Sunday, May 29, 2011

Two Indoor Rides

Friday we had family in town, so didn't make it out to the barn. On Saturday we went out in the morning and rode for about an hour in the indoor arena. I went in the dressage saddle, and again Steen started out a tad nervous. There were a couple spots where he would always try to come off the rail and his trot stayed much faster than usual. He did settle down over the course of the ride, and was great about standing. We spent a while tucked in the corner while Brian loped Bear around. Then we were joined in the arena by Gay and Doc. As I've mentioned before, three horses in our little indoor can be a tight fit, but Steen was feeling settled and willing at that point and I really wanted to lope, so I pushed him into the faster gait and he moved into it without hesitation. He stayed very smooth as we loped around, steering through narrow spaces between Bear and Doc a couple of times. I think that was the most relaxed and responsive he's ever been at the lope, so that was encouraging.

This morning there was a storm rolling in, but we had some plans for the afternoon, so we got up early to get to the barn and get the boys inside before the rain hit. While this was a good plan in theory, we didn't anticipate how violent the storm was actually going to be. Perhaps the horses knew what was coming better than we did, because both of them were a bit off. Steen was very nervous at the start, and refused to go to the far end of the arena for quite a while. There were also two points on the rail he refused to stay on. Every time we reached them he would just brace his neck and try to turn to the inside of the arena. Needless to say, both of these behaviors were frustrating. I tried not to get mad at him with limited success, and worked on making him go to the 'scary' side of the arena by gradually widening his circles until I had him mostly willing to follow the rail in both directions.

Once I could get him to mostly walk quietly, I asked for the trot. His trot was fast and he was very unfocused. We had more steering issues and his pace was extremely erratic. I kept working him in circles, trying to get him to pay more attention, but he never really came around.

About 45 minutes into the ride, the storm hit in earnest. The sound of the rain on the roof was so loud we literally could hardly hear anything else, except the thunder that was crashing quite frequently. At that point we decided to get off for a while, and we spent about 20 or 30 minutes waiting for the worst of the system to blow over. During that time I took the dressage saddle off. Steen has seemed less inclined to relax at the trot each time I've used it, although his loping has been good, but I was curious to see if he'd listen to me any better without it.

When the rain settled down, I hopped back on bareback. And Steen actually was better. We worked on the trot for quite a while longer and I got him to a point of feeling pretty settled. He seemed a lot more willing to drop his head and lift his back up and relax into the jog than he'd been with the saddle. So I don't know if at this point I've just ridden him bareback so much that he's more comfortable that way, or if this saddle doesn't fit quite right either, or if it was just the weather that had him upset. It's so hard to weigh all the factors.

We were about to the point of calling it quits when Brian and I were sitting on Bear and Steen towards the far end of the arena, giving the boys a break and chatting with Marissa, who was leaving after doing the morning chores. Steen was standing in an utterly relaxed manner, and I guess I was a little too relaxed myself. Suddenly the wind shifted and must have caught the huge door behind us in a particularly odd way, because it made this utterly bizarre, loud, massive-metal-grating-on-metal groan.

Unsurprisingly, Steen did not stick around to assess the situation. In about two seconds he was on the other side of the arena and I was on the ground. The annoying thing is I'd been prepared for him to bolt all day, but at that particular moment had let my guard down. The bolt wasn't anything I couldn't have ridden through if I'd been paying attention, but I wasn't ready for it. *sigh

Luckily I've had enough experience with falls that I turned the tumble more into an unplanned dismount than a crash. I skinned my elbow but otherwise took no damage. I got back on, but Steen was very, very afraid of the far end of the arena by then. So I made him trot some circles for a little while, then got off, put him on the line and took him down to the scary corner to do some groundwork until he was able to focus again. It took quite a while and a lot of massive spooking on the line before he was finally settled and willing to approach the door without snorting and trying to run away. So on that highly mediocre note, we called it a day.

So, it was definitely one of those long, hard, frustrating, slightly painful rides that seem to crop up from time to time. Steen has been so consistently well-behaved lately that it's pretty disappointing to be reminded of the flighty  irrational, reactive horse that still lurks beneath the surface. On the other hand, these hard days are becoming increasingly rare, so one can hope eventually they will cease to happen entirely.

Horseback hours YTD: 29:30

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dressage Day!

Today I met my friend Jean out at the barn. We hadn't ridden together since Schooley had to be put down, but since Bear is pretty settled in now, it seemed high time to get her out for a ride on our two boys. Since Steen currently has no saddle that will fit him, she came with three dressage saddles and some time to play. One saddle fit Steen very well, and another fit Bear passably well.

