Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Pasture Ride

It is one of the strangest truths about horses that they need both consistency and variety to really flourish. While both people and horses are reassured by routine, falling into the habit of doing everything the same way for long periods can lead to dullness.

Our barn doesn't have much of  an outdoor arena, and the places we can ride are constantly in flux. Between moving farm equipment and herd rotation, growing grass, hay making, and weather, we sort of have to accept wherever we plan to ride any given day might not be available. Sometimes this is irritating, but I do think over time it has helped us stay more flexible in our riding habits.

Today we rode in the second pasture. We hadn't ridden there since last fall, but now that the herd has access to the big pasture again, we can shut them out of the space while we ride. Most of the herd was up by the wind-block when we were ready to mount, but one little red mare was out on the grass. Steen and I went to get her while Brian held the rest of the herd back at the gate. Someday I hope I'll be able to perform such maneuvers mounted, but for now I led Steen by the mecate. We didn't have any trouble pointing the mare where we wanted her to go and keeping her moving.

I was expecting Steen to be quiet. After all, the pasture where we were riding is where they have been living for the last many weeks. I rode in the hackamore, and he was very soft from the start. He was great with bending, and he was holding an even circle quite well. When he'd get distracted, often all he had to see was my hand moving forward to start the correction and he'd put his head back where it was supposed to be. So clearly he is starting to understand what I want, which is excellent progress. Also, his stops were spot on all day.

Mostly I had to post this shot because it's funny. I'm asking him to step under behind. I'm not sure why he's standing like a circus horse. He's also gained roughly a million pounds since they opened up the big pasture.

When we moved up to the trot, Steen felt different. Any time I let him go more than few strides in any one direction, he'd start to get forward and bracey. I was trying to keep my use of my hands to a minimum, so he was bracing against pressure that wasn't there. Which means bracing against the anticipation of pressure.

There was something in one of Buck's colt-starting videos we watched a while ago that has stuck in my mind these last few weeks. A guy was riding a young horse in a round pen for its first ride, and the horses starting to go faster and the guy immediately started to pull back on the reins. Buck said, "Don't pull," then he turned to the spectators and said, "You all need to be able to move with a horse. Most people spend so much time trying to shut one down you can't get with one when you try."

I've also started to work my way through True Horsemanship Through Feel, and over and over again Bill Dorrance talks about feeling the horse and finding a place where you and the horse can communicate.

When I was a younger rider, I think I was good at going with the horse, primarily because I never really had more than rudimentary control over a horse's feet. With Steen, I can be to exacting. So when he started to get revved up at the trot today I tried to just relax and move with him. Of course I wasn't just letting him run off with me. I worked on figure eights and stops and various circles, but I wasn't trying to control how he was trotting. All I was trying to do was preserve the bend in his body and make sure he went where I told him.

I'm just trying to let Steen move and go with him.

Overall, we saw some improvement. We roved all around the pasture, and there were periods where he was bending softly off my legs and going at a relaxed pace. There were also periods where he was dumping onto his inside shoulder and leaning through the turns, but when he did this I pushed him back into a bend with my leg if I could, if not I tipped his nose in with the rein. By the end we'd made some progress.

This shot illustrates how much Steen's haunches have filled out. I've been spending many, many minutes of every ride working on engaging his hindquarters, and it's literally having a physical impact. It's neat to see.

Late in the ride, we returned to walking. I worked on walking in straight lines and picking up a soft feel every now and then. This actually went much better than expected. Steen has always been pretty disinclined to soften to the bosal when he's straight, so I was surprised when he had no trouble with this today. They always say lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion, so I think we're on the right track with all the circles.

All in all, I felt very comfortable all day. I didn't lope, but more because I was afraid I'd do something sloppy than anything else. Steen only picked up the trot unasked once. I actually think the one-rein stop is harsher in the bosal than it is in the snaffle. I'm going to have to be careful with it. I did feel like I did a good job keeping slack in the reins, but looking at the photos there is less slack in them than I would have thought. I do think I'll tie them a little longer next time.

In the spirit of mixing things up, after we got the horses back into the airlock I remounted and rode Steen back to the hitching post. This involved going through two (open but narrow) gaits and passing some unfamiliar objects we usually don't ride by. He was a champ about it. I dismounted two feet away from where we tie. It was fun.

Ride Time:  1:20
Horseback hours YTD: 40:30

2 comments:

  1. Great observations, Robin. Great post! I love where you are going with your horse and I love how you keep going back to True Horsemanship Through Feel. Ray Hunt always said "Think!" And in his clinics, Buck says the best thing about a horse that moves is you can direct his feet. I love that you worked at that with your horse.
    Steen looks nice and soft in that hackamore. There isn't much that's prettier than that (especially because it doesn't come without dedication).

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  2. Thank you Suzanne! I still feel like I'm so new at thinking about a horse's feet, but I do think it's starting to click. I'm starting to love the hackamore. We watched Buck's hackamore DVD after my first couple rides and things had gone from good to not great at all. Buck said, "After a few rides you're going to want to throw the hackamore out the window. But stick with it. It's worth it." He was right, of course. :)

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