Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Horse I Have Today

It is easy to go into a ride with expectations. On the way out to the barn Brian and I were talking about some of the ideas he's reviewing while rereading True Horsemanship Through Feel by Bill Dorrance. He mentioned how Bill likes to talk about making things into games by setting up little challenges, like can I get my horse to move one foot over? What about shifting his weight onto that foot but not moving it? Mostly he stresses the importance of feel, and giving your horse the chance to be soft every time you ask for anything. One thing Bill says is, "Ride the horse you have today." This basically means to keep in mind that your horses's learning is fluid. If you don't give him the chance to be soft just because he's never been soft before and so you don't expect it, you will miss the moments he's ready to give you the biggest try. During grooming, I was thinking about where Steen is overall right now.

The Horse

Steen: Age - 11, Breed - APHA, Height - 15.2, Color - Bay
Known Issues:
  • emotionally sensitive
  • inclination to pick up the trot unasked
  • can over-react to touches from legs
  • becomes sluggish when hot
  • can be spooky in unfamiliar territory
  • sometimes chargy during upwards transitions
  • easily distracted
But I was also thinking about how I am nowhere near a perfect rider. Lately I have been spending more time focused on what Steen's doing wrong as opposed to what I'm doing wrong. So, I tried to be fair.

The Rider

Robin: Age - 30, Breed - Mutt, Height - 5'7", Color - Pale
Known Issues:
  • sometimes becomes annoyed with overly emotional horse
  • capable of losing temper, particularly when horse picks up trot unasked
  • has tendency to sometimes lose leg contact
  • riding quality decreases as horse behavior deteriorates
  • leans forward when horse gets chargy
  • sometimes posts on the wrong diagonal
The horse I had heading out was energetic but attentive. We continued with our Sunday tradition of hitting the "trails." The boys were great as we went over to the second strip and down to the end and back up. My main goal for today was to keep my butt in my saddle and my spine perpendicular to the ground. I used to be so good at this, and then somehow in the last few years I've developed this horrible habit of leaning forward every time I put pressure on the reins. So today when I asked Steen for a soft feel, I simultaneously thought about drawing myself down and back into the saddle.

When we got to the scary double-track, I made sure to sit deep and keep my legs on him, nudging him forward when he balked. We made it through with a record low of hesitations and spring-loads. He did get a little keyed up a minute later on the road when a friend leaving the barn drove by slowly, talking to us with the window down. A car had just whizzed by at 25mph ten seconds earlier, and that didn't bother Steen a bit. This is typical Steen atypicalness. I kept up my sit deep, legs on strategy. We made it off the road and soon he was walking quietly again. In the salad bowl, things were good. I spent a lot of time working on transitions between the walk and the trot. Steen was flipping back and forth between collecting much better than normal and trotting around with his head sticking up.

But overall he was relaxed and I was surprised how much I could get done with my seat even out far away from home.

When I stopped for breaks he was inclined to be antsy, so I "fidgeted," making him move his feet around with precision.

Here we're stepping his right foot over his left.

He was in that perfect state where he was energized but still listening, and boy was he moving off a soft feel. I started working on having him step back a few steps, then forward a few steps, then back, then forward. After a few times of this, he suddenly did the most amazing thing. We were walking forward, and when I rotated my seat back to ask him to back, he rocked back on his own with no input from the reins. Then he actually collected on his own, and as I asked him to step back he held that collection on a loose rein. I've seen horses do this before, but I'd never felt it. It was pretty incredible.

We took a breather to take some photos of Brian and Bear. Bear was also energized but behaving pretty well, so it was fun to see them move around. Bear is looking about the best we've seen him. He's well-muscled and trim, with his new coat coming in dark and soft. People are always surprised when they learn his age.

After our work in the salad bowl, Steen was a bit inclined to motor-walk home. I kept him distracted by asking him to leg-yield and collect at intervals, and eventually he calmed down and was content to amble back home next to Bear.

Back on the strip, we worked on loping. Steen started out to the left feeling all funky again. I think he had the correct rear lead but the wrong front one. He dropped it several times and picked it up wrong again. I just tried to keep my weight off his front end and let him figure it out. Finally he switched his front lead and we cruised around great for a few laps. I let him stop, we went the other way, which was great the whole time. I asked him for a stop and he slammed on the brakes. It's so neat that he's finally putting some effort into his stops.

After the ride, Steen tried to nap and lick his salt lick at the same time.

Even after just two rides his boots are a whole lot less white. So hopefully before long they are the same grungy off-white as his legs.

Ride Time: 1:50
Horseback hours YTD:  34:40


  1. If only every rider were to analyze themselves the way you did here. What an amazing blog entry. I might have to borrow this idea sometime.
    I love seeing good horsemanship in all nooks and crannies of the country. Thank you for your contribution.

  2. Thank you so much Suzanne! I certainly know I am a work in progress but it never hurts to remind myself. :) Feel free to borrow the blog idea any time.


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