Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snaffle vs Hackamore

I had one of the busiest weeks with the Brown Wing Studio that I can recall. I launched my two largest projects of my entire career within 12 hours of each other. By Friday I was tired and fried and by the time Brian got home I was wandering aimlessly around the house because I couldn't spend another minute in my office.

Steen and I had a very mediocre ride in the hackamore. I rode in my saddle and I was tired, and the bales were very low. I could tell he didn't have a lot of energy, which meant he was quiet but not as responsive as I've come to expect. The whole ride was just ok. He didn't do anything bad, but he did very little that was quite up to the quality I am shooting for. The only things I was really getting out of him was energetic backing and a nice downward transition from the trot to the walk. But I probably wasn't riding great either, so we just did the best we could.

Ride Time 0:50

Today it was warm and the barn was packed. Luckily we had already planned on venturing out into the big pasture. I rode in the snaffle and I was pretty curious to see how Steen would behave after quite a few rides indoors in the hackamore. They had new bales, so Bear was bloated and Steen was lively. We rode out and Steen started off walking at his usual speedy clip but also giving me the soft feel like a champ every time I asked.

The ride overall was very good. We rode around in the bottom for a while, then went up to the hilltop. About three or four times Steen started winding himself up towards having a bad attitude, getting focused on the idea of going home. My strategy was simple. When he did this while we were standing, I asked him to back. Every time he so much as moved a foot, we just went backwards. Fast. And quite a ways. This was a good opportunity for us to work on our back. It's a lot for me to think about, making sure he is really reaching back with his feet and staying soft to the bit while I also make sure I give him a release when he is soft and don't when he's not. The upshot of this strategy was twofold. First, each time we stopped it only took one or two spurts of going back 60 feet before he started planting himself pretty well. Second, when I asked him to back I started feeling something new. Usually he would start off either slow or braced, but then I would speed him up and put a little pressure on the bit and he would collect and his shoulders would lift and suddenly he'd be moving backwards light as a feather in my hands. Every time I felt this, I took back about two steps then let him stop. I am pretty sure that feeling is ultimate goal when moving a horse back, so it is pretty exciting to see Steen starting to nail it.

But Steen's other problem is he has a tendency to interpret breaks as a signal that the ride is about to end. I often get the worst  behavior from him after I've let him stand to rest for a few minutes. This happened today as well, so every time he started getting antsy I just pulled out the short serpentines. He's getting so much better at this exercise, he is no longer confused by it and has lost the ability to really brace up on me while we work on it, so I would really push him, and just bend him around one leg, then the other, back and forth and back and forth until I could feel that his mind was on me again and not the barn. It worked every time, and we were able to walk and trot without a barn magnet.

We'd been riding for about 50 minutes when we heard some gunshots in the woods and realized it's hunting season and we forgot our orange vests. So we went back to the barn at that point. Steen gave me a motor walk the whole way back, but never tried to trot, so that was fantastic.

Back indoors, I climbed back on and we loped for a while. Steen's lope was the best I've felt it in a while. He moved right into it and stayed there, staying mostly on the rail and bending through most of the turns.

All in all it was very interesting to ride him in the bit again. He is so soft to the snaffle at this point, my rides in the hackamore seem stiff and sloppy by comparison. But we also just watched Buck's Hackamore Horse DVD, and he stresses at the beginning that moving a horse into a hackamore is difficult, that the hackamore is a tricky tool to learn to use and that at the start you're going to want to throw it out the window many times. But he also stressed that if you stick with it you can get a kind of lightness the snaffle can never achieve. So that was a good reminder that I need to be patient and focused, ride in the snaffle sometimes to give us both a break, but ultimately a hackamore horse is worth all the effort.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 103:15

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