Steen wondering what the deal is with this strange saddle

Jean started out on Bear, and while I expected the two of them to get along really well, Bear seemed a tad suspicious of her and her fancy black saddle. He was definitely not bad for her, but he was not as relaxed and responsive as he's been for Brian lately. His trot was very stiff and fast at first, but Jean persevered and got him collected before long. Jean is very much trained in classical dressage, so she was asking things of Bear he has not had much practice doing. He was game, however, and put in a solid effort at all three gaits.

In the meantime I rode Steen around in a borrowed but very, very nice dressage saddle. It was shockingly comfortable, and after a few minutes of feeling just a tad wigged out, Steen really settled in and went great.

We rode in the indoor arena, and Steen and I did plenty of walking, trotting and loping. I felt secure and he felt comfortable, so all was well. Then I hopped off and Jean got on Steen, and she proceeded to explore how open he is to some of the principles of dressage. By the time she got off she was very impressed with him, and though he had never been asked to do most of the things she asked him, he was willing to try and even seemed to enjoy himself.

Jean teaching Steen about collection and engaging his quarters

I drove home, and Brian got off work. Then, although I really should have stayed home and gotten some work done, I went to the barn again with Brian.

The boys were happy to come inside again and get groomed and tacked. Although Jean generously loaned me her saddle for the time being, I went bareback for my second ride of the day because Steen actually had a much harder workout than he is used to this morning, and I didn't want to take it too far. But Brian put the bear trap on Bear, and he seemed pretty darn happy to have his normal tack and rider back. They walked and trotted and loped, and looked great at all three gaits.

Horseback hours YTD: 27:00

Monday, May 23, 2011


With my new saddle theoretically due any day now, Brian and I decided it might be nice to have a spare saddle that will fit Steen in case we have guests who are good riders but perhaps not comfortable in a treeless saddle. We've been watching ebay, and late last week we made our move. We picked up what looks to be a pretty nice saddle that is also pretty old and worn but built on a good tree, hoping it would suit our purposes.

Today we hauled it out to the barn to see what Steen thought of it. At first things went well. He didn't mind the tacking process, and when I let him out to the strip, he stood quietly after I  mounted. Then I put my feet in the stirrups.

My right knee has been a problem for me almost as long as I've ridden horses. With stirrups that are too short, it causes me a good deal of pain. One moment with my foot in the right stirrup on the new saddle clearly indicated it was too short. And unfortunately the leathers had been cut at one point, so I couldn't make it any longer.

So Brian and I assessed our options. Of course, I could ride bareback, but the whole hope of the saddle was that it would fit Steen and I wanted to knew if it did or not sooner rather than later. So, Brian held the horses and I hiked back to the barn for my Abetta, which we harvested the fenders and leathers off of, threaded these through the tree of the new saddle, and I set the stirrups to a more comfortable length. It sounds easy, but in actually it took Brian quite a few minutes of using his rather strong hands to accomplish this feat. I'm not sure I could have done it alone.

Back on board, I was comfortable. The next question was to ascertain whether or not Steen was. We did our usual thing, walking and trotting around on the strip. At first I thought he was behaving very well, but over the course of the ride he seemed to grow more nervous. He was more inclined to try to pick up the trot than he had been in a while, more combative when I asked him to stop than has been usual lately, and he also did a mini-bolt (something he hasn't done in months) for no particular reason.

On the other hand, he was jogging nicely, standing quietly, dropping his head at the trot and showing a willingness to settle into patterns. None of these things were true when I rode him in my old saddle a couple of weeks ago, so it at least seemed certain that the new saddle is a better fit than the old one.

So I will admit I was disappointed when I pulled the saddle off and saw a telltale dry spot on his left shoulder. Interestingly, though, there was no matching point on his right side. Since I pulled the saddle on and off so many times during the whole fender debacle, there is a part of me that is trying to hope it was faulty saddle placement that caused the problem.

Regardless, I'll probably go bareback again for a few rides to give the sore spot (and his head) a break. And in the meantime at least I can laugh at the "hacked" saddle. I suppose once we decide whether or not to keep it we can evaluate having new leathers added to the fenders to it won't look so ridiculous anymore.

The new saddle before we tampered with it

Time-worn leather and nylon just don't go all that well together

Horseback hours YTD: 26:10

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Super Mellow Ride

Vacation can be wonderful and tiring at the same time, so Brian and I found ourselves too worn out to go to the barn on Friday. Today, however, both Bear and Steen seemed very happy to see us, coming to meet us at the gate.

