Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bear Time

Steen Update: The sunburn is much better. The leg is making progress. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

Today, I rode Bear. I don't ride Bear very often. When we first got him, I only rode him when Brian was having some kind of trouble with him. Since that has stopped happening, I've more less stopped riding him. It's not that I don't like Bear, it's just that, well, I ride Steen.

But having Laredo has helped me become more flexible about switching horses. And although Brian has been very gracious about letting me hog our youngster while Steen heals, I thought it might be fun to change things up a bit. So today I suggested we do a swap.

The last time I rode Bear, things didn't go great. They weren't bad, Bear was just super duper focused on Brian, and wanting to be near Brian, and not so inclined to give me much movement that wasn't getting him closer to Brian. I wasn't prepared for that, and as a result didn't handle it as well as I probably could have.

This time though, I was prepared. I was prepared to do everything I could to make sure Bear had a good experience with me. I was prepared to be soft and consistent and understanding. Because the funny thing about Bear is although he was a bit checked out and unresponsive when we got him, he's not that way now.

Allow me a moment to brag about my husband. Four years ago, he'd been on a horse once or twice. Two years ago we bought him a kinda run down, kinda old, kinda fat Quarter Horse gelding we figured wouldn't get him into too much trouble. And what does Brian do? He goes ahead and not only becomes a great rider, he retrains that old Quarter Horse and turns him into a soft, attentive mount.

Ironically, Bear had a good deal more get-up and go today than Laredo did. I rode him in the hackamore, and he was lighter than I've ever felt before, both on the ground and under saddle. When I got on, he did want to veer towards Brian, but instead of getting mad at him for this, I corrected him and blocked him in the softest manner I could manage, reassuring him every now and then with a pet on the neck or shoulder.

It's interesting. Brian and I have known for a long time Steen gets nervous when other people ride him, and this affects his behavior. But it took us a long time to realize Bear's veering and inattention are just different symptoms of the same kind of insecurity. So my job today was to make sure Bear and I both enjoyed the ride.

And it worked. Over the course of the hour, Bear really settled in. I was surprised at how quickly he would move out, or pick up the trot or lope. We worked on all the basics, but I didn't drill anything.

The only part of the ride I'm not sure Bear enjoyed was the loping. His back has been a bit tight again, so he was a bit inclined to cut in on the circle at the lope. I didn't push him, but after I stopped he had a few minutes of being more focused on Brian than he had been for most of the ride.

We decided to cool down with a loop around the bean field. Bear is a relaxing horse to ride out on. He's so quiet and solid.

All in all, it was a really good ride. Definitely the best I've ever had on Bear. I'm going to try to get in the habit of riding him a little more regularly.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 121:15

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Kid is Pooped

We've had a warm fall, and of our three horses Laredo seems the most inclined to put on a long, thick winter coat the fastest. That means with the sun out and the days warm, he's been a little hot.

Even in the best of times, Laredo isn't a horse with energy to spare. This was one of the reasons we picked him. A nice quiet three year old for our first real training project seemed a good bet.

But the last couple of days, Laredo's energy levels have hit an all time low. Both today and yesterday we spent the bulk of our ride in the bean field. We mostly walked, trotting or loping up the odd hill.

For the most part, Laredo was really good. He's starting to be able to pick up and hold the soft feel for several steps in a row. He steers off the legs really well, even when out and about.

The only things that's not ideal is the pace. This guy can plod. It's really pretty comical. When we get to a steep uphill and he's hot and tired, he will literally heave one leg at a time, as if I weigh 500 pounds and we've been riding him into the ground every day for a month.

Perversely, he still has a slight tendency to jump into a trot and dive down the steeper downhills. I think this is because he's still working on developing the haunch muscles he needs to carry a rider down without getting unbalanced.

Towards the end of the ride today, after I corrected him a few times for trying to trot the downhill, he tried a new strategy. When we got to a steep downhill grade, he'd just stop and stand. The first few times I was able to nudge him along and get him going again, but on the fifth or sixth time he got pretty stuck. It was clear coaxing was only going to make the problem worse, so I applied leg. I kicked him, not gently but certainly not as hard as I could, repeatedly and with rhythm, waiting for him to unstick and take a step but aware he might come up with another answer.

He did the latter. After half a minute of rhythmic kicks, Laredo decided he didn't like the kicking and would see if bucking would make it stop. He's not athletic or practiced enough for his bucks to be anything major, but he got in about three or four before I could get his head around. I never felt unbalanced or in the slightest danger of losing my seat though, so it was no big deal. And after that he walked down all the rest of the hills like a trooper.

Friday Ride Time: 1:05
Saturday Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 120:15

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the Mend

This morning I went out to rescue Steen from the sun before it could do any damage to his new skin. It was a cool morning, but not cold. I went into the pasture armed with two feed pans and a halter.

I reached Laredo first, and gave him his snack. Then I continued down into the pasture to where Bear was. Laredo came along.

I gave Bear his snack as well, then took Steen inside. For the first time, he didn't try to move away while I cleaned his side. And for the first time I didn't have to clean a bunch of drainage off his leg. He's in much better spirits as well.

We're getting there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Rides on Laredo

On Monday we went out thinking we might ride, but ended up mostly just hanging out with Steen. Cleaning his side and leg take a long time, and then he has to dry off a good deal before we can put the Thuja Zinc on again. Since he can't be in the sun, that limits our options of what we can do with him while he's drying. By the time we were all done with him, we were pretty ready to head home.

On Tuesday, though, Brian brought Bear and Laredo in, and got them groomed and tacked while I got Steen cleaned up. Then I stashed Steen in a stall for about an hour while I rode Laredo on the strip.

