Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Nice Ride

Today Brian and I headed to the barn in the morning for a change. He was able to mush his work schedule around and I had a dentist appointment in the afternoon, and it was going to be hot, so we figured this was the only chance we would get to see our boys.

We saddled up. I've been preoccupied lately with the notion that my new saddle is riding low on Steen's shoulders. It has plenty of clearance over his withers under the pommel, and the seat angle is about what it is supposed to be, but somehow every time I look at it just seems tilted. But today I finally came to the realization that my cantle is actually taller than my pommel. Considerably. Also since the skirts are new they have a bit of a tendency to stick up in the rear when my weight isn't in the saddle. I think this is what has been throwing me off.

Today my fabulous husband was also kind enough to loan me both his pad and his stirrups. I wanted to see if Steen's pad had anything to do with his dry spots (the answer is no) and I've been experiencing a little knee discomfort in the new saddle, and thought the narrower stirrups it came with might be the problem (I was right).

While I was tacking up, I realized my horse is chunky. Steen, who I still think of as borderline too thin, is nowhere near too thin. Not at all. In actual fact, he hasn't been too thin for quite a while now. So while that is good, I should probably make sure I keep his exercise level high enough that he doesn't start getting overweight.

Out on the strip, things started off mediocre. Steen was a bit directionally opinionated. I got off twice to fuss with the saddle. Then I got back on determined to put it out of my head. After that, things improved. I honestly think the bulk of my problem is I've been riding bareback for six months, and no saddle feels like riding bareback, no matter what, ever. And that is fine. I just have to get used to it again.

So, today I rode for 50 minutes. I spent time at all three gaits, plus standing. After we got going, Steen was actually pretty awesome. He was at first goey at the trot, but calmed down before long. His lope was about as smooth and slow and balanced as I've ever felt it. He was very happy to stop and stand when asked. In short, he was good. And I was comfortable. Other than those first few moments in which I was worried about the saddle, I didn't think about it much.

Horseback hours YTD: 40:50

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Still Swinging

So far so good on my swings project. I've done 100 swings a day for 8 days now. I've already moved through some seriously sore muscles more than once. I've been using both the 26lb bell and the 35lb bell, switching back and forth depending on how energetic I'm feeling at the beginning of any given set. Today I ended up in a bit of a hurry trying to fit my swings in before a meeting, so I did 50 (with the 26lb bell) in one go. That was tiring.

As far as the results go, I have definitely gained considerable strength. I have noticeably increased muscle definition in all parts of my body, but particularly the arms and abs. I haven't lost any weight according to my scale, but I've compressed. I put on a pair of pants that are usually a snug fit today and discovered they are a bit loose.

At any rate, I'm curious to see how I feel about the whole thing in a few more weeks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Ride and a Trim

Today was Duke Day, and though we often end up not riding on days the farrier comes, the weather was so beautiful we didn't want to miss the opportunity. Also, Brian thought Bear might have an easier time with his feet if he was nice and limber after a light ride, so we headed out earlier than usual, tacked up and headed to the strip.

A thorough examination of Steen's back again yielded no evidence of soreness, but he did move a little when I got on. I corrected him and he then stood quietly for quite a few minutes. My goal for today was to keep things calm. Our last number of rides have been very fast and demanding, so today I started out just walking straight lines up and down the fence-line. Steen was pretty relaxed, and though he did try to pick up the trot once, he immediately dropped it when I corrected him and then didn't try again. After a few walks up and down, I asked for the trot. He picked it up without hesitation, but was clearly wondering whether or not I was going to ask him to run again. He was trotting in this kind of funny, upright way, like he was keeping as much weight of his front end as possible so he'd be ready to move into the lope the moment I asked.

So, I kept trotting him until he relaxed and stopped thinking so much about going faster. I spent a lot of time thinking about keeping my seat soft and deep, my shoulders relaxed and my breathing steady. For the most part Steen stayed mellow, though every time we got towards the lower part of the strip and turned back to the barn he would accelerate for a moment.

