Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quality over Speed

Horsemanship can feel vast sometimes. Whenever I see videos of Buck Brannaman or Ray Hunt working with a green horse, the main thing that floors me time and time again is how fast they are. They ask for one thing after another after another, and their horses stay focused and attentive.

These last few rides I have been trying to push Steen more, but the major thing I have to be careful of is that I don't start rushing. Fantastic trainers can go fast because they are precise. Their horses are rarely confused because the rider always knows exactly what he wants and how to ask for it.

I know most of my communication errors with Steen are my fault. Some of the time I'm asking him for things I've never actually felt a horse do before, which means I am sort of guessing. When I try to go fast, I get muddled, and when I get muddled, Steen gets upset. So today I was really thinking about pushing Steen, but doing so in a slow, precise manner.

I think it worked. The last two rides have been good, but we were back to a new level of softness today. I rode in the snaffle and he was softening to the bit at the walk and trot and happily holding collection for a few steps. I worked more on moving his forehand around, and I can see he is starting to understand this exercise. When he wouldn't get it right I would not give him a release, just keep asking gently. He almost always got it right the second time.

We went from there into my figure-eight exercise that includes a trot-walk transition, a stop, backing, then jumping straight into the trot from the back. That went well, except I have to be careful not to lose the soft feel during the back as Steen has developed a slight tendency to anticipate the jump into the trot.

Then we worked on leg yields, which went really well. We're having a lot more success when moving to the right, but were getting multiple steps with collection and reaching across in both directions today.

Finally, we did more loping, and again Brian and Bear loped at the same time we did. Other than one moment at the beginning when Steen got away with a veer towards Bear, he was responsive and attentive in both directions. Best of all, he was great to the right. He wasn't leaning on me at all, so I think our little battle of wills last time worked out for the best.

We rode for 45 minutes, and everything about today's ride was a little better than our last one. In some ways that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but if I could say that about every ride Steen would be a wonder horse in no time.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 2:50

Friday, January 27, 2012

Early 2012 Fitness

I'm not the New Year's resolutions type. Not because I don't think I need to change anything about my life, but because I have never once had any success with the idea. In my experience all major changes come about slowly. One tiny, itty bitty step in the right direction followed by many more tiny, itty bitty steps equals change. So for me, while it would be great if I could say to myself, "I'm going to get super fit this year," it is too much. A year is too long. The goal too abstract. I find it much more effective to break things into smaller pieces.

But for the moment I do have a fitness goal, and I am hoping it is something I can achieve within four to six weeks. The goal is both simple and huge. I want to be able to do a pull-up.

In many programs that work towards a combination if all-around fitness, strength, and health, the pull-up is the barometer. If you are physically capable of pulling your own body weight up to a bar, that means you are not over-weight and you have a good amount of lean muscle.

Currently, I can do what I call a 3/4 chin-up, meaning I can pull myself up to a bar when I start with my elbows open at about a 135° angle and my palms facing my body.

A real pull-up is when you start with your arms straight and your palms facing away from your body. This is much, much more difficult, both because the lower part of the pull is harder and the rotation of the hands engages a different set of muscles. The chin-up is a useful stepping stone to get to the pull-up.

I started using the pull-up bar as part of my workout rotation about 7 months ago, and at that point I could only manage a 10-second flexed-arm hang. So I've already seen a lot of improvement. To build myself from where I am now to where I want to be, I'm going to mostly be doing negatives, which means pulling myself up to the bar from about half way and then lowering myself the whole way down in a slow, controlled manner. That's pretty hard for me at this point, but five days into my pull-up program it's already getting easier.

Here I am (our pull-up bar is in a closet), lowering myself down:

I apparently look very serious when working on pull-ups and use my left arm at a strange angle.

As I'm currently at a healthy weight and fairly strong, I think a pull-up is totally achievable. I just don't know how long it will take. So I'm going to work at it every day until I get one, then keep at it until I can get a handful of good ones in a row. Then I'll find some other short-term fitness goal to focus on for a while.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Half Thawed

The pasture is in a bit of a state right now:

So I always feel like it is a good thing to get the horses inside, get their hooves dried out and get them moving a little. Steen has lost some fitness in his three weeks of convalescence. Today my plan was to trot a lot. Instead I ended up loping a lot. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My work on moving the front end over seems to have already helped. A month or two ago I was reading Hackamore Reinsman by Ed Connel, and he talked about how different horses are inclined to use their bodies differently from birth. He said most horses do most things decently well, but occasionally you'll see the horse that will pull out a sliding stop while romping in the pasture, and you know that horse would make a good cow-horse.

