Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sunday Bliss

Today was sunny, breezy and in the high 70's. After our excellent ride yesterday, we were keen to get out to the barn again. We returned to the big pasture after mounting, and walked all the way to the hilltop to work on backing half-circles.

Steen was relaxed. I'm sure some part of it was the heat. He's putting on his winter coat and it's already longish and thick. But also I just think we were all in a good mood. He walked quietly to the hill-top, then was quite good working on the backing.

It's been about a month since the clinic now, and I think I can safely say it's permanently changed the way I ride. We're building everything up slowly, but ever since we started applying these basic principles Steen has changed in a few key areas. He hasn't so much as shifted a single foot while I'm mounting in weeks, and he stands like a champion in almost every situation. Given the years I've been battling both these problems, it is some parts inspiring, some parts discouraging to know they were only sticking around because I wasn't handling him properly.

Steen is also a lot more balanced. All the flexing, backing, giving of the poll and work on yielding the forequarters is helping him use his haunches more. He's also understanding the bit a lot more and this makes him more responsive. Which is saying something because he's always been very soft in the mouth.

He still gets excited when we turn for home, but today he never attempted to pick up the trot. When Brian and I trotted around together on the hilltop, I worked on bringing his head down. Ever since I've gotten militant about addressing the prancing issue, he has a tendency to brace when he trots. Luckily I don't think it should take him long to sort out that I'm never going to yank his head around after asking him to trot, only when he does it of his own volition. The long trots of the last two rides have helped already. Today I even got the soft feel at the trot a couple of times.

Here's Steen bracing at the trot (on a loose rein, I might note).

Here he is doing much better.

We actually had a spook today, and for the first time ever Bear spooked Steen and not the other way around. We got down to the far end of the hilltop and a big bird flew out of a tree. Bear lurched forward and a half second later Steen jumped into a lope in response.We both stopped without trouble and we continued on our way.

Bear was seeming tired, so we didn't ride too long. We rode back to the barn and, though excited, Steen walked the whole way. We paused to work on short-serpentines at the bottom of the pasture, then went to the outdoor arena where I worked on loping for a while. Steen wasn't pleased about this, but I think working him a little hard when we get back to the barn might help with his over-enthusiasm to get there. We went in circles and for many laps his hind end would trail towards Bear every time we went past him and he'd drift way out of that corner, bending his neck about 90 degrees to his body and loping sideways. One of the things Buck talked about was not nagging, either asking softly and getting a response or making an impression when the soft ask fails. I've been trying to really keep this in mind with my riding. At the lope I took a couple laps and made sure I was sitting well, encouraging Steen's hind end back into line with my leg. He ignored me, so in the next lap when he let his hind end trail out he got a firm kick in the ribs. That got him all upset, of course, but I kept him going and the next time we went around the corner he moved through in an arc like a normal horse. I let him stop and rest.

In the other direction the trailing wasn't as bad, and it took less of a kick to shape him up. After that he gave me a very nice lope, so I didn't make him go more than another couple of laps. Then I stopped and dismounted and he stood there heaving like he'd just run a marathon. With Steen so much of what makes him tired is the emotional energy he puts into his points of resistance. Sometimes I'd like to tell him five minutes of loping after an hour of walking around in a grassy pasture can hardly be considered inhumane treatment.

Still, I always feel a bit bad when I end up being hard on him. I gave him an apple core while untacking. Steen loves apples, and almost never gets them. So that made him happy.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 79:35

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