Then I started to feel like the saddle was riding a bit low and far back. I hopped off, and by that point we'd been riding long enough that we thought our turn with the farrier might be coming up. Brian had accomplished his ride goals, so I adjusted the saddle and we all went back inside. In the indoor arena, I remounted.

Indoors Steen was definitely thinking about loping, but I just made him trot around until he was dropping his head and relaxing. Then I called it a day. I groomed him and he was so mellow by the time Duke gave him a trim, it was almost comical. Steen is always great for the farrier, but today he was perfect. Duke complimented him for his behavior. Bear had a much easier time than usual, too, so perhaps we'll try to make this a habit.

Horseback hours YTD: 40:00

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Two Fast Rides

I've spent my last two rides in the new saddle. On Friday, we rode on the strip. Steen started out very relaxed and we had some good trots. The ground was nice and dry and he was feeling balanced and attentive, so before long I transitioned up to the lope. He was mostly good at the lope, except that he got progressively more convinced that he wanted to go to the top of the strip where Brian was riding Bear. This would result in a really, really, slow, shallow, stiff turn away from them, and a really quick, dramatic turn towards them. Annoying, really, and not very easy to relax into. He was also really digging into the turns and at times I felt like my boot was not nearly as far from the ground as I generally prefer.

After loping for a while, he was keen to stop. After I let him stand for a bit he did his usual thing when I asked him to do anything but lope, he pranced around and tried to turn towards Bear. We spent quite a while transitioning in and out of the lope and the trot, and trotting and around in very small circles until I could get him to walk again.

Just like my last ride, towards the end it did feel like he finally relaxed and I was able to get him to trot in nice straight lines up and down the edge of the strip. He was moving with his head down, definitely collecting himself and lifting his back up into the saddle like he's supposed to. At the very end, he came down to a walk and didn't try to trot again as we headed back to where Brian was riding Bear.

After I got off, Steen was very relaxed and happy to hang out,

while Brian finished his ride,

beneath fluffy clouds and blue skies. It was another cool day, and Steen was only a little sweaty. When I took the saddle off, his normal dry spots in their usual places. I palpated his back quite a bit and he did not react in any way, other than to doze off. I've been reading a ton about dry spots over the last months, and have read articles by a number of reputable saddle makers that say sometimes dry spots mean bad saddle fit, sometimes they mean something else. The real indication is movement and soreness. So while I'm not happy to see the spots are still there, I'm not going to throw in the towel on the saddle just yet.

Today my goal was to lope a lot, and to further this end I decided to ride alone, indoors. Brian came out with me but took Bear to the outdoor arena.

Before tacking up, I spent a lot of time exploring Steen's back for sore spots. I found nothing. We also brought out a piece of wire to use to trace the angle of Steen's withers and shoulders, which we compared to the inside of the saddle. The two lined up perfectly. It looked as if the saddle had been built around the wire. Conversely, when we put the wire in the bear trap, the tree flared out and away from the wire.

When I got on, Steen stood quietly. I sat on him for a few moments and as we stood there one of the stall horses got loose and came charging in from outside, ran past the arena entrance, nearly fell over turning the corner into the aisle, and then ran into his stall. Steen pricked up his ears, but otherwise did not react.

Our ride was about 45 minutes, and I probably spent 30 of those minutes at the lope. I let Steen steer himself and concentrated on riding as well as I could. It is hard not to lean off the outside stirrup when he digs into the corners, but the only way he's going to learn to balance better is if I let him lope enough to figure it out. I found the more I could keep my weight on his back and out of the stirrups, the more he leveled out and began to bend. By the end of the ride, he was loping on a loose rein with his head down. Like, quarter-horse down. In my past experience, Steen always always always lopes with his head up and his back dished out. He does this even when he's not carrying a rider. But today he was dropping his head and using his haunches to bend around turns instead of skidding through them. To me, that's a very good sign.

He did get pretty tired though. I have not loped him for that long in a stretch since we moved from the old barn a couple years ago now. And I have to say wearing him out had a significant positive impact on his willingness to stay relaxed in the lower gaits.

