Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hackamore Heaven

I love it when the horses are out in the big pasture. I love that they get to live in such a great space. I love the view we get as we're walking out to get them. I love tromping through the grass and seeing what the herd is up to.

What I don't love quite as much is walking back. For years I've thought about getting into the habit of taking Steen's bridle out with me, but somehow "Hi, how are you? Would you like to take this cold piece of metal in your mouth?" doesn't seem like the greatest note to start the day on. So I've never done it.

But slipping a hackamore on doesn't seem so bad. So today I walked out carrying that instead of a halter. Luckily I also had my trusty husband along to give me a leg up and take pictures.

Yesterday we watched The Subtle Cues You Give Your Horse by Stacey Westfall. Although in general it was not the most useful DVD I've ever watched, there were a few good tidbits. There was one funny section where she talked about leg position, and the importance of getting a horse who is reactive to legs to understand that a leg doesn't always mean "go fast now." She said for years her horses trained her to ride with her legs held way out, so she wouldn't bump them accidentally and have them take off. This is exactly the habit I had gotten into with Steen. I've made progress breaking it in the last six months, but not having my fenders between me and Steen felt quite different. I had to remind myself not to backslide into sticking my legs out and trying not to touch him.

We made our way back around the corner and into the second pasture, where we did some circles. These went well. We continued up into the winter lot and I hopped off with very dirty breeches. This is a downside to riding in I had not previously considered. An ungroomed Steen is a grimy beast indeed.

We rode on the strip. Brian pointed out this morning if Steen is confused about backing in circles under saddle, I could help him out by reinforcing this on the ground. So I did, and it was much better because I could direct Steen with my body language as well as pressure on the bosal. He started to figure it out very quickly, and later when we worked on this under saddle he was no longer confused. It's so helpful to have someone around to remind you of things like this.

After a few minutes warming up, Steen was feeling great, so I thought I'd try a lope. This was our first time loping outdoors in the hackamore. It went very well. For those of you who have been pining away for another installment in our not-highly-exciting-video series, away we go:

We obviously still need to work on bending, but at this point I am feeling pretty confident that nothing is going to happen in the hackamore that wouldn't happen in the snaffle.

In utter contrast to yesterday's ride, today after 25 minutes I was hungry and hot and having trouble focusing. Brian and did the routine a couple of times, then he mentioned he wanted to work on walk/trot transitions. So we made up an exercise where'd we'd go in a circle and try to keep on opposite sides of the circle from each other, making a transition every half lap.

We end up doing this for about 20 minutes. It was great. I have neglected trot/walk transitions lately, so it was really good practice. In between switching gaits, I was asking Steen to collect for short intervals. He was so good about this. I've never felt him collect so nicely of of such a soft touch. One useful thing I got from the Jeff Griffith clinic was something about feel. He said, "A lot of people think of the soft feel as having ounces of pressure on the reins. But that's wrong. What having a feel really is is having no pressure, but having the horse with you." This stuff all starts to sound so metaphysical, but in reality it is just subtle. This is what I was feeling today. Steen was collecting on a feel. Granted, he was only doing this for seconds at a time. But still, it's something to build on.

Pretty soon, we'd been riding for over an hour. We walked down to the bottom of the strip and back up and called it a day.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback hours YTD: 43:00

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