Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The last ride of July

We rode in the morning again today. The horses were all out on the hilltop in the pasture when we arrived, and everyone was a bit revved because two horses were moved from the stall herd to the pasture herd. Bear led a charge down the hill to see us, and it was neat to watch the variety of horses move down the incline.

I rode Steen in the hackamore today. My main goal for the ride was to work on holding the soft feel while we are moving, and continuing to focus on non-demanding movements to help with this. Steen's feet are in bad shape and one in particular is worn on one side on long on the other (the farrier comes on Sunday). So I wanted to keep things slow and mellow anyway.

I started out working on riding with no hands like last time, but instead of getting annoyed when Steen ignored my left leg, I gave a gentle twitch of the rein and praised him when he yielded. Before long he was paying a lot more attention to my legs, and I was able to set the reins down for a while.

I moved from there into working on leg-yields, which have been the thing that translated the worst from the snaffle to the hackamore. Today I was prepared to be patient and build this up slowly, but Steen surprised me. He was soft, willing to collect and step across from the first time I asked.

We went from there to working on leg-yields at the trot, and these went quite well also. Then we went back to the walk and I worked on rocking forward and back, walking forward 10 steps, then back 10 steps, then forward 9 steps, then back 9 steps, etc.. By the last few steps Steen was holding a soft feel through the transitions. So that was awesome. I think he's also finally got the sidepass pretty well figured out. I worked on getting him to move a little faster and with larger steps both in that and yielding the forequarters.

Laredo was a bit worn out during Brian's ride today. We'll have to measure him after he gets his feet trimmed on Sunday. I think he's grown some more. His back is also getting longer, and he's looking a bit more mature all around. Of course he still behaves like a total goof, but from a distance he can look adult-like sometimes.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 91:30

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Happy on the Trail

Today our morning ride plans were foiled by storms, so Brian and I headed out later and didn't connect with the horses and riders we've been going out with the last couple of Sundays. We decided to venture out on our own. Brian chose to ride in the hackamore, which is the first time either of us has ridden out past familiar territory without a bit. (I rode in the snaffle.)

We weren't sure what kind of overall attitude we'd get from Bear and Steen. The first time we did this ride, we literally had half the pasture herd with us, so all the horses were gaining a lot of confidence from the company.

Brian and I made our way out past the fields near the barn and along the scary creek section, where Steen tends to get jumpy. And he was a little jumpy. He startled when a large bug fluttered in the corn, but he didn't do anything. We made it to the gate and he was able to stand quietly while Brian got off and opened it, and although he wanted to go through as soon as it was open, I made him wait until he settled and I asked him to move forward.

From there the ride continued well. There were several times Steen got a bit nervous, but the nerves never translated into any undesirable behavior. He led almost the whole ride. He's funny that even when he's a little uncertain he's often happy to forge ahead.

When we reached the long easement, we decided to try a trot. Bear has a tendency to get some momentum going at the trot, and Brian thought he could check him more lightly and effectively in the hackamore, but he wasn't sure. So we asked the guys to move out, and they did... at a snail's pace. It was actually a little hilarious. They trotted really, really slowly for a good long while.

From there we passed the pasture of horses that got Steen frazzled the last ride, but he was less reactive today. Then we hit the B-road and trotted and loped our way along depending on the terrain. Steen had one moment where we were walking on the way back and he got goofy about going forward for no reason I could detect. But I gave him a minute and some reassurance and he went on without any more trouble.

When we were trotting along the lower part of the easement, a young deer jumped out of the undergrowth next to us. Both horses sped up and a tad and veered away, but quieted right back down. Even on the home stretch they were both happy to walk quietly. We swung down back at the barn feeling relaxed and happy. I spent almost the entire ride on a loose rein, only checking Steen lightly a few times when he started gaining speed at the trot or lope. It was great to feel him stay attentive as we went, and it was great that Bear was equally fantastic for Brian.

Ride Time: 1:30
Ride Length: 5.2 miles
Horseback hours YTD: 90:30

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trot Time

Yesterday our pasture herd got a new member. A 3 year old solid Paint gelding named Tate arrived, and he and Laredo hit it off immediately. Today they were hanging out when we got to the barn, and Tate was pretty inclined to follow us out of the pasture. We persuaded him to stay behind.

