Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Inconsistent Path Forward

Sunday was Duke Day, and Steen was very much in need of a trim. It was raining when we got the barn, and we beat the farrier. We brought the boys indoors and they were wet and jittery, but we took our time grooming and gave them a little chopped hay, then rode indoors for a while. Steen was good. He was giving nicely when I asked for the feel and never got snorty about the tractor, which was interesting. I'm used to him shying away from it a few times each ride, but he never even looked at it. He was also paying a whole lot of attention to my legs. He rarely picked up the trot unasked, and we went smoothly through all three gaits. Then it was our turn for the farrier and once again he was the model client.
Ride Time: 0:40

Monday Brian had a work retreat, so got home a little earlier than usual. We scooted out the barn and headed for the second pasture. I got on with high hopes, and Steen started out doing pretty well with the soft feel exercises. But then I think I jumped the gun. I decided to ask him for the feel at the walk and I never got it. He'd just walk around looking confused and annoyed but never trying to get ride of the pressure. Once I thought he gave but really he was just shaking his head, but I released him when I should not have. So I immediately tried again and that time got nowhere at all. I tried at the trot, thinking perhaps at a faster pace he'd try harder to figure out what I wanted. Yeah, that didn't work either and then he started refusing to give me the feel even standing. So that was totally my fault and it serves me right for pushing a very new concept too far too fast.

But the ride was not a total loss. He seemed to start to understand short serpentines much better and his lope was fabulous. He was very attentive to my steering the whole ride, and his attempts to pick up the trot were minimal.
Ride Time: 1:00

Yesterday I went out expecting to have to do a lot of remedial feel work, so it was a nice surprise when I started with a little groundwork and found Steen was giving to the bit while backing in a way he never has before. This is another thing I picked up at the clinic - moving a horse forward and back on the ground using a slobber strap to prepare for suppleness under saddle. Steen will back just fine, but I'd never seen him give at the poll and back in a nice, soft collected manner until yesterday. So that was exciting.

It was super windy and the corn is drying and was making some very strange noises as the gusts hit it. I thought this might affect the ride, but Steen only gave it one or two concerned looks. He stood like a rock while I mounted and wiggled my legs around and petted him and messed with my mecate. When I asked him to walk, he walked. In fact, the total number of his attempts to pick up the trot amounted to two. Two! I can't remember the last time I had a number small enough to count (if it's ever happened).

I was careful to limit the times I asked for the feel to stopping and standing. We also continued our work with short serpentines. We practiced stopping a fair bit (something he still doesn't put any effort into, but I'm hoping that will come logically once these other concepts start to solidify). He was flexing so nicely he'd have his head starting to turn the moment he felt his slobber strap move, and he was relaxed and highly steerable at the lope. The thing he often does being stiff in one corner and inclined to shoot out of another was utterly absent. His trot was quiet and relaxed and at times I was steering him entirely with my seat. Not even my legs - my seat. It felt awesome.

I got off in the middle to work a bit more on moving him around on the slobber stab from the ground, incorporating the idea of turning while backing. That's an important concept to build in for some of the higher paced, more fun exercises we'll eventually add in to our repertoire. But for now I feel pretty happy with what we're working on. What we learned at the clinic is clearly having a positive impact, but I need to be careful not to overdo it in my excitement.
Ride Time: 1:00

Horseback hours YTD: 68:40

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