him. After the workout his muscles were really standing out nicely.

I put him back in the pasture,

said hello to Bear,

and drove home smiling. I am almost more pleased with today's ride because Steen did start out antsy, but in spite of some nerves that never entirely left him, he never once bolted or shied or spooked, or even felt like he was trying to run away with me. And this is the first time I've ridden him outdoors alone all year. This is definitely progress.

Horseback Hours YTD: 14:55

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Return to the Strip

This morning the sun was shining when we woke up. I was pretty happy about this. We celebrated by getting a few thing done around the house and yard, then heading downtown for some crepes. After that, we went to the barn via the house of a couple who started as clients of my web business but have since become friends. They recently sold their horse, so had some left-over tack they thought we might be interested in. We picked up a nice leather head-stall, a (super, super mild) curb, a full-cheek copper snaffle, a longe line and a lovely leather breast-collar. We've been meaning to buy a curb for a while because we have a feeling Bear has some reining training and might really shine in one. Plus I am thinking an interesting winter project could be to start to teach Steen real neck-reining and that, of course, requires a curb. The other stuff we don't necessarily need right at this moment, but I have no doubt it will be handy to have around.

After we closed the deal on the tack, we headed for the barn. We found our boys out grazing and warm to the touch in spite of the clouds. We again availed ourselves of the outdoor hitching post and they were both excellent through grooming and tacking. The weather was good so we decided to head to the strip for the first time this year.

"The strip" (for new readers of this blog) is a long, narrow stretch of grass that runs the full length of the pastures where our horses live. This means it is 1/4 mile long and about 70 ft wide. It's got a fence on one side and a field (sometimes corn, sometimes soybeans) on the other and it is a bit rolling but has good grass footing. It is one of our favorite places to ride. However, Brian and I both had hard falls last year and this was actually our fist return to the strip since his horrible tumble in November.

Today, though, things went well. We stayed near the top. I was bareback (I am getting pretty keen for my new saddle to arrive) but I had on Steen's "outdoor" headstall, with it's thinner snaffle and my mecate. I particularly love the mecate for leading the horses through gates, and my mecate is actually much higher quality than the attached loop on the "indoor" headstall I've been using, so it felt nice to have my nice, heavy reins in my hands again.

I've been reading a bit lately about vertical flexion and teaching a horse to give at the poll. I'm pretty sure I've got Steen to a point that this is the next thing we need to work on. His lateral flexion had been pretty solid for a good while now.

Today he was awesomely calm from the start of the ride, and so we started working on circles. I was really concentrating on working him into a full bend - using both hands to gently, gently guide him into a full arc with his nose tipped in towards the center, his neck nicely bent with the curve translating all the way through his rib cage and haunches. Steen (like so many horses) is great at yielding with one part of his body at a time and thereby more or less accomplishing what is being asked of him. But today I was trying to focus on the whole horse and I have to say it was pretty neat. He didn't just click into the perfect bend the moment I asked, but he did try. More excitingly, there were a handful of isolated moments when I saw him start to give. I'd get him into the nice arc and suddenly he'd drop his head and give at the poll, tuck his head, and I could feel him bring his back up under me a bit more. This never lasted for more than a few seconds at a time, but it was pretty encouraging anyway.

The one thing that was not good today was the stops. I am getting pretty perplexed with Steen and his seeming inability to learn to stop quickly. Lately he has been supple, willing, relaxed. Even his backing has been awesome . Today he was completely willing to stand still for long periods of time, but I could not get him to stop moving his feet unless I either applied pressure to the bit for a good several seconds, or bent him with one rein into a stop. Needless to say, this is not ideal. It's starting to feel like a real hole in his otherwise pretty solid foundation. I might go back to a few weeks of intensive one-rein stops and see if that helps.

In spite of the perplexing stopping issue, it was a lovely ride. Everything I was focusing on was pretty minute. Steen felt great. Bear and Brian looked great. It felt remarkably wonderful to be outside again. So I just hope the weather stays mild and pretty for a while so we can get a few more such rides in.