When I pulled the saddle, the dry spots were there -- like that stray dog or annoying neighbor who just won't leave when all you want to do is sit on the porch and enjoy the sunset in peace and quiet. But much poking and prodding of Steen's back yielded no reaction. He wasn't even kind of sore in those spots. Since I honestly think he moved better today than I've ever felt him move in the three years I've been riding him, it's hard for me to take them too seriously.

So, obviously, I'm going to keep an eye on things, but I'm also going to keep using the saddle. The moment Steen shows signs of soreness, I'll reevaluate. For now I think the spots might be a hold-over from the old saddle. I know sweat glands in horses can become damaged. If they're damaged enough, even a comfortable amount of pressure from a nicely fitting tree could cause them to shut down.

After the ride, Steen was a total doll. I hosed him down and gave him lots of praise for his efforts.

Horseback hours YTD: 39:30

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Another Try

Today Brian and I headed to the barn armed with yet another saddle:

This is a Cashel trail saddle. It's build on an axis tree that has a reputation for leaving a horse free at the shoulders and fitting a pretty wide variety of backs.

Plus it's just a pretty saddle. :)

It was a rather cool day here in Iowa, and we found the horses both inclined to fidget and be restless during grooming. Steen was actually pretty horrible about standing for the first time in months, until I finally got annoyed and got on his case a little. Then, apparently taking the reprimand to heart, he was content to doze while I finished grooming and tacking.

We've also had a lot of rain, so the ground is a bit soggy. Steen was happy to stand while I mounted, then dismounted to adjust the stirrups, then mounted again. But the ride that followed was highly mediocre. Steen was distracted and goey, but he was turning really nicely, his downward transitions were better than usual, and when I could get him to settle and pay attention, he treated me to the uberjog. But when he wasn't settled he just felt spring-loaded. Every time we turned a corner and pointed up the strip, he told me in every way he knows how that he wanted to run.

Naturally, I did not let him do this. Between the slippery ground, the new saddle and his high-energy, I was feeling a bit wimpy and inclined to keep the pace slow. We had some seriously long trotting sessions, during which his pace was erratic depending on which direction we were going, and sometimes very fast. I concentrated on giving him his head unless he actively started to shift into the lope in hopes that he would slow himself down. When I finally asked him to stop, he was good about flexing, and standing.

Towards the end of the ride I was working him in small circles and I felt like he finally focused, at which point he started stretching his neck, dropping his head and lifting his back. I rode him for a bit longer and things stayed pretty good. Then I thought I'd take him inside and lope him, but when we got to the indoor arena I discovered it was occupied by a trainer on one of her horses, and her daughter on a pony. So I just pulled the saddle and called it a day.

It was too cool for sweat patterns, but I worked Steen hard enough to get him pretty warn. I poked and prodded around on his back while he yawned and dozed off and did not react in any way. There were no ruffled patches of hair or anything else to indicate rubbing or shifting. Still I think it's impossible to say for sure whether the saddle fits or not. For my part, I found it quite comfortable, and pretty much exactly what I want. It looks like it sits nicely on him, both with and without the pad, so I'm hopeful his antics today were just a results of his high spirits and the cool weather.

Horseback hours YTD: 37:45

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

100 for 30

I declared a while ago that I was going to expand this blog to encompass overall fitness as well as horseback riding --- and I've not mentioned working out since. This isn't because I haven't been doing anything. It's because I haven't been doing anything in a very focused manner. The result is I've lost a lot of strength and my workouts have been highly inconsistent.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to get back on track with the kettlebells, but I was finding it difficult to get very excited about the stuff I was doing. My favorite exercises (turkish get-ups, swings, and presses) are feeling a bit boring to me lately, and since I've lost strength I've been getting frustrated when I have to use the lighter bells. My typical workout would pretty much consist of wandering down to the basement, staring at our array of bells for a while, and trying to do something different than I'd done the last time I went down there.

But yesterday my fantastic husband mentioned something interesting. He said he's come across a number of fitness and kettlebell gurus who really adore the swing as an excellent tool for breaking out of a workout funk. The beauty of the swing is that it is simple, yet it works on the entire body. Brian told me about a guy who did 200 swings a day for a month and ended up looking and feeling better than he ever had in his life.

