Friday, August 31, 2012

Two Rides on Jak

It's amazing how time goes sometimes. Shortly after I last posted I thought I was having some bad allergies. It turned out I was actually sick. Just about the time I was starting to feel functional again, I hopped on a plane to Tucson, where I had a very good visit in spite of the fact Brian could not come with me.

While in Tucson, I not only spent time with my family but hung out with the family horses. Mom and I had three good sessions down at the barn. The first, we went out in the late afternoon/early evening (it's hot in Tucson this time of year) and I went into the corral to catch Jak. He looked at me, turned away, walked into the corner, and pointed his butt at me.

Jak and I have a pretty long history at this point which consists mostly of him convincing me he is about to die and me getting worried and not making him do anything. This trip, though, I was really hoping to work with him a bit using the techniques we've been applying to our horses for the last year or so. While this was not an auspicious start, I wasn't worried. I figured I'd just move him around a little until he decided to come to me.

Except this wasn't as easy as it sounded. At first, he wouldn't move. I tried moving him off with the lead rope and he just ignored me. So finally I had to go up by his shoulder and drive at his head to get him to move off and walk away.

It went that way for a while. He'd get away from me, stop, and I'd have to work on getting him to move again. At first I was moving my feet as much as he was. When I got him driving a little better, I made a point to stay more still, tossing my lead rope towards his hind feet when he slowed down. But the minutes dragged by and he just kept going. He wasn't thrilled with what we were doing, but he also wasn't looking for any release. I was prepared to stop driving and let him come to me the moment he showed an interest in doing so. But he never did.

I would have kept going for hours if necessary, but the sun went down. After about half an hour I could tell he was having trouble seeing (his eyesight isn't great). So I had to change tactics. I let him stop, walked up to him and looped the lead rope around his neck. I made him back up, then tried to pull him forward with just my body language. When that failed, I applied pressure to the rope until he came. Then we went back again, and tried forward again. We continued with this until he took one totally unassisted step in my direction, at which point I gave him lots of pets, dinner, and called it a day.

Our next day was better. He didn't try to escape me when I went into the pen, so I didn't chase him around again. Instead I put a rope halter on him and we went to the arena. Once out there, I showed Mom some groundwork (she was working with her horse, Rojo) and worked with Jak on the basics. After a while I switched to a snaffle and hopped on. Jak is used to being ridden in a curb, but a lot of years without much lateral work has left him a bit stiff in the neck and inclined to be dead to the bit. So I was curious to see what it would take to supple him back up.

After our groundwork the day before, I was surprised when Jak started breaking at the poll in response to light pressure almost immediately. He was also inclined to collect when backing, though I couldn't get the soft feel at the walk.

We poked around for about half an hour, working on super basic stuff. It was neat to feel another horse encountering this new stuff, and compare his responses to the other horses we're working with. Like Laredo, if I pulled hard I got nothing, but if I applied light pressure and waited, Jak would try to find an answer.

My final day with Jak went much like the second. He was still stiff laterally but even more supple vertically. I did more groundwork before mounting, spent a little more time coaching Mom and Rojo, and then rode for about 20 minutes. Mom even took some photos.

So, it's neat to see the changes that manifested in less than an hour of riding. I'm looking forward to working with Jak a bit more over the holidays.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 103:55

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This is More Like It

We hit the trails again this morning. I gave Steen a little snack of chopped hay before we headed out. The nights are already getting colder, and the large pasture is no longer the lush all-you-can-eat buffet it is during the peak of the summer. This time of year Steen can get nervous about food. A lot of the time when I walk up to him in the pasture, he'll be grazing and he'll start eating faster and faster until I reach him, as if he's trying to pack as much down as possible before I take him in.

It's not that he's going hungry. There is plenty to eat out there. But they have to work a little harder for it now, and I think something in their brains gets triggered by the shorter days and cooler nights. Just when the pasture gets sparse, they want to start packing on the pounds for winter. They don't know, biologically speaking, that they are going to have all the hay they can eat all through the winter months.

