Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unsticking the Back

I ended up riding three horses today, though it wasn't quite as exciting as it sounds. Cathi was riding her thoroughbred, Chewy, when we arrived, and I mentioned after she stopped loping that he moved so differently from Steen. She immediately offered me a spin. I climbed up into her hunter saddle with stirrups that were way too short. Chewy is at least 16hh, and big too. He felt pretty strange. But I walked and trotted around on him for a few minutes. It never hurts to get the feel of another horse.

Then I climbed on Steen. It was in the 30's, so warm enough to ride in a saddle. I also rode in the hackamore again. I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable with it, and of course it is a whole lot easier to balance correctly with a saddle so I thought the set-up would be a good one. Since Steen is still getting used to the hackamore, me riding in a saddle probably smooths out some variables for him.

Steen started out fidgety while during grooming again, and after many days of this I'd had enough. The first time he moved I just grabbed his lead rope and backed him firmly all the way across the barn. I couldn't push him super far without running him into a stock of hay bales, but he got the point. I led him back to his spot by the locker and he stood there for a minute giving me a look, then dropped his head and sighed and didn't budge the rest of the day.

Once the ride started, he felt good. Not quite as full of pent up energy as last time, which was nice. He was listening nicely from the beginning, though still a bit restless when I asked him to yield his hindquarters or forehand while standing. I tried to work back and forth between asking a lot of him and just letting him move naturally. He felt really kinked up at the trot,  like he was afraid to go forward, so I mostly just let him go. He did relax some, but I never got him to give me a soft feel trotting.

Then Brian wanted to lope and was having some trouble getting Bear into the gait, so I just took Steen over near the tractor and let him stand for a few minutes. I picked up the soft feel every minute or so, but otherwise left him alone. I actually think this really helped. He started to relax, and soften against the hackamore almost as well as he does against the snaffle. So that was very encouraging.

The other thing I worked on was backing. Since I introduced collection, Steen has this habit of over-collecting when I ask him to back but not actually moving his feet. So I'll ask for a back, he'll give me one tiny step and then he'll tuck his chin so far he'll be practically bumping himself in the chest but not going anywhere. I didn't know what to do about this, but luckily Brian turned up a blog by another person who was at the same Buck clinic we were (as well as a couple others) and in her write-up about what she learned addressed this particular issue. Buck says to get the feet unstuck, you have to ask for the back with more energy, which means leaning back a little and moving your legs and upper body, though not kicking and yanking. I tried this on Steen and by the end of the ride he was actually stepping out backwards instead of just shuffling along, so that was great success.

So other than my first magical ride in the hackamore, this was the best I've felt in it. If he'd been more relaxed at the trot, I would have tried loping him. But it was a busy day at the barn and there were people waiting for the arena, so we only rode for 40 minutes and I didn't feel I had the time to really work him at the lope if he turned out to need that.

But after I got off Steen I briefly climbed on Bear. I wanted to sit in Brian's new saddle. Bear was tired, though, and not super pleased to have another passenger. I only made him walk around a little and then hopped off. It's a neat saddle. I will perhaps throw it on Steen some time soon to get a better idea of how it feels on a horse I'm more used to.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 101:20

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