Saturday, May 26, 2012

Musical Horses

Since getting Laredo, our conversations on the way to the barn have become quite a bit more complicated. Today we had ample time to do all sorts of things. Both Brian and I wanted to ride our individual horses and also work with Laredo, so we formulated a plan that involved catching all three guys again and swapping off at intervals.

I started out doing groundwork with Laredo on the strip. We'd never had him out there before, but they just made hay so the grass is nice and low and manicured. It's hard to resist. Plus, Laredo has seemed a tad sore-footed since his trim (he's a little flat-footed, and also his toes were long enough he's been walking on a different part of his foot than he should have ), so the soft grass seemed like a nice environment for him.

My groundwork strategy was simple. I worked on forward and back a little, but mostly I worked him in a circle, practicing quartering him until he was giving the haunches nicely, then bringing the front end through. He was good with this. He's very responsive and willing, but he can still get uncertain about which direction to go sometimes.

When we weren't moving, we were working on getting the head low and keeping it low, and accepting hands moving around his face and ears. He was not nearly as bad about his head from the start today, and over the course of our groundwork he got even better. In fact at one point I had stopped doing groundwork and was talking to Brian. I have this habit with Steen; when we're standing around I tend to run my fingers through his forelock. I don't think about it at all when I'm doing it, and today I did it to Laredo. He didn't react at all and it took me a moment to realize both that I'd done it and he'd accepted it. So that was a little milestone.

After groundwork with Laredo, I tacked Steen up and took him to the strip. I rode in the snaffle again and we worked more on the circle exercise and quartering on the ground. It is so interesting watching Steen adapt to using his haunches more. He's getting better about it, but it's still more "natural" for him to go around with all his weight on his forehand.

I got on and worked on short-serpentines for quite a while. The last couple of rides Steen starts out very unhappy with the short-serpentine until I can get him to balance. Then he evens out and starts to realize he feels better when he distributes his weight properly.

I rode for an hour and a half, and much of it I was on my own on the strip (Brian finished riding and took Bear in, then worked on bridling with Laredo). I was paying attention to Steen, of course, but I was also really concentrating on my own riding. I have a bit of a bad habit of hollowing out my back, which doesn't help me sit nicely, particularly when the gaits get a little rougher. So today I was focused on using my legs, keeping my lower back soft, and keeping my weight centered.

Most of the ride was pretty fantastic. I could feel Steen engaging his haunches more, and he felt very balanced at the trot. His speed was more consistent than usual too, and he didn't have his normal tendency to get chargy when we went downhill, probably because he was actually using his haunches. I worked on collecting him intermittently. When I had him going at a nice, balanced, steady trot I pushed him into the lope and got a few very nice circles. Then I brought him back to the trot and he got goey and inclined to rush off. I asked him to lope and we got the wrong lead. I stopped him and tried again, wrong lead again. Back in the trot he was all over the place, his weight was on his forehand and my riding had deteriorated. So we did some more short-serpentines. This helped us both reset. From there I moved him back into the trot and got him going in a nice balanced circle again. Then I asked for the lope again and it was as beautiful as the first time. We went from there into some straight loping up and down the strip, and that was great. That was interesting for me. I'm coming to understand more and more that the quality of a lope comes from the preparation.

I've noticed Steen is a bit mouthy these last two rides. Part of it is I'm asking more of him. I've never had him collected so much. We also haven't used the bit in quite a while. So we had some moments that would have been pretty great that were rather marred by his crazy mouth action. Most of the time he was very soft in my hands when I was asking him to collect, though a few times he got heavy for brief periods. It's hard for me to get used to the concept of holding and waiting until he softens again. I don't really like riding around with pressure on the reins.

But hopefully this hiccups are temporary. Steen has always had a tendency to get mouthy when I change things up on him. Poor guy. I'm sure he hates it when we come back from a clinic all full of new ideas and techniques.

In other news, I haven't seen a dry spot since I got my new saddle pad. We've had multiple rides now with a totally even sweat pattern. So I'm very happy about that.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback hours YTD: 58:00

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After Buck, Take II

We built an extra day into our vacation so we could get back home and spend many hours at the barn applying the new stuff we learned at the clinic.