Steen's left front foot has gotten weirdly splayed and spread out since his last pedicure, and today he was missing a biggish chunk from one side and had another fairly developed tear on the other. If the farrier wasn't coming tomorrow, I'd have called him, but as it was I decided just to keep things very mellow. Luckily, Steen was totally in support of my plan, so we had an easy half-hour ride, walking and trotting on the strip. We worked on our usual things: leg-yields, circles, and standing. It was a beautiful day, with a blue sky and fluffy clouds. It was great to be out with the horses.

After the ride we turned them back out in the pasture. They were in no hurry to return to the herd.

Steen standing at the gate sporting his sexy new fly-mask

Horseback hours YTD: 25:20

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Familiar and Content

As much as it was fun to work with Jak and Rojo while we were in Tucson, it was really pretty wonderful to see our boys again this morning. The herd was way out in the pasture, and as Brian and I hiked out to them Steen saw us and started to walk in our direction. Nadir was grazing right next to him, and decided to go where Steen was going. Their movement caught Star's interest, and she came racing down the hillside with Cowboy in hot pursuit. The commotion resulted in an all-out stampede up to the the waterer in the winter lot. Steen and Bear, of course, participated in the mad rush. So Brian and I turned around with our empty halters and headed back to the barn.

Of course we didn't have any trouble catching them once their entire herd wasn't running somewhere, and they were both great for grooming and tacking. They are both looking on the round side of a nice, healthy weight.

Out on the strip, Steen was very nearly perfect, although he felt HUGE to me when Brian gave me a leg up. (Jak is a good six inches shorter than Steen.) Steen didn't seem to experience any similar disorientation to be working again after his week off. He was quiet, collected and responsive. The leg-yielding exercises we were working on before I left seem to have cemented themselves in his brain while I was away. He was super happy to zig-zag back and forth and we walked and trotted up and down the strip. He was also great with standing and backing, though his stops were on the sub-par side.

We only rode for half an hour as Brian and I both have jobs and obligations to get back to, but it was great to get back to our horses. The transition to summer made some serious progress in our absence, and I'm looking forward to a few warm, sunny months of riding.

Horseback hours YTD: 24:50

Horse Hopping

Although my mom and my sister each have a horse, lately neither of them has had much opportunity to ride. My sister's horse, Jak, is happily one of those rare horses who doesn't seem to backslide much even when left standing for long periods of time. He is sometimes a total goofball and maybe a little bit of a punk, but he's never bad.

Jak sneaking a mesquite leaf while Meryl sits on his back

My mom's horse, Rojo, has a rather more complicated history. She got him several years ago and had a few problems with him early on. One major one is Rojo seems particularly prone to becoming buddy sour. Leaving Jak will cause him a lot of a anxiety, which translates into some pretty unpleasant behavior on his part. But the main 'problem' is he's a Missouri Foxtrotter, and no one in my family knows the first thing about gaited horses. My mom thought when she bought him that it would be pleasant to scoot around the trails at the foxtrot. Which I am sure she was right about. However, what we didn't anticipate is that when Rojo is nervous he often chooses a fast trot or something called a pace over the foxtrot, and none of us really know how to ask him for the foxtrot instead. Sometimes he ends up transitioning between these three gaits rapidly, and when he's doing this it's difficult to ride well. This leads to him getting upset and confused while whoever is riding bounces around on his back. This happened enough times he started to get nervous and combative even for tacking.

So for the couple of years, Rojo really hasn't been ridden. I've made a few forays into working with him in various ways, but I'm not home enough to have a real impact. Still, I did get him set up with a fitting snaffle and headstall a while ago, and that seemed to do away with a good chunk of his anxiety. I have also done enough groundwork with him to conclude he really knows his stuff. He just needs some confidence and some consistent handling.

Brian and I had four solid days in Tucson, and we spent time with the horses each day. The first three days we mostly just hung out with Rojo - grooming him, leading him around my parent's little outdoor arena. He was pretty great with all of this and his inclination towards anxiety has decreased dramatically. So on the fourth day we decided to ride him.

The ride actually went much better than expected. Meryl, Brian and I all rode him for a few minutes each. He seemed actually quite willing to work as long as he knew where Jak was at any given moment. Meryl started out on him, since Rojo knows her much better than Brian and I.

