Sunday, June 17, 2012

Focus on the Positive

It was my turn to ride Laredo again today, and I was determined to have a better time on him. I had a few things working in my favor. For one, I got new boots!

I have strange feet. They are strange for a variety of reasons, from genetics to injuries to general conformation. The upshot of all this strangeness is it's actually impossible for me to find off-the-shelf shoes that come anywhere close to fitting.

I ordered these boots a couple months ago because I got tired of the way my Ariats flopped around on my feet while I walked and flexed in the stirrup when I rode. These are semi-custom, so they actually fit my unusually narrow heel while not making life miserable for my usually wide forefeoot. They also have a respectable heel on them instead of the wimpy little roper heel my Ariats have. It took many weeks for them to be made, so I was thrilled when we got back from the barn yesterday to find them on the front steps.

Thus armed, I was sure me and Laredo couldn't help but do better today. And things started out... weird. We noticed walking up to the pasture that Steen was in with the wrong herd. He was in the "feed" lot with the five horses who get supplements once a day. Their pasture is next to the one our herd lives in. A quick inspection revealed a downed fence, likely taken out by last night's storm. Steen was very happy to see us and more than enthusiastic about getting back in with the right group of horses.

Laredo came right up to me in the pasture. At the hitching post, he was quiet. We've seen a big shift in his willingness to let us mess around his face and head lately, and we also seem to have broken his habit of chewing on his rope when he's tied. We got tacked and mounted and into the outdoor arena.

On the ground I started working on more precise movements than I've been focusing on with him lately, with particular emphasis on yielding the forequarters (since he's horrible about this under saddle). He was super soft on the ground. After a few minutes, I climbed on.

The first thing I noticed about my new boots is that they don't have much flex in the ankle yet, but other than that I liked the feel of them.

Laredo was also extra attentive to my heels today. I'm sure that wasn't a coincidence.

Things started out much like last time. He was good at giving to the bit laterally, good at giving the soft feel, but not good about backing. He was also rooting a lot. One good change was he felt really solid on his front feet, even moving in and out of the trot. His toes have grown in nicely, and also the ground was softer thanks to the rain.

We worked on the standard things, and the only time I asked him to back was each time we stopped. Starting out, this took a looooong time, but over the course of the ride he got faster about it. I concentrated on keeping my hands in the same place no matter what he did with his head. If he leaned into the bit, he got more pressure. If he tucked his chin, he got less, but the reins never got any longer until he took a step back.

The highlights of the ride were trotting and whirly-gigs. I trotted him more than I ever had, and we got into a nice rhythm a few times. With whirly-gigs, we never got a good one, but he was trying to bring his front end through, so that is a huge step in the right direction.

The low points were that he continued to root a lot all through the ride. Oh and he fell over. Because at one point we were trotting and he was so preoccupied with trying to drag his nose on the ground he forget to pick up his front feet, tripped, and went down to his knees.

Luckily he didn't go all the way down, and after kneeling for a moment got himself back up again. I had been hoping the rooting would go away if I ignored it, but after that I decided to be a bit more proactive. Whenever he got his head really low I applied a slow but firm pull up and out, making him turn until he brought his head back up to a normal level. This worked really well. It didn't take long before he put two and two together and starting keeping his head higher. I think he roots because he's trying to escape the bit, so we just need to teach him that's not going to work without causing him any pain or discomfort.

Towards the end of the ride, we stood around and watched Brian and Bear. Laredo is already a champion stander. It was years before I felt safe taking photos from Steen's back, but this guy is so mellow I snapped a few while we watched. We've decided his new nick-name is going to be Surfer Dude, because he's bleach-blond and chill.

Ride Time: 1:25
Horseback hours YTD: 69:55

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