Horseback Hours YTD: 14:15

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Short Ride and Some Fresh Grass

It was a week of bad weather, and the indoor arena was undergoing a treatment that will make it dust free but did render it unusable for about five days first. This meant there was mud and wet outside and no arena inside, so the boys got five days off. I went out on Friday morning so the chiropractor could work on Bear, but otherwise I mostly stayed home and got somewhat caught up on the massive back-log of work I have somehow accumulated.

Today, however, the indoor was back in business. Brian and I headed out to ride. Although the barn was busy, we had a nice ride. Steen was a strange combination of relaxed and jumpy. He was happy to let me steer him, holding his head pretty low, jogging, standing, stopping. But then any little sound would make him do a little half-spook in place. I was bareback, so it wasn't super relaxing for me. On the other hand, he did pretty well considering the circumstances. The arena was still half taken apart and there was a tractor in the corner, plus there was a 4-year-old mare with some issues being ridden at the same time. Honestly he did better with the chaos than I fully anticipated.

I rode for 45 minutes, then gave Steen a snack. The horses have access to one small pasture now, along with their bales, and once Steen gets a taste of grass each spring he seems to decide to forgo hay. So he's losing weight again. *sigh.

Brian also had an excellent ride on Bear, after which we retired to the strip to continue to work on getting ahead of the shedding while the boys got to graze. We also figure it couldn't hurt to expose them to that area again, since hopefully we'll ride out there tomorrow.

They were pretty happy to munch away.

Steen, being a lens-hog as usual.

Horseback Hours YTD: 13:25

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Steen the Chilled and Steen the Chill

This weekend we had a visitor. Brian's sister, Christina, came up from the Chicago area and one of the big objectives of her visit was to hang out with Steen and Bear (she'd never met either of them before and has spent very little time with horses in general). Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and when we headed for the barn on Saturday it was after a morning of rain and snow. It never got below the 30's, but apparently that was enough.

Steen is really losing his coat (which we all know is not super effectual to begin with) and I guess he was pretty miserable out in the weather. He saw me approaching the gate and came hurrying in my direction. I took him inside and he was completely wigged out. He was not interested in saying hello to Christina, but he really really wanted to roll. We turned him and Bear out in the indoor for a few minutes and he rolled about six times and then tried to get Bear to chase him around. He was only partially successful, but I was really surprised to see him going into Bear's space and trying to grab his halter and otherwise just being incessant about it. Once Bear finally complied and chased him a bit, they both came over to us so we tied them up and tried to groom them. Steen was still just seeming upset and uncomfortable, though. I gave him a snack and he seemed to settle. I did some groundwork and he was super responsive. I hopped on bareback and walked and trotted around the indoor and he was actually quite good although he had that feeling that he might go in any direction at any second. This was disappointing because Steen is often really great with beginners. In the sort of mood he was in, however, I didn't trust him with Christina.

I did think maybe she could sit on him bareback while I led her around though. It turned out I was wrong about this. She climbed up and Steen just started prancing and jigging and I basically recommended she get off again rather quickly. This was quite odd. Steen has never before minded a bareback rider when I'm holding his halter, but he was perhaps just up against too much that day.

After that Christina did ride Bear, who treated her to a not great ride. (You can read about that on Brian's blog.) While this was going on Steen did calm down quite a bit, particularly once I put his blanket back on. He let Christina spray apple-cider vinegar in his hooves and brush his mane out.

Today we decided to make another attempt. We found Steen dozing in the sun, all toasty warm and about as relaxed as he gets. So, Christina was able to have the ride today she missed yesterday. He was great for her as she walked him around the arena - pretty much as chill as he gets. She had remarkably good posture and no anxiety at all, so visit two was a success.

By the end of today, Christina and Steen were getting along so well they posed for a glamor shot.

After Christina got off, I rode Steen a bit. We did a quick warm-up and then some trotting and loping. He was great for me, although at one point he picked up the wrong lead and then proceeded to get extremely upset, I think because it was uncomfortable for him. Then he got so flustered I couldn't get him to switch. We'll have to work on that.