We had a pretty good ride. We've been working our way through our new Buck DVDs, and I had a lot of those ideas in my head from the start. With Laredo, my biggest challenge is keeping his energy up. Particularly with exercises like whirligigs, he just peters out before he can really bring the front through.

So I worked a lot on keeping him alive at the walk, and rewarding him when he moved out with energy by keeping my hands off the reins and my legs quiet.

I guess it had some effect because later we did a couple lopes up the strip, and he was super energetic. The first time I asked for the lope Laredo just took off. I've never felt him accelerate like that. I felt myself start to gather up the reins to pull, but thought to myself, "Just go with him." I lowered my hands, and we went. I still can't get over how smooth and balanced Laredo's lope is, even when he's going fast.

Of course he didn't go fast for long, and after the initial surprise of his speed he never felt like he was going to get ahead of me either.

Ride Time: 0:55

Today we went to the barn later in the day than usual, and left Steen in the pasture while we took Bear and Laredo into the newly plowed soybean field. This was a good change of pace. Laredo was perky by relaxed heading out, and I marveled at how comfortable I'm starting to feel on his back.

We trucked around for a while, trotting and loping up some hills and doing big loops. Other than his tendency to sometimes want to charge downhill at the trot, Laredo was great.

After we'd been riding for a while, a group of five riders from the barn joined us, and we went with them through the fields for a ways. It was a chaotic group, with several somewhat spazzy horses. Laredo was totally chill. He was fine with following them, but always ready to listen to me and not inclined to take cues from the other horses.

Brian and I turned back early, and right after we split from the herd we had our one hiccup of the ride. We were heading back towards the barn, and Laredo suddenly bucked. Or rather, he sort of tried to buck, but he didn't do a very good job at it.

I've never had a horse buck on me quite like that before. There was no build up, no come down. He just threw it in there. If something triggered it, I couldn't even see it after the fact.

But it really wasn't much of a buck. I was nowhere near losing my seat. I brought his head around, of course, but he was already over it (whatever "it" was) by the time we moved on. We headed back into the bean field and loped up another hill before calling it a day.

After the ride, we brought Steen in and cleaned him up. After days of making no discernible progress, his side has finally turned a corner. We left him without his sheet for the night so the skin can get a chance to breathe a bit.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 118:10

Sunday, September 23, 2012

So Much Pink

It's been a busy week. Lots of barn time, no riding.

On Thursday I basically only went out long enough to bring Steen in and apply more Thuja-Zinc to his burns. I felt bad doing so little as he was clearly very bummed out and not at all happy to be put back into his pen.

On Friday, Brian's parents were in town. We'd been planning on saddling up all three guys and taking a turn through the trees, but obviously that wasn't going to happen.

It was a cool, cloudy day. I pulled Steen's fly sheet and we cleaned up his oozing side as best we could. Then we brought Bear and Laredo up from the pasture. Brian and his mom had a pretty good ride in the tree lot.

I took Steen out there as well, just to get him out of his little prison-pen. I think it was nice for him. By the end of the day he seemed he was in a little better spirits. He got to hang out with his grandpa Dutch a lot, so that was nice.

On Saturday we took the wrap off, and the leg wounds look almost as good as one could hope. We decided not to wrap it again. We went through the same process of cleaning his side up while Cathy had another little ride on Bear in the indoor arena.

Today was Steen's last day on the meds. His leg had not swollen much in spite of being unwrapped. The swelling in his hock does appear to have drained down into his ankle, but it's not bad at all.

We gave the leg a thorough cleaning and ran cold water on it for 15 minutes to further reduce the swelling. Then Steen and I hung out in the indoor arena while Brian rode Laredo. The worst part about all this is the burns are very, very sensitive, and cleaning and applying the Thuja-Zinc causes Steen a lot of discomfort. He's not quite as happy to hang out with me as usual lately. But it has to be done, as much as he hates it.

The photos don't really do the burns justice. His entire shoulder is inflamed and oozing puss.

Towards the end of Brian's ride, Cathi came in. She gave me a slinky another boarder whose horse has had sun sensitivity issues brought out for me to borrow. It has the head cut out, so it covers the shoulders only. Under the fly sheet, this should keep 100% of the sun off Steen. So that is excellent. Cathi also looked at the leg and we all agreed the best thing for Steen at this point will be to get him back out with his herd.

So happy Steen got to leave prison and return to the good life. Of course he's dressed in ridiculous clothing, his tail is tied up to keep it from wiping all the ointment off his leg, and he's totally covered in pink goop. But I'm hopeful the increased mobility and decreased stress will help him heal faster.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hanging In There

Today Steen's new fly sheet arrived just before Brian got home from work at 2:00. So we pretty much headed straight out to the barn. We found Steen more mobile than I expected, and kinda nervous and restless. He nickered when he saw us. We hosed his burns off, put more thuja-zinc on, and brought him inside to put the fly sheet on. (It was super windy.)

He took the new fly sheet without comment. It's much, much nicer than the other one was. The fabric is nice and stretchy, it's easier to get on and off and it claims to block 60% of UV rays, and it has a neck cover. Hopefully between the new sheet and the zinc, his side can start healing. It's still in very bad shape.

We then put Steen back out in his side pen with the baby. I had planned to ride one of our other horses, but after I took his halter off Steen just stood with his head up against my arm, seeming sad and uncomfortable -- not at all his usual relaxed, goofy self. We stood with him for a while, and Brian worked on getting some bots off the baby.

I took a step off and Steen followed me, and I decided I would not be able to enjoy a ride with him all miserable in his pen. So I put his halter back on and took him to the strip, where he grazed for quite a while and then dozed in the sun while Brian rode Bear. He was definitely more relaxed when I put him back in the pen later on, so that is something.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

High Tensile Wire, We Meet Again

I'm afraid this post is going to be long and dramatic. Today was a very bad day for me and Steen. And since I keep this blog to record everything we go through with our horses, I'm going to go ahead and tell the whole story.