So, while I not currently strong enough to manage 200 swings a day, 100 is totally doable. That is my new plan. It's easy in the sense that I don't have to think about it much, and hard in the sense that I'll get a good workout. Yesterday I used the 35lb bell, and did swings in two sets of 30, two sets of 15 and one set of 10.

I was pretty well exhausted by the end.

But today I am not sore. Still, I don't want to wreck myself to start, so I might use the 35lb bell for half and the 26lb bell for the other half today. We'll see. But I'm pretty curious to see how I'll be feeling in 30 days.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good Sweat

Although groundwork used to be a regular part of what I did with Steen, in the last six months or so as he has mellowed significantly and his ground manners have become excellent, I have been pretty much skipping groundwork so I can ride more. I've also gotten pretty lazy with suppling exercises while mounted and the last few times I've ridden and have been trying to work on getting Steen to bend through the turns, he's felt a bit hard in the mouth to me from time to time. Over the last few rides I've been asking for more flexes and have noticed Steen will either give to the bit perfectly just like he is supposed to, or he will ignore me completely because there is something more interesting going on over yonder.

So today when Brian and I went to the strip, Steen was wearing only his rope halter. I had him on the long rope and I had my stick in hand, and we started out with some fairly intensive groundwork. Not long ago I saw a little video of Clinton Anderson doing groundwork with one his horses, and it was sort of a revelation to me that he blended all of the "exercises" together into an unbroken pattern of him asking the horse to move. One of the reasons I stopped doing groundwork was because it had gotten very repetitive. Both Steen and I were bored with it.

My goal from today was to make the groundwork fun, and to string actions together in a way that would challenge Steen but not overwhelm him. And in actuality this worked very well. Steen seemed to have a very good time, and was quite attentive and focused on me. He flexed and disengaged well from the start, was great in circles and was giving me some absolutely huge backs when I moved into his space, but was ready to leap forward again with his ears pricked when I started running backwards instead. In all it was really pretty endearing. He was giving me so much effort and he really seemed to be having fun.

But it was hot and after a while it was getting to be less fun, so I let Steen graze while Brian had a long, productive ride on Bear. When Brian finished riding, I traded him the rope halter for his saddle, threw the saddle on Steen and climbed aboard.

Steen stood great until I asked him to move off, and then he was very willing to amble around the strip. I was concentrating on giving him a lot of rein and riding with my seat. He was neck-reining beautifully, and moving off my leg like a dream. I moved him into the trot and he stayed very good. I asked him for a lot of zigzags and circles, but also stopped and made him flex and back quite a lot too. Finally I moved him into a lope and he picked it up smoothly and keep in a nice relaxed gait until we went around a corner and started back down the strip, which is a bit downhill. He then started to accelerate quite a lot and feel a bit unbalanced, so I brought him back to the trot. After that he wanted to go go go. This is still perhaps Steen's biggest rough point. Once I ask him to lope, he gets super wound up for a while. So I worked on relaxing and giving him his head. When he felt like he wanted to run I just moved him in lots of turns and circles with my legs and seat. It actually didn't take as long as it often has in the past until he was willing to settle back into the trot and chill out. Once he'd been settled for a while, and we'd moved through walking and standing as well, I asked for the lope again. Again he picked it up really smoothly and stayed feeling nice for a while longer. Then after a couple circles he got his rear lead switched and didn't seem to know how to fix it, so I just asked him to trot, cooled him down, and called it a day.

Best of all, though, was when I took the saddle off there was no question of dry spots at all. He was wet all over his back. No rumpled fur, no dryer areas. He was drenched. So that means the bear trap fits him, which means he is not an impossible to fit horse. While the bear trap is not the ideal saddle to suit my personal tastes, I do like it an awful lot and could certainly make it (or a saddle on a similar tree) work if I had to.

After the ride, Bear and Steen got to have a bath and split an apple. So it was a pretty good day for everyone.

Horseback hours YTD: 36:55

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Slick Grass

I had a bit of trouble motivating to go to the barn this afternoon, but Brian wanted to go with or without me, and when it came down to it I couldn't resist heading out with him. I was glad I went. The weather was perfect and Steen was happy to see me. He almost always comes to me in the pasture these days.

