Monday, March 19, 2012

Catching Up

I've fallen a bit behind on my blog. Fortunately I have been getting plenty of riding in, I just haven't done a good job posting about my rides.

To sum up: Last week I continued to work quite a lot on loping. We went through a couple of days where the loping work had the undesirable effect of causing the reappearance of the dreaded prance. I was optimistic at first, and tried to combat it with subtle methods, but after one pretty bad ride I gave up and returned to one-rein stopping Steen every time he up-shifted without my permission. It took one really long, hard ride during which I worked on asking for the lope and the walk intermittently, and correcting him the moment he shifted into his jog/prance unasked. I went through a phase of trying to be excessively gentle and sweet about the one-rein stop, but that didn't get through to him at all. He actually got progressively worse about the prance, to the point where he went from walking a while and building up to the prance to prancing the moment I let him straighten out.

So it was back to a firm one-rein stop followed by a moment or two during which I held his head bent around and waited for the muscles in his neck to relax and the light of conscious thought to come back into his eye. I really hate doing this to him, but when he gets in "react, don't think" mode, it is literally the only way I've found to get back through to him. I've really come to believe that the "prance syndrome" is fundamentally grounded in insecurity. I had been asking for the lope a lot, and this had gotten Steen back to being over-sensitive about my legs. It is true that sometimes when I touch him with my legs I am asking for a lope, but most of the time I'm asking for something else, like a leg-yield, a turn, or something along those lines. Obviously, the way I ask for all these things is quite different, but when he gets in a certain mindset he takes any touch from a leg to mean "go fast."

Fortunately it only took one ride of working on this very hard to correct the problem, and I was interested to see as I worked through it with him with a great deal of relentless patience and consistency that he actually became more soft and supple to the bit as we worked. By the end of our hard ride, he was paying so much attention to me and trying so hard to do the right thing I couldn't believe how soft and supple he felt in my hands. And best of all, he was doing the right thing by the end. The last 20 minutes of our ride contained nary a one-rein stop.

On Sunday Brian and I decided to change things up and head out to ramble among the fields. The horses were tired as we'd ridden 8 out of the previous 9 days by that point. Our plan was to have a quiet, walking ride. But I think we both had our doubts heading out whether or not we'd actually get the kind of ride we planned.

Fantastically enough, we did. Both Bear and Steen were utterly content to cruise along into unfamiliar territory. We didn't see a single spook or prance out of either of them. Steen had a couple moments after we were back at the barn but approaching it from a different angle than usual where he coiled up underneath me, but he always thought better of it before he did anything silly like bolt or spin.

So I believe that ride genuinely marks the very first time I have taken Steen out on the trail and not had to deal with a single moment of sub-par behavior. That's a milestone, if you ask me. :)

Horseback hours YTD: 19:20

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