Meryl on Rojo, with Brian on Jak in the background

He went pretty great for her, so after a few minutes we switched places. Of course the 'not my horse' moment with Rojo is even more noticeable than when I switch between horses of the same breed. Even his walk feels completely alien. He seems to sway from side to side instead of moving forward and back like a non-gaited horse.

We decided to simplify the way we think of his gaits for now, and in hopes of not mico-managing him into anxiety, letting him choose to either trot or foxtrot when asked to go faster. It was interesting both to feel and to watch as he shuffled between trot and foxtrot. When he relaxed and collected a bit, and shifted into the foxtrot, it was very smooth and pleasant. When he wasn't foxtrotting he was moving into a very high, extended trot. So I just posted when necessary and tried to ride him as smoothly as possible. Towards the end he was moving in the foxtrot more easily and staying in it for longer periods of time.

I also rode Jak a couple of times. He is almost always great for me, and I trotted and loped around bareback for a few minutes each day. He's so smooth and collected in all his gaits, it's never any trouble to go any speed on him, with or without a saddle.

Jak's jog is even smoother than Steen's

Jak did a have a bit of a tendency at the lope to veer towards where Brian was taking pictures

Since Jak is so out of condition right now, I didn't feel it would be very fair to take him out on the trails, but it was fun and interesting to spend some time with different horses.

Horseback hours YTD: 24:40

Saddle Care

We're back in town after a trip out to AZ to visit my family. We were mostly there to socialize with people, but we had a few horse-related goals as well.

First, conditioning Brian's new saddle in past weeks has caused me to suffer some pangs of guilt regarding the old saddle I used on my first horse and now my sister uses on Jak. My parents bought it for me over 15 years ago, and in the time I have dusted it off regularly, cleaned it once, and been caught in several thunderstorms while riding in it. But I was a kid when it was mine, and since I sold my first horse have mostly not been living at home, and nobody else has taken the time to care for it either.

So, it was with some dismay that Brian and I looked it over. I wish we'd taken a 'before' shot. It was covered in dust. The leather of the fenders was so stiff it was bordering on brittle. The edges of the skirts were curled. In the worst areas, a thin web of cracks were visible on the surface of the saddle.

The sad thing is it's a decent saddle. It's clearly hand-made, and built on a rawhide wrapped wooden tree. Unfortunately that's about all I know about it. When my Mom and I went saddle shopping all those years ago, neither of us knew the first thing about saddles. We somehow found our way into this goofy little tack shop in South Tucson that I've looked for repeatedly but have never been able to find since, where an enthusiastic little man pulled saddle and after saddle free of stacks that reached well above his head. While I sat in different seats, he gave me various pointers. He was the first person to tell me to look at a sweat pattern after a long ride to make sure the saddle fit.

The saddle I chose was unusual - I have still never seen one quite like it. I liked it because it was simple and pretty and comfortable to sit in. If the man who sold it to us passed on any information about its history, I can't recall what he said.

Unfortunately, it is a small saddle. I was only 12 when I got my first horse, so not yet fully grown. It's seat is only 14", so it is a bit small for me now, and way too small for Brian to be comfortable in. Still, it was nice to spend some time working on it. We oiled the entire thing, paying particular attention to the fenders. We conditioned it several times over the course of a few days, and in the end it was looking much better, and the fenders were more flexible than they've been in my memory.

Jak, who's worn the saddle for many, many hours, didn't really seem to notice any difference. Still, I'm definitely going to try to give the saddle some TLC once or twice a year in hopes of making itl last at least another 15 years.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wet Backs and Baths

We started our barn visit today with more baby time. I am rather astounded at how quickly Whisper is growing and becoming physically coordinated. He now spends a fair bit of time trying to get his mother to race around with him. I have yet to see him succeed, but he's pretty entertaining to watch when he's trying.

We pulled the boys from the pasture, and my first thought when I saw Bear was that he's looking lean. I guess all the loping has induced a metabolic shift, because he's really not carrying much a gut these days. He looks great, even though he's eating as much as he wants. This is very encouraging and makes me hopeful that he won't be likely to get tubby again as long as we can keep him in decent work.

Steen, on the other hand, is actually getting chunky. Certainly he's nowhere near becoming overweight, but he's really filling out in a way I've never seen before. I think consistent light work is encouraging him to really build up some bigger muscles in his legs and particularly his haunches. I'll be curious to see what happens once I get my new saddle and we start having some more demanding rides.