It was my day for Laredo, and I was pleased he was considerably less fidgety at the hitching post than last time. He was so quiet during tacking and grooming, in fact, that I decided to try to slip the bridle on the "right" way, rather than unbuckle it like we have been doing. He took the bit just fine, in spite of the altered position of my hands. Then when I went to ease his ear forward and through the headstall, he pulled away. I gave him a minute and tried again, but by then he was looking at me with some alarm, so I decided to save that victory for another day. I unbuckled the bridle and rebuckled it behind his ears.

Out on the strip I again worked a little harder on groundwork than I have our last few rides. I took him to another strip that runs perpendicular to the one we usually ride on, and is fairly scary as it is lined in trampolines and various other kinds of playground equipment, and also silos and farm equipment. I thought this slightly more stressful environment might make the groundwork a bit more challenging. And it did, but I managed to get Laredo's attention and keep it, and we got quite a lot done.

By the time I mounted, Laredo was in a very attentive frame of mind. We walked off and almost immediately got a few no-handed figure-eights that were better than the ones I was getting out of Steen yesterday. Laredo was also very soft to the bit, both laterally and vertically.

We went through all our exercises, and everything just felt great. I think Laredo is actually starting to enjoy his job lately as it becomes comprehensible for him.

After walking around for a while, we moved into trotting and this was by far the best ride we've ever had for trotting. Not only was he good about picking it up and staying in it, I didn't feel him take a single tender step. He also just felt light off my reins and legs, and though there were a couple times he got distracted, he always came back without much trouble.

Of course we did nearly trot straight into the bean field once...

...but most of the time he went right where I asked.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 89:00

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Friday Ride

This week I'm finally starting to feel caught up with work. We've been making a few adjustments to the way we are running my business, including that Brian is now going to handle all billing and invoicing, plus some of the correspondence with potential new clients. This only amounts to a few hours of work a week, but for me it feels like a huge relief. We've also decided to cut a few things from our services offering, so I can continue to specialize. These things combined into a far more sane work week than I've had in a while. The weather even cooperated and we had a cooler day today, so we were keen to celebrate the end of the week with a nice ride.

We rode on the strip. I rode Steen in the hackamore. I was hoping we'd have another awesome ride, but it didn't quite work out that way. It wasn't a bad ride, but for some reason when we started our no-handed figure-eights, he just wouldn't move off my left leg when I was asking him to turn right. I know my left leg is weaker, and I can feel this sometimes when I ride, but still Steen normally moves off such light pressure, it's not a problem. We worked on it and worked on it and it got no better. I must admit I got a little irritated about it, so I stopped working on the figure eights and worked just on moving his front around his hind. This was great, and we did a full circle much faster than we ever had before. But when we went back to walking, he'd just blow through my left leg every time.

I decided to shift gears and try some trotting. He was good at the trot, though not very soft when I asked for collection. He was also quite bad with leg-yields. Then we stopped and I did more moving the front around the hind. Then I asked him to side-pass, and he completely surprised me by collecting off the lightest pressure and taking five huge, consecutive steps to the right. I asked him to go back the other way, and he did it just as softly and well. So that was by far the best side-passing we've ever achieved. I tried a few other things, and basically everything I asked him to standing or going backwards (also whirligigs and short-serpentines) was perfect, and most things I asked for going forwards were a tad flawed. But not every ride can be incredible, so I shouldn't complain.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 88:00

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mood Swings

Today Brian and headed out first thing. We took our coffee with us. We were at the barn by 7:00. I think I must be getting old or something. I used to wake up, roll out of bed, and hit the trails without food or drink or anything. Getting out there early felt a bit hard today. We're always up and going by 6:30 at the latest. We're just not usually driving anywhere.

But it was a good thing we got out there early. By the time we left the barn, it was 90°. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I rode Laredo today. He's been fidgety at the hitching post lately, which is new for him, so I made sure I took my time with tacking, spending a lot of time petting him between things he might find stressful. When he did fidget, I'd come back and move him around a fair bit before leaving him to stand again.

I wasn't sure what to expect on our ride today. I hadn't ridden him in a week, and he did try out bucking on Brian the last time he was ridden. He seemed distracted when we got to the strip, so I started with some extra groundwork. Most particularly, I worked on moving him forward and back. He can be sluggish about backing out of my space, so I worked on this until he got a bit more energetic about it. After that he was very focused on me, and when I let him rest, not inclined to look off at other things. I thought that was a good sign, so I got on.

