Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Mellow Ride in the Sun

It's been a sort of harrowing few weeks for me. It's not that anything bad has happened. It's just been busy. I should be (and am) grateful that my little business is booming to the point that it is keeping me really, really busy. I am glad we are close enough to our nephew that a trip out to his first birthday party is possible. And of all the dogs you could conceive of finding yourself randomly living with, the one that landed on our doorstep is pretty exceptional.

But still, having a dog in the house is a lot to adjust to, particularly since I'm here trying to work all day and we don't have a dog-proof yard. Factor in the fact that the dog is one of the most highly intelligent, energetic breeds out there, add a little sleep deprivation to the mix, and it's been a bit overwhelming. Today I was feeling more than a little in need of a break. We left Elsa at home and headed to the barn.

Steen has developed quite the habit of coming to meet me the last several weeks. It really does warm the heart to see him. He catches a glimpse of me, stares for a minute, then makes a b-line for the gate. He's left the bale, tromped through mud, and moved other herd-members out of his way to reach me. Today I was even happier to see him than usual. I feel like the dog has been occupying roughly 70% of my conscious thought processes since we found her. One my favorite things about horses has always been that they give you a mental break from whatever part of your life is stressing you out.

We had a very quiet ride. The sun was out and it was warmish, so we went to the strip. I must admit we spent a lot of time sitting our horses and chatting. Steen was super quiet and attentive. Sometimes I swear they know when you're utterly worn out and give you a pass for the day. He was really almost perfect. I didn't push him at all and he didn't push me at all. We did a lot of mellow work at the walk and trot and I got some beautiful leg yields and transitions out of him. Brian and I worked a bit on a mirroring exercise we learned at the clinic. Then I asked for a little lope but the footing was mushy and Steen slipped a couple of times. After that he was doing this weird hoppy gait, I think because he was worried about the mushy grass. I was afraid he'd pulled a muscle or something so after we wrapped things up and went indoors I loped him inside. We did a few laps in each direction with a simple lead change in the middle and he was great. Actually I had some of the best loping transitions I've had on him. So it was a really nice day at the barn.

We're still on the fence as far as Elsa is concerned. She is really a sweet-heart, and so well behaved I can't believe whoever taught her her basic manners isn't scouring the countryside looking for her. But I'm just not convinced I want a dog. Even a good one. We're giving it a few more days before we decide.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 9:15

Friday, February 17, 2012

This counts as work, right?

I saw a bunch of these on Facebook and couldn't resist making my own:

On a side note, the "mom" here is meant as the royal mom. (Like the royal we.) My real mom and mother-in-law both pretty much knows what horses are all about.

What I got for Valentine's Day

The flowers are from Brian. The dog is a bit of a mystery. She appears to be a Border Collie, probably about a year old. I saw her through my office window slinking around our yard. Then she proceeded to head out front into the street, where she was weaving among the parked cars and looking very lost. I saw she had a collar on, so I went to the porch door and called her. She came running and I let her onto the porch. I inspected the collar. No tags. So I called animal control and no one had filed a missing dog report. They asked if I would mind holding onto her for a few days and giving the owner a chance to show up. I said ok...

That was Tuesday. It is now Friday. I had her scanned for a chip. Nothing. No one has called looking for her. She is sweet and mild-mannered and smart and sensitive. We are trying to decide whether or not to keep her. If we do, we have tentatively decided to call her Elsa.

We took her to the barn on Wednesday. We were hoping she and the barn dog, Chase, who is a Blue Heeler/Kelpie cross, would get on fabulously and romp and play a little. Except Elsa does not appear to know how to play. She gives you the most dismissive look if you do something like throw a stick or a ball or wiggle a dog toy at her. At the barn, first she was obsessed with trying to herd the barn's Papillion, Amber. That was traumatic for everyone involved, so we confined Amber to the stall barn. Then Elsa switched her obsession to one of the newly installed barn cats. She would hardly give Chase the time of day. Finally we just tied her up on a longe line, and once we started riding she just watched us the whole time. She barked at us when we loped, which is definitely not ideal.