Today I was still bareback, and again I focused on working on riding the walk and trot very well and getting a lot of focus and cohesive movement from Steen. He was very good. We hardly had the butt trailing problem at all, and his trot was not nearly as inconsistent as it was yesterday. We worked on lots of legs yields, both at the walk and the trot, and precision in our circles. Of course we practiced a fair bit of standing, as well as backing and stopping. My latest strategy with Steen is if he stops nicely, I just let him stand. He stops slowly, I quietly make him back up six or seven paces.

Meanwhile, Brian had a mostly great ride on Bear that included lots of good loping to the left and some not great loping to the right. The strip is a little slanted, and Bear was not picking up right lead, so he was having a whole lot of trouble making it through the downhill turns when going right. Since he was being good in every other respect, we didn't push this. Probably the thing to do is build up that lead in the indoor a bit before asking him for it in more challenging situations.

It was a warm day, and Bear worked hard, getting quite sweaty. So afterwards we hosed them down a little. Bear enjoyed this. Steen had to be convinced, but once we got started he did well enough.

Now we're going to be out of town for a while, so the boys will get some well deserved time off.

Horseback hours YTD: 23:50

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Hind End

We had to delay our barn outing this afternoon, as a storm rolled in right as Brian got off work. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that it stays light late this time of year.

It turns out it was worth the wait. By the time we reached the barn, temps had fallen and there was just enough breeze to keep the air moving. I went into the pasture and Steen nickered at me when I reached him. I am completely certain he's never done that before. It sure warms the heart to feel like your horse is happy to see you.

The footing was great on the strip, and after our last ride in the outdoor arena I was really appreciating the extra space. My goal today was to keep Steen focused and to pay a lot of attention to his hindquarters. I once read the phrase, "If you control the hindquarters, you control the horse." It's definitely true that when Steen is resisting, he does it with his butt. His main thing today (as with the last few days) was he will let his hind end trail out behind him in the turns when we are turning away from the herd.

So, my first step was to combat this problem. We started with figure-eights, and I found it wasn't that difficult to correct the lagging in the tight circles. I just had to use some leg to bring his haunches back under me. Still, I didn't feel like I'd solved the problem - more like I was managing it.

We switched to working on circles, and the problem was notably worse. Since I was asking for a softer circle, he could really be lazy with his hindquarters. At this point I started getting a bit annoyed with him, and asking him firmly with my leg to bring his butt under me where it belonged. At one point I dug in firmly enough with my heel that he picked up a trot. I made him bend until he stopped trotting and then we tried it again. I tried to think about driving him through the turn with my seat and not expecting him to do what I didn't want him to do. Lo and behold, he was either chastised or made focused enough by my focus that he went through the turn perfectly.

And after that, no more problem. We walked in circles and figure-eights. We trotted. We went back to walking after trotting with no attempts on his part to trot. But during all of this I was thinking about my seat a lot, and about using my sit bones before me legs, and my legs before my hands. It's interesting to see how willing Steen is to respond to this.

He also stood like a champion all day. I was very much enjoying my new pants, which are such a step up from my old jeans I can't believe I waited this long to upgrade.

Towards the end of the ride I just sat on his back and watched Brian lope Bear in circles and offered some pointers here and there. From time to time Steen would turn his head around and I'd pet his face. I even took photos from Steen's back and the buzzing and clicking of the camera didn't phase him in the slightest.

Meanwhile Brian proceeded to have the best lope on Bear he's ever had. The two of them seem to be turning a corner and getting along better and better.

Horseback hours YTD: 23:05

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sweet Talk

Horses aren't super vocal creatures. For the most part the horses I've owned and handled tend to call out when they are feeling isolated and nicker when they are excited for their dinner. I have also heard the occasional nicker exchanged between horses who have been separated and are happy to be together again, or horses who haven't met but are in the same general proximity.

I know some horses are a lot more verbal than others. Steen has never been much inclined to make noise. Back when I first got him, he would call for his herd when I was riding him, but he hasn't done that in years. The first winter I had him and I kept him in a stall to get some meat on his bones, he would nicker at me when I arrived at the barn. Mostly because he hated being in the stall and knew my presence meant escape.

For the last couple of years Steen will also sometimes nicker at me when I dismount. I must admit this usually has the effect of making me feel a bit bad. The nicker seems to communicate something like, "I am so happy you are getting off my back and aren't going to make me work anymore." This is not exactly the ideal sentiment for a saddle-horse.