The ride started fine, descended into being kinda bad, then moved through the roughness and into something pretty great. Lately I have been thinking about training in terms of building a horse's confidence. A few weeks ago, Steen got an electrical shock from a malfunctioning gate, bolted into my space and barged ahead of me. I mishandled the situation. Obviously, I needed to correct him. What I should have done was approach it from a positive angle, working to say, "You got scared and came too close to me. Let's work on finding ways for you to be braver, so you don't have to bolt into my bubble." Instead I came at it without much sympathy, having more of a, "I don't care if you're scared. You don't crowd me that way," attitude. It's a fine distinction, perhaps, but Steen is a sensitive horse. I made him go through the gate several times, and he did what I asked, but he was UPSET. In retrospect, I was too hard on him, and the next time we got near a gate he got nervous. He didn't come into my space again, but he did hesitate going through, then wanted to charge past me when he got past my sphere of influence.

It took about three weeks of me taking it easy on him, sometimes making him go through the gates he charged multiple times, but doing it gently and praising him for his efforts. Sometimes I just ignored him and gave him plenty of rope, letting him find his own way through. Finally, he's mostly over it again. But the whole thing made me feel really bad. It made me think about how important it is to correct a horse correctly. I'm noticing the more I refine Steen's training and his trust in me, the bigger an impact my mistakes have. And of course, the correct correction varies depending on the horse and the situation. It's so easy to get it wrong.

With Laredo, I think he's experiencing a little dip in confidence lately, which is surprising because he's learning a lot. But then, he is a teenager. So today when he got distracted, I tried to find ways to bring him back to me. Sometimes when I asked for a soft feel, he'd just zone out, chewing on the bit and staring at the horizon. When this happened, I waited. But if it started to feel like I was waiting too long, I gave him a nudge with my heel. Not a kick. More like a tap on the shoulder than anything else. He'd remember me, and give to the bit. I'm finding there's a fine line between giving him time to figure something out, and reinforcing the idea that he doesn't have to pay attention to me sometimes.

I'm not quite ready to relinquish my reins entirely on Laredo, but I did a lot of work trying to ride him with legs only. We're a long way from doing this particularly well, but I found if I let him make a bigger mistake and then gave him a bigger correction, he seemed to catch on faster. Whereas trying to micromanage him out of making a mistake in the first place just got him frustrated.

Late in the ride, I decided to try a trot. With the chips in his feet, we haven't been trotting much but today I wanted to know whether he was more or less sore on his soles, and trotting him seemed the best way to establish that. Plus things were going well, and I wanted to see how our work at the walk carried up a gait. So I pushed him into the trot, and it was great. I only felt him take two steps that felt at all tender, and they were extremely minor. He was also a lot more consistent in the gait than I've ever felt, and light to both my legs and hands.

Another thing I've noticed the last few days is Laredo is stepping out with his front feet and reaching a lot more. He had a bit of a stutter-step thing going for a while. I'm not sure what would have caused that to change, but I'm hoping its because his soles are toughening up. At any rate, it's a good shift.

So, all in all it was a better ride than I expected. I guess any day you can say that is a pretty good day.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 85:50

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Third Ride

Brian has spend several more hours in the saddle than me this year, and he's on better track for our riding goal too, so I need to catch up a little. Plus, I rode Steen on Saturday and Sunday, and I wanted to ride him again today. It seems to me working a horse three days in a row does something in terms of momentum. It just gets them going in a way they don't seem to if they get a day off after one or two rides. With the way Brian and I have been trading off on Laredo, I haven't had a chance to ride Steen three days in a row in quite some time.  

So today I decided to hit the barn alone. When Brian went to work, I went off for a ride.

We rode on the strip again, and I began with more work without my hands. Things started better than last time, and improved rapidly. Within eight minutes, I had completed several figure-eights with no corrections at all.

There's an interesting bi-product I've noticed to truly setting the reins down all the way and either crossing my arms in front of my chest or letting them rest on my thighs. It changes my balance. I find I'm more inclined to sit with my shoulders open and back, and I'm more aware of the large muscles in my seat and thighs in terms of how they contribute to my ability to steer.

We moved from no-handed riding to work at the trot. We worked more on leg-yielding and saw some improvement. Then we worked on trotting circles, and when things were going well I pointed Steen down the strip and loped him straight for a while. Then I brought him down to the trot, trotting a nice circle and loped back up to the top. Several times we repeated this sequence, and once or twice I was able to get all the transitions with no hands. Towards the end we were coming back up the fence on the left lead, so I swung out and pushed Steen into a left circle, and this felt much more balanced than our lopes last ride. I collected him a tad and pushed him into a deeper bend. He rocked back and gave me a nice short circle. Nothing too impressive, but a good effort, particularly considering his height.