I went bareback and we walked and trotted around the strip. Steen was decently well behaved, and I was concentrating on staying relaxed and enjoying myself. Brian was having some trouble with a rather uppity Bear, so I was sometimes stopping and watching the two of them and offering suggestions. Eventually Brian decided to get off and do some groundwork. Bear started loping around on the mecate and got a bit too enthusiastic about digging into the corners. The grass was a tad slick and Bear's feet slipped out from under him and he fell down on his side.

He was up again in a second, but he was sort of upset. Brian had dropped the mecate when Bear fell, and Bear was riled enough when he got up that he headed back for the tacking area. He couldn't get there because a gate was in the way, but I decided I didn't want to be on Steen with Bear loose, so I slid off. Brian retrieved Bear, gave him some words of encouragement and then did a bit more groundwork. Bear didn't seem off or sore, so Brian even got on a rode just a little bit more, since the whole reason he had Bear doing groundwork in the first place was because Bear was being a pill. Bear did seem more able to focus, but Brian only rode a few minutes so as not to make any bumps or bruises worse.

I didn't get back on, but I did pull Steen's mecate all the way out to do some groundwork. Steen was good, and when I got into some speedy forward and back changes, he was clearly having fun waiting and watching to see what I'd do next.

So, it wasn't a bad day at the barn, but it certainly wasn't what we were expecting.

Horseback hours YTD: 36:25

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mixing it Up

I hadn't been out to the barn in almost a week. There were a few factors involved in my absence. First, we were out of town all weekend and half of Monday. Second, I'm just really bummed about the whole saddle situation. Third, work came out of its early summer slump and I've got all sorts of projects to keep me busy.

But today it was time to get out there again. It was good to see Steen, but the moment I got on he started seeming restless and distracted. In my time off I've been thinking about how I need to find more ways to challenge Steen while I ride bareback, so today when he was seeming like he didn't want to focus on me, I started asking him to disengage his forequarters. I've done this tons from the ground, but never from his back. At first he didn't get it at all, but we worked on it over the course of the ride and he started to get it. We also did a lot of flexing and disengaging the hindquarters (two things he's  pretty good at).

The other thing I tried to hold onto was how comfortable I felt the last time I rode Steen (in Brian's saddle). And while a good saddle can certainly help you feel good on a horse, at the end of the day it's not the most important aspect of riding. Today I made a conscious effort to let go of the fear of falling that has been clinging to me since my hard tumble and concussion last year. I rode with one hand and let Steen neck-rein as much as possible. He appreciated this, and responded by being very soft for the majority of the ride. I also never reined him in when he started to trot fast. I just shifted into a posting trot and soon enough he realized he was just wasting his energy, and came back down to a sit-able pace.

When we weren't working on yields and disengages, we were trotting around, and I was making a point to keep him on his toes. I would weave around the strip quite a bit, never really settling into a pattern. This, of course, prevented him from anticipating what we were going to be doing, which had a positive impact on how much he paid attention.

All in all, it was a short but satisfying ride.

Horseback hours YTD: 36:00

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Borrowing the Bear Trap

The whole saddle debacle has taken the wind out of my sails a bit, but yesterday Brian came home from work and coaxed me out to the barn. He wanted to spend a day working on groundwork anyway, due to Bear's swollen ankles, so he offered me a the use of his saddle.

I've only ridden Steen in the bear trap twice before, and he did really well both times, but in neither instance did I ride him hard enough to get a real sweat pattern to look at. Since we're now back to saddle shopping, a logical place to start seemed to try to determine if the bear trap fits Steen or not. So we headed out and tacked up. Steen was not at all worried about the different saddle on his back.

We went to the strip and I climbed on. Steen stood perfectly while I mounted and continued to stand quietly until I asked him to walk. He then walked around just fine. For my part, the saddle felt pretty darn good. I did feel much taller and further above Steen's back than I'm used to after my many months of going mostly bareback, but it actually felt great to have a nice cantle behind me and a balanced seat to sit in. I rode around and Steen was very responsive at the walk and trot. I actually neck-reined almost entirely for the early part of the ride and Steen was more than willing to respond to my leg and seat cues most of the time.

