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


  1. Sounds like you will eventually get to where you want to be just using your legs for guidance. Your horse is gorgeous. I have a soft spot of paints. Stay cool!

  2. Thank you! I have noticed my Steen and your Blue have a lot in common in the look department. :)


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