We did some circles going the other way, and they were also good. Then we went back to walking with no hands for a cool-down. This was perhaps the most amazing part of the ride. Steen was just with me. I didn't do a pattern, we just walked. I did shallow zig-zags, short circles, straight lines and finally stopped and backed with no hands. Very exciting.

So I feel good about our progress. My hope is before too long this exercise will help us finally cement things so we have basics working with just seat and legs. That should prime us for moving into more advanced collected maneuvers, and holding collection for longer periods of time.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 86:00

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday on the Trails

We met Kat at the barn today again, and also invited our friend Gay. Megan couldn't make it, so we were four when we hit the trails again. The day was actually coolish, and it felt glorious heading out.

We started with a modification of our previous route in mind, but we'd never done the exact circuit we had in mind, so weren't 100% it would all string together the way we hoped. But it did, and it was awesome. We were on gravel only a small amount, and the rest of the ride was either on dirt or grass.

It's part out and back, part loop, and it's a neat ride with several long, open dirt section with trees lining the path. Steen behaved very well almost the entire time.  The only time he got a bit upset was when we passed a pasture that contained four horses, who were all curious about our group and inclined to romp around on their side of the fence. Steen stiffened up. Doc got a little upset as well. I worked on asking Steen to bend from one side to the other, not releasing until I got a break in his poll and his loin. A couple of times when the  pasture horses took off, I brought his head around. In retrospect I probably didn't need to, but he was tense enough I didn't want him getting started on anything and creating a domino effect with the other horses.

After that he was great, though. We did a lot of long trotting, and for the most part he was moving at a nice even pace, not trying to escalate his speed all the time. When he did get a little foreward I would check him with one rein and he'd relax into a better pace again. We also did a bit of loping towards the end, and this was beautiful. He moved into a nice rolling canter when I asked, and again didn't try to run off when I gave him his head. When I asked him to stop, he stopped, even though the horse we'd been next to kept going, and settled back into a nice quiet walk. That was a nice feeling, and a new achievement for us on the trail.

We've decided to make the Sunday ride a standing tradition, at least through the rest of the summer and fall.

Ride Time: 2:00
Horseback hours YTD: 85:20

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No Hands

I have been focusing for months on trying to use my hands less and my legs more. However when I try to steer just with my legs, we pretty much instantly run into problems. It is so strange to me that Steen can walk a perfect figure-eight with almost no input from the reins, but if I set the reins down entirely I'm lucky to get a shallow bend when I ask him to turn.

One of the prerequisites for making a bridle horse is the ability to steer a horse accurately with just your legs. On Sunday, Brian was getting some great hands-free circles out of Bear. Better than I can get on Steen... So today I decided I'm going to work on this first thing every ride until I've got it down. I think doing it first will be good calibration for both of us. I often find with riding lately I am more inclined to use my hands more right when I get on. If I start off trying not to use my hands at all, I'll hopefully use my legs sooner.

We rode on the strip today. We did a little bit of groundwork and I climbed on. I asked Steen to walk, draped the reins over the pommel and set my fingertips lightly on top of them. Then I tried to direct Steen with only my legs.

At first it was pretty sloppy. I was determined to put a big effort into doing each turn with my legs before I resorted to the reins. When that failed, I snuck in for the briefest possible correction and set the reins down again. It was hard. My fingers were twitching against the pommel when I was trying to get Steen to bend while he moved through my leg.

But we kept at it, and we made progress. After about five minutes we could get a full figure-eight with no hands at all, except for in one sticky spot where he always gets distracted by the jungle-gym/silo combination.

I thought that was pretty good progress, and we moved on to other things. I continued to try to use my legs first, always. It's so discouraging how ingrained a habit it is for me to use my legs and my hands at the same time, never giving Steen the chance to follow leg pressure without at least the touch of a supporting rein on his neck. But all habits can be rewritten. I just need to keep at it.

Overall, the ride was good. We worked on collection at the trot, and when he was feeling nice and balanced, we loped for awhile. He was good at the lope for 3/4 of the circle, but each time we got near Brian and Laredo he was inclined to try to push straight instead of turning, and he'd start to lean. The first time it was minor.

 With a soft correction on the hackamore he bent and we continued around the turn.