But I've noticed in the past when Steen thinks he's hungry it can contribute to his nervous behavior, so I thought having a little something in his stomach before we hit the trails couldn't hurt.

Another boarder, Sarah, came along with us today, on her white Arab Archie. We also had Kat on Bleikka. So we were four setting out.

I don't know if the snack did the trick or if Steen was just overall in a more balanced state of mind, but he was much better today. We had to adjust our ride, since the way we've been riding is currently overrun by the event next door, but we still got a good hour and a half in. Steen led the way much of the time. Twice he did little mini-leaps to the side because he got startled by something in the bushes, but they were very minor, and he recovered before I even corrected him.

Moving out, he felt great. We had a few long trots, and Steen was happy to cruise along on a loose rein. We went up the fabulous tree-lined lane, back by the barn and into the salad bowl and back. Like yesterday, Steen felt willing the whole ride. Even when we went right by the barn and then away from it, he didn't get sour or try to turn towards home.

So, hopefully this will be a bit more the norm for our trail rides now. It is so relaxing and enjoyable to get out and cover some ground, and the more we explore the more we find good nooks and crannies to ride in, and ways to string them together.

Ride Time: 1:35
Horseback hours YTD: 103:05

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Little More Life

The weather has been beautiful lately, and we've had several good hard rains. The pastures have recovered from the drought to an extent that surprises me, and it is has been so nice to spend the days out at the barn and not get home feeling scorched.

Today we spent the morning over at Catalpa Corner, watching the cross-country part of an eventing competition. As much as I have no interesting in eventing myself, it is always neat to see a whole bunch of different people and their horses all at once.

After hanging around the course for an hour or two, we went to our own barn for a ride. Steen came to me in the pasture and he seemed from the start as if he was just in a really good mood.

I've decided now that Steen and I are getting pretty consistent about nailing the basics, what I need to work on speeding things up. When Steen is really relaxed he can get to a point where he doesn't put a lot of effort into things. There is a delicate line between asking him for more energy and getting him so revved up he freaks himself out, so it's not something I've been inclined to mess with much in the past. He's so much more solid than he used to be though, I don't have the same kinds of worries I used to about him getting too amped .

So today we worked on all our usual things and I asked him for some more energy while going through them. At times this worked well and I got him to liven up. At other times he just did things at his own speed anyway.

One new thing I am feeling is he's learning to stay soft on the hackamore through certain movements, instead of starting soft, falling onto my hands somewhere in the middle, and softening again when we're finished. I think doing certain things with more energy will help with this too.

I also have noticed lately that he does not hold a bend in his body as well while we turn to the right, and so we worked on trotting one large circle to the right, and then at intervals turning a tighter, smaller circle. I made sure he was breaking at the poll and giving me a nice bend through the little circles, which made it more natural for him to hold a more shallow bend in the larger circle. This is something I'm going to try to work on every ride for a while until we've fixed the problem.

We also did a lot of great loping. I'm feeling more and more able to steer him off my legs when we're running.

But perhaps the greatest thing about the day as a whole is Steen never lost that willing feeling he had at the very beginning of the day. He felt totally with me the whole time, and while a couple of times I would have been having to get a little more energy in some of his movements, in reality I'm just being picky. It was a great ride.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 101:30

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Triple Digits

Today I logged my hundreth hour in the saddle for the year. Of course loads of people ride a whole lot more than that, but considering 100 hours was our goal for last year, I feel good about being here in August.

I rode Laredo. With our little time out of town, the trail rides we've been doing and a few other factors, it had actually been nearly two weeks since I rode Laredo. I was curious to see what he felt like.

It's interesting to see the way he's learning things. Lately he seems like he's either on or off. If he's paying attention, he moves off your legs and hands like a dream. But he's prone to lapses of focus, so he vacillates from super responsive to just not there at all.

