Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thinking in Circles

After our excellent ride in the indoor arena, today we had another beautiful day that just begged us to head out and about. We decided to start with some work on the strip and then do some meandering over on the second strip and the three hills.

Somehow yesterday Brian and I started discussing circles, and how important it is to be able to steer your horse in an even circle, preferably using only your legs. This is the sort of thing that sounds so basic and yet is so hard. That, coupled with some discussion on doubling we encountered in Martin Black's book, Cow-Horse Confidence, had me thinking about walking circles when I started the ride today. I started out just trying to get Steen to walk a nice, even circle on the strip. At first, he was keen on veering towards Brian and Bear, and lost his bend in an effort to move closer to them. I gave him a little touch on the rein, and he braced instead of softening. So I kicked him in the elbow with my foot.

That really surprised him. I don't kick him much, but when I do I am usually trying to get him to do something with his haunches, so it tends to be further back on the belly. He was not expecting a whack in the front. He jumped into the trot. I stopped him. We started over, now with Steen paying a lot more attention to me.

We worked on circles for about 20 minutes, and I think I can safely say it was quite challenging for both of us. I was trying to make sure I was using my legs effectively and keeping him walking at a good pace but not allowing him to break into the trot. He was probably wondering when I had gone insane. But after a while he seemed to get the picture, that all he had to do was stay soft and compliant for a few laps, and then we'd be done. We eventually got there in both directions, then Brian and I headed for the second strip.

The middle part of the ride was super fun and relaxing. We went up and down the second strip, trotting a few intervals here and there. Both Brian and I were practicing doubling, which is basically using one rein to push a horse's hindquarters off-line when they start getting chargey. This effectively takes away their ability to continue to drive themselves forward. But it is tricky because you have to time it right and your horse has to be receptive to you asking for this kind of movement. I thought all my work on leg yields and the soft feel have built up to this, and I was right. I used it a few times on Steen when he started to get a bit of ahead of me trying to catch up to Bear when we were trotting. It worked remarkably well. I'd give one rein a little tug, feel his haunches soften up and lose their momentum, and I'd let him go. Every single time, his motor slowed down and his ears left Bear and flicked back to me. It was like he couldn't quite believe I could do that to him.

We took a little breather at the end of the three hills. Steen is nothing like the version of himself I used to take on trail rides. He is utterly happy to stop and stand at any time. Brian seized our break at the end of the hills to take a photo.

After the three hills, we went back up the second strip to the far end, where there is a nice grassy, flattish area we sometimes use to work the horses. Bear was tired today, so Brian just let him rest, but I decided to see how Steen would lope. And I have to say, in spite of all our recent forward progress, I was a tad surprised that he moved into the gait easily and did several laps in each direction at a very controlled but energetic pace. I easily steered him in a nice large circle, mostly using my legs and he never felt  like he was trying to run away with me. They weren't perfect circles, but they were better than I expected.

From there, we walked home. Once back on the strip we did more walking circles. That was hard again, because Steen had decided we were done with riding. I had to kick him in the elbow again. After that he was much more compliant. After a few good laps we called it a day.

Ride Time: 1:25
Horseback hours YTD: 28:25


  1. Sorry, I know I've been a lurk-ish reader lately, but I just want to say that you look great, and Steen looks great, and you both look great together. :-)

  2. Thank you Liz! One of these days hopefully we can lay eyes on each other in person again. :}


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