But the next time he was leaning harder, and the next time even more. Finally we went into that same corner and I realized we had reached the point whether continuing to lope was not doing us any good. I think that is one of the biggest lessons I've absorbed lately. Very few things can be fixed at the lope. If a horse comes unbalanced, you need to take a step back and move back to the trot, prepare them again, and then get back to loping.

So I took the opportunity to ask him for a hard stop. Brian snapped this shot right when I picked up the reins. Steen dug in his haunches and gave me a beautiful stop off a light pull on the hackamore.

We continued from there into slower work, and the rest of the ride continued good. It wasn't a great ride though. Steen feels overall kind of fatigued and worn down. I think it's the heat.

In other news, partway into our ride Laredo got kinked up on Brian and decided maybe he could buck him off. Fortunately this plan failed. I happened to be watching them when this behavior cropped up, and although Brian has never actually experienced a horse trying to throw him before, he handled it beautifully. He gave Laredo a chance to cool it, but when things escalated he brought his head around and his feet back under control, and was able to continue on and have a normal ride. So while Laredo's choice to buck was certainly not ideal, it didn't amount to much. Which hopefully means he won't bother to try it again.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 83:20

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Early Morning Heat

The heat has been so oppressive, we decided the only way we were going to get a ride in was to adjust. So on Wednesday, we moved our schedules around to free up time in the morning, and out we went.

We found Laredo has a fairly large chip in one of his front feet. (You'd have thought he was the one that spend 45 minutes on gravel a few days before.) I don't think it's anything to be concerned about. I am sure he's still adjusting to the new angle of his feet since we got his long toes trimmed down. He's got a similar crack starting in the other hoof. He wasn't sore on it and his sole is intact and in good shape, so we concluded light riding is probably ok.

But geez it was hot. We rode in the outdoor arena for a change of pace, but the sun was unrelenting and it was humid besides. We started out well though. Laredo has really hit a phase where he's learning fast. It's neat to feel. We walked around, did circles and figure eights.

I had two sections of the ride that were particularly noteworthy. The first, I was working on moving his front end around his hind. I have noticed increasingly with Laredo he will give off featherlight pressure while he still might lean on a slightly more firm pull. So I was playing with how light I could pick up the reins and ask him to step over. Buck always says, "Ask so lightly you don't think it will work." And this is why. Sometimes it works. Laredo would collect and bring his front end over. At one point we got three consecutive steps around without him ever rocking forward.

Unfortunately we didn't get the best moments on camera. Here Laredo is trying to step over,
but he's not got enough weight on his haunches to really get it done well.

The other great part of the ride was riding the circle where the round-pen used to be. I was trying to use my legs to keep him in the circle, and leave my hands on the pommel except when I needed them for a correction. We got this going pretty well, then I started reversing through the middle in a yin-yang shape, picking up light pressure and asking for a bit of collection while I did this. Again I was surprised at how Laredo would rise off the bit and roll onto his haunches, freeing up his front end to move lightly through the turns.

Of course, we had plenty of more mediocre moments in between these magical ones. And we spent a fair bit of time standing in the sun watching Brian on Bear.

As Brian pointed out, it's funny how goofy and teenaged Laredo looks in this shot, but his noble
and striking his shadow is.

After about 45 minutes, I started to feel Laredo shut down mentally. I pushed it for a few minutes longer, but I could tell he was hot and fatigued and I should quit while I was ahead. I hopped off and stood with him a while, working on getting him to lower his head and accept touches to the ears. He's much better about his head these days. Both Brian and I are now in the habit of slipping the bridle off without unbuckling it. But he still gets upset if you try to handle his ears. He was tired and relaxed, though, and I got some good touching in with minimal reactions. So I'm sure it's just a matter of time before we can slip the bridle on the normal way.

We hosed both the horses down after the ride. Laredo is already a pro with the hose. He'll shove his face right into the stream and drink.

Also, larger kitten (fly mask included for scale):

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 82:15

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hitting the Trails

Today we met up with Kat, the owner of two Icelandic horses at our barn, and her friend Megan. We decided to go trail-blazing, and check out some areas we hadn't explored before.

We got a pretty early start, but the day was already warm as we made our way off Cathi's property. Steen was mellow starting out, and happy to lead the way until we got to the scary section between the corn and the drainage, at which point he hung back and let Kafteinn catch up.

We continued out the gate and onto an easement that led away into uncharted territory. We had a nice long trot before we turned onto a meandering double-track.

Unfortunately from there we ended up on a lot of gravel, and though we were hoping to find an alternate route back to the barn, none presented itself.