Horseback Hours YTD: 12:40

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Awesome Wednesday

The weather has turned beautiful. Brian and I headed out today with the plan to warm up in the indoor arena and then transition to the outdoor. Except when we arrived there was a lesson going on in the indoor so we decided to just start outdoors after all.

We groomed the boys outside and they were both great. They were dozing off in the warm sun. Then we went to the arena. I rode bareback, Brian went in the bear trap. Bear started off just a tad rebellious, but he came around quite quickly.

Steen was great from the start. It's hard to imagine him more relaxed than he was today. He was willing to walk, jog, stand, whatever, all around the outdoor, in spite of whatever other commotion was going on. Then at the end I returned him to the tie area and left him there for a while to take some photos of Brian on Bear, and he just stood quietly and waited for me to come back. Amazing!

Here's a shot of Steen patiently waiting:

Really though, one of my favorite parts of today's ride was watching Brian and Bear. They both looked absolutely great today. Bear's extension and mobility were top notch and Brian was relaxed and in charge at the same time. They even looked great walking (for some action shots you can see Brian's post):

Plus we finally got Bear going in his own bridle today. We even inadvertently got him a headstall that is the same brand and stain as his saddle! There's nothing like some good-looking tack to finish off a good-looking horse (and rider :)).

Horseback Hours YTD: 12:20

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring at Last!

Sunday was in the 80's! We were expecting major storms, but they never came. We headed out to the barn for Duke Day. The horses got their toes tidied and their semi-annual dose of bot-killer. They were both great for the farrier.

While we were waiting for our turn, we availed ourselves of the new outdoor wash-rack/hitching post. We tied the boys and proceeded to groom them for a very long time. Part of our objective was to make them stand around quietly. I think this is always good for horses to remember that standing tied for long periods of time it a part of their job sometimes. For the most part they were both super good about it, even Steen who still sometimes hates to be tied.

Steen has actually been getting a lot of compliments lately, and it does sort of feel like he's reaching a new level of maturity. One of the other boarders saw me loping on him the other day, and told me later that she couldn't believe how relaxed and happy Steen looked. She also told me that a trainer who works with a couple horses at our barn recently said she thinks I've done a wonderful job with Steen. So these are always really great things to hear. Even our barn owner, Cathi, came out to scoop up some of her horse's manure off the wash rack and Steen didn't budge even when she was scraping a shovel around his feet. She looked up at me in surprise and said, "He's holding still!"

All of this has me increasingly curious to see how he goes once I start taking him out and about again. And though I think I have so far failed to mention it on this blog, I also have a new saddle on the way. I have always known that the saddle I use for Steen is not an ideal fit, but his conformation is just odd enough that I've not been able to find anything else that is better. So I've decided to go treeless. A few weeks ago I ordered myself one of these:

(The saddle, not the dog - and mine will be brown.) It's a Bob Marshall treeless endurance saddle, and after exhaustive research based on what I know about my riding preferences and Steen's funny back/shoulder combo, I think it is the best choice for us going forward. So I'm super excited. But since it's custom made I won't get it until mid May. And in the meantime I don't really want to ride in the old saddle, so I'll be either riding bareback or borrowing the bear trap.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Busy Barn Saturday

Brian and I headed to the barn early today, hoping to avoid any Saturday traffic. The place was empty when we arrived but that changed before we even got our horses inside. Another boarder arrived to ride her horse Daisy, the only other Paint in the pasture.

We had some rain the last couple of days, so the outdoor arena is mucky and everyone was sort of confined to the inside. Brian and I took our time grooming as both our boys were pretty dirty. Steen was in a sort of obnoxious mood initially, trying to mess with everything he could reach. Eventually he did settle down.

By the time Brian and I were ready to hop on, another board had arrived with her boyfriend and boyfriend's parents, and the first boarder was riding in the indoor. Our indoor arena is only about 60' by 90', with the typical slightly unusable corners where the sand collects. I had never ridden in there with more than two horses, but we certainly weren't going to leave without riding. We climbed on, him on Bear in the bear trap, me on Steen bareback.