Fortunately the horses were totally unruffled by all the excitement. I had some trouble detaching my mind from dog concerns and focusing on Steen, but once we got going things were petty good. It had been 12 days since my last ride, so I was just looking for an easy spin. We did all our basic stuff and then Brian and I tried a new loping exercise. Basically we try to stay a half arena length apart and lope one lap, walk a lap, lope a lap, walk a lap, etc.. This worked really well. I need to work on three major things at the lope. First, picking it up without several steps of fast-trot. Second, keeping Steen relaxed and attentive while running. Third, achieving a quick stop from a lope. So this exercise worked on all three of these things without throwing too much excitement into the mix. I think it worked really well. We loped about five laps in each direction. Steen was tired, but honestly I think it was as much from the mental challenge as the physical.

We'll probably spend a lot more time at the barn with the dog this weekend. Brian and I feel like we should at least keep her for a week in order to give the "having a dog" idea a fair chance. The biggest deciding factor may be how well she adjusts to the horses. I do like dogs, but horses are far more important to me and always will be. Still, Brian and I have been having the "what if we got a dog?" talk somewhat regularly lately. And truthfully, Elsa is really close to the exact dog we'd get if we were choosing.

But a dog is an expense and a responsibility. We won't be able to come and go with the same freedom if we keep her. Our house, yard and neighborhood and not ideal for a dog-ownership perspective, but they could be worse. So we are both pretty torn on what to do. So far she is proving to be highly trainable and already inclined to bond with us. I'd feel bad handing her over to someone else at this point. But I also only want to keep her if we come to believe it really is the best thing for all of us.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 8:25

Monday, February 13, 2012


Life has been busy lately, and as a result I have not seen much of my horse. I haven't ridden since my last post. We were out of town Friday afternoon and Saturday. On Sunday we drove straight from Chicago to the barn to hold our horses for the farrier. We could have ridden after the trim, but we didn't.

We did turn the horses out in the arena before it was their turn to get attention from Duke. There were a few other horses turned out as well, and they were all romping and playing like colts. Steen always gets a tad confused when there is chasing and herd dynamics going on in his general vicinity, as he's a bit out of the loop socially. Yesterday his solution to not knowing exactly what was going on was to rear. He got in several huge rears. One of them he stood up higher on his haunches than I would have thought physically possible for him AND extended his front hoof up and past his head. It was hilarious. I thought he was going to fall over.

This week the weather looks like it's going to be bad, but work shows no signs of letting up either so at least I won't have to be chained to a computer and thinking about all the wonderful saddle time I'm missing.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


There was a new chiropractor at the barn today, and her treatment involves working with the horse and rider under saddle. We did not feel we needed to get any horses adjusted, but we hung around and watched for a while, then rode.

Since the indoor arena was in use, we went outside. The footing was not ideal. We rode on the strip, and things were mushy. It was our first ride outside in months, so I was curious to see how Steen behaved. All in all, I think he did about as well as I could reasonably expect. When we were in or "comfort zone" he was great. He was attentive and it was nice to feel the extra energy. Between the deep sand in the indoor and the contained nature of that environment, he does tend to get sluggish inside. Outside he had a bit more verve, which translated into him putting more effort into some of our exercises.

However, pushing past the comfort zone did cause some back-sliding. It was nothing bad, just a tendency to focus on wanting to head back to the barn. So I spent a lot of time working on fairly demanding trotting exercises outside of the little bubble on the strip he seems to consider "safe" just to try to engage his mind to the point that he would stop thinking about the barn. This was challenging. I was trying to ride really well and use my seat and my legs to stay in touch with him. It is so easy for me to revert to using my hands when he starts to lose focus, and when I do that he has less to listen to and immediately gets more nervous. We did get some good work in. I got the soft feel at the trot a lot, and did achieve some figure-eights that were consistent both in speed and shape. He was also stopping and standing quite well all day.

At the end of the ride we met up with Brian and Bear and the four of us walked all the way down to the end of the strip and back up. I had been feeling a bit disappointed that Steen had not behaved a bit better overall, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by these last few minutes. Steen walked the whole way down and back with his head down, clearly very relaxed. We walked all the way back up to the barn without one attempt to pick up the trot. He wasn't even doing his power walk.

