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

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