The first boarder decided she was done right when Brian and I joined her, so we had the arena to ourselves for a few minutes. We warmed the boys up. They both seemed great. Then the second boarder joined us. Her horse is Nadir, an older Arabian with a sweet disposition, but who she doesn't actually ride much. The three of us rode around together. Steen was remarkably not affected by anything Nadir did. It helps that Nadir, Bear and Steen all live in the same pasture, but I was still actually impressed at how little anyone seemed inclined to slip into a herd mentality. The parents and boyfriend rotated on and off Nadir, and Brian and I just did our thing. I trotted Steen a lot, but didn't want to lope today anyway. Last time the farrier was out, Steen's back feet weren't long enough to trim but now they're so long he's constantly kicking himself. Since he'll get a trim tomorrow, I didn't feel the need to push it today.

So Steen was content to shuffle around in his smooth little jog. I swear he behaves better the more people are watching. His stops weren't wonderful, but they weren't bad either, and everything else was spot on.

Best of all, though, were Brian and Bear. They were not at all frazzled by the extra traffic and Brian got some exceptionally smooth and relaxed trots out of Bear.

We only rode for about half an hour. Gay arrived while we were riding and also wanted to ride, and while three horses is doable in that tiny area, four is a bit much I think. Still, it was a very pleasant outing and I was thrilled with how well-behaved our boys were.

Horseback Hours YTD: 11:50

Friday, April 08, 2011

Reunited (and it Feels So Good)

Friday is lesson day. As we headed for the barn Brian and I decided it was time to put him back on Bear. I was pretty confident things would go well. With my new understanding of Bear's antics I felt I could coach Brian through any minor resistance Bear might put up. Still, if there is one thing I know about horses it's that they always surprise you so I went out today with hopes but prepared for them to be dashed.

Luckily, things went well from the start. Bear was a model citizen for tacking and grooming. He showed not the slightest hint of annoyance or anxiety when the saddle was placed on his back. Brian got on and while he did pull a few of the little stunts he tried on me the last few days, he didn't do anything major at all. The real turning point of the ride, though, was when Bear picked up a trot, unasked, and Brian just went with it and proceeded to make Bear trot in figure-eights for several minutes. Bear definitely got the message. After that he was considerably more docile, and he and Brian had a few wonderful trotting sessions over the course of the ride. By the third one, Bear looked great. He was lifting his back up into his saddle and flexing his poll and just moving like a horse happy to be moving.

So, I'm thrilled. Although I know there is still the possibility for some regression, I do feel like Bear and Brian have clicked. Sure, it's still the beginning and there is a lot more to learn about Bear and what he knows and how he ticks, but I think we're over the first hurdle and that's an excellent start.

They even look good together.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Good Boys

Today I rode both our horses, one after the other. I rode Bear first. After our few days of slowly coming to understand each other, I wanted to try him in the saddle again. And I have to say he was completely awesome from the start. He felt relaxed and his mobility was definitely no different today than it was yesterday. We did a brief but enjoyable walk/trot ride. Then I brought Steen in and had an even briefer walk/trot/lope ride on him. It was such a beautiful morning and they were both being so good, it was hard to tear myself away and return to the reality of work and deadlines, but it was still a great ride.

And for all you fans of the "Not-Highly-Exciting-Video" series, here's our latest installment. Me riding both our horses. The entirety of both rides, compressed into 2.5 minutes!

Horseback Hours YTD: 11:20

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Trotting the Bear

I intended to go to the barn alone earlier this week, but things have actually been busier than ever for me and my business and I've been working exceptionally long days. But this afternoon I reached a point where I simply had to take a break. Which meant Brian and I headed for the barn together, both sort of wanting to use the same saddle. Ha. In the end I decided to have another bareback ride on Bear. I figure it can't hurt to thoroughly explore how he moves without a saddle before we reintroduce one anyway.

Bear was cleaner, sheds less and I was using less tack, so I beat Brian to the arena by about 15 minutes. Things started out really well. Bear felt quiet and willing and was turning, stopping and standing nicely. We walked around the arena doing nothing in particular and I was thinking, well if this is how today goes we're not going to have to work on anything.

