Friday, November 30, 2012

What Didn't Happen

Brian and I seem to have developed a not particularly wonderful habit of having riding accidents in the fall. It started the year we got Bear - 2010. I had a horrible crash on Halloween. Then Brian came off hard our very next ride. I suffered a concussion and Brian's shoulder bothered him for months.

The next year Brian took another fairly hard fall in October. Though I made it through the season unscathed, I also had my roughest rides of the year right around the time Brian fell. We both marked the pattern, and have hoped not to repeat it this year.

Today was the last day of November, and we had a close call.

As always seems to be the case when things happen, we went out looking for a quiet ride. And it seemed we'd get it. Steen's still a bit under the weather. Laredo has been a trooper lately, taking everything we throw at him with total aplomb.

There was a lot of equipment at work in the fields, so while we'd intended to go out and about a bit more, we didn't want to be in the way. We stuck closer to home (though we did wear our hunting vests).

One of my biggest faults with Steen is I still let him get away with having a comfort zone. He's great on the section of the strip we ride most regularly, but if we get beyond some invisible line, he starts to get agitated. It's so much easier to keep him where he's well behaved, I haven't addressed this the way I should. But I came back from the Martin Black clinic determined to work on broadening Steen's horizons a little every ride.

With that thought in mind, I pointed Steen down the drainage shortly after we got going. Brian does this all time. He's been taking Bear out on little solo forays more and more, and I think it's great.

I hadn't gotten very far down the drainage when I heard the loud thunder of hooves a horse only makes when it is running as hard as it can. I turned and saw Laredo streaking down the strip. Brian was still in the saddle, but clearly not in control.

I would so much rather be on a runaway horse than be watching someone I love on a runaway horse. I was having flashbacks as Laredo charged into the same field where Brian fell two years ago. It was downhill, and Laredo was RUNNING. I have never seen this horse flatten out and haul like that.

But Brian stayed on. Laredo came down out of the field, crossed the drainage and started running up the hill on the other side, where I saw Brian organize himself and give Laredo a calculated pull that brought him to a stop.

Laredo stood there breathing hard. Somewhere during Laredo's charge I had brought Steen's head around purely for prevention purposes and he was turning little circles trying to figure out why I was holding onto him that way. I let him go and we all stood there. My heart was hammering. I said, "What happened?"

Brian said, "He took off after you."

Who knows what happens in the mind of a three year old? They were trotting figure eights when Laredo looked up and saw we were far away. Normally Laredo couldn't care less whether he is near other horses or not. This time, for some reason, panic ensued.

But, true to form, after catching his breath Laredo hiked back to the barn as if nothing had happened. After working on a few more figure eights I asked Brian if he'd like me to ride off again, to recreate the moment but not the panic. Steen and I headed out again.

Things went fine the second time. Laredo looked but didn't give Brian any trouble. I came back and we worked on backing half circles around each other. Here I felt more Wade magic. Steen was moving back and around with energy, on seat position alone. I've literally never felt a horse move like that. He was so responsive I had some calibration trouble at first. It was awesome.

We finished up the ride with a few runs of the routine, and both guys were great. We dismounted on a positive note.

Steen demanded I post this picture of him in my new saddle after rear cinch removal.

Tomorrow is December, which I consider officially winter. So while it was a bit too close for comfort, but we made it through the fall without any falls.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 144:45

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Love at First Ride

My new saddle arrived late on Wednesday. We unpacked it and I have to say it looks even better in person than it did in the photos. Today I headed out to the barn alone to meet the farrier. Brian had to work but planned to come out and meet me later. I took my new saddle inside, where it immediately got some compliments.

So pretty!

It turned out none of our horses needed their feet trimmed, so I had some time to kill. I worked on cleaning and softening the rain rot around Steen's cut, groomed all three horses then hopped on Steen for a short ride. I stayed in the indoor arena for no real reason. Steen now has a cold that seems to involve slightly runny eyes and a mild cough. I kept things very light.

Steen did not want me to post this photo. He thinks the rear cinch makes him look fat.

The new saddle felt great from the start. There are so many things that are so noticeably different. The twisted leathers are awesome. You swing on and the stirrup is in the exact correct position, waiting for your foot. The seat rises in front, which guides your balance point back over your feet where it should be. The leathers are also hung on the tree in such a way as the keep your leg beneath you instead of out front. This leads to a super balanced feel in the saddle. Also, this saddle has a slightly smaller seat than my old one. It's a 15.5 instead of a 16. It's a snugger feel, and much nicer. I don't feel like I have so much slop in front of me and behind me.

The effects of my better position on Steen were apparent immediately. He's still out of shape. He's sick. He's barely coming back into regular work after his convalescence. But we had an amazing ride. At first we just walked around while I got the feel of things, but eventually worked through a few basic maneuvers. Before long I was walking figure-eights with no hands. I can't get over how differently my legs hang. I feel like I can engage my whole leg much better, but particularly my lower leg. This was helping a lot with communication. I've never done so many good handless figure-eights on Steen before.

After things went so well at the walk, I took a little break and worked on some other things, then decided to try them at the trot, fully expecting total and immediate failure. Instead we trotted perfect figure-eight after perfect figure-eight while my reins stayed draped over the saddle horn. And just to make sure he wasn't running the pattern on autopilot, I changed things up regularly, sometimes trotting two circles on one side or changing direction. I have never done this on any horse before. Steen was entirely with me. It was exhilarating.