There were a few things I was surprised to figure out this time. For instance, I somehow forgot/got lazy about the concept that you should ask for a soft feel every single time you ask a horse for a downwards transition, and never let the horse slow down or stop if it hasn't gotten soft to your hands first.

The other major revelation I had was about timing and balance. I already knew these are my two weak points with riding, but I never realized the degree to which poor timing limits what you can do with a horse. This clinic I was more familiar with the exercises, so it was easier for me to watch people and see them doing the same thing over and over. I do it too. It's asking the horse for a motion the horse is physically incapable of making because of the way its weight is distributed at the moment you ask. The horse scrambles around, sometimes tripping, sometimes pushing through a sloppy version of what the rider asked for. The rider looks annoyed or puzzled. The horse looks annoyed or puzzled. They go on. A few seconds later, the rider does the same thing again.

Once Buck was illustrating the exercise we call the whirlygig, which is yielding the hindqarters and then the forequarters under saddle. We watched him and Gidget go through the motion perfectly over and over while everyone else flopped around liked fish out of water.

Someone asked Buck where his weight was when he asked for the front to come through. He said it was centered on the horse, with one shoulder rolled back to allow for the movement he was asking Gidget to make. He said, "Now watch, because I'm only go to do this once." He asked Gidget for her hind, which she gave him. As he asked for the front he leaned forward so his weight was on the shoulder she was trying to bring through. Gidget stumbled and stopped moving and looked confused. A collective sigh rippled through the crowd. Buck said, "She can't do it if I'm in her way."

Of course I knew this, but to see it illustrated so dramatically impacted me on a new level. I know we all know "it's always the rider" but this clinic really drove the point home. I am now determined to develop a more refined understanding of where all four feet are, all the time, and to work on my balance until I get to the point I never, ever do that to my horse.

Today, we found the boys dozing by the windblock, looking sleek and plump. Laredo back-slid a little about catching, but it only took a few minutes to remind him he likes to hang out with us. We took all three horses to the hitching post and tied them up in a row. We executed an assembly-line-style grooming operation, then put Laredo in a little side pen to wait his turn and took Bear and Steen to the outdoor arena. I put my snaffle back on Steen primarily because I was going to be trying some new things and I don't want to make any mistakes with the hackamore.

I started with groundwork. One fantastic tool I brought home from this clinic is quartering a horse from the ground, which just involves walking towards the hip and bending the neck until the horse steps under behind. I also realized I've been letting Steen get away with being lazy about certain things. For instance, I will ask him to back and he'll back great for three or four steps, then stop. I have to increase the pressure to get him going. He'll back a few more steps, then stick again. Today, I came in prepared to explain that back means back and he should move off a light feel every single step. The first time I bumped him on the jaw with the ring of the snaffle, he got pretty attentive. When I went from there into quartering him and bringing the front-end through, he got slightly agitated. We worked on that until he was calmer, then tried yielding the hindquarters and forequarters while walking in a line. My timing was not great with this, but we made some progress and by the time I let him take a breather he was completely focused and wanting nothing more than some face pets.

I climbed on and found Steen was super super super soft to both my legs and reins. We proceeded to have one of the best rides we've ever had. I don't know if I just had so many good reminders fresh in my brain or if the groundwork was just that effective, but we did quite a few things we've never done before. I realized at the clinic it is high time I get more demanding about asking Steen to hold collection for longer periods of time. We worked on moving in and out of leg yields and circles at the walk and trot while staying collected, and he was fantastic at this. Once or twice he got a little heavier in my hands, but I just bumped him back and he softened up. It was fabulous.

When Brian was done with his ride on Bear, I gave Steen a break and did a little groundwork with Laredo. He's less educated than Steen, but he's quick and very willing to try. We got a lot of good stuff worked out quite quickly. Then I handed him over to Brian, did a little more groundwork with Steen and climbed back on.