The last two rides, Steen is talking to me even more. Yesterday when Brian and Bear were walking down the strip placing cones, I decided to make Steen do a little work on the mecate while I waited for a leg up. All I did was make him walk around me in a circle, but apparently he wasn't happy about it because when I asked for the disengage, he stopped, turned towards me and nickered. I let him come in for some pets, then made him go the other way. Same thing. He nickered when I stopped him.

Brian came back and I mounted and rode as usual. After the ride I got off and asked for a couple more circles. Again nickered at me each time I let him stop.

Today there was a huge truck hauling dirt from a ditch at the bottom of the strip to the new house at the top of the strip, so Brian and I rode in the outdoor arena. The outdoor arena is really more or a glorified run with a round-pen in it and bad footing, so it is never all that pleasant to ride in. Plus it was just insanely hot. We went from dreary cold days to the 90's overnight.

Steen was really good though. Everything except his stops were awesome. We worked on walking until asked to trot (he was much better about this than the last couple of rides), leg-yields and yielding the hindquarters under saddle. I'm trying to work on more minute control off Steen's trajectory, so this was good stuff to practice. In between exercises I would let him stand and rest, and sometimes I'd lean up and scratch his face and ears while we stood. Several times when I was petting him, he nickered at me again.

So I must admit I have no idea what the increased verbal communication means, but I can't really imagine that it's a bad thing. I'll be curious to see if it keeps up or if it's just a phase.

Horseback hours YTD: 22:15

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mostly Quiet

After our weekend off we were happy the thunderstorms that blew through earlier in the day had cleared up by the time Brian and I were both done with work. We headed out to the barn eager to see the boys.

But first we had to hang out with Whisper a bit. Since we're some of the most senior boarders around the place now, and Cathi knows and trusts us, we've been given special baby privileges. Mainly we're allowed to help socialize Whisper by going into the pen and petting him etc.. So this afternoon we won his momma over with a treat and then she was content to let me hang out and mess with the baby. Honestly I think she was glad for the relief. She never once started to seem like she thought I was taking things to far.

For Whisper's part, he was extremely curious and very mouthy, but that is to be expected of a 4-day-old, I suppose. He started off only letting me touch his nose, but after a while he was just hanging out while I put my hands all over his face, withers and even ears.

After hanging out with the baby for a while, we went out to fetch the boys. We found them both visibly chubbier, particularly Steen who really just looks like he put on about 100 pounds in two days. Luckily he's never shown any inclination to get too fat, so I'm not worried about it.

Steen was a bit distracted while we groomed and tacked, but once I reached the strip and I got on board he was much better than our last ride. He has really mastered the concept that he is allowed and even encouraged to stand still, and he loves hanging around doing nothing now. Even right after I mount, Brian mounts and then rides away on Bear, Steen is totally content to stay put.

This ride I tried to work on relaxing. I walked him for quite a while and he only tried to pick up the trot once. Our last ride was demanding and not highly positive, so I wanted to give him the chance to be calmer from the start today. After a fair bit of walking in various patterns, stopping, standing and backing, I asked for the trot. He picked up without hesitation but was then super erratic. He wanted to trot fast when we were heading towards the herd, and his turn away from where they were was sloppy and drawn out. Then he'd give me his ultra slow jog when we were going away from the herd. So I worked on trying to make his pace more consistent, and after about 10 minutes of trotting had achieved a more or less steady circle. Then we switched directions and had to do the whole thing again. Then I let him stand for a while and asked for the walk and, of course, he'd entered trot mode and that's all he wanted to do. I had to be very firm with him to get him to walk, but he only picked it up about three time before he left off trying.

I then put him through some walking exercises, first a figure eight in which I really got on him about letting his hind end trail in the turns. At first he was not happy about it when I used my leg to force him to bring his butt around in sync with his front, but after a few laps he was better. Then we worked on my leg-yielding on a diagonal up and down the strip. That was fun. He's definitely getting the concept and was really moving to the side with some energy a few times today.

But we were honestly all a bit tired, and it was windy and hot, so we only rode for 45 minutes. Still it's nice to have an easier, quieter day sometimes.

Horseback hours YTD: 21:30

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Early Summer Changes

We arrived at the barn on Friday afternoon eager to meet the new horse on the premises. Or more accurately, the new foal. "Whisper" arrived some time in the night. Cathi was in the pen with the baby and the momma when we arrived, so we even got to go in and pet the little guy. I have never seen a truly brand new foal before, and was surprised at how large and strong he was. And although he was perfectly capable of walking, trotting and even loping around, he was super clumsy while he did this stuff. It was pretty hilarious to watch.We took some photos but didn't catch any of the action.