Then after we worked at the trot for a while, I asked him to walk and he did, but then he wanted to stand around and when I urged him forward he started with his typical little "pick up the trot" routine. So instead of making him stop, I just pushed him into the lope. He was really surprised at first, but not unwilling. We loped around and around on the strip. He still has a tendency to want to dig into the turns instead of bend through them, but other than that he felt pretty balanced and controlled. We loped for quite a while and it felt great. He was a less controlled going right than left, but by no means bad in either direction.

it was dim and cloudy so the little camera didn't get any great shots, but Brian put in a gallant effort

I stopped him and let him stand for a moment and then after that all he wanted to do was either stand or go. *sigh. I worked on trotting him in small circles until he calmed down a bit, which only took a few minutes. Then it started to rain. Hoping it would pass, we kept trotting and working on transitioning down to the walk. I had finally had him settled and willing to walk again when the rain really picked up, so we moved inside where I got back on and loped some more. After loping in both directions I got him to trot, then walk using only verbal queues.

By the time I got off, Steen was tired but he also seemed pretty happy and proud of himself. I do think he likes to lope. He never resists picking it up at all and in the indoor I was able to just give him his head and let him try to feel his balance himself. By the end he was bending more and digging in less and going at a fast but smooth pace. I hopped off and untacked and looked for dry spots. The results were inconclusive. He was dryer on his shoulders, but not in one little area like when a saddle is really pinching. It was more like he had three or four small semi-dry patches that were overlapping somewhat but all still a little sweaty. And he hadn't actually sweated as much as I'd hoped, so there is a decent chance these would have disappeared if I'd gone on riding for longer.

So, I guess I didn't answer a whole lot of questions, but I did have a whole lot of fun. I guess I'll have to borrow Brian's saddle a few more times. :)

Horseback hours YTD: 35:25

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Massive Disappointment

I have rarely been so impatient for something to come in the mail as I was on Tuesday. UPS didn't show up until after 6:00, but when they did they delivered a large box containing my new Bob Marshal Endurance saddle.

It was too late to go out to the barn for a ride, but we unpacked the saddle and looked it over. It is nicely made of good quality leather, and I was keen to give it a try. Finally after Brian got home from work yesterday, we headed out, tacked up and I mounted, fully expecting to have an awesome ride.

And I have to say, I have rarely been so disappointed as I became over the next half hour. I did like that I could feel the saddle re-conform slightly when Steen sighed. But to be perfectly honest that was the only thing I liked.

From my perspective there are four major issues with the saddle, which combined to a sum of making this what I consider the least comfortable saddle I have ridden in. Ever. In my whole life. And that is saying something as I've ridden in saddles that are way too small, way too large, cheap, brand new, broken down, missing important components, etc. etc..

Of course, the rub of it is I don't want to hate this saddle. I want to love it. I've just waited for months to get my hands on it. And now it arrives and I find myself so turned off by it I hardly even want to give it another try.

Anyway, here is a summary of the four things that makes this saddle so problematic to ride in:
  1. The upper part of the fender is exactly the wrong length. It is too long to be contained by my thigh, and too short to be smoothed down by my calf. As a result, it sits constantly in the crook of my knee, meaning any time I adjust or move my leg to communicate with Steen, it crunches up into the angle of my joint and interferes.
  2. Since the seat is flexible, the cantle is a bit mobile and kind of curls up behind you while you ride. It's also weirdly narrow, so instead of cupping around my back-side like a cantle should, it simply rolls up and the two joints where it attaches to the seat dig into my upper tush. Constantly.
  3. While I accept that you need to have padding if you are not going to have a tree, this saddle has padding in strange places -- like all the way down the side of the saddle where there is no weight to distribute  This means it is so wide it pushes my thighs out at an unnatural angle and makes it hard for me to relax my lower leg. By the time I got off, the hip that causes me problems sometimes was genuinely flared up. While my hip bothers me doing a lot of things, horseback riding has never been one of them.
  4. There is a seam down the center of the saddle. And this is not a smooth, recessed seam. It is a tall seam with a raw edge that sticks up. I looked at photos and read reviews and researched this saddle thoroughly before I ordered one, and how I somehow failed to know that instead of a smooth seat it has a ridge down the middle is beyond me. Have the people who designed this never ridden a horse? I tried hard not to focus on it, but even after half an hour of walking and jogging around on Steen, I was starting to experience some chafage in places I really don't want to be chafed.
The only positive thing I can say for the saddle is that Steen had an even sweat pattern on his back when I got off. He also seemed pretty relaxed in his jog. But he was not well behaved during our ride. Probably because I was so uncomfortable I could hardly focus.

