Saturday, March 10, 2012

Refining the Lope

When I was a younger, more fearless rider, I loved loping in almost any circumstances. I didn't care if the horse was borderline out of control. I didn't mind if I knew I couldn't do more than contribute nominally to where exactly we ended up running.

Since getting Steen, my relationship with the lope has changed. Steen clearly had some anxiety about the canter. I spent a lot of time trying to help him relax while loping with only nominal success. Even years into having him I still never knew exactly how he was going to pick up the gait, and if he was going to listen to me once he got going. I found I don't love the experience of being on a pseudo runaway horse nearly as much as I did in my younger years. But more than that, recently I've just feel like Steen and I should be past this.

The last few weeks I've been working on leg-yields with Steen a ton, and he's figured out that he can move into collected frame and move along in this supple spring-loaded manner. And he likes it. The last few rides he collects off a light touch and waits for instructions. So the last couple of rides I've been working on collection at the canter. On Wednesday I got some great circles out of Steen, but today we hit a new level as a horse and rider pair.

The whole ride was great, actually. After a good warm-up I started the same figure-eight pattern I was doing on Wednesday, where we would trot one half of the pattern and lope the other half. Before asking for the lope, I would ask Steen to collect and slow his trot way down. Then I'd ask for the lope. Steen has always had a tendency to do several fast-trot hammer-steps before getting into the lope. Today he never did that once. He'd spring straight into a beautiful, collected canter and we'd do our circle. To ask him to come back to the trot, I'd just start posting.

After a few laps he was revved up, but he was also really listening. I didn't mind his energy because he wasn't trying to call the shots. He'd wait for my cue, and go with energy but also with control. It was so much fun I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

After our last lope circle I ask him for a full stop from the canter. This is something I haven't done much with with him because he tends to get really anxious about it. I wasn't sure what I'd get, but he put on the brakes in a way I've never felt him do in my life. I wasn't expecting him to stop so fast, so wasn't ready for it and tipped forward in the saddle a little (embarrassing), which caused him to take a few extra steps. But I think if I had nailed the stop, he would have too. So it would seem Steen is finally the kind of horse that will go when you ask AND stop when you ask. I must admit I've had my moments during the course of our work together that I never thought I'd see this day.

Not that I think we're done. We still have so much to work on, and I've no doubt there will be backsliding. But for the moment I feel like I have a real handle on all three gaits. Knowing I can ask Steen for a canter now without the fear that he's going to go rocketing off in some strange direction is going to make me a lot more likely to spend more time at that gait.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 12:20

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