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

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