Just to preface this: we are all ok. Steen should recover. He's in a leg wrap for five days and after that it will hopefully just be a few weeks of healing before he's back to normal. I am uninjured. All the other horses are fine.

So, to start at the beginning. Yesterday morning I went out and gave Steen another bath. It was supposed to rain, but it was sunny while I was out there. I hosed him off, put more Thuja-Zinc on his burns, put his sheet back on, and went home.

It did rain later, and it was a cool, damp evening. Brian was kind enough to drive out and take the sheet off because we thought Steen would be more comfortable without it overnight.

This morning I got in the car first thing to head out and put the sheet back on before the sun got too high.

In retrospect, I can see I started making mistakes the moment I reached the barn. My first mistake was I was in a hurry. Work has been stressful, I'm behind on a few projects, and mostly I just wanted to get Steen's sheet on and get back home. I also tried to do too much at once. I wanted to get Bear and Laredo their supplements and get Steen's sheet on and not have to make multiple trips out into the pasture to do so.

So I loaded up with feed trays and a fly sheet, and hiked out to the pasture. Halfway through the first gate, I realized I'd forgotten a halter. I hesitated. Then I thought, "Steen will be fine. He's great with blankets."

I resumed my hike. It had been a cold night, and all the pasture horses were very interested in the sight of the feed pans. I installed myself in the gate to the big pasture to more easily separate our guys from the rest of the herd. Our three made their way up to me. I directed them to their pans, then had to put some serious effort into moving the others off. After a few minutes Steen was done eating, so I went over and slipped the fly sheet over his head. I pulled it down over his back and as I went to fold up the belly flap, a couple of the horses teamed up on Laredo to move him off his feed pan. In my stupidest move yet, I took a step away from Steen to shoo at them. The horses went off, and I headed back to Steen, but before I could reach him he took a step to the side.

This sheet has a belly cover, so a large mesh flap was hanging down by his legs. I saw in a flash what would happen. I was one step too far away to get my hand on Steen's head, and it was too late. The flap flapped, and Steen took another step. The flap flapped more, and Steen took off.

So then I got to stand there and watch my panicked horse gallop around a three acre pasture with a fly sheet dangling off him. The only smart thing I'd done so far that day was set up operations at a gate, so I was able to close the gate with only Laredo with me and Steen in the pasture and thus at least keep Steen from charging out into 13 acres of open space, or getting the whole herd caught up in the stampede.

But still, things went downhill quite quickly. Steen galloped several laps before the straps started to tangle up his legs. He fell two or three times and got back up. Watching him I was 100% certain he would not survive.

Finally he got so bound up that he could not longer run. He came to a stop far down in the corner of the lot, and I hurried over to him. I thought I would have a mess on my hands, but it was worse than I expected. Somehow Steen had gotten his right hind leg through the wire fence, and one wire was looped around his leg. The leg was trapped in both the sheet straps and the wire.

Oh, and the fence was live. So every few seconds a shock ran through the fence and into Steen, causing him to heave against the wire and rip up the skin of his leg. He was shaking with pain and fear, and while I was able to get him to take a partial step back to reduce the amount of force on the wire, as soon as another shock came he lurched forward again.

It only took me a few seconds to realize I could do nothing. I had no halter, not even a rope, and certainly not anything really useful like wire-cutters. There was no way I would be able to get him at all calmed down with the shock going.

So I left him. I had no choice. I am not much of a runner, and by the time I sprinted the 1/8 of a mile back to the barn, I was literally gasping for breath. I dashed through the barn and around to the side where the electric fence is plugged in, and unplugged it. Then I ran to my car and got my cell phone and called both Brian and Cathi. I was as close to being in a genuine panic as I've ever been in my life, and the run had ensured I could hardly breathe. I'm sure I sounded one step away from incoherent. I felt bad for having to freak both of them out, but I also thought I would not be able to get Steen out of the fence alone.

I grabbed a halter and a pair of scissors and sprinted off again. My hope was that I could calm him down enough to get him to stop struggling until help arrived.

I ran back into the pasture. I topped the rise in the second pasture and I could see Steen was still in the same place. And as I approached I was beyond relieved to see he had actually managed to get his leg out of the fence on his own. As I got closer, I could see he was quite cut up and definitely bleeding, but things were not as bad as I had feared. He was still quivering with panic, though, and still couldn't move because of the sheet's strap.

I put his halter on and cut through the sheet straps to free him. I don't actually remember pulling the sheet off of him, but I must have done it. I called Brian and Cathi to let them know it was no longer an emergency. Then I sat there with my horse while we both caught our breath for a few minutes.

I called our vet, Jim. He said he'd get there as soon as he could, and to get a cold hose on the cuts right away.

Meanwhile, I had Laredo, a destroyed fly sheet and two empty feed pans in one pasture, and the rest of the herd on the other side of the fence looking on. I was not going to leave the sheet out there for Laredo to mess with, so I rolled it up and took it with me. The feed pans and closed gate were going to have to wait.

Steen and I began to make our way back up to the barn. He did not want to put much weight on the leg, so the going was slow, but he was as soft on the lead rope as he always is. We got to the barn and I dropped the fly sheet by my tack locker and tried to lead him by. He hesitated. I put the sheet all the way in the locker so he couldn't see it, and took him out to the wash rack.