Then there is the other kind of horse -- the kind he described as reluctant to engage the haunches in any circumstances. Much to my chagrin, his description of how this horse moves and behaves when at liberty lined up with Steen perfectly. He says this kind of horse needs a lot of remedial work to learn to roll his weight back. This is one of the reasons I've been trying to work on moving Steen's front end over. It should force him to start to use his haunches.

Today, I actually felt what this exercise is meant to be like. It didn't happen every time, but once or twice instead of taking one plodding step across after another, Steen actually rolled his weight back and took multiple steps across, planting one hind foot and scooting the other around. It was both interesting and encouraging to feel.

I rode in the snaffle again, and worked more on both haunches-in and leg-yields. Yesterday I think I got a bit over-zealous with the leg-yields. I was trying to make him go down the entire diagonal of the arena. Today I realized that was too much to ask, and switched my technique. When he collected and gave me two or three steps in a row, I released and gave him a break for the rest of that lap, and picked up the exercise again only when we turned the corner and were going in the opposite direction.

Then I decided to lope for a while. That went quite well going to the left, but to the right he was doing the thing where he digs into the turns and just barrels along on what feels like two legs. When I tried to push him out with the inside rein and leg, he just leaned on me and barreled faster. So then we loped for a long time -- until he could see the wisdom in listening to my suggestion not to lean against pressure, but to give to it. It was only probably only about five minutes of solid loping, but it felt like a long time to both of us. Eventually he did stop barreling and started listening. After I got two good turns I let him stop.

All in all it was a pretty awesome ride. Steen was much softer today all around, and I was riding better. Feeling him collect and half-pass under me is pretty awesome, as is the feeling of loft I got when he started to use his haunches moving his front end around his hind. I feel like each ride lately I am getting more of these glimmers of a higher level of horsemanship. I am pretty excited to see what this year of riding brings.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 2:05

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mostly Healed

Well, January has not been a great month for riding. Work has been busy, Steen has been healing, and the weather has been uninviting. So the horses have been getting some time off. Beyond making sure Steen's leg wasn't getting any worse (mostly thanks to Brian looking in on it for me), I've not had anything to do with the horses in days.

But today I was more than ready to get back out there. Brian and I decided we would go after work, no matter what, and I spent the whole day looking forward to it. After we got to the barn and brought the horses in, we turned them out for a few minutes inside. The pasture is icy, and sometimes when their movement is more confined outside they get a kick out of tearing it up in the indoor. Mostly this time they just wanted to roll.

I checked on Steen's leg. It is still a pretty deep, thick scab, but it hasn't been swollen or tender in a long time, so I think it's safe to ride on.

We saddled up and climbed aboard. I rode in the snaffle, mainly because there are a few things I sort of skipped over when I moved up to the hackamore, and I want to go back and work on them properly so I don't leave behind any holes. Plus with all the time off I figured our feel would be rusty. It was. Steen was quiet and relaxed and attentive but was slow to give me any softness at the walk or the trot.

One thing I've been thinking about in my time off is how demanding most successful trainers are when you see them working with horses. I have a tendency to ask Steen for one tiny little thing and then fuss over him like crazy when he does it right. While I do believe in positive reinforcement, ultimately I think too much praise does more harm than good. So this ride I started thinking about pushing Steen a little more. I've been asking him to move his front end over under saddle for months, and he's ok at it. Since he's not super consistent about it though, I don't push him when we're working on it. But today I decided to ask for one step, and when I got one ask for two, then three. Of course I didn't to want over-do it. After a few minutes working on any given thing I made sure to take a break and move on to something else after a particularly good attempt, then come back to that thing later.

