Sunday, April 03, 2011

Switch!

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

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