However, just before Brian and Steen joined us, Bear decided he was done being compliant. I can only guess that he's gotten used to really easy rides and sort of having his own way in general, because all of a sudden he started resisting me in all sorts of little ways. He wasn't being horrible, but he wasn't being good either. I tried a number of different things to get him to start behaving again including, but not limited to, bending to a stop (he is terrible at this - not the bending, but the stopping), backing, turning towards the rail and turning away from the rail.

My theory (for the moment) is Bear will comply with a certain amount of being ridden and acting awesome, but then he gets to a point where he decides he's done. Once he's decided he's done he wants nothing more than to go to the middle of the arena and stop. Bear is a clever, persistent horse and he works towards his agenda in all sorts of subtle ways. But after about 20 minutes of this, I was getting pretty annoyed and Brian and Steen wanted to trot on the rail anyway, so I decided I'd let him go to the middle but instead of getting to rest, he was going to have to walk in figure eights. For a long, long time.

So that's what we did. We walked in figure eights. For a solid ten minutes. I never let Bear stop and I never asked him for anything but figure eights. About six or seven minutes in I felt a definite shift in his body-language. Suddenly he was not looking for ways out of it anymore and I could feel that he was ready to stop. I made him keep going for a good long while after that, but when I did finally ask him for a stop, he tucked his butt up under him and stopped like a good quarter-horse should.

I let him stand for quite a few minutes, but decided we had a good thing going so I might as well take it to the next level. After his ample rest, I asked Bear for a trot. I knew this was going to be a bit shoddy at first. I still haven't ridden Bear enough to really know how he moves, and he hasn't trotted carrying a rider much lately, but I was surprised that after only a couple of slightly sloppy circles, he really settled in. He was inclined to try to drop the trot a little more than would have been ideal, but other than that he felt very willing and supple. He had no trouble turning in either direction and most of the time he trotted at a sittable jog and I didn't have to make any effort to control his speed. I daresay it was actually enjoyable.

After doing figure-eights one direction I let him rest again and then we switched. He was equally excellent in the other direction. By the time we finished working that way, I'd been riding for over an hour. Bear was hot and a bit sweaty under my jeans, so I figured we'd stop on a high note.

So, I'm exceedingly curious to see how Bear goes in the saddle again, but my suspicion is that he's going to feel more or less exactly like he did today. Although he had his rebellious moments, he never once seemed like a horse who was in pain. Which is good news one way or the other.

Also, Brian had a really excellent ride on Steen. More about that on Brian's blog.

Horseback Hours YTD: 10:40

Sunday, April 03, 2011


We seem to be having our first truly warm day of the year. Brian and I woke up, saw that it was already in the 50's, and headed for the barn. The plan was for Brian to ride Steen again and me to ride Bear bareback.

Steen saw us arrive and made a b-line for the gate. Bear walked a few steps in our direction as well, but then petered out. I walked the rest of the way to meet him, brought him inside and turned him out in the indoor. He rolled and then I did a small amount of groundwork with him off the line. He trotted willingly in both directions, then came to me immediately when I asked him to. He then remained at my shoulder, walking, stopping and backing with only subtle cues until I led him out of the arena for grooming.

I ended up riding him in Steen's 'indoor' headstall, since without a saddle and in breeches I have nowhere to tie a mecate. The bit on that set-up is a big fat hollow-mouth snaffle, and we've used it on Bear before. I took Bear to the arena and Brian gave me a leg up. I then proceeded to walk Bear around for a good 45 minutes, trying to get to the bottom of his occasional bouts of poor temper.

Although nothing about today was super conclusive, I do think I'm leaning more towards thinking his problems are more in his head than his body (though I don't doubt he has a few aches and pain which likely contribute). His walk was smooth and most of the time he was willing and compliant. However, from time to time he'd just turn grouchy. When this happened he'd become obsessed with coming off the rail - I think because he associates the middle of the arena with resting. My solution was to just anchor my outside hand onto my thigh so that there was very little slack in his outside rein. If he tried to turn his head inside he hit resistance, but I did not pull or actively correct him. If he veered off the rail anyway I'd start to thump him with my inside leg, just hard enough to be irritating, until he returned to the rail. I only had to do this once going each direction before he got the point.

