Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Good Kind of Fall

We've had a mild fall, so even though today was chillier than it has been, it was by no means cold. When we left the house it was in the mid 50's. Every year I forget what best to wear for various temperatures, so I tend to head to the barn over-dressed and remove layers as I get too warm.

Brian has taken a few days off to let his wrist recover from his fall, but today he felt up to riding. We decided to take it easy and ride in the tree lot. Usually, Steen is more energetic when the weather is cool and it was also windy, so I didn't mind staying closer to his comfort zone. But he was great with groundwork, backing off the idea of pressure on the slobber strap most of the time. He's gotten so soft with some things, I am really understanding the idea of moving a horse on a feel, and when it works it is awesome.

Steen was good while I mounted and asked him to flex a few times. Here again I noticed a bit of a change. The way I used to ask him to flex was incorrect because it made him bend too far so that he had to shift his weight to his front to keep his balance. Of course this would set him up to fail at things like yielding his forehand or taking off smoothly at a trot or a lope. Ever since I've changed my method of asking for the flex, he's improved, and today it felt right. I'd pick up the rein and he'd bend before the contact reached his mouth and give me his head while standing square.

But once we started walking I could feel he had a lot of energy. Still, he was listening. I think our indoor ride helped him focus on my increased use of my seat and today he was just as attentive as we rode around at the walk. I was able to get him to weave back and forth and turn shallow figure-eights only shifting my set and the set of my legs. Every now and then he'd get distracted by something in the distance and I'd have to twitch a rein to get his attention back.

We moved on to trotting and this felt good too. I worked on getting his head down a tad and getting him to soften to the bit from time to time. I continued to concentrate on steering with my seat and he stayed attentive. We did this for a while, then stopped and backed some half circles. When I walked him out again I think he expected to lope and was a little excited, but the footing in the tree pasture isn't great. There are a lot of fallen branches and a few stumps around, and with all the fallen leaves it was hard to see where the hazards were, so I didn't want to go running around. I kept Steen at the trot and he stayed keyed up, so to help him focus I created a little exercise that involved stopping, backing a 1/4 turn, then bringing the forequarters that last 1/4 and trotting off in the other direction. This was useful in getting him to pay a lot of attention, but the trotting out from standing was actually making him more excited. So I filed that idea away to work on later and reverted to moving between the trot and the walk with as little help from the reins/legs as possible. I am trying to work on being extra precise with my transition ques lately, because I think a lot of the time when Steen get's obsessed with picking up the trot he's just over-sensitized, and everything I do ends up translating to a request for a trot in his head.

He was good through all this, and he was stopping nicely too, and though he was standing he wasn't relaxing while standing until Brian came over and stopped Bear next to us and we chatted for a while. Brian had been working on asking Bear to disengage his hindquarters without help from the rein, something we saw at the clinic but I hadn't tried. I tried it too and discovered it's a good antidote to a slightly fidgety Steen. When I touched him with my heel he knew I wanted him to do something, and responded by trying to go forward. I let him bump my hands to tell him that was the wrong thing. He tried a few other options before giving me his hindquarters. We went on to the other side, which took much longer, and then went back and forth for several minutes. I need to remember to do this with him each ride because it's a great way to remind him that legs don't always mean forward or faster.

Finally we headed in, taking the long way back through the big pasture to the outdoor arena. Steen got excited about going home, but stayed at the walk, so I only asked for a few more disengages before hopping off.

Last night Jean gave us the rest of the photos she took of us a few weeks ago. Steen is so photogenic, it cracks me up. He's such a goofball in person...

The Photogenic Steen

The Real Steen

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 82:45

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