Saturday, September 17, 2011

Turning Towards Fall

We had a wet Friday so didn't get our normal afternoon at the barn. Today it was cool and overcast when we pulled the boys from the pasture. They even got their first serving of chopped hay for the season, which they both seemed quite happy about.

Steen was attentive from the start today. I noticed leading him from the pasture he was putting a lot more effort into staying with me than usual. He's been pretty good about leading for years, but today he was always right at my elbow, whereas sometimes he can be a bit prone to lagging.

Once mounted in the second pasture, Steen started giving me a nice soft feel right away, but then he was keen to walk off so we spent quite a few minutes during which I'd ask for the soft feel, he'd give it to me, I'd release him, he'd take a step, I'd ask again, repeat. He even went through a period of being kind of upset about this repetition, but the whole time I only had light pressure on the reins (or none, in the moment after I released him for tucking his head). Finally he settled and stood still. We worked on some flexing, which he's doing very well.

Steen doing exactly what he's supposed to, tucking his head and even standing square!

When I asked him to move out he went off at his really really fast walk but did not attempt to pick up the trot. We walked around the pasture for quite a while, and I started working on getting the soft feel at the walk as well. This wasn't quite as successful as when standing, mostly because I'm not as good at feeling when it happens. We also worked on trotting and short serpentines. I can feel just in three rides of correcting some of my seat and steering mistakes and working on exercises like the (correct) flexing and short serpentines, Steen is feeling a whole lot more balanced. He's already using his hindquarters more and showing less inclination to dump his weight forward on his front end in turns. So many of these things are issues I knew I was having but had no idea how to fix, so it's such a relief to be able to finally make some progress on them.

trotting

After working through walking and trotting a few times, we stood for a while to take some photos of Brian on Bear. Steen was great about standing.

parked and watching Bear

But then I wanted to walk again and Steen had made the mental transition he so often does. He wanted to be done, and so out came the attempts to pick up the jog. I responded with one-rein stops and they worked like a charm. We did more trotting and more standing, after which Steen again got sour. The second time his response to the one-rein stop was to refuse to go forwards after I stopped him and even sometimes going backwards when I asked him to walk. After a few times nagging him into forward motion, I remembered what Buck said about always using a very light "ask" and when that fails, getting the desired response in a way that makes an impression. So Steen picked up the trot again, I stopped him again and he refused to walk when I asked him to. I gave him a firm (but not hard) kick with both legs.

I'd really never done that to him before, ever, and of course he shot into a lope. I loped him around for a while and then brought him back down to the trot. He was then completely on the ball. I have never felt Steen try so hard and pay so much attention to me. He was moving off my leg, staying at the gait I asked and after a few minutes he got over the kick-induced jitters and relaxed. Obviously, I don't want to get into the habit of kicking all the time, but since he's so not used to it, it's an unbelievably effective way of getting his attention.

I feel like these last three rides have been revolutionary. Mostly I just feel so much more educated and capable of making my wishes known and understood, and enforcing the rules when Steen doesn't want to listen. The result is he understands what I'm after, and since I'm not tolerating little transgressions, he has no means of working himself up to bigger ones.

Best of all, we haven't even scratched the surface of what we learned. We're easing the horses (and us) into this stuff, but after each ride I am already curious to see what happens on the next one.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 66:00

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