Today, the first half of our ride was incredible. When I got on he was super attuned to me. He was staying between my legs and hands without any reminders from me, and we moved around like that for about half an hour. Then I took a break and sat on him for a while, watching Brian ride. When I'm riding I often do this. I just sit for a minute or two and think about what we've done so far and what I'm going to work on. It allows me to collect my thoughts, assess where we're at and come up with a plan for the rest of the ride.

But with Laredo lately it seems to backfire. After our stop he was a little more inclined to be distracted. He wasn't bad, but it wasn't the same as earlier in the ride. He was a lot more inclined to freeze up and chew on the bit when I asked him to back up or step over. Still, we got a lot done. He's getting more and more comfortable and balanced at the trot, and he seems to enjoy trotting, so we did a fair bit of just moving around.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 100:35

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trail Jitters

We rode today with the new boarder Kat on her horse, Tate, who is the same age as Laredo but with considerably more saddle time under his belt. He has apparently been hauled around the country, taken to rodeos, trail ridden, and exposed to all sorts of stuff, despite his tender years. You can tell too. He's pretty mellow about things.

Which is good because my theoretically more mature mount decided to backslide somewhat on the trail. We rode out the normal way, and it was actually Steen's fourth day in a row being ridden. I thought he would be super quiet.

Instead he was a little jumpy. I actually think he was over-tired and perhaps a bit mentally fatigued. It was also much cooler than it has been on our jaunts lately, and warm weather has always had a calming effect on him.

Whatever the reason, he was just a little on edge most of the ride. He was inclined to spook in place a lot, and hesitate and stare at different parts of the trail. He did slightly larger spook movements once or twice, but never tried to go anywhere. I worked on bending him a lot, trying to get him to relax. He did mellow for periods of the ride, but as we neared home he started getting into his chargey walk. I delayed for a couple minutes to do some whirligigs and short-serpentines, and he'd do them while still clearly being focused on catching up to Bear and Tate.

It was one of those rides that was not ideal, but also given Steen's history of behavior on the trail, still a vast improvement from where we were even a year ago. Even though he was clearly nervous, he never actually spooked or pranced or got braced up on the bit. In fact, for much of the ride he was super soft to my hands. So, we'll just have to see how he does next time.

Ride Time: 1:35
Horseback hours YTD: 99:35

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rotating Mounts

We haven't had a day where we've worked with all three horses for a while, but today it was just beautiful out, so we figured it was a good day to spend loads of time at the barn.

Also in our chatting recently we've realized it has been AGES since I rode Bear. I've certainly never ridden him in the hackamore, and I don't think I've even had a real go at riding him since we went to our first Buck clinic and made a lot of serious changes to the way we ride.

So today we decided I would start the ride on Bear and Brian would start on Steen. We'd ride for a while, then I'd switch to Steen and Brian would ride Laredo.

It was funny tacking and grooming Bear. Bear is such a solid horse. Although he is shorter than Steen, he is bigger in terms of mass, and he's so quiet and immobile. Steen isn't the antsy guy he used to be, but the difference between the way they feel just to be around and handle is still considerable.

We got out to the strip and hopped on. I was riding in my saddle but Brian's hackamore. I also was riding in some new stirrups, which are leather-lined wood wrapped in stainless steel. I rode in them yesterday, and ended up shortening my stirrups. Today they still felt long. On Bear, I was having trouble getting everything situated correctly. As soon as I started trotting, the stirrups started causing problems. I am almost afraid they are too big for me. I felt like they were jouncing around on my foot, and at one point loping up the strip I nearly lost one.

But on the bright side, Bear has made enormous progress since I last rode him. He was unexpectedly soft to the hackamore, and we did a lot of good slow movements, like backing and yielding the forequarters.

What we had more trouble with was anything that involved forward motion. Bear was completely obsessed with Brian, and no matter where we were or what we were doing, he wanted to get closer to Brian. If we were going away from Brian, he was half-weaving every step, trying to find  a way to turn around. The only times we had any real propulsion was when we were walking directly towards Brian.

