Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Hard Ride

In the interest of furthering our new goal to broaden our horizons, on Wednesday afternoon Brian and I headed for the second strip. We have high hopes of getting some excellent riding in over there in the next weeks. It is huge, much wider than the strip we normally ride on and has the benefit of not being where our horses normally live, so we don't have to juggle various herds and gates, and also it gets them out of their comfort zone.

While that last bit is good in theory, it can be trying in reality. It probably didn't help that I was nervous as we headed out. I was nervous because I knew Brian was nervous because it was just Steen and Bear, no Doc to help Steen feel safe. Steen's tendency to spook increases dramatically when the number of horses present falls from three to two. And while I am used to riding through Steen's jerks and quivers and don't particularly mind them, it is quite true that every time Bear has truly spooked it has been following Steen's lead. It is one thing if your horse does something stupid and it is uncomfortable for you, but quite another when your horse's behavior is putting someone else in a tight spot.

But we made it through the narrow ally between the corn and silos without incident, then down the scary road and past all the massive hay bales with only a little shying and snorting. Once on the second strip, the terrors were all behind us. We walked back and forth the length of the grassy area without incident, Steen actually seeming more relaxed than Bear.

Then we decided to stop and stand and Steen didn't want to stand, he wanted to fidget around and I in my wisdom decided to make him stand until he relaxed instead of making him stand for a moment, then giving him another job to take his mind of his jitters. This was a mistake. I think because Steen has been so good lately, I kind of forgot that when he's nervous, making him stand still is the absolute best way to cause his behavior to deteriorate, while letting him move around asking little things of him will help him focus and relax.

So before I knew it I had antsy Steen on my hands. He was doing everything he does that drives me crazy and from there the ride was pretty hard on both of us. Everything I tried seemed to make things worse and of course I was mad at him before long, which never helps. I got off and did some ground-work twice, but I wasn't very nice with the groundwork and it didn't help much.

Steen and I did a lot of spinning in circles. Bear and Brian, meanwhile, had a lovely ride and we did manage to trot back and forth along the length of the strip quite nicely together (it was a very, very fast trot, but I could stand to practice my posting anyway) a few times. And that is the rub of it. When I just point Steen somewhere and tell him to go, he's actually surprisingly good on the trail. It is if I ask him to stand still or do something other than go in a straight line that he turns combative.

I wanted to work Steen until he relaxed, but an hour and a half into the ride he was showing no signs of tiring. I gave up. We went back to the barn and I loped him around on the strip for a few minutes. His lope was energetic and springy and he was a butthead about the turns. I got off and he nickered at me.

So, next time I think I'm going to try to be less demanding from the start. That's not to say I'll let him get away with any bad behavior, but I do think I need to remember that with Steen it is always insecurity that makes him act out. I need to find constructive ways to build up his confidence when we're out away from home. Forcing the issue has never been the way to get through to him.

Ride Time: 1:40
Horseback hours YTD: 58:15

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