I'd been hosing him for maybe ten minutes when Cathi arrived, and Brian made it a few minutes later. Cathi called the vet and told him what she had on hand and asked for instructions. We kept the cold hose on for half an hour, scrubbed the leg with surgical scrub, gave some oral Banamine, and flushed the deeper parts of the cut with a saline solution. Then Cathi wrapped the leg and Brian and I took Steen over to the airlock to see if he had any interest in grazing while we waited for Jim. We brought Laredo into the airlock too, and Brian went down to collect the feed pans and open the gate.

Steen spent the next three hours alternating between grazing and dozing. He had at least calmed down a good deal by then, and over that period of time was already showing more willingness to use the leg.

Jim finally arrived, and we unwrapped the leg. After a quick examination Jim said most of the scrapes were superficial. When I told him the whole story he said over and over that he couldn't believe it wasn't worse. So I have that to be grateful for, at least.

He put a few staples in the deepest cut and wrapped the leg. He prescribed antibiotics and more bute and said to leave the leg wrapped for five days. He then said, "I think he'll live."

After we were done, I installed Steen in the little side pen with a five-month-old weanling and a lot of good hay to keep him company. So now he's had matching wire trauma on both hind legs. We can only hope that is the end of it.

Laredo also got some booster shots, since the vet was there anyway...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunburns and Light Rides

I've never owned a Paint before, and when I was shopping for Steen I had no particular thought of getting a horse with color. In fact, when I went to look at Steen, I did so precisely because I didn't think I would want him. I didn't want a horse that was seven years old or a pinto of any kind. I just thought it would be a good idea to look at some horses I didn't want.

Fast forward four years and as much as I love Steen, more often than not the white markings are a bit of a pain. They do get him a lot of compliments, but the hair that grows out of his white skin does not seem to insulate him very well, so he needs a blanket in the winter. In the summer, it doesn't do much to protect him from the sun. Every skin problem he's had has been on his white areas.

He's had sunburns before, but they have always been minor. But this year almost all the pinto horses at the barn are suffering from major burn problems. Steen has done better than most, but he's had two spots on his shoulders that have been getting a bit scorched. I've been treating them with a soothing aloe gel that has mostly kept them in check. But Saturday after I pulled him out of the pasture I saw things had reached a whole new level. His entire right side was just bright pink under his white hair. He didn't seem super uncomfortable, but still, something needed to be done.

The other horses that have been burning have had success with fly sheets to keep them covered. As I've mentioned before, Iowa City is a desert of horse supplies of any kind, so I ended up calling all sorts of shops all over the state. Finally we found a shop in Grinnell that had a fly sheet that would fit him. But it was going to be a little too small, and it didn't have a neck cover. Brian and I drove over on Saturday afternoon to get it. It's a hideous blue, but I guess it will do the trick.

This morning we took the fly sheet with us and went to the barn, and I was dismayed to see the burn had worsened overnight. So, I spent a lot of time bathing Steen in cool water and smearing him in Thuja-Zinc gel. Then we put the fly sheet on and put him out in the pasture.

I'd been planning to ride Steen, but his skin was just too tender, so I rode Laredo instead. We had been at the barn for hours by then, though, and by the time we got mounted in the tree lot I was feeling pretty tired. Still, we had a good ride. Brian and I worked on backing circles around each other, then played cow for a while. I also did two short, straight lopes, and some trotting during which we worked on figure-eights and moving off the legs.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 116:15

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On the Trail with the Kid

Today we wanted to take Laredo for his first trail ride. Hunting season isn't all that far off, and we want to make sure we get him out soon enough that we have time to get a good number of rides in before we are limited to closer ground where we feel safe riding. And we decided Brian would be the pilot, which meant me and Steen would be his other companions. We also thought it would be good to have a third horse along, so we invited Kat to join us. She rode Kafteinn.

Things started out very quietly. Steen was just about the mellowest he's ever been on the trail for the first half of the ride. He was the slowest walker of the three, content to even lag behind a little. This is a far cry from his usual power walk, and Laredo actually led the ride for quite a while.

We left Cathi's land and turned left to head to the trail we like, and when we got to a long, flat open stretch we trotted. This was also the most mellow Steen has ever been trotting on the trail, and Laredo was great too.

It's a long stretch, and we like to trot them the whole way. After we came back to the walk Laredo's energy level shifted. He was starting to get tired, and his walk slowed down considerably. Kafteinn moved into the lead.

We went over the rolling double-track, and on the way back in we encountered our first excitement of the ride. We trotted up one hill and Laredo decided to shift into the lope. Steen was right next to him, so when I saw Brian looked like he was going to ride the lope for a minute, I let Steen picked it up too. Steen woke right up, and gave me a little more enthusiasm than was ideal. I ended up doubling him pretty firmly three or four times to force him to break at the poll and slow down.

But after the spurt everyone calmed right back down. We continued quietly until we passed some black drainage pipes stacked near the road. Steen had eye-balled these on the way out, but was more bothered by them on the way back. Laredo also shied at some of them, so we all stopped to work the horses a bit. I did short-serpentines until Steen was able to stand quietly next to the stack of pipes. Brian rode Laredo back and forth in front of the stack he found scary until he was over his issue with them.

We headed onto the lower part of the trail and encountered a woman walking a dog. The dog was off the leash and when the woman saw us she turned and started walking fast in the same direction we were going. Presumably she did this to keep the dog from getting interested in the horses. But Steen is weird in that if he can see something moving off in the distance he gets obsessed with it. He started with his chargey walk.

I'm never quite sure what to do when he does this. On the one hand, he's not necessarily misbehaving. He's walking, and going where I tell him. But on the other hand, I am clearly not the first thing on his mind. I responded this time with a shallow double every few steps. This often works with smaller distractions, but the woman and the dog were out in front of us for a good long while, and that whole time Steen was so intent on them, any part of his mind he gave me was an afterthought. I tried whilygigs and short-serpentines and while he would do all of this for me, he was also super busy with the bit and every time I wasn't bending his head he was staring at the dog.