Whisper's mother came to Cathi through sad circumstances, and so although she wasn't planning to raise a baby any time soon, it does sound like she intends to keep him. He's a very interesting color. Brian and I theorize that he is a perlino dun. He definitely has light skin and a red dorsal stripe. But I know babies can change, so I'll be curious to see what happens.

After oohing and ahing over the baby for a while, we went to fetch our boys. This involved a hike because they are now out on the large 13 acres of rolling hills and grass. They had both clearly been eating as much as they could manage and they were pretty lethargic as we led them in. But then they saw they baby and they both got super curious. Steen loves babies, and whenever there is one out with the herd they get attached to him. But Whisper is still far too young to be meeting any uncles, so they did not get to satisfy their curiosity much.

Out on the strip, Steen was a bit of a pill. With all the new room to roam, the herd was not visible from the strip and at first this seemed to distract Steen. Before long he didn't seem to be looking for them anymore. He was still just a bit of a handful, though, and I got pretty annoyed with him before long. The main thing he was doing was just wanting to trot. Any time I tried to walk anywhere on him, he'd just shift into his jog after a few paces. While he wasn't exactly trying to run off with me, this is still far from acceptable.

So at first our ride went like this: We walk three paces, he'd start to jog, I'd bend him to one side or the other.  I discovered Steen is perfectly capable of turning in an extremely tight circle while still trotting.  So we would trot in tiny, tiny circles until he started to walk. I'd let him go straight again. He'd walk three more paces, then start to jog.  Repeat.

The strangest thing, though, was he was totally willing to stand. His stops were great, his backing was great, and he would just chill in one place as long as I wanted him to, even dozing off in the sun. But the moment I asked for forward movement, he'd jog.

Anyway, eventually he got the point and remained at the walk. I worked on more leg-yielding exercises and (since I was annoyed with him) was actually pretty demanding about these. He was mostly good though, and definitely seems to understand the concept.

Finally I asked him for a trot, and he was fast and distracted and inclined to turn sharply in one direction and let his hind end trail out behind in on the other. So we trotted a lot and much faster than usual and I continued to demand a lot of directional changes and leg yields and although he never fully calmed down, I do feel it was a productive ride. I was bareback but actually felt really comfortable and solid in spite of his antics. My riding jeans developed holes in the upper thigh area after three years of me riding in very little else, so I finally broke down and got a pair of pants that are actually made for riding. I'm quite impressed with how comfortable they were, never shifting or bunching.

After about 50 minutes of riding, I thought Steen was feeling pretty settled, so I asked him for a lope. This was a mistake. He pretty much bolted and when I tried to collect him, barely yielded to the bit and ran straight for the pen holding the baby. There were a number of object between him and said pen, however, (fence, trailer, another fence) and I got him back under control very quickly, but this little experience adds more fuel to my current feeling that what Steen needs more than anything is lots and lots and lots of work at the lope. And what I need more than anything is a saddle to facilitate this... (only a couple more weeks of waiting now)

The tiny lope riled him up, of course, so we returned to walking three steps at a time and spinning in circles. He settled back down fairly quickly though, and after walking him up and down the upper part of the strip a few times, I dismounted. At least I do think I managed to give him a fairly decent workout, but I was pretty tired myself. Lots of fast trots and spins bareback will wear you out fast.

Bear was also distracted and not great for Brian, but they had an equally productive-if-not-quite-enjoyable session. More about that here.

We're going to be out of town for the weekend, so the boys will get a couple days off. Which is probably a good thing as we've been riding a lot. Hopefully everyone will be a bit more settled next week.

Horseback hours YTD: 20:45

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Working the Trot

I am definitely getting impatient for my new saddle. Granted, I can lope bareback and I have done so a whole lot over the course of my life, but Steen is still far from great at the lope and what he needs is to have a quiet, balanced rider while he gets used to it again. When I'm bareback and he's loping I am not at my most graceful. When he turns in unexpected directions I inevitably do something sloppy.

For now I'm trying to just bide my time and be content at the walk and trot. The problem is, Steen's trot is pretty placid these days and I think we both get a little bored just jogging around familiar territory.

So, today I decided to try to be a bit more creative with what I'm asking Steen to do. I figured instead of making him walk in a straight line, I'd try to make him yield to me laterally, so that we moved in a diagonal from one side of the strip to the other.