Still, it was a great ride. We were out for an hour and a half, and Steen behaved beautifully the whole time. He was happy to lead or follow, and responsive to me at all times. He did get pretty hot and tired, but that's understandable.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback hours YTD: 81:25

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Soft

We've had Laredo two months now, and he's settling in quite nicely. He walks up to meet us in the pasture. He's accepting of most touching on the ears and head. Getting the fly mask on and off is no problem, and Brian has been slipping the bridle off after riding.

Laredo's also really changing under saddle. I have logged just over 10 hours on his back, and Brian is just a little behind me, so together we're almost to 20. You can tell he's learning his job. He doesn't root or lean on the bit anymore. He's both livelier and more responsive. It's a remarkable change for so little time.

In the tree pasture he tends to be good near the center and distracted near the edges, when he can see the cattle off on the other side of the driveway, or the fields on the other side of the road. When Laredo sees something new and different, his inclination is to walk straight up and investigate. While this is a good quality in many respects, sometimes when he gets in this mode during a ride he gets so focused on whatever he's curious about, he can tune out the rider on his back.

My goal for today's ride was to push these limits a bit by taking him where he might be slightly distracted, then bring his focus back to help teach him that even when there are interesting things around, he's still required to listen to me. We started out with a little groundwork and some figure-eights around the trees, which got him back on his haunches right away. So from there we went wandering. When he started getting interested in something off in the distance, I'd loop him around a tree and head off in the other direction. This went really well, and soon I felt he was listening to light touches of my legs even when he was a little distracted. He was also stopping on a dime, and teetering back off super soft pressure.

From there we went back to the trees and worked on trotting figure eights for a while. We've still done only minimal work at the trot, but now that he's soft to the bit and figuring his job out, I think we're ready to step it up a tad. Trotting the figure-eights was challenging for him. It was also challenging for me. Laredo has a surprisingly lofty trot, and it's also quite erratic.

Last week we watched a video by Julie Goodnight called Balance and Rhythm in the Saddle. While I have to say it was possibly the most painfully boring video on horsemanship I've ever seen, the one thing I did take away from it was the idea of opening the pelvis to move with the horse. This is something I've already been trying to improve in my own riding. I have a slight tendency to arch my back when I start to feel a little out of control. Laredo does not yet have enough consistency to his trot to make posting particularly graceful, so I worked out keeping my hips loose and relaxed and doing the uber-exaggerated dressage sit to keep from bouncing. And it worked! I managed not to jolt at all through all Laredo's choppiness, and he started to find his feet and balance.

He does have a tendency to drop the trot, so we kept at it until we got a nice even loop around both trees without breaking the gait. Then he got a long break and lots of pets, and we did it in the other direction.

From there we went back to simpler things. I worked on yielding the forequarters, and it's neat to feel him learning that even just the slightest pressure on the reins is a block and he needs to figure out somewhere else to go. We also worked on walking a wavy line, just steering with the legs. This was good too.

So all in all it's a pretty fabulous place we're at with him now. He's starting to be fun to ride, and I'm really excited to see what the next two months will bring.

Ride Time:  0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 79:55

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More Rides with Mom

Monday and Tuesday we had two more rides in the tree lot. On Monday Mom, Brian and I all rode together again and managed to get this shot via the tried and true fencepost method. The light's not great but it's fun to see all our three horses with riders.

During the ride Steen was ok. I was paying more attention to Mom on Bear than my own riding, and after a while this was having a dulling effect on Steen. When I got around to some more focused work with him later in the ride, he was distracted and inclined to be sloppy. So when Mom and I went out again on Tuesday, I was careful to ride a little better, asking for the soft feel and intermittent collection even as we mostly meandered around and chatted. Steen ended up behaving really well that day, and our few minutes of more focused work at the end of the ride were great. I got some of the best leg yields we've ever had in the hackamore.

I think my mom had a great time with Bear. She was doing a good job picking up on our style of riding, even though this was her first time putting much of it to practical use. Bear was solid and quiet. On our final day he came to her in the pasture from a good ways off. It was fun to see them getting along so well. If only Arizona and Iowa were closer together and we could manage these kinds of rides more often.

Monday Ride Time: 1:10
Tuesday Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 79:05

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Good Obstacles

Today we rode in the tree lot again for the shade. This was my first time on Laredo out there, and things went very well. Laredo seems to be finally accepting the bit. His rooting habit is almost gone, and he's moving off pressure instead of leaning into it. He's also walking out with a lot more confidence, and when he's not sure about something he makes an effort to figure it out instead of just getting frustrated and shutting down.