Finally the dog and walker turned off and went in another direction, and Steen calmed back down immediately, though his emotions stayed closer to the surface for the rest of the ride. Later on, I tried to fall back to take some photos, and when Kafteinn pulled ahead Steen started getting agitated again.

But luckily Laredo was unaffected by Steen's behavior, and other than that one little stretch Steen was quite good. We took it slow, and covered seven miles in two hours and fifteen minutes. It was fun and relaxing, and things with Laredo really couldn't have gone much better.

Ride Time: 2:15
Horseback hours YTD: 115:25

Duke Day Lite (Solo Edition)

Our barn is currently full to the brim, boasting a record number of horses on the premises. This makes some of our traditions a bit cumbersome. Duke Day, for instance, is when the farrier comes and does all the horses' feet. Except there are so many horses now this is actually no longer possible. It's too much for one man to do in one day.

So Brian and I have partnered with our friend Kat (who has the two Icelandic ponies) and split off from the main group so Duke can do our five horses on their own day. Unfortunately we were a little slow getting it on the calendar this time, and Brian had to work when Duke was available.

Which meant I found myself driving out through a wet, rainy afternoon to tend to all three horses. I decided to lead them all in at once, but thought I might have to leave one in the airlock while I maneuvered through gates. It ended up though that the hardest part was getting their halters on. I tried to halter them starting from the least dominant (Laredo, Steen, Bear) but Steen has a pretty bad sunburn on his neck and shoulders right now, and it was chilly, and whenever he is uncomfortable he wants to come to me as fast as he can. So he kept moving Laredo off in his attempts to get to me and at one point Bear came over and moved both Steen and Laredo because he wanted to say hi too.

But really it was all fine. It only took a few minutes before I had them all haltered and following me across the pasture. They all lead well, and they all respect people, so it was actually no problem leading them all at once. I sent Steen through the gates first because he follows a feel the best, and then brought the other two behind me.

Once inside, I turned them all out. They were all very happy to get out of the rain and roll in the sand. (Steen actually rolled quite a few times.)

Then I encouraged them to move around a bit. They weren't as inclined to get into it as they are in the winter, but they did get going a few times. Laredo even went and played with the ball quite a bit, going to far as to push it with his nose and then run after it.

After I (gently) drove them around a little, I stood in the center of the arena. Laredo had gotten off on the other side of the arena from the other two, and the second I looked at him he put his ears way forward and gave me this funny look. I realized he thought we were playing "the game" and he was ready to come to me so I wouldn't chase him anymore. I took a step back and dropped my gaze and he trotted all the way across the arena for some pets.

Trims were uneventful. All the horses behaved well. Kat and I were able to trade off my three with her two and rotate them all through in no time at all. I took Bear and Laredo back outside first so I could put a soothing gel on Steen's shoulders, then put him out as well. It was actually pretty fun to hang out with all three of them at once.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Return to the Trees

One of the peculiarities about where we board is that (other than the indoor arena) there is nowhere that's guaranteed to be available to ride in any given day. There are plenty of places you can usually ride, but between moving herds, changing seasons, farm equipment, and various other factors, if you want to ride outside you have to be flexible.

This used to be hard on me. I'd go out expecting to ride on the strip only to find it had a planter parked right in the middle of it. Or I'd have decided to use the outdoor arena only to see it was occupied by a sick horse. I'd have to shift gears and figure out something else to do, which I found stressful.

The good thing is there is always somewhere to ride, so it's just a matter of being adaptable. Over time, being forced to change plans so frequently has made us more inclined to change things up on our own. Today Brian noted as we were tacking that the stall herd is out of the tree pasture for the moment and perhaps we should ride out there.

I like riding the tree pasture, and it was a warm day so the shade would be welcome. I had been planning on loping Laredo a little but mentally concluded we probably wouldn't do that without the broad, flat, runway that is the strip.

But we got out into the trees and in spite of the extra complications of the space, Laredo felt great and I felt utterly relaxed. Brian did too, and we actually chatted for a while about how we're both reaching a new level of comfort and control, and how nice it is.

I ended up loping Laredo just a few minutes into the ride. He was a little fast, but as we reached the end of the open area I just doubled him a few times and he came down to a nice trot. But I could also feel he was tired. He was trying really hard, and doing a good job with everything, but every time we stopped he would just drop his head and stand there like he was going to fall asleep. So other than one more lope late in the ride,

we mostly worked on slow stuff. And he was really good. He's started to get the "reins are connected to the feet" concept that is so important to having true control, and a number of times I was surprised how easily I could pick up and swing his front feet through various movements.

And in spite of the fact that he was very interested and curious about the environment, he never tuned me out in the slightest. We did some trot, back, trot transitions, worked on the routine, and walked a number of laps through the trees and I worked on just steering with just my legs. He was great about that, and though I'd have to back things up with the reins regularly, a lot of the time my legs were enough. I think he's really starting to understand that it's within his power to have rides that are very comfortable and easy, and he's starting to put effort into achieving that.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 113:10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Steen the Accomplished

I was a little engrossed in my work today when Brian got home, and when I get engrossed it can be hard for me to switch gears. It was a beautiful day, and I worked for twelve hours straight yesterday. I knew I could benefit from a break. Still, it took a little bit of coaxing on Brian's part to pry me from my laptop.

All the way to the barn, my mind dwelled on work. I have two huge/important sites launching within days of each other right now, and at such times I can get a little over-focused. But as always, I stepped into the pasture and all thoughts of work and real life left my mind.

