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

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