So, needless to say, I am a bit crushed. Of course, it's not the end of the world. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't like this saddle, but I never anticipated I would hate it this much. I can't imagine how any even semi-serious rider makes one of these work.

Almost worse than not liking the saddle, though, is the fact that I'm now back to square one on the question of finding something that is comfortable for both me and my horse.

Horseback hours YTD: 34:25

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Steen the Sluggish

It's been hot. It's definitely been having an effect on every body's energy level. We went out today to find the pasture herd just hanging out by the water,

We tacked up in the barn aisle to get out of the sun for a bit, then headed out to the pasture. Things started off poorly with Steen. He was distracted and inclined to try to choose his own direction. He was also super sluggish, and just not interested in putting much energy into the ride.

Still, we trotted around for a while. Steen was paying so little attention to where he was putting his feet that he kept tripping, then getting upset about having tripped. He also had a pretty noticeable Bear magnet effect going on. Any time we turned away from Bear, his hindquarters would trail out behind him. Any time we turned towards Bear, he'd turn sharply.

We kept it up though. Eventually I found a more level piece of ground and just worked on gait transitions between the walk and trot in a large circle. These started out bad but slowly transformed into being pretty good. Steen was so sluggish he was more than willing to slow down most of the time, which I used to my advantage.

There were a couple of times that he clicked over into "trot no matter what" mode. A couple of times I had to pull him down from his defiant little jog four or five times in a row before he would cool it. And the funny thing is, he was doing this because he wanted to stop. He was always the worst about this after I let him stand for a while, then made him start working again. Not the most logical behavior. But then, Steen is a horse, afterall. Logic is clearly not his strong point.

But he was actually being quite good by the end, so I suppose I can't be too hard on him.

Brian had a pretty good ride on Bear. They have been spending quite a bit of time at the lope, and Bear is trim and fit these day.

Horseback hours YTD: 33:55

Saturday, June 04, 2011

June Showers

Today there was a small chance of storms in the afternoon, so we went to the barn in the morning. This decision back-fired a bit though. We'd just gotten out to the pasture and mounted when it started to rain.

The sun was out, and the sky was by no means dark, so we decided to just wait it out. We let the horses stand with their butts to the wind, and got rather wet.

The shower only lasted a few minutes, and afterwards we were all a bit wet and sticky, but tried to get our ride underway in spite of this. Steen was actually pretty great today. He was much less opinionated about where he did or did not want to go. Brian mentioned a tip he read recently in a Julie Goodnight article. She suggests exhaling before asking for a downward transition to prepare the horse for the idea that a slow-down is coming. I tried that with Steen today, and it worked really well. He was much faster than usual to transition out of the jog into a walk. He also barely jumped into the trot unasked at all. When I could feel him thinking about it, I practiced exhaling and this seemed to talk him out of it a few times.

Like yesterday, his trot was beautiful today. He was really relaxed, moving nicely on a loose rein and paying a lot of attention to me.

I also think I can safely say Steen has mastered the art of standing. It's sort of his new favorite thing.

Horseback hours YTD: 32:55

Friday, June 03, 2011

New Headgear

It's been hot, and the flies are out in earnest now. There were a few rides last summer when the flies on his face got Steen pretty riled up and irritated. The last time I rode part of Steen's distraction seemed due to flies. I ordered him a fly mask that attaches to his headstall a few weeks ago, but today I finally put it on..

I'll be the first to admit it makes him look pretty funny. However, it definitely seemed to do the trick. He spent a lot less time shaking his head.