I realized at the clinic that I had not been doing short-serpentines quite right. Steen is very flexible and quite able to bend at the neck a good ways but still go through a turn without engaging his hindquarters. Buck talked about how you can feel that front foot on the inside of a turn stab the ground when a horse has its weight forward, and with the short-serpentine you should keep bending and circling until that feeling goes away. I worked on this until we got it right about three times at various points during the ride, and it made a big big difference. Steen felt more balanced the whole ride, including when I pushed him into a nice lope and took him in a small circle.

Best of all, I rode for a long time with several long breaks, and Steen never got sour the way he tends to, where he decides he's done and doesn't want to try anymore.

In short, I'm so excited for the rest of the summer. Brian had a great ride on Bear too, and we're making good progress with Laredo on many fronts.

Ride Time: 1:45
Horseback hours YTD: 56:30

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Buck in Colorado

Brian and I are just back from auditing our second Buck Brannaman clinic. This one was in Fort Collins. It was an 11 hour drive to get there, but it was well worth it.

I was expecting to get a lot out of seeing everything from Horsemanship I again and thought the Foundation Horsemanship class might offer some good new tips too, but I had a little fear things might get boring or repetitive at times. In all honesty, though, the whole thing was much better than I expected. I was just as riveted this go 'round as last time. I thought I remembered things pretty well from the first clinic, and I did, but what I started to get an idea of this time was how to start to refine everything and connect the dots. I came away feeling like I now have a (albeit very blurry) understanding of the "big picture."

We got the see Gidget again, and she's looking quite accomplished.

We also got to see Buck's bridle horse Arc, though unfortunately the light was really awful in the afternoons and we didn't get any good photos. Here he is hobbled, though.

I can't even begin to summarize everything we learned, so I'll start with one good lesson we're going to apply immediately. Buck spent quite a while addressing the issue of headshy horses and horses that are difficult to bridle, which was awesome for us because this guy

certainly still needs a lot of work before he's over the ear issue.

Preparing a Horse for the Bridle

Preparing the horse to take a bridle is more important than the act of bridling itself. In cases where a horse is sensitive or headshy, it can take many, many sessions of working on this before you even have the horse to a point where you should bridle it.

Start off with the horse untied and quiet on the lead rope. Apply gentle downwards pressure on the lead rope until the horse drops its head (even a tiny fraction of an inch is enough). Release the pressure instantly when the horse gives. If the horse's head stays down, pet. If its head pops back up, ask it to lower its head again. Work on this until the head is lower than your waist, and the horse is content to stand quietly with its head down.

If the horse is nervous about its ears, start moving your hands towards the ears from one direction or the other but not actually reaching them. The idea is you push the horse just slightly, but not enough to cause real anxiety. Get your hand close and gone before the horse has a chance to get troubled and react. If you get too close, the horse might pull away and thus begin to learn to evade pressure by pulling. It is crucial not to lose patience and push this. If the horse's head comes up at any point, gently work it back down and continue. Gradually, the horse will allow you closer and closer to the area it is trying to defend.

Once the horse is accepting movements nearish its ears without anxiety, move your hand smoothly from the face up and over the forehead and back down the neck. You want to be quick and fluid, so you do not startle the horse but are also long gone before the horse has a chance to get troubled. Run your hand quickly past the ears and down the neck. If the head comes up, gently lower it. Repeat repeat repeat. As the horse gets quieter you can start to be a little more careless about this, perhaps sometimes bumping the ears on the way by.

When the horse is not reacting to the hand passing from front to back, start to work on moving the hand from back to front, being careful not to whack the ears. Any time the head comes up, you put it back down. Work on this until the horse learns that movements around the ears and head are not a threat.

Once your horse can stand quietly with its head lowered and you can reliably touch all over the head, face, mouth, and ears without causing a reaction, you are ready to bridle.


We've got a ways to go with Laredo. Buck said one thing during the clinic that made me laugh. He said, "Being sneaky with young horses doesn't work. Some people handle young horses like they can do it without the horse noticing them. They are sneaky about getting them tacked and mounted, and sneaky about riding. And maybe you can even get away with it for a while, but one day the horse is going to wake up and notice you, and if you've been sneaking around all that time, the horse is going to say, "Where on earth did that guy come from?" That is where you get your huge reactions."