We started out with simple walking exercises. Laredo is a laid back horse, and he was perfectly willing to go explore areas of the pasture he'd never seen, even when Brian and Bear were nowhere nearby. He was stopping quite quickly today, which is a nice change, and several times we even managed several consecutive backwards steps without any leaning on the bit.

The best part of the ride was near the end. I decided to work on some figure-eights around the trees, like I often do with Steen. The first few, Laredo had a lot of weight on his forehand, and was inclined to swing wide. He'd then get a correction from my leg, followed by one from my hand if he didn't bend. It's nice to have a solid physical object to work around, as it provides a more real objective to the exercise than just walking random circles over and over.

After a few laps around the trees, we had our moment. Laredo started to swing wide, I brought my leg in and tapped his shoulder. I felt him shift his weight and engage his haunches and suddenly he was balanced perfectly to make it through the turn.

His front feet became lighter, and he was lifting them up and swinging them in the turn, even breaking at the poll and collecting a bit, even though I wasn't asking for that.

So that was super neat to feel. Of course it's just a glimmer, and it's going to take a lot more solid effort to make it into a habit, but it's amazing how good these little breakthroughs feel. Our last few rides have been so positive. I'm tempted think we're over the first hump with him.

Brian rode Bear in his own hackamore for the first time today, so I actually spent quite a few minutes watching him. He's ridden Bear in my hackamore a handful of times, but we got him his own a few weeks ago. Bear started off great, got a little upset around the middle of the ride, and came back around in the end. I'm excited to see how working in the hackamore for a while changes things for them.

He looked good for sure, and at the very least I think the change forced him to pay more attention and try harder than he sometimes does on these hot days.

Ride Time: 0:50
Laredo hours YTD: 9:20
Horseback hours YTD: 77:15

Friday, July 06, 2012

In Other News

As I mentioned before, my cousin stopped in for a visit a week or two ago. He and his girlfriend are doing a 30 day road-trip across the US, and making a video blog of each day. Here's the whole project, and here's our appearance:

Thursday, July 05, 2012

All Three

My mom is in town for a visit. Since Brian got the 4th of July off, we headed for the barn first thing in the morning with the intention of riding all three of our horses simultaneously for the first time.

We rode in the tree pasture, both to take advantage of the shade and because the trees make the riding a little more dynamic. I rode Steen in the hackamore, Mom rode Bear, and Brian was aboard Laredo.

Mom and I mostly rode around the perimeter of the lot, chatting and not doing anything demanding. She had a great time with Bear. He was quite polite with her, happy to walk with me and Steen or stand in the shade. We did a little bit of trotting together too.

She took a little break while I worked on some focused stuff with Steen for a short period. Steen was great, again feeling more relaxed and attentive to the hackamore than he has to the snaffle lately. We did a quick round of all our exercises, including loping some nice circles. Brian had a good time on Laredo too.

Unfortunately it was logistically impossible to get a shot of all three of us mounted together, but Brian got this pretty cute one of my mom and me on Bear and Steen.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 76:25

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Hackamore Horse?

We've had Martin Black's "The Hackamore" DVD sitting around for weeks, but fresh on the heels of the Buck clinic, we felt we had enough new ideas about riding in the snaffle to keep us busy for a while. I feel like when I have these intense periods of learning, I need some time to assimilate the new knowledge into my routine.

However, on Sunday we finally decided we needed to watch it so we could get in back in the mail and get our next video (we subscribe to GiddyUpFlix).

As usual, watching a truly accomplished equestrian work with horses is inspirational. Martin Black is so quiet and fluid in all of his handling and training. The video provided a lot of great insights into riding in the hackamore, and as does Buck does, Martin stressed the idea that riding in the hackamore will make you a better rider, and there is nothing wrong with switching between the hackamore and snaffle many times.

The heat lately has made riding in the afternoons impossible, but after the video I was keen to ride in the hackamore again. Today when Brian went to work, I headed to the barn alone. I brought Steen in and tacked him up, removing my mecate from my snaffle and tying it back onto my hackamore. We adjourned to the strip.

The first thing I did was Martin Black's pulling exercise, which is done from the ground and teaches the horse to give to the hackamore. Steen is already quite light to the hackamore, so my intention was to be gentle with this and just gauge where he was at. The first couple were mellow. The second few Steen got a little more agitated, but each time disengaged and turned around to face me without any real confusion. And after that he got so light to the hackamore I couldn't even set up the exercise fully, because he disengaged and turned to face me as soon as I put the slightest pressure on the rope.

