Monday, November 14, 2011

Two Rides in the Pasture

We had a weekend that was warm, but windy. We decided, nevertheless, to take advantage of the balmy temps and drier footing and head back out into the big pasture for a couple rides. Steen was good both days -- better than he has been in our last forays out in this larger space. The first ride we stayed along the bottom of the gully, walking around and doing more focused work at intervals. Brian's big goal for the weekend was to get Bear to start to give him the soft feel at the walk. It is interesting to see the difference between how Bear and Steen are taking to some of the new concepts we've incorporated into our riding style lately. Steen is very responsive and reactive by nature, so when I ask for something new he gives all sorts of different responses until he lands on the one I want and gets the release. This means he tends to pick up on new concepts quickly, though conversely he is prone to lapses of attention, which means it takes a long time before I can count on a consistent response.

Bear, on the other hand, is older and we don't know more about his history than what we can deduce by watching his behavior. It's clear he's been ridden a lot, and not mishandled in any major way. He's not soft though, and for Brian it's been a question of helping Bear learn to respond to light touches. He learned to break at the poll in response to pressure on the bit while standing without any more trouble than Steen did, but while walking he wasn't getting it. He'd tuck his head a bit and continue with resistance in his neck.

So on Saturday we did some long walks during which Brian put light pressure on the bit and held it and I watched to help make sure that when Bear did break at the poll, Brian immediately released. We walked and walked and walked and Bear's ears were in that "thinking hard" position for a long time. Finally, it came. Bear dipped his chin so much there was no danger of Brian missing it. We gave him all sorts of praise and little break and then did it again.

My goal for Steen was to keep him calm, to ride with quality and to keep him paying attention to my legs the whole ride. I've noticed that when my legs are soft and relaxed, Steen is more relaxed. When my legs get stiff, I inevitably must rely more on my hands, and Steen knows this and gets stiffer and more nervous in response.

So on Saturday my focus was legs legs legs, and Steen did very well. He did have a bit of a barn magnet, but I could only feel it when we were working on figure eights and short serpentines, and I was able to smooth it out at intervals. It was actually a really different feeling, the sensation that he was paying more attention to me than the concept of going home.

Sunday was even better for Bear. Although Bear is sometimes slower to start learning something than Steen is, once he learns it, it sticks. He was so good with the soft feel that Brian was able to ask for and hold collection at the walk for a few steps at a time.

With Steen things started out so mellow I found it a bit disconcerting. We walked around and he was as relaxed as I'd ever felt him in spite of 50mph winds. However, he wasn't as responsive as I've come to expect. The word sluggish comes to mind. So at one point I was asking him to back and he was giving me these little fake-out half back steps, I gave him a little pop to wake him up a bit. Of course with Steen even the tiniest kick or pop has a huge impact, and then he got pretty riled for a while, particularly when shortly thereafter we headed in the direction of home. But I tried to stay soft and we worked on short serpentines until he could give me one that didn't involve spinning on the hindquarters of dumping onto the forequarters in an attempt to get closer to the barn. It took quite a few minutes but eventually it happened, at which point I let him stop and think and stand. We both took a few deep breaths and I tried to think calm, to keep my legs relaxed and in their right spot, and while he never went back to being sluggish he did walk quietly for the rest of the ride.

Ride Time: 1:00
Rime Time: 1:05

Horseback hours YTD: 92:45

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