We've definitely been sneaky about getting the bridle on Laredo. But I think that's ok as a temporary solution. We're certainly not walking on egg-shells around him in any other respect, and as long as we can get the bridle on without causing him trauma or teaching him to pull away, it shouldn't set us back as long as we work on systematically eliminating the need for the sneakiness at the same time

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Softening Laredo

Today was the first time Laredo approached me in the pasture. I stopped to pet Nadir, and he walked right up to me. I even slipped the halter on, and probably could have gotten it tied if I hadn't hurried a little. When my hand got up by his eye, he pulled back. I kept after him and got the halter on moments later, but it wasn't quite the perfect catch.

We've seen what I think is a little bit of back-sliding with the ear issue the last few days, so today I wanted to address it more directly than we have been lately. After tacking we adjourned to the outdoor arena, and I started with normal groundwork, then switched to flipping the end of the mecate rhythmically up over Laredo's head and ears, then removing it. He didn't like this, of course, but I stuck with it for several minutes on each side, until he was standing with his head a bit lower. Then we did some more flexes and I mounted.

Laredo's back is starting to feel like a more familiar place. We started out with flexes, which overall were much softer than my last ride.

From there we walked around a bit, and that went ok. So far Laredo seems to have a bit of a reluctance to step out. I'm so used to Steen (who always goes slightly faster than you want him to) this is sort of a new challenge for me. I worked on wiggling my feet and getting some energy in my body until he picked up the pace, then sat still. I think we made a little progress here.

We also spent a lot of time on short serpentines. Brian clearly made a ton of headway on this yesterday, so Laredo was quite soft for me.

Towards the end of the ride I decided to try the trot again. This started out ok, but Laredo was very erratic. I was trying to post but he was having trouble getting into much of a rhythm. He also seemed a bit ouchy on his front feet. I think his soles might need some more time to toughen up for bearing a rider. So we didn't work on that for long.

Overall, it was a highly positive ride. I think it was the first ride I've had on Laredo that was actually fun. He didn't feel so resentful this time and it seemed like more things were making more sense to him. When I took the halter off in the pasture, all he wanted to do was follow me around. So I think he's getting used to us.

Of course, now he's going to get five days off. We'll see what state he's in when we get back.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 54:45

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Sloppy Lope

Today on the way to the barn I was making a conscious effort to think about Steen and what he needs right now. It's easy to get a little Laredocentric, what with him being our brand new baby and all. I don't want to lose momentum with Steen, though, so today I decided one of the major things Steen needs to work on is lope/trot transitions.

Of course the key to lope/trot transitions has remarkably little to do with actually loping and trotting and everything to do with being soft and supple and responsive. I spent a lot of my ride working on short serpentines and walking circles. Steen, overall, felt fantastically soft.

I loped for the first time midway through the ride, moving to the left. This went ok. I was trying to work it out so I loped one lap and trotted one lap, etc. etc.. His lope circles were actually pretty fine, but his trotting circles were horrendous. As soon as I'd ask him to come down from the lope he'd start dumping on his forehand and charging around. I was trying quite hard not to just drag on the hackamore, but rather correct him intermittently with pulls. This worked to some degree. Eventually we got a good circle at the lope followed by an acceptable circle at the trot.

We moved on to other things, including a fairly lengthy period during which we stood around and took pictures of Brian riding Laredo. After this I decided to work on loping the other direction. Unfortunately I think Steen had decided we were done. Things started off stiff but ok...

but after a few minutes we devolved into a really ugly situation where he was bracing against the hackamore and nearly falling over about once a circle...

This is right after he slipped so badly I thought he might fall over.
Note: when my self-preservation instinct kicks in, I just grab mane.

and I was trying to get him to bend without any success. After quite a few circles with no improvement, we called it quits and returned to short serpentines, which were still good. We wrapped up our ride, got caught in a brief but intense downpour while untacking, and called it a day.