I think it worked really well. Steen seemed more engaged late in the ride than he often does. I returned to moving the front-end over a lot during the ride, and each time he got a little better about it. I also worked just a tad on haunches-in and leg yields, both of which I've done a bit before but never consistently. The horse needs to hold collection throughout the exercise for both of them, so it is a new level of challenge for both of us.

We also loped around some. At one point after I started loping, Brian and Bear loped with us. That was fun, and something we'd never done together in the indoor before.

By 40 minutes into the ride, instead of starting to get sluggish and bored as he often does as the ride draws to a close, Steen was as attentive as at the beginning. So that's a good sign.

Mostly, though, it was just pretty fantastic to be back on my horse!

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 1:15

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kettlebell Recap

Since my declaration a while ago to use this blog to talk about fitness as well as horses, I haven't done the greatest job keeping up. But 2011 was pretty big year for me as far as strength goes.

After my stint doing 100 swings for 30 days, I tried to up that to 200 a day. But it was too much for my temperamental right side. I started experiencing the tightness and pain in the knee that seems to occur when I either a) work out too hard or b) don't work out enough.

I had a period of being rather inconsistent with the kettlebell, and started seeing what I'd gained from the swinging evaporate. So with the help of my husband, I made a plan. I chose six exercises and assigned them each a number. Every day I rolled a die and exercised accordingly. My numbers were:
1. swing
2. press
3. goblet squat
4. dead lift
5. chin-up
6. get-up
This is a good set of exercises because rotating between all of them works the whole body in a balanced way. My rules were if I rolled the same number two days in a row, I could either pick my own exercise or take the day off. I kept track of what I did each day and my only goal for any given workout was to do a bit more than I did the time before.

I have to say, this was really fun and I kept it up for a number of months. The randomness caused by the die kept me from getting bored, and I began to see results fast. Before long I was pressing the 26lb bell, swinging the 53lb, managing to actually do a real chin-up instead of jumping up to the bar and lowering myself down, and dead-lifting over 100lbs with Brian's barbell. Goblet squats were a new move for me, but I was pleased at how they toned my arms and my legs. It did take me a long time to get the motion down without irritating any joints though, so I've been sticking with the 26lb or 35lb bell for that one.

Eventually, the one exercise a day thing started to feel limiting. I started adding swings before and after everything else I did, and for some reason the get-up started bothering my hip so I struck that from the list. The last few weeks I've abandoned the die and have been picking my workouts at random. I've been doing a combo swing/goblet squat workout that is really tiring but good for a little cardio. But I've decided I need to come up with another, more focused strategy pretty soon if I'm going to keep making progress.

All in all though, I'm pretty pleased with where I am at right now. I've certainly never been this strong in my life, and it is simply a benefit in more areas of my life than I ever thought it would be. I don't look buff, but I've been in a number of situations lately that have clearly illustrated I'm stronger than a lot of guys. That's kinda cool. My weight hasn't gone up or down in a few months, but my clothes are still getting looser. So, that's awesome and I'm curious to see where 2012 takes me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Borrowing My Husband's Horse

We went again to the barn on Saturday. Steen's cut looked good, but the swelling above the ankle was back just a tad. Not enough to be alarming, but enough to convince me not to ride him. I brought him in and groomed him and gave him a snack, then put him back outside.

While I was doing this, Brian was riding Bear. When I got back from letting Steen loose, he offered me a ride.

I really haven't ridden Bear very much, and when I have it has usually been because we're trying to determine if some odd behavior is due to discomfort or just butt-headedness. In the last few months, though, Bear's butt-head moments are down considerably. He's behaved like a gentleman for a couple of unfamiliar riders, and I can't actually remember the last time Brian needed help handling him. Brian's also been doing a lot of work on getting him softer and more responsive to light cues, and while I can see Bear's progress I hadn't actually felt it.

So Brian rode for about half an hour and then we switched places. Brian had already done a fair bit of loping and trotting and I was physically quite tired from a long cross-country ski that morning, so I wasn't inclined to push things. Bear was also not super excited to learn his ride was not over. He didn't want to go at first and I had to administer some kicks, but once he got moving he went very nicely. Until I asked for the trot, which he didn't want to give me at all. After a couple kicks I just gave up and gave him a pop on the butt with the end of the mecate.

