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

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