Later, I tried to figure out what went wrong. I think Steen still has some anxiety about loping, and when he doesn't get to stop after loping, he stays keyed up, which makes him antsy and over-reactive at the trot, which leads to a crazy, unbalanced lope. It doesn't help that my default reaction to him being sloppy and antsy is to lose leg contact and revert to riding with my hands. I also think I've been over-using the pop-on-the-hackamore technique. At the end of our ride when I gave a pull on the hackamores, Steen would either brace and resist, or he'd way over-bend and send himself in tiny, horrible circles. A happy medium would be nice, so I just need to find a better way to get there. If I had to guess on how I should achieve that, I'd bet it has something to do with me legs. Fortunately we're heading to a Buck clinic on Thursday, so hopefully I will get some answers there.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback hours YTD: 54:05

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Quick Study

Today it took about three minutes to catch Laredo. It's getting to the point that it's really not an issue. He walked away from me for a moment, then turned and stepped towards me and stopped. I walked up to him and started stroking his nose with the halter. He backed up for a little ways, stopped, and I slipped the halter on.

It was a beautiful day, and quite warm. We were not feeling very excited about the prospect of riding in the indoor arena, so we tried the outdoor arena. I did a little bit of groundwork before mounting, and at first Laredo was stiff to pressure on the bit, but he softened up quickly. He was also moving all his feet quite well when I asked for them.

I climbed on and after a few flexes we started walking around. I could tell immediately Brian made a lot of progress with him yesterday. Although he was slightly more distracted by the environment, he was giving to the bit much better in general and holding a nicer bend in his body through a higher percentage of turns.

Stopping and backing were also much improved. Sometimes I had to wait for quite a long time for a response to pressure on the bit, but more often he was giving me a soft feel without much trouble. My main focus of the day was to say soft. Last time I rode Laredo he was rooting and leaning on the bit a lot, which I'd never encountered before and wasn't sure how to handle. I ended up feeling like I pulled on him a lot more than I wanted to.

Brian got around the rooting problem by asking Laredo to walk in circles when he tried to drag his nose on the ground. To move, Laredo had to bring his head up. I employed this same trick today and it worked very well. I stayed focused on being as soft as possible at every moment. As a result there was almost no rooting or pulling today. This translated into him moving his feet better. It's amazing how much he's improved in just three rides. Also, he was significantly less touchy about his ears/head today. I got my hands pretty far up on his face and neck a number of times and he completely forgot to be worried about it.

I rode Laredo for about half an hour and in the meantime Brian rode Steen. When we were both done I took my saddle off Laredo and put it on Steen. Brian put Laredo back in the pasture and got Bear. I then rode Steen for another hour while Brian rode Bear.

Steen was awesome. It is so funny, switching directly from one horse to another.

Steen backing off very light pressure.

Steen was very soft today, and we moved through our normal stuff quite well. We got some more good loping in, and I worked on bending him into shorter circles. This was mostly pretty good, though he still gets stiff intermittently.

Brian and I worked on our trot/walk transition circle exercise. That was surprisingly mediocre. While the transitions themselves were great, Steen's circles left a lot to be desired. We'll have to work on this more.

But all in all it was a very satisfactory day at the barn. Having three horses is so far good in all the ways we'd hoped.

Also, tiny kitten:

Ride Time: Laredo - 0:30, Steen - 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 53:45

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Trims and Vaccinations

We got the barn early today because both the farrier and the vet were scheduled to come out. We wanted to ride before the chaos started.

Catching Laredo took four minutes today, so we are definitely on the right track with that. We groomed and tacked and he seemed a bit less touchy about his ears/head as well. We went to the indoor arena. Brian hopped on and had a good first ride in spite of the escalating commotion.

I rode Steen in the hackamore, and he was quite good. After riding Laredo yesterday, Steen felt so soft and familiar and educated. He was great with everything. There were a bunch of barrels and the big soccer ball and several cones scattered around the arena, so I had fun loping him between various obstacles. He was great with this, and never missed.