So between that and the stirrups, it wasn't quite the ride I had hoped. After about 45 minutes I did hop down and swap out my new stirrups for my old ones. After that things went a little better. I worked on trying to get Bear's attention through being soft but relentless, and started to see some results.

After an hour on Bear, I switched to Steen. He was all nicely warmed up from Brian riding him, and we had a great ride. We worked more on breaking at the poll when turning, and collecting at all gaits. At one point Brian (who was on Laredo at this point) and I did an exercise where we went in a circle, trotting half, then walking half. This was challenging for Laredo, but after a while I started doing different things with Steen to make it more interesting. For a while we worked on loping half the circle, then walking half the circle. We got some nice transitions both up and down. But he stared to feel pretty tired, so we switched to doing an extended trot for half the circle and a collected trot for the other half. That went really well.

Meanwhile Brian was having a fabulous ride on Laredo. We came home feeling like all three horses got some good time put in on them.

Ride Time: 1:50
Horseback hours YTD: 98:00

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ride Medley

We've had a busy start to August and I've gotten behind on the blogging. So I'm going to do a quick catch-up post.

August 2 - Thursday

I rode Laredo. We didn't have a great ride. It was one of those days where nothing was bad, exactly, but nothing was great either. We did all our usual stuff and he was just spacey. It was also really hot because we went out in the afternoon, and I do think the horses have trouble concentrating on their work after they've been standing in the beating sun all day.

Ride Time: 0:50

August 4 - Saturday

We took Bear and Steen out again and hit the trails. We decided to try out typical route backwards, and for some reason Steen was nervous heading out. He was fine if a tad jumpy until we got to a house where several big dogs live in the yard and like to bark at passing horses. Steen is normally pretty fine with these guys, and he was on the approach to the house. But then we passed some large trees on top of a hill that blocked the dogs from view. Steen's anxiety ramped up a notch or two until he was borderline not paying attention to me. We got past the dogs without incident, but he proceeded to be wound up going down the grassy double-track following that house, and finally after we went through a little gate I stopped to wait for Bear and Brian to catch up, and he would not hold still. I "fidgeted" with him for a few minutes. This is Buck's cure for a horse that won't stand, and I haven't had to use it on Steen in a while. We rattled through every little foot movement we know in a very quick and demanding sequence. Sure enough, by the time I let Steen stop moving all he wanted to do was sigh, lower his head and lick his lips. From there, the ride was actually pretty great.

Ride Time: 1:35

August 9 - Thursday

We were out of town for a few days, so were keen to ride again. The weather finally cooled off, and it is nice for us and the horses. I rode Steen in the hackamore, and the ride was pretty fine. After so many days off, he was a bit stiff at certain things, but all in all it was a good ride. At the beginning, I had to run back into the barn to grab the camera and I left Steen standing out on the strip waiting for me. He didn't budge while I was gone.

Steen, waiting until I got back.

He's getting pretty good at sidepassing.

A bit of loping. 

Ride Time: 1:05

August 10 - Friday

I had a disrupted night (insomnia + noisy neighbors =  no sleep for me) and when we headed for the barn in the morning I was so tired I felt like I shouldn't ride Laredo because I was afraid I wouldn't have the necessary motor skills and/or patience reserves. I opted instead to ride Steen again, and I worked specifically on trying to get him to break more in the poll and loin when we turn. Steen does have a bit of tendency to stay straight when we turn to the right, and I have a tendency to want to reach way out to the side with my hand to correct him. Lately I've been trying to ride with my hands closer to my body. This causes a more direct pull with the hackamore, which means I have more strength and leverage. I've found if Steen ignores the soft ask, I can follow up with a quick pull that usually does the trick without encouraging him to brace. Overall, our ride was good. Steen felt softer and more attentive than the day before.

Brian was riding Bear in the hackamore, and it was our first time riding in our hackamores at the same time. We decided to celebrate by working on the routine some. We made it more challenging by throwing in a lope on the first straightaway, and working on extending the trot or collecting it depending on who had space to make up or cover. We got a few pretty good runs in. I think everyone enjoyed it.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 96:10

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