So I hopped on. In the video, Martin Black talks a good deal about doubling, and how to use it correctly and when to use it. After the pulling exercise, Steen was clearly primed to listen to the hackamore, and he would slide to a fast stop out of any gait as soon as I took the slack out of a rein. He was light to my hands and legs the entire ride without getting over-excited and nervy like he has our last few rides.

We worked on various exercises at the walk. Our remedial work with short-serpentines and whirlygigs the last few weeks has him a lot more confident with those movements, and transitioning into doing these in the hackamore was no problem.

We moved into trotting and Steen was great, so pretty soon started transitioning in and out of the lope. Steen felt great at the lope. He was balanced and steady.

The only bummer was the heat. After 35 minutes we were both sopped with sweat and uncomfortable, so I called it a day. However, this ride was far better than the last few we've had in the snaffle. Steen was lighter, quieter, more attentive and more motivated. So I'm tempted to think we'll be doing the majority of our riding in the hackamore for the foreseeable future.

Ride Time: 0:35
Horseback hours YTD: 75:35

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Halfway There

The year is half over, which is hard to believe for all sorts of reasons. So far we're on track for our 150 hours in the saddle goal. As of the end of the day today, I'm at exactly 75 hours.

A couple years ago I started keeping track of my time spent riding. I wish I'd started doing this a long time ago, because it is so interesting to see how much time I'm really putting in. I use a time-tracking app to log my time and it can generate some reports. Here's what my first six months of riding looked like in 2011:

And here's 2012 so far:

So my rides have been both more frequent and longer, which is good to see.

This week the boys got an extended vacation. It has been hot and work has been crazy, so we didn't go to the barn all week.


We woke up to rain. We waited for the storm to pass, then managed a quick ride on the strip before the heat got unbearable. It was super humid, though, and there was almost no wind. The bugs were driving the horses crazy.

I rode Steen, and things were ok. He was in a weird mood. It was like he was sluggish on the surface with a whole lot of nervous energy just underneath. He would ignore my light asks for things, then when I came in harder he'd turn inside out and over-react.

This shot is actually from last weekend...

After working on a number of things without making much progress, I reverted to trotting figure eights. Steen would go great through 75% of each circle, but each time we came into the straightaway before switching directions, he'd starting pouring on speed and getting heavy on his forehand. We worked on it for a few minutes with no improvement, at which point I felt like I had to keep at it until we got a decent figure-eight.

It took ten solid minutes before we made it through a figure-eight at a consistent speed without him getting chargey on me. We were both drenched with sweat by the time we stopped. By then we'd been on 45 minutes and Laredo and Brian were wiped out as well. We hopped off and called it a day.

Ride Time: 0:45


We were at the barn by 9:00, and a cloud bank rolled in right when we got the horses tied and started tacking. There was a stiff, cool breeze and it felt glorious.

I rode Laredo and things went pretty well. He's starting to gain some confidence, and he's actually steering off the legs quite well most of the time. He's still inclined to drag his head, particularly when he gets discouraged or tired, but it's becoming less frequent and when he does do it, it's not affecting his forward momentum like it was.

I spent the ride trying to stay off his mouth. We worked on walking straight lines and circles. There were some other boarders out riding around the fields, and sometimes they'd pop into view in the distance. Laredo always wanted to stand and stare at them with this happened. We've been working on constructive ways to get his attention back when he focuses on other things. He's getting very good at disengaging the hindquarters, and usually asking him for a couple steps under was enough to get his mind back on me.

We measured Laredo after he got his feet trimmed last Sunday, and he's grown almost an inch in the two months we've had him. He's also put on a fair bit of length, fat and muscle. He still feels downhill to me right when I climb on, but not quite as much as he used to. I do think the heat and all his growing combine to make him tire easily. By the end of our ride today, he was seeming pretty worn out, even though all we did was walk.

However, he's more and more inclined to engage on the ground. As soon as I hopped off his back to take some photos of Brian, he was sniffing at my hair and trying to mess with the camera. When I went to back him off a few steps, he grabbed my mecate in his lips.

It surprises me when he does things that are so clearly playful and juvenile. I still can't quite believe how different Laredo is from the hypothetical 3/yr old that existed in my head when we were horse shopping. He's pretty fun to hang out with.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 75:00

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