After the ride Steen got his trim, then I held onto both him and Laredo while Brian brought Bear in so he could get his feet done. We put Steen back outside and Brian rode Bear out on the strip while Laredo and I waited for his turn with the vet. Laredo was so patient. We had him indoors for over three hours and a lot of that time he was just standing around waiting. He never got fidgety or pushy. There were boarders, kids and horses everywhere and he was just friendly and quiet the whole time. He was ok for the vet, though not super excited about getting the up-the-nose vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Steen was NOT HAPPY about being left out in the pasture. He was pacing the fence and calling and overall behaving a lot more like a three-year-old than our actual three-year-old.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 52:20

Friday, May 11, 2012

First Laredo Ride

We gave everyone the day off on Thursday but were keen to head back out today. It was my day to work with Laredo. Catching was even shorter than last time. It only took 11 minutes (half of which was just him running from the big pasture into the winter lot) and I probably could have slipped the halter on faster if I'd been inclined to push it.

We went out with a plan for getting a bridle on Laredo. I took the brow-band and throat-latch off of Steen's snaffle setup and unbuckled it to allow for less ear contact while putting it on. Brian also assisted by holding the reins up and reaching over Laredo's neck from way back while I supported the bit in his mouth. The plan worked quite well and pretty soon we had the headstall buckled and Laredo was ready to go without ever having gotten upset about his ears.

I started with some groundwork, but after a few minutes it felt like getting on was the logical thing to do. I stepped up and down a few times and jiggled the stirrup on the other side. He was not bothered. I swung on, got off, got on again. It was all good.

We flexed a few times before I asked him to move, at which point he walked off quietly. I think he's got a really nice foundation to build on. Clearly he has no anxiety about being ridden, but just as clearly he has a lot to learn. Yielding to the bit, for instance, is a little hit or miss.

But the most interesting thing I discovered when I got up there is he's very braced up on the left side. This is the side on which he's the most reactive about his ears, and when I asked him to bend that way he would do all sorts of things to evade (such as rooting, starting to walk off if we were standing, or stopping if we were walking). I am starting to think his ear issue is a symptom of a greater problem that just has to do with this brace he's got in his neck, and if we can work through the brace the ear problem will dissolve on its own.

Though inconsistent, overall he's quite soft to the bit. A number of times he was over-flexing vertically and getting his feet stuck, and also my way of asking him to back obviously means nothing to him. But what surprised me most is how quiet he is. We went around barrels and balls and past all sorts of strange objects. He just isn't prone to reacting to things, in spite of his youth and inexperience.

After about twenty minutes of working on flexes, short-serpentines, soft feel, stepping under behind and walking in circles, I asked him for a little trot. He picked it up readily enough and we jogged around for a minute or two. My saddle seems to bounce a lot on him. I'm not sure my flared tree is ideal for his super round back and almost no withers. Still, it was nice to feel him move out. And again, he seemed fine with everything.

I should have probably gotten off a few minutes before I did. We hit half an hour and I could see he'd clicked off mentally. Suddenly he wasn't standing very well and was rooting any time I picked up pressure on the bit and overall just having trouble focusing. I got off and worked on more groundwork, and he was actually great with that. He was softer both backing up and going forward, and quite willing to pay attention and try.

After the ride I untacked him by the locker and he's already willing to stand with the lead rope tossed around his neck like our other guys do. Unbelievable. I would never have thought such a youngster could be so quiet.

The only slightly sad thing was we left Steen in the pasture. He stood at the fence and called to us while we were tacking. Poor guy. I told him I'd ride him tomorrow.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback hours YTD: 51:35

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Back with Steen

Today it was Brian's day to work with Laredo, but we headed out thinking it might take both of us to catch him again. However, the catching process was a lot shorter today and I didn't really have to help at all, so that was great.

We took Steen and Laredo to the hitching post and got them groomed. Laredo was relaxed today. He's so good about standing tied. That is a huge plus as far as I'm concerned.

We tacked up and headed to the indoor. I climbed on Steen and proceeded to have a massively laid back ride. Steen was quiet and a little sluggish. Even his lope was slow. We worked a lot on circles, lateral flexion, backing circles and moving one foot at a time. Overall he was good. I was pretty low energy myself, so I can't really fault him for not putting a ton of effort into the ride.

Meanwhile Brian worked with Laredo. For the most part things went well, though the ear issue continues to be present. However, Brian did step up onto the stirrup a few times today without any problem, and Laredo so far has yet to indicate anything else bothers him.