He was much better behaved in general today. We rode in the pasture again, and I was again staying focused on using one-rein stops and flexing to the bit to soften him up. He showed a marked decrease in his desire to pick up the trot unasked, and he was also more willing to come back to the walk with less persuasion when he did pick it up. He was also trotting very nicely, slow, with his head down, doing a pretty good job engaging his shoulders and haunches.

The main thing he was doing that wasn't great was being somewhat opinionated about where he wanted to go. I think it was partially the slope in the pasture and partly perhaps because it is a space he sometimes lives in. We'd be riding along and suddenly he'd decide he wanted to go somewhere else.

He wasn't insistent about it though. Usually I could dissuade him with just a little shift of my sit-bones and a little leg.

It wasn't actually much of a ride. All four of us were hot and tired. Steen and I spent about 45 minutes shifting between walking around, jogging around and standing around.

After we turned the boys back out in the pasture, we stopped to play with Whisper a bit. He is getting larger and bolder. He will approach a person with only a little hesitation and doesn't mind being touched like he used to. He will sometimes yield to pressure, and is rather a biter. But I guess at that age such things are to be expected.

Horseback hours YTD: 31:55

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Steen the Irritating

On Monday we rode again on the strip. I went bareback and Steen started out being very good, but over the course of the ride his behavior sort of devolved. The main thing he was doing was wanting to jog. Constantly. Any time I tried to put him down into a walk he'd just keep jogging until I made him lurch around in little circles for many, many rotations. Then the moment I let him go straight again, he'd start jogging again.

I don't know why he does this sometimes. It's not like he's trying to run away. He just shifts into a smooth little jog and refuses to come back to a walk. It drives me absolutely crazy because I can't figure out why he does it or how to get him to stop. On Monday it really hit a nerve for some reason, and I found myself rapidly losing my temper. Getting mad at a horse is pretty much always counter-productive, so I hopped off and did some groundwork on the mecate and then stood around fuming for a while, letting Steen graze while Brain finished up his ride.

After Monday I realized I need to find a more systematic way to address this problem. I am sure the breaking into a jog unasked problem is related to the general sluggishness of stopping problem I've always had with Steen. Up until the last six months or so, this was also combined with a refusal to stand problem and tendency to walk off after I mounted problem. I can console myself with the knowledge that these other two problems have disappeared, at least.

Still, Steen is well past the point that these are acceptable habits for him to have. I spent some time thinking and reading over some of my favorite horse books and came to the conclusion that there are two problems here. One is that Steen is very bad at downward gait transitions, and the other is that I get mad at him for being very bad at downward gait transitions. So I need to find a way to logically address his behavior, and also not get angry.

Today Brian and I rode in one of the pastures because they are making hay on the strip. I rode bareback again, and had decided to revert to the old one-rein-stop training method. I was also determined not to lose my temper.

Things started off well. Steen showed a lot of willingness early on, and we worked on walking figure-eights for a while. Then I asked him for the trot and we spent a while alternating between jogging a figure-eight, then walking one. This went mostly pretty well, with only a few attempts on his part to jog when I didn't want him to. Each time he picked up the jog unasked, I gently bent him into a circle until he came to a full stop and then asked for a flex, then let him stand a moment, then returned right back to what we were doing before.

This worked quite well for the majority of the ride. It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that his behavior started to deteriorate. It was hot and I think he just decided he was pretty done. At that point he got a little testy about which direction he wanted to go and his stops and downwards transitions got markedly worse. His frequency of trying to jog unasked also increased considerably.

I just stuck with my strategy. I think the thing that gets me about this particular behavior is it is so irrational, and he will take it so far. He is capable of continuing to jog with his nose bent and touching my knee, and he will do this for four or five rotations of a circle sometimes. But I stayed firm but calm all day, and by the time we hit an hour of riding, he had improved again. I rewarded him by getting off and giving him a little bath to help cool him down.

So, I think I am going to stay focused on this for the next few weeks and really concentrate on trying to get this behavior ironed out. After today, I'm hopeful it is possible.

Horseback hours YTD: 31:10

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