After that he stopped being so grouchy about going and treated me to a pretty great ride. He is both more fit and more attentive than when I last rode him. When I asked him for a lope he picked it right up and moved out smoothly. His lope is a lot more compact and controlled than Steen's, and it was interesting to feel the difference.

At any rate, it was a very fun little ride and it was good to spend some time on a horse. So far my year is off to a definitively pathetic start as far as riding goes. But oh well. We got a lot of bonus hours in December so I suppose I can't complain.

Ride Time: 0:15
Horseback hours YTD: 0:35

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stall Time

We swung by the barn on our way out of town on Sunday to take Jesse and Susie back to Chicago. I checked on Steen's leg. The cut looked about the same. The swelling was no worse. So I put more neosporin and wound powder on and felt pretty unconcerned about it. But then we went out again on Tuesday and it still looked no better. The leg also felt hot to the touch, which didn't make me happy at all.

I took Steen to the wash rack and although he gave me a definite "you've got to be kidding me" look, he did not move when I started to spray cold water on his leg. Luckily it was in the 50's, and he was probably overheated in his blanket anyway.

I hosed off the leg and probed around at it a bit more. In digging I discovered the wound actually went a lot deeper than I'd thought. There is a puncture that basically goes straight up his leg under the skin, but the angle was so odd and it was under so much hair and skin, it was extremely difficult to see. Even once I found it the only way I could see it was to hold Steen's foot up in the air and squat down so I was underneath, looking up.

So I did a more thorough cleaning with warm water and antibiotic, trimmed away the hair, and had a discussion with the barn owner. She was concerned about the flap of skin reattaching properly, and suggested a leg wrap. In the past when our boys have had booboos, she's been the one do the actual bandaging, but she's recovering from foot surgery so this time it was up to me. Brian helped, of course, and without much difficulty I had Steen all wrapped up.

The bandage came out looking pretty tidy, if I do say so myself. We gave him a powder med for inflammation and turned him back out. But the next night we got a snow storm, and what with the blowing snow and freezing temps, having him out in the elements with the bandage wasn't a great idea. Yesterday morning the barn helper brought him into a stall. 

This afternoon Brian and I went out to see how things were doing. Steen was in the outdoor arena while his stall was getting cleaned, and he was wound up. He was holding his head up and glancing around in a way I haven't seen in ages. I haltered him and pulled his blanket to discovered he'd lost roughly a zillion pounds in 36 hours. (While I will concede I might be exaggerating slightly, he really is a lot thinner.) It never ceases to amaze me how this horse can drop weight when conditions are right.

I unwrapped his leg and was happy to see the swelling is entirely gone and the wound pretty well scabbed over. I groomed him and practicing moving his feet a little, at which point he was content to settle down and start to relax. I kept an eye on the cut while Brian rode, and it wasn't inclined to ooze or break open as Steen moved around. So eventually I concluded he'll be healthier and happier in his normal environment. I applied more neosporine and wound powder and sent him out into the snow-filled pasture. I'll check on him tomorrow. I am hopeful things will progress from here to healing, but if he gets swollen again we'll probably have to go for another round of wrapping.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Family Fun

The new year has started off pretty busy and trips to the barn have been a bit scarce.

Last week we had some visitors:

My brother Jesse and his wife Susie came to Iowa via England from Hawaii, on their way back to Arizona (don't ask.) And remarkably all my dire warnings to them to be prepared for horrible weather proved to be unnecessary. We had sunny days in the 50's and 60's.

Last Friday we took them to the barn with us. Jesse rode Steen a bit in the outdoor arena, but Steen was playing his "pick up the trot constantly" game. Jesse stuck with it for quite a while, and Steen did improve to some degree, but it still wasn't the easiest ride for either of them.

Susie had a nicer ride on Bear, who was a little sticky in certain spots but otherwise well behaved for her. Jesse hopped on Bear for a bit too, and that went well.

I also rode a little bit, and Steen at least wasn't doing the trot thing to me. I didn't ride long, though, because Steen had a cut on his left front foot that looked just big enough I didn't want to risk taxing him. There was also a bit of swelling around the ankle, but it went down while we had him moving around, so I thought that was a good sign.

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

The Archives


Popular Posts