I had one of those rides that is hard to put into words. Steen was soft, attentive, energetic (ok and a little fat too). We worked on all the basics and pretty much nailed everything. Then I threw in some large figure-eights at the lope with a simple lead change in the middle. This is something I work on intermittently, but not with much consistency. Today you'd have thought we'd been drilling on it for months. We hit every one. We were side-passing, leg-yielding, moving forward and back without breaking collection. At one point I got him to do a forward and backwards ladder and he did the whole thing without once putting so much as an ounce of pressure on the hackamore.

Today also happens to be the one year anniversary of our first Buck clinic in Decorah. And I have to say, the horse I have today doesn't even resemble the one I was riding then. I feel like more than anything Buck gave me a language. I'm still working on my accent, but my horses are understanding me.

Brian also had a fantastic ride on Laredo. I got back in the car wondering how I could have even considered not going for a ride today.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 112:00

And More Cows

Pretend cows, that is. Today some ride plans fell through, and Brian and I found ourselves trying to decide if we wanted to hit the trails alone. I was riding Steen and he was riding Bear, so we could have gone out and about. But we also wanted to have a day where we swapped horses and rode all three, so we opted to stay near the barn, but to play cow.

We learned about playing cow a long time ago, but for a long time utterly lacked the skills to do it. It basically involves one horse and rider trying to get to the "herd", and the other horse and rider trying to stay in their way. The "cow" must behave in a cow-like fashion. (Brian has a more detailed explanation here.) The two horses and riders circle the "herd" until the "cow" either outmaneuvers the "horse" or runs out of time.

We set out three large cones to serve as a herd, and gave it a try. From the start it went much better than the last times we tried to play. Steen, Bear, Brian and I are all significantly more adept at stopping, backing half a circle, and jumping off in the other direction. We're still far from consistent/graceful at it, but we were fairly evenly matched. We both had some good wins as the cow. We both got schooled a few times by the horse. Before long we were chasing each other around at the lope in the relatively narrow area available on the strip. All four of us were totally comfortable with this. It made me realized how far we've come with control and precision. Once I charged in front of Brian and Bear, which was definitely non-cowlike behavior, and once Bear broke the rules and pinned his ears and played the dominance card on Steen, thus moving the "horse" in a non-realistic manner, but for the most part it was an easy and entertaining way to work on some basic moves.

After my ride on Steen, I grabbed Laredo from the pasture. We had a demanding ride. I started with more work leading, really making him wake up and get some energy in his responses to me before I ever mounted. I loped early in the ride, and he was far faster than last time I loped him. I was pleased to discover though that when he started veering it only took light pressure on one rein and some leg to straighten him back out.

We also worked on backing circles around each other and playing Cow "Lite," which meant Laredo and I stuck to the walk and trot and Brian and Steen were nice enough to pace their stops and turns to match ours so we didn't get left in the dust constantly. This was a lot of new, demanding stuff for Laredo, but he took it in stride.

It was also neat to see Brian having such a great ride on Steen. I've never seen the two of them look so relaxed and accomplished, and to see Steen tucking his head and engaging his haunches and scooting around me was pretty neat. I don't usually get to see him from that angle.

At the very end of the ride I wanted to work on something a little softer, so we just walked around the strip for a while getting the soft feel. Then I decided to ask for a little bit of lateral movement. After a step or two, Laredo gave me a little step across. It was tiny, but tiny is a start.

Ride Time: 1:40
Horseback hours YTD: 111:00

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feelin' It

This was the day:

Sunny and in the low 70s. Beautiful.

It started with me attempting to familiarization myself and Steen with a rope. He was fine with it coiled. I could bang it all around his saddle and body. When I started swinging it around he wasn't as cool with it, though I couldn't tell if it was because he was scared of the rope or just embarrassed to be seen with me.

Once I got on, things were just amazing. Steen was soft to the hackamore, willing to collect and stay soft at all gaits. At the trot I could pick up light pressure on the reins and send him to the side, and he'd leg-yield as smooth as floating.

We could stand to invest a little more energy in most of our movements, including the trot. Backing, we're getting more consistency through more steps. I did the 10 forward, 10 back exercise and by the end he was holding his collected frame perfectly.

Then there was an impromptu lead change. I was just going to come down from the lope, but when I asked him to slow down he trotted one stride and I felt that if I asked him for the lope again he would move right out again on the other lead. I was right.

We also loped with Brain and Laredo a little. Steen gave me a nice, slow collected canter so his little brother could keep up. What a guy.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 109:20

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

First Laredo Lope

Last Monday I went out to the barn telling myself I would lope Laredo. We've been a bit slow to get there because we usually ride in such irregular, open spaces. For so long he had such a tendency to lock up on the bit and lean into pressure it didn't seem there was anything to gain from trying too soon. I kept thinking one of these days we'd end up in an arena and it would be a good moment.

But my last couple of rides out on the strip have been feeling different. Laredo is really settling in, and there have been a number of times we've been trotting along and I've thought, "I could just push him into the lope right now." But then there is always the cautious side of my brain that starts counting up all the things that could go wrong. Then the moment has passed and we haven't done it.

When we got to the barn on Monday, I was mentally ready. But then we had our impromptu cattle drive, so I rode Steen.

But today I went out with renewed determination. I told myself if the ride went well, we would lope.

With that in mind I did a little more groundwork than I have been doing with Laredo lately, and of a slightly different variety. Instead of driving him and bending him, I just worked on leading. He can be pretty sluggish with this sometimes, so I worked on keeping him up with me when I walked faster, reminded him to stop when I stopped, made him go back with me when I backed, move out of my space when my shoulder came towards him, and speed up to keep pace with me when I turned away from him.