For the most part this worked really well, and for a time I was even able to drop the anchored rein. However, towards the end of the ride after Steen and Brian joined us, he started to get fixated on the middle again and I had to bring that strategy back into play.

Other than following the rail, we sort of cruised, but Bear clearly doesn't get cruising and instead of walking around the arena he stayed in the middle and turned himself in tiny tight circles. I made him keep walking but otherwise left him alone and kept waiting for him to realize that he was choosing to do this to himself, but he never did. A little later I worked on lots and lots of figure-eights, trying to keep my hands off his mouth and use mostly my legs to steer him. He was great about this, turning tightly in both directions without protest.

The encouraging thing about today was that other than his few bouts of going grouchy on me, he felt very willing. I did not have that sensation from last week when he just felt like he was hating the whole ride. I also happened to see an article yesterday about getting better stops out of a horse and read about a different way of backing than I usually employ. I tried it on Bear and he loved it. After just a few tries I had him tucking his head and scooting backwards at the lightest touch of my hands and calves. Which is just really, really interesting from a "mystery of Bear's origins" standpoint. I'm becoming increasingly convinced he has some reining training. I've ridden a lot of horses but have never felt one go backwards like Bear did today.

I didn't trot him in the interest of keeping things simple. My plan is to ride him again in a day or two and try to repeat today's ride more or less exactly, but use a saddle. If he's a million times different, that will at least add some clarity to the situation. And we've got a call in to the chiropractor as well.

After Brian finished riding Steen, I hopped on my own horse and we trotted for quite a while. He was good today, very willing to jog quietly even though Gay was riding Doc around the arena as well. After a few minutes of trotting though, he actually started to seem tired. Between that and having company in the indoor, I decided not to lope him again. Maybe next time.

Horseback Hours YTD: 9:30

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Loping in the Bear Trap

Friday was a busy day, so we postponed Brian's lesson. And since we've decided to leave Bear alone for a few days, this morning Brian had his lesson on Steen.

Steen left the bale to meet us. He's been so good about coming lately. I'll be curious to see if it lasts once the herd is out on the grass.

I left Brian alone as he tacked Steen up. Steen was so comfortable in the bear trap on Wednesday we decided to use it on him again. I watered the arena while Brian groomed and tacked, then watched from the sidelines as Brian rode. I noticed immediately that is a lot harder for me not to micromanage Brian when he's riding Steen. I know Steen so well by this point and I know exactly how to respond to all his little quirks, it is just a little hard for me to watch someone else ride him. But he was in a very mellow mood and he was great for Brian. His stopping remained a bit sub-par and his trot was actually quite erratic, switching from all-out jog to extended trot in a heartbeat, but he was never upset or anxious and so I think it was good for both of them.

Brian rode for 40 minutes during which time Steen looked very comfortable in the saddle, so I decided to climb on. I've been needing to work on Steen's lope for a long time but suspecting my saddle pinches him a bit and sometimes causes him to crow-hop has kept me from feeling super keen to try it lately. But the bear trap is nice and secure and Steen was all warmed up and in a fabulous mood, so I climbed on and walked and trotted for a few minutes, then asked for the lope.

And boy did he surprise me. He moved willingly into a smooth, strong canter. He felt balanced, getting the right lead every time. He never accelerated and got anxious like he has so many times in the past, but he also only dropped out of the gait once. The bear trap is pretty comfy with a nice high cantle. I'm sure it helped that I felt balanced and secure myself. We only loped for maybe ten minutes, but it felt fabulous.

Afterwards I trotted Steen and then walked him to cool him down. During my whole ride Brian stood at the edge of the arena and snapped photos, so here it is, proof that I do ride:

Steen remembers he can lope.

Getting a little excited about loping.

Settling in.

Cooling down.

Proud of himself.

Steen sporting the bear trap.

Horseback Hours YTD: 8:30

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