In a wonderful coincidence, our farrier was out today to put a shoe back on another boarder's horse. We asked him if he had time for another trim and he said he did, so Laredo got his very very long toes tidied up. He was good for Duke. Not perfect, but good.

After the ride we put them back outside. Steen so far has been a bit anti-Laredo in general, but they were hanging out together after we took their halters off.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback hours YTD: 51:05

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The First Day

We found Laredo seeming pretty settled in this afternoon, but not keen on letting us close to him. We were expecting this and had a plan. He was out in the big lot, so we pushed him into the winter lot and closed the gate. Brian then used himself and the windblock to break the lot in half. This gave me an area to work Laredo that was small enough to ensure running away wasn't going to get him any release.

It also helps that we've had ample experience catching horses that don't want to be caught, and also recently teaching our guys to come to us. My new baby running away from me is the type of thing I might have taken personally a few years ago, but now it's just another opportunity to practice some basic concepts. I could really see Laredo's youth while I worked him. Steen and Mo were both in the winter lot as well, and they both appear to have decided they are not Laredo fans. They would pin their ears at him when he got close. That meant the only place he got any relief was next to me. When he started to figure this out, his whole face and demeanor began to change.

My strategy was simple. When he was moving I stared at him and walked right at him. When he held still I dropped my gaze and approached him more slowly from an oblique angle. If he looked at me as if he was considering approaching, I looked away from him and took a step back, but if he didn't move towards me within a second or two I started to approach him again.

It only took about half an hour, including the time it took us to drive him from the big pasture into the winter lot, before I was able to slip the halter on. Once I got close I stroked his nose with the halter strap and took it on and off several times, until he would accept that without moving.

Once caught, he was a doll. He leads very nicely. Brian haltered Steen and we took them to the hitching post. I tied Laredo and he was content to stand while I groomed him. He's a bit sticky lifting his feet. I had to free them up by asking him to move with the halter a few times. But once they are up he has no problem letting you handle them.

After grooming, I saddled him. He got a little tense as I tightened the cinch, but I was gentle and he relaxed quickly. The first hitch came when I tried to bridle him. We had noticed at the breeder's that he is touchy about his ears, and while he took the bit just fine, he started bracing and sticking his head in the air when it came to getting the bridle all the way on. I stopped trying and we went to the indoor arena to do some groundwork and ear desensitizing.

It is fascinating working with another horse. I am so used to Steen. And I have to admit I'm actually a little surprised at how physically and mentally immature an (almost) three year old is. You can just tell he processes everything that is happening to him differently than an adult does. He's quick to pick up on what you're asking him to do, but also prone to forgetting something you've just "taught" him.

With the ear issue, I just set my hand on his head. If he moved, I moved with him. I left it there until he started to relax and drop his head. We worked on this in between working on other things. At times it seemed like he got better, but I do think it will be a while before he's totally over it. Luckily, we are in no hurry at all.

Brian had an ok ride on Steen. Steen was picking up the trot unasked a bit. I was trying not to pay too much attention to them because it is difficult for me to watch someone else ride Steen and not turn into a micromanager.

With Laredo I worked on forward, back, giving to the halter, stepping over in front, stepping under behind and basic circle work, and spent quite a lot of time standing there with my hand on his head. After 45 minutes, Brian and I switched and I rode Steen for a little while and Brian worked with Laredo. Steen was great for me. Soft and pliable. We loped around and he felt very much like his normal self.

On a random note, an unforeseen consequence of the new guy's name: I have had this song in my head for days.

Ride Time: 0:15
Horseback hours YTD: 49:50

Laredo Arrives

Since we were out of town all weekend, we had to wait until Monday for our horse delivery. We've decided to call him Laredo.

We headed out to the barn right after work, mostly to distract ourselves from the excitement. We rode on the strip. Brian read an article about using a cut-out pad backwards to relieve pressure on the lower back, so he borrowed my new pad to give this a try on Bear. I used his pad. I didn't honestly think this would make any difference until I got mounted and asked Steen for a whirlygig to the left. He did not want to step under behind, he just kept pivoting on his back feet. This hasn't happened with me and Steen in months and months. Even last ride, when I was asking for whirlygigs for the first time in a long while, he never hesitated with them.

