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

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