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

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