I perhaps got a bit ahead of myself and started asking for this at the trot first. Steen was willing to try, but ultimately got confused. I brought him back to a walk and we did our normal thing for a while, then I started asking for the yield with one leg, keeping him from turning with light contact from the bit and a little touch on his neck from the outside rein. Almost immediately he just started yielding to my cue, so he was moving forwards and sideways at the same time, executing this lovely little diagonal shift. We did it a few times at a walk and then I asked for it again at the trot. Before I knew it he was just zig-zagging happily up and down the strip. He was even collecting, flexing at the poll, and stopping on a dime.

Anyway, it was really fun. We shifted between doing our normal stuff, working on this new concept and standing around watching Brian lope around on Bear. Then at the end Brian and I did a little pattern around the cones, making our horses walk, trot, turn, and stop at the same time. Good fun.

We capped off the day by walking up and down most of the strip. Both Bear and Steen were more than willing to amble along quietly, neither one attempting to do anything but go where we pointed them. It was an awesome ride.

Horseback hours YTD: 19:45

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Back in the Wug

I didn't have time for a ride today, but last night the low got into the 30's, the day never warmed considerably and tonight is supposed to get down to 28. The pasture horses are still out on the smaller pasture and Steen has more or less finished shedding. I knew he'd be uncomfortable, so I drove out just to give him a snack and put his blanket on.

My suspicions that he was unhappy were confirmed the moment I reached the pasture and called his name. Steen's head popped up, he looked at me for half and second, then came running in my direction. His sudden departure brought Star and Cowboy along as well, who I then had to shoo off before I could get Steen's halter on. I gave him a quick snack of chopped hay and put his (very very dirty) wug back on.

Bear, on the other hand, looked totally fine. And plus he still has a few pounds to spare. So he got neither blanket, nor treats.

I'm pretty sure he was fine with that, though.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sub-par Saddle

Today I decided to throw my saddle back on Steen. I did this for a few different reasons, one of them just being curiosity. I've always known the saddle was not an ideal fit for him, but I guess I wasn't convinced it was a horrible fit either. Still, Steen has been so quiet lately I figured a light ride in his saddle couldn't hurt. Plus my sister is coming to visit soon and I really want to take her around the trails. Unfortunately she's going to beat my new saddle by a week or two, and I don't really want to go exploring on Steen bareback.

Steen was quiet during tacking and grooming, He didn't seem at all bothered when I put the saddle on and mounted. We walked around and he was much like yesterday - mellow but a little distracted. Then I asked for the jog and he started out ok, but gradually he began to resist my steering more and trot really fast on the uphills and unbelievably slow on the downhills. There was a massive semi delivering a new horse, and it was pretty windy so I thought these distractions were to blame. But then I started trotting Steen in a tighter circle and his head just kept getting higher and his whole demeanor shifted from the horse I've gotten used to these last few months to a rather nervous, flighty version of his recent self. Bizarrely, the only thing he was doing well was standing.

After twenty minutes of this, I got off and pulled the saddle. Brian kindly dismounted to give me leg up, and I settled back onto Steen's bare back. I asked for a walk, then a jog, and suddenly the Steen I was riding from there on out was the quiet one who jogs around with his head down, not minding circles or turns or flexes.

So, needless to say, I won't be riding in that saddle again.

Horseback hours YTD: 18:45

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A Ride in the Sun

We had crazy winds here all morning but by late afternoon things had settled enough that we headed out to see how the boys were doing. Steen was a bit jumpy during tacking, but Bear was back in awesome mode. I gave Steen some chopped hay and we took our time grooming them in the sun. Then we headed to the strip.

One of our goals for the day was to get some photos, as we've been falling down on the photography lately. So, Brian gave me a leg up and I walked and jogged Steen around. At one point Cathi's husband drove by and Steen was totally fine with this.

Although Steen was quiet today, he was a bit distracted. He was just a tad opinionated about our trajectory a couple of times, and kept wanting to pick up the jog unasked. So we actually did a fair bit of walking.

After taking quite a few shots of me riding, Brian hopped on Bear. They proceeded to have an absolutely fabulous ride. Bear was clearly just a tad tired from the start, and this translated into quite docile behavior. Brian trotted him quite a bit, and then did some more loping at the end for good measure. I got off before he did to snap the first shots of Brian loping a horse. Ever! (There is a better one on his post.)

We only rode for about half an hour, at which point we returned to the hitching post for another grooming session. Bear was happy to be doted on.

You can see how much less his belly sticks out to the sides and how much good muscle he's put on lately. And they're not even out in the big pasture yet!

Horseback hours YTD: 17:55

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