Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hackamore Confidence

We went to the barn on Sunday hoping for a quiet ride outdoors in the second pasture, but our plans were foiled. There were still some visitors from Saturday mini-show and they were riding when we arrived. It was a super windy, blustery day. We had hoped the rain was done for a while, but it started up again when we were about done tacking.

So there I was. Steen was saddled. Riding outside was no longer an option (because I'm wimpy about getting wet). There were four horses and riders in our small indoor arena, plus a bunch of barrels, cones and other obstacles. Two of the horses were "strangers." I almost reached for the snaffle. But then I realized if I fall back on the snaffle every time there is some not-quite-perfect variable to our rides, I'm not going to be using the hackamore much any time soon.

I slipped the bosal over Steen's nose. We've been bringing it home almost every night and working on getting it shaped and softened, and while it's still not entirely broken in, he seems quite comfortable in it now. I tossed the reins over my pommel and headed into the arena.

I've been thinking about what we saw at the clinic a lot, and my two big take-home reminders were "legs before hands" and "release, release, release." It was so interesting to watch people ride. Jeff would tell them to release and they just wouldn't let go. He'd tell them again and again and they'd still keep pressure on the reins. Finally Jeff would say, "Put your hands in the mane. There. That's a release."

Brian and I went through our blogs on Sunday morning, just looking at pictures and seeing whether or not we're riding our horses on a loose rein. I was equal parts surprised and disappointed to see that most of the time when I think I'm giving Steen his head, the slobber straps are actually tilted more back than down. Everyone who trains in our style will tell you release, when given, should be total. So that's something I need to work on.

I've been going through an interesting transition these last few weeks. I think any rider who matures from riding as a child/teenager to riding as an adult has to make some fairly major adjustments. Getting Steen was a wonderful thing for me, but I won't deny he has been a challenge. It also coincided with the years I've been outgrowing my youthful immortality complex. I've had some bad wrecks and ridden through more spooks, bolts, spins, and temper-tantrums than I care to count. I have always loved Steen, but I can't say I've ever really trusted him.

With the changes I've been focusing on in my riding lately, that is starting to change. With forcing myself to sit back in the saddle and reduce the amount I use the reins, I am finding my posture is growing softer and more confident. I'm feeling balanced. I'm not as afraid Steen is going to spook, first because he hasn't in a long time, but second because I'm feeling centered and solid in the saddle. For the longest time I had this sort of subconscious attitude that I needed to focus on Steen first. Once I got him moving better and focusing better, then I would think more about me. Now I see I had that backwards. With my hunching and leaning and clinging, I've been getting in Steen's way.

Once mounted in the indoor, I went through our warm-up exercises. Steen was curious about the other horses, but whenever he looked at them I just tipped his nose back online. Since I've been doing a better job with my legs, Steen is starting to understand that when I push on his shoulder, he should tip his nose in. One excellent trick I learned from Jeff was about using a rope to get a horse's head tipped one way or another. When I ask Steen to walk in circles, he tends to stay bent for about 90% of circle. There always seems to some point where he flattens and cuts in, or wobbles out. When he did that today I just flicked my wrist and sent a little coil up and out my mecate. When it reached the end of the reins it caused a little pop that tugged Steen's nose back to the inside. This allowed me to correct him without pulling. Pretty soon we were walking circles and he was holding the bend I was asking for with my legs the whole way through.

It would have been easy, given the commotion, to shorten my reins and get clingy. Instead I kept them long and loose. We worked on everything. We walked and trotted and loped and side-passed. His lope was fantastic and he was nailing his stops. The worst thing, again, was leg-yields. These were also hard to set up for because of the limited space. Steen did pick up the trot unasked once, but loose reins don't make a one-rein stop any slower, so I shut him down and we continued.

The ride was a great confidence booster for me. I spent so little time on the reins it really felt magical. We had a number of full stops from the lope that didn't involve my hands at all. After the ride, Brian and I sat on Bear and Steen for 15 minutes, chatting with another boarder. Steen was more than happy to stand and chill, but I checked in with him regularly, asking for the soft feel or moving his feet around just a tad. He was always more than happy to comply because he knew once he did what I asked, he could go back to resting.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback hours YTD: 39:10

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