As the ride continued, Steen seemed off in other ways as well. He was more nervous than he's been lately, and when I asked him to lope down the strip, he was definitely not moving out in any way that felt normal. In fact he started to get kinda crunchy, like he was thinking about a crow-hop. He was also then stiff on stopping from the lope, and seemed agitated walking back up the strip.

There was another factor that might have had something to do with his behavior. A planter was going around and around in the field next to us, and at times it got close. It was massive and loud. Steen is not a fan of gigantic machinery. So he was a little distracted by that, but still I don't think it fully explains things. I have had nothing but awesome rides on him lately, and today he just felt like he wasn't moving quite right.

Bear, on the other hand, was moving smoother than we've seen in weeks. He was executing bends and short serpentines with no issues at all. He's still not fully recovered, but he's definitely improving. It seems light work and stretches and a new saddle pad might get him back to normal pretty soon.

We'd been riding for about an hour when the breeder called to say he was 15 minutes away. We untacked and turned the guys out in the airlock. A few minutes later, Laredo arrived. He stepped off the trailer without a fuss, and was happy to stand quietly while we talked. He again struck me as curious but not at all reactive.

We turned him out with Steen and Bear and everyone pranced around for a while, but there wasn't a single squeal or kick to be seen.

We released them into the larger pasture and pretty soon Laredo was frolicking around trying to get everyone else to play. We have a somewhat "mature" herd at the moment. Steen is the next youngest horse out there, and he'll be turning twelve in a few weeks.

Laredo seems fast to make friends, anyway.

He was also pretty willing to explore on his own, though you could tell he didn't want to get too far from the herd. One of the reasons we picked him is he seemed to have a bit of an independent streak. We'll see how our expectations mesh with the reality as we get to know him better.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 49:35

Monday, May 07, 2012

Catch Up

My sister flew back to Arizona on Saturday and now I'm trying to catch up with my normal life. We had a good visit. Last Monday, she and I went out and I gave her a pretty long lesson on Steen while sitting on Bear so I could demonstrate things. She was interested in a lot of the new concepts we've been applying lately, so wanted to learn as much as possible.

She started out on Steen in the hackamore, and after a few minutes he was getting a bit stiff on her. I climbed on to gauge where he was at, and he was stiff for me too. I switched him to the snaffle and things went better after that. She rode for quite a long time, moved through all three gaits and had fun.

Unfortunately Bear's back is still a tad ouchy, so I did very little on him. One of these days I need to ride him when he's feeling good.

We spent a large portion of the weekend in Chicago, but managed a ride on Sunday. We were both really tired and we're still trying to keep things easy on Bear. We only rode half an hour on the strip. I was in the hackamore again, and watching Meryl on Steen made me realize I have been neglecting lateral flexion lately because I've been so focused on vertical flexion. So we worked a lot on flexing, short serpentines and whirlygigs. He started to soften up almost immediately. There are so many things to work on each ride, I find it a little bit hard to keep them all in my head at once.

Horseback hours YTD: 48:35

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The New Guy

It's been a busy week. Between catching up with my sister, riding, and horse-shopping, the time has been flying.

On May 1st we drove south of town to check out a breeder with several young Quarter Horses for sale. We walked out into the pasture and soon we had seven or eight friendly horses a standing in a row trying to say hi.

It was an interesting experience, getting to spend time with a herd and watch them all interact with the intention of picking one. It felt more like choosing a puppy than a horse. All the horses were extremely well put together and very friendly, but after hanging out with them for a long time, one started to seem the most like what we are looking for. Conveniently, it was also one of the two that is already started under saddle.

We even got some Not-Highly-Exciting-Video while we were out there:

We took him inside and got to know him a little better. He seems both lively and laid  back, and very interested in people and able to focus. He's three, and has a very nice pedigree.

We came home and talked it over. After much discussion we feel like he's everything we want in a youngster. So we made an offer and closed the deal today. Hopefully we'll have him at our own barn by the end of the day Monday!

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