Thursday, June 07, 2012

Subtle Makes Supple

One of the reasons we got a third horse was to help us break out of the mental ruts its so easy to fall into when riding the same horse all the time. And I have to say, it's working like a charm. After my ride on Laredo on Monday, I approached my next ride with Steen from a rather different angle than I otherwise would have. Mainly, I was reminded by Laredo how important it is to be soft. Softer than you think will work. So soft you think they might not be able to feel you.

Because they're horses. They can always feel you.

Steen just turned twelve. While in some respects he's the same goofy guy he's always been

in others I am really starting to notice his age. I'm sure being around Laredo in all his youth is making Steen's increasing maturity even more noticeable, but the Steen of today bears only a passing resemblance to the horse I bought four years ago. Sure, he's still kinda emotional and he's still prone to over-reacting to corrections; he still trips a lot when he gets agitated. But he also spends a lot of time dozing at the hitching post and he always thinks at least a little now before he reacts. He's got more wrinkles around his eyes and on his muzzle, and the skinny problem is pretty much gone.

Today getting on Steen after riding Laredo felt like switching from my brother's 1985 Toyota Landcruiser (no power steering, literally weighs a ton) to a Ferrari. Ok, maybe not a Ferrari, but at least my 2004 Honda Civic (light, agile and can be steered with two fingers).

We started out the day with a little groundwork, and asking him to back off a feel. He did that quite well. He's also stepping under better when I quarter him, and I'm able to disengage his front, then his hind while walking in a straight line and keeping him moving back and forth in front of me.

I got on and tried to continue with the lightness. We worked at first on whirlygigs, and I had Brian watch me because the last few rides I've been unable to figure out what is happening. It's been feeling like Steen has been stepping under, but he hasn't been really loading himself back on his haunches, which doesn't allow me to bring the front end through.

Brian watched me once or twice and said Steen was stepping under behind, but he wasn't stopping his forward progress while doing so, which left me with nowhere to go.

Oh the joys of having someone to watch and offer feedback. After that I checked Steen's forward momentum a little when asking for his hind, and pretty soon we were doing a lot better. If I could just get the timing right when asking for the front I think we'd nail them every time.

From there we worked on more little stuff, like a nice, fluid one-rein stop, side-passing, and bringing the front 360 degrees around the hind. All of these things are easier now that Steen is engaging his haunches more.

I did some work walking and trotting in a circle, throwing in directional changes with collection, and leg-yields. We picked up the lope briefly a few times, then came back down to the trot and kept working.

After the trots we went back to moving the feet, and I got some of the best side-passes and leg yields Steen has ever managed. With side-passing our timing is still a bit off between the front and the hind and we can get crooked at times, but he's taking nice big steps and holding softness.

We also worked intermittently on short serpentines, and these were super soft as well. He was bending off less pressure and balancing better through the turns.

The only downside of the day was he was really bothered by the flies. Usually he doesn't get as irritated by them but we haven't found or replaced his flymask yet, so maybe that's contributing.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 62:05

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