Laredo already led well when we got him, and there were a lot of more pressing issues that needed our attention, so somehow I've just never done this stuff with him before. I've also got a lot of practice teaching horses to lead, so I can be fast and precise with my corrections. It was funny to see how much it got him paying attention to me. By the time I got on he felt primed for a good ride.

Once on, I spent the early part of the ride bending, bending, bending. I wanted to make sure he was super supple in case he got bothered about something when I asked him to go. I wanted to know I could bring his head around and untrack his hindquarters if he tried to run away with me or buck. So we worked on one-rein stops from the walk and trot, then whirligigs, then short-serpentines and figure-eights.

We've been watching the little teaser videos for the new Buck DVDs that are coming out soon, and in one of them Buck said something about how you can start learning this stuff and it will help, but then there comes a point where you start to switch from doing the mechanical act of an exercise because you've been told to do it, to actually feeling your way through everything you're doing. Lately I've been feeling something is different when I ride, but I didn't know what it was. Listening to that snippet, I think that's what's happening. My early ride with Laredo I was able to ask him for a lot, but I was able to do it with a kind of rhythm that kept us both on our toes but didn't make him feel like I was on his case. As a result he was energetic and engaged. And after 45 minutes or so, he was lighter and more attentive to me than he's ever been.

So I took him down the strip and trotted him back up to the top, just to see where we were at. He moved out nicely but not without losing his awareness of me. So I took him down again, pointed him back at the barn, scooted him into the trot and started to try to nudge him into a lope.

Laredo is not a runaway type of horse. I took quite a few long trot strides before I finally tipped him up into the gait, but when it came it was utterly smooth and easy. He shifted into a beautiful little rocking canter that was back and balanced. We loped on up the strip and he petered out when we were passing Brian before I could even ask him to stop.

We did that a couple more times, and each one was a little smoother. The last one I was able to keep him in the lope and going straight as we passed Brian. When I asked him to slow down he tucked his butt, dipped his head and stopped far more quickly than I was expecting.

After that he was a little winded, so I figured I wouldn't push him too hard the first time. All I really wanted to accomplish was to get him in and out of the lope a few times in a way that was not at all scary or traumatic. We certainly got that done. It was all even more anticlimactic than I'd expected.

We finished up the ride with more basics, and he wasn't at all revved up from the running. We ended with a walk up and down the drainage and along the second strip with Bear and Brain. Laredo trucked along like a champ on the way out and dragged his heels on the way home. What a goof.

So, Laredo continues in his pattern of being totally easy. And now that I know what his lope feels like, I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time there.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 108:10

Monday, September 03, 2012

Gettin a Moove On

I was all set to ride Laredo today. I even hiked way way out into the pasture to get him, and worked on hurrying his walk while leading (he can be a bit pokey) all the way back, which meant I was pretty hot and sweaty by the time I got him tied up. I hadn't even had a chance to take off his fly mask when Sylvia (the 9 year old daughter of the barn owners) stepped out of the barn and said, "Do you want to help us move the cattle?"

As I may or may not have mentioned before, there is a small herd of 20-30 cattle that belong to our barn. Most of the time they are over in a nearby pasture, but for a month or two each year they join our herd in its big pasture. We told Cathi a couple days ago that if she ever needs help moving the herd to just let us know. Not that we have any experience moving cattle. But we have decent control over our horses and we can follow directions.

While I was up for helping with the cattle drive, I wasn't going to do it on Laredo. So I hauled him back to the pasture, grabbed Steen and took him back to the barn. We got tacked up and ready to go. I used my snaffle bridle for this outing.

Our cowboy crew was comical. It consisted of me on Steen, Brian on Bear, Sylvia on her pony, and Sylvia's friend Grace (who is in eighth grade) on an old, quiet gelding named Jasper. Cathi accompanied us on her golf cart, and we had the barn dog, Chase. Chase is a blue-heeler/kelpie cross and he's highly enthusiastic participant in this sort of job.

We headed out into the big pasture and up the hill to find the cattle tucked in the far corner of the lot. Sylvia rode towards them on Sassy while Grace, Brian and I arranged ourselves in a line to keep them from coming off the fence. These cattle are pretty willing to move, so it didn't take a lot for Sassy to get them going. A group split off and hurried up the fence, so Brian and I kept pace with them until they stopped.

Steen was a little antsy about everything, but I was able to keep him facing the cattle and in position as they looked at us, assessing whether or not they could go through us to the open pasture behind us. They didn't try to go through me and Steen, but they did try to outrun Brian and Bear and escape up the fenceline. Fortunately that was exactly where we wanted them to go, so it was fine.

When the first group ran off, Steen got pretty excited and wanted to go too. I had to bring his head around and spin a few circles. He calmed down in time to be of some help when the second half of the herd caught up, and we moved those along the fence as well.

Eventually that group of cattle charged off after the first, and I let Steen lope briefly to catch up. He was all power and energy. I had to bend him to get him to stop again, but when we regrouped to follow the cattle up into the tree lot he calmed down. He only had one more other minor spasm when we went through the gate.

The rest was uneventful. Cathi opened the gate that led to the pasture the cattle will now be occupying, and Chase finally got to help and encourage the last stragglers through. So it just goes to show even a motley assortment of temporary cowboys can get a little something done.

After the herding, Sylvia treated us to a tour of a wooded lot up the road that's recently been cleared enough to ride in. Steen was an utter champ for the rest of the ride. In spite of passing all sorts of scary things, he never even started to get agitated. I guess after the cattle the rest of the day just struck him as mundane.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback hours YTD: 107:05

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Remedial Right Turns

Today I was happy to put Steen's halter on and lead him in. As much as I had a great ride on Laredo yesterday, my comfort level with Steen at this point is like nothing I've ever experienced with another horse. All his movements and behaviors are so familiar, being around him feels completely natural.

