Monday, March 12, 2012

Venturing Forth

We had some rain last night and this morning, so footing on the strip was going to be mushy. Also, our boys have had a couple hard rides recently and they aren't in super good shape. We don't want to over-do it. But it's spring break and the weather is fantastic, so while Brian and I wanted to ride today, we didn't want to ride hard.

We decided the thing to do was to go into "new" territory. That is, after a brief warm-up, we headed over to the "second strip." This is a long grassy area between to fields that is similar to the strip we normally ride on but longer and wider and farther away. Our plan was to have a slow ride, and in this way challenge our horses' minds if not their bodies.

Steen was mellow heading out. He was actually walking slower than Bear. We got to the second strip and things continued in this vein for a while. Brian and I separated and I worked on various things at the walk. Steen would look in Bear's direction from time to time, but mostly he was just chilled out.

Then I asked for the trot. This is always the moment of truth for us. Sure enough, the anxiety Steen hadn't been feeling yet, about being away from the barn and Bear etc., came bubbling up. He started with his braced up chargey trot. I got a few leg-yields out of him and went between the walk and trot a few times. Finally I went up to a largerish open area at one end of the second strip and worked in figure-eights for a while. At first I had no success with this. Our circles were so lopsided and erratic I am sure someone watching wouldn't have had the faintest idea what we were doing.

After a while I switched to trotting one loop of the figure-eight and walking the other half. That helped things. I think when Steen gets into nervy trotting he stops thinking, and the transitions helped engage his brain more. We got to the point that only one point of the circle was less than ideal. Then we moved on to other things.

We headed down to the center of the strip and met up with Brian and Bear, and I hopped off for a few minutes to let Steen chill and hopefully come down a notch or two. But when I climbed back on he was antsy. He was doing his old thing where he didn't want to stand still. At first I just blocked him with the reins or my legs, but then Brian reminded me of something Buck said at his clinic. When a horse won't stand still, you make them want to stand still. So I started in asking Steen to disengage his hindquarters one way, then the other, then bring the front around, then the front around the other way, then back to the hind, then a whirlygig, then a few flexes. I'd ask him for everything I could think of that didn't involve actually going somewhere for about a minute then give him the opportunity to stand still. If he fidgeted it was back to asking for all sort of minute movements. After three rounds of this treatment, Steen heaved a huge sigh and stood still.

We let them relax for a minute or two, then made our way back to the barn, and Steen walked the whole way there. Once back we trotted some more figure-eights. He was still a bit wound up, so I worked him until he was relaxing and bending through all circles evenly. Then we called it quits.

Although Steen's behavior wasn't perfect, I'm pretty pleased with the ride overall. This was his first time venturing out past his comfort zone in many months, and while he got agitated at the trot, he was nothing like he would get on our rides last fall. There was no prancing, no refusing to stand, no spooking and no random attempts to run home unannounced. Even when Steen was a bit unruly, I could always get a soft feel out of him. I think with a bit more practice we might actually get to the point where we can work effectively even when we're out and about.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 14:20

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