So, in retrospect I feel better about the ride than I did when it was going on. I can't reasonably expect him to go outside and not worry about anything after so much time in the indoor this winter. I do hope to really work on his ability to ride out without anxiety this summer though.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 7:25

Saturday, February 04, 2012

More Leg Yields

Since last fall I've been working a lot on teaching Steen to break at the poll and give me the soft feel at all gaits, and I've also been holding pressure on the bit to keep him collected for a few strides at a time. But where I'm really starting to feel him move in a way I've never felt before is working on leg-yields at the trot. I'd worked on this before with Steen, but never really saw the point because I was doing it wrong. Now I'm having a lot of fun with it, particularly since Steen has started to soften up and enjoy the challenge of what I'm asking him to do.

We're still not really all that great at it, and today's ride was all around a bit worse than yesterday's. Steen wasn't bad, we just weren't nailing things quite the same way. In the photo above, he's giving me a decent leg-yield. His front feet are crossing, his head is tipped away from the direction he's moving. He's soft and collected. But we were doing a much better job yesterday.

One thing he was still doing really well today was stopping. I am actually daring to hope our stopping woes are permanently behind us (but with Steen, you never know).

Brian has ridden Bear in the hackamore the last two days, and it has been interesting to see what is translating well and what's not. We loped around together a little today, and worked on "the routine," and Bear was a bit more inclined to express his opinions than he has been lately. We had some good moments though, and got an hour of riding in.

During our ride it was snowing outside. I always feel a bit bad putting the horses out in nasty weather, but they never seem to mind.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 6:25

Friday, February 03, 2012

Finding the Haunch

I've ridden three times since my last post, and each ride has been a bit better than the one before. I've been thinking a lot about precision, and keeping Steen in that delicate place where he is relaxed but still energetic. I've also continued to try to emphasize exercises that force Steen to engage his haunches, and I think these are really starting to pay off. Today we had a fabulous ride. It's the kind of ride I didn't even know was possible a year ago.

When we were riding on Tuesday, Bear got big compliments from another boarder when Brian realized just before mounting that he'd forgotten his spurs. So he left Bear in the arena while he went back for them. I was already riding, and Bear stood quietly without budging an inch until Brian got back. The boarder who saw this was impressed, which got Brian and I speculating whether or not Steen would do the same thing.

Today we decided to video our ride, and after we did groundwork I went back to restart the camera. I thought it would be a good test to see if Steen would stay put if I left him there.

He tried to follow me three times, but I gently put him back was and walked off again. The fourth time, he stayed.

And by the time I got back to him he was just standing there dozing as if he was hobbled. He'd entered this super relaxed mind-set that carried into the ride.

The other thing I've been working on a lot is moving through the soft feel into genuine collection. We do this on the ground as well as under saddle.

And he's been decent about it for a while. Today, though, we reached a new level of responsiveness. I particularly noticed it working on leg-yielding. He was willing to collected off of the lightest pressure on the bit, and when I put my leg on him he'd stretch out and reach across, floating sideways across the arena. I even had him doing zig-zags. I actually think he likes this exercise. He seems to enjoy the challenge, now that he's understanding what I want.

But as wonderful as the leg yields were, perhaps more exciting today was how he was stopping. For the first time ever we nailed a stop from the trot. He's still stopping more on his front end than I would like, but he's doing it much faster than he used to, and rolling back on his haunches immediately after the stop. Oh and his backing was awesome too. He's finally reaching and taking nice, long, relaxed backwards steps.

The only thing that was sort of step down today was the lope. I think he just had a lot of energy from getting two days off, and our arena is small for a horse his size that's going fast. I also asked for the soft feel at the lope for the first time today, so that might have been contributing to his confusion a little. But after our mediocre lope he went right back to being awesome about everything else, so I'm not going to hold it against him.

Monday Ride Time: 0:55
Tuesday Ride Time: 0:35
Friday Ride Time: 1:00

Horseback hours YTD: 5:20

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