Out on the strip, I did a little groundwork. He's following a feel so well now our groundwork is starting to feel more like a dance than me moving him. It was quite a contrast from all the work I had to do to get Jak going a few days ago. It's always so fascinating to work with a different horse and then come back to your own.

Once aboard, I started with circles to the right. I noticed a few rides ago that Steen does not bend to the right very well, and that my left leg feels strained and uncomfortable when I use it to try to move his front end over for more than a moment. So I've decided every ride will include many minutes of working on bending to the right until we're both better at it.

Today I started out paying a lot of attention to my seat and legs. After several circles the strain started to build in my hip, so I tried to adjust my position to make myself more comfortable. I leaned back over my left hip a bit more and suddenly Steen bent to the right. I thought about how I was sitting and realized with some dismay that I apparently have a tendency to ride always with slightly more weight on my right side. This puts my left leg in a slightly compromised position (hence the strained feeling) and also blocks Steen's ability to bring that shoulder through.

One of the benefits of working with Laredo is that he's has been relatively slow to learn to give to the bit, and much faster to learn to respond to legs. This means when I ride Laredo, I use my legs a lot, which in turn makes me use my legs more on Steen. Lately I feel like I'm finally being fluid and effective with my legs and my seat in a way I've always wanted to be before, but never really was. This final epiphany about where my weight really was felt like a missing link snapping into a chain. I shifted my weight just the teeniest slightest bit so my hips were even, and from there our right turns were better. I won't say they were perfect, but the change was noticeable.

So Steen and I trotted around, working on circles and figure-eights. Every now and then I loped him off down the strip or in a circle. He had a lot of energy and power in his lope today. And while a few months ago I would have worried about him getting over-excited and running off with me, today it was only fun. I even found myself laughing as I went with him. Once he was a bit stiff stopping from the lope, so the next time I doubled him into the stop. After that he was much more attentive and once I sat deep in preparation for asking for the stop and he slammed on the brakes before I even had a chance to pick up on the hackamore. Good boy.

Brian and I also worked on our walk-trot transitions exercise, and I worked on holding collection through upwards transitions. This went ok, but is definitely something I need to practice more. After a while Steen started to feel a little dull, so instead of trotting I loped half the circle.

I have to say, overall the ride was very good, and something about it felt different. Perhaps it was just that I was in such a relaxed, happy mood, or perhaps it was because I was using my legs so much, but Steen's attention stayed on me the whole ride (just like Laredo's did yesterday). He never once tried to push off towards some place he'd rather be, or varied his speed depending on which direction we were going. It was great.

After a final lope up the strip, I hopped off and took some pictures of Brian riding. I let Steen graze, but he doesn't appear to like the feel of chewing in the bosal.

But he was happy enough to hang out and try to get used to it while Brian and Laredo trotted around a bit more.

Although Laredo was not at all convinced the situation was really very fair.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 105:45

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Like Magic

After way too long a break to suit my preference, I finally made it back to the barn today. I was in a bit of quandary deciding what horse to ride. Brian was going to ride Bear, so that left me with my pick of the other two. At first I was leaning towards Steen (cuz I miss him) but Brian has had some great rides on Laredo and I was curious to see how he was going. So I decided to go with the youngster.

I have to say the, the benefit of sharing the training load with someone else is you only have to do half the work. I know Brian has been out there putting time in with Laredo, but to me it seemed like he magically morphed into a more accomplished horse during my absence. He came to me in the pasture, was great for grooming, and went through all our groundwork without a problem. I mounted and we started riding around.

I have often been struck at the very start of a ride on Laredo at how responsive he can be to the legs. And I mean this in a good way -- a steering way as opposed to an agitated way. This ride he felt like that, but while  in the past this level of focus has faded after ten minutes or so, today it stuck around the whole ride. First we walked around, and he went through one period of wanting to walk off down the strip and ignore me. He picked up the trot, so I went with it and we worked on circles and figure-eights until he was a little tired. Then we trotted a bit more, and stopped. I gave him some pets and we went back to walking. After that, he was equally if not more attentive to my legs as he'd been at the start of the ride. The whole ride he never checked out on me, never leaned on the bit, never made a serious bid for going somewhere other than where I was pointing him. He wasn't perfect, but he's starting to feel like a horse that knows a few things. It's great.

Brian and I spent the middle part of the ride working on our circle/transition exercise. My first circle on Laredo was mediocre, but it got better every time. When we switched directions it degraded again, but once again things improved with each lap. At times when Laredo started to bend the wrong way, I would pick up a rein to correct him and he'd correct himself before I could ever get to the point of putting pressure on the bit.

After we were done with the exercise, I thought a walk out into the fields would be nice. Laredo loves exploring, and I thought it would be a good reward for his great attitude. We walked through the drainage into the second strip, and Laredo just trucked along like a champ. And although he was interested and curious, he never stopped listening to my legs. The couple of times I asked for a soft feel though, I had to make him stop before I could get one. But that's ok. We'll get there before too long, I'm sure.

As we headed back up to the strip I scooted him into a trot. We reached the strip and I tried to turn him back towards the barn and he surprised me by turning sharp and hard and trying to go back down the drainage. Apparently Laredo is a bit fan of the trail rides.

After our ride, we hung out to let the guys graze. Laredo was highly skeptical about whether or not he could eat grass with a bit in his mouth. I tried to encourage him, but he never got that into it. He was way more inclined to sniff my boots or legs or head than eat grass. Silly kid.

Back at the hitching post he was standing there looking all mature and sophisticated. His winter coat is just barely starting to come in, which is making his dun factor markings more obvious. The light wasn't great for a photo, but you can see the streaking on his shoulder and the stripes on his legs.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 104:50

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