Sunday, November 06, 2011

Winter Prep Project

Although this fall has so far been mild, I know the cold will set in any day. I want to do a better job riding through the winter this year. To that end, this weekend I finally sat down to make something I've been thinking about putting together for about two years.

I gathered my materials - scrap fabric, sewing machine, bag of white rice, and a cup of tea. Brian was on hand to consult with over design specifics, and before too long I had created a couple bit warmers.

Basically they are just quilted tubes of fleecy fabric full of rice. Before heading to the barn we popped one in the microwave. The rice heats up in about a minute and holds the warmth for quite a while. The warmer can thus be wrapped around a freezing bit like so:

The metal sucks the heat right out of the rice. This means I should never again have to shove a frigid bridle in  my armpit for several minutes to get the bit warm enough to put in Steen's mouth.

The warmer worked like a charm on our trial run. Steen seemed pretty fine with the results. At any rate, he treated to me to another fantastic ride, even though he was more than a little keyed up during tacking and grooming due to high winds and heavy machinery nearby. I did a little extra groundwork with him to make sure he was at least relaxed and focused when I climbed on.

These things are hard to gauge, but I actually think I may have had the best horseback ride of my life today. Every time I think I know what soft and responsive is, Steen shows me a new level. Today we finally started to master the exercise that involves disengaging the hindquarters at the walk, then bringing the forehand around and continuing on. It's a cool thing to feel Steen roll back on his haunches and load up on his hind legs, then spring his front through the turn and keep moving. I know this is the key to fast, fluid turns in every discipline, yet I'd never really felt it before except in moments where my horse was spooking or responding to something other than me.

The other great thing is I'm finally starting to develop the ability to know where Steen's feet are. At the clinic Buck talked a lot about how you must know what foot your horse has its weight on any time you ask it to do something, because if you ask for a right turn, say, but your horse has all its weight on its right forefoot, your horse is going to trip itself trying to respond to your request and lose faith in your good judgement.

While I can appreciate and understand the principle behind this idea, I must admit even just a few weeks ago I found the prospect of somehow knowing exactly how my horse's weight is distributed among its four feet at any given instant seemed more than a little impossible. But the cool thing about all the work we've been doing since the clinic is it has not only helped Steen learn to understand his body and its balance, it has helped me do the same. When trotting figure eights I'd get to the middle point, and I could feel whether or not he was balanced correctly to ask him to shift directions. If he wasn't, I waited one beat and then asked.

At the lope, things again went beautifully. He was loping perfect circles when I sat with my legs asking him for a turn. When I shifted my seat, he'd switch to loping straight, then move back into the turn at just another change in my seat.

The thing we're still misfiring on a lot is downward transitions. Now that Steen is starting to understand collection, pressure on the reins just causes him to break at the poll and dip his chin. Stopping is no longer a problem, since I've gotten our communication on that point pretty well ironed out. It's moving from a fast gait to a slower gait that is still a problem. Of course he'll slow down if I yank on his mouth, but I don't want to do that, which means I need to work on easing him down with my seat instead of hands. As ever, this is probably more about me learning to ask him correctly than him learning to do it. At least I've got plenty of time to work it out, and in the meantime hopefully I'll have many more rides like today's.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback hours YTD: 90:40


  1. Huh, I hadn't really thought about it, but I guess one of the benefits to riding bitless is that there's no bit to warm up. :)

    I've been working on knowing where the horse's feet are too. I don't think I've taken it quite as far though.

  2. Yeah, cold bits are no fun. And on the feet thing -- I've got just the very first glimmer of being able to feel it when I'm paying attention. I think it's going to be a long time before I've really got it down.


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