I only rode Steen for twenty minutes, then put him back out with the herd. Brian arrived shortly thereafter, and we tacked up our other two horses and headed out.

The new saddle felt great on Laredo too. Although he was a little spacey and fidgety during tacking and grooming, once I got on things went great.

Laredo was soft and moving nicely off my legs from the start. I could feel my better balance was helping him understand me more too. It particularly makes it easier for me to get my weight off his loin while backing, which helps him move back more freely.

Brian and I were both kind of tired, so we decided to just head out into the big pasture and poke around a bit. They are doing tons of irrigation work around the fields, and there are new trenches everywhere, some of which are open and some of which are filled. Obviously we are avoiding any ground that has been recently disturbed unless it has clearly been packed down by repeated passes by heavy machinery. In the big pasture, we followed some tire tracks up a big hill.

Laredo is still getting hills figured out. Steep uphills or medium to steep downhills just seem to confuse him. He'll start out fine, then reach a point where he just gets stuck. We're trying to be sympathetic with him about this, and be encouraging and positive when he goes up or down a hill without getting stuck. Going up the steep hill he got super stuck, so after I got him moving again I encouraged him to trot to make it a little easier on him. After that he wanted to trot up ALL the hills. *sigh.

We got to the far side of the pasture and found another open gate, so we went through. Once out we saw a field margin we'd never explored before, and took it down the fenceline and over a ridge where we found a nice sized grassy field we never knew existed. We were going to ride around it when we realized shotgun season just opened and we didn't have our vests on. We were getting a bit far afield for that to feel safe, so we saved the exploring for another day.

All through the ride, I was just loving my new saddle. The seat is hard -- no padding -- which allows you to move with the horse so much more freely. Towards the end of the ride Laredo was taking the hills with more confidence, and I was able to keep my seat moving with him and not get in his way even on the steep downhills.

So I couldn't be happier with the new saddle. Honestly I am surprised at how big a difference it makes. I didn't dislike my old saddle, but my new ride just leaves the old one in the dust.

Ride Time Steen: 0:20
Ride Time Laredo: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 143:50

Sunday, November 25, 2012


We've been out of town for a few days, which means none of our horses have been ridden. Sometimes when we have our pick of who to ride and we're not in any sort of pattern, it can be hard to decide. Today I settled on Steen and Brian decided to ride Bear.

Seen's leg is STILL not done healing, and a few days without me tending to it meant the scab had built up quite a lot. He also still has some lingering rain rot and a bit of puffiness all around, so I thought a light ride would be good for him. When we were getting the horses out of the pasture we noticed the gate out to the big pasture is now closed. We often enjoy riding in the big pasture in the fall after the horses have been shut out, so decided to ride out there today.

Laredo made us feel bad by trailing after us to the gate and nickering at us when we left him behind (although it was nice to know he was keen to hang out with us).

We headed out through the tree lot, and I didn't do any groundwork. I knew Steen would be fresh, but I wanted to see what kind of a ride I would have without starting our usual way. It was quite cool today, and cold days always translate to an energetic Steen. Between that and exploring territory we haven't ridden through since last year, I thought it would be a good gauge of where he's at mentally coming off his many weeks of rest. And as soon as I got on I could feel he was wound up.

We walked through the treed lot and into the big pasture and saw they have been doing some work on the drainage ditch. The little canyon that has been developing down there the last couple of years is now all smoothed over and filled in. Steen saw the piles of dirt and different colored earth and his energy level came up a few more notches. He wasn't too bad though. He was eyeing the ditch and veering a bit, but I was able to block him and kept him moving forward without trouble.

We went through the bottom of the pasture and saw the gate from the big pasture to the strip was open. We thought it would be fun to ride out that gate and back to the barn, but we'd left the gate to the tree lot open, so had to ride back up there to close it.

As soon as we turned back towards the barn, Steen's behavior went from just barely acceptable to pretty bad. He went into "brainless Steen" mode, and started prancing.

I was riding in the hackamore. I have been hesitant to trail ride in the hackamore because of the way Steen can still sometimes go a little batty when presented with new situations. I have been afraid my ability to control him would suffer if he got wound up enough, so this was a test. Of course if I have learned one thing about riding in the hackamore it's that dragging on the horse leads to having no control, so I positioned myself squarely in the saddle and took the slack out of the rein, asking Steen to walk. He coiled up and pranced higher.

So I pulled. The pull in the hackamore is something I'm still far from mastering, but when the horse has been given a warning (taking the slack out of the rein) you have to follow up with enough force to get their attention. I pulled fairly hard, but I didn't throw my body weight into it or anything. Steen is a sensitive horse and I'd never tried this before when he's in one of his moods. I didn't want to overdo it.

The key to the pull, of course, is dropping the pressure before the horse can brace against it. I pulled hard and dropped the rein. Steen's head popped up and his feet stopped moving and he stood there quivering for a second. I asked him to walk again. He chose to prance again. I pulled again.

It only took three pulls before he was walking on a loose rein back to the tree lot. Brian closed the gate and we turned around. We headed back out into the pasture and Steen was doing his power walk, so we got ahead. I stopped to wait for Brian and Bear and when Steen's wanted to jig around instead of hold still, he got another pull. He went still again and his ears flicked back and I could practically see his brain re-engaging.

We went out the bottom of the pasture and up the strip. Steen eyed a pit full of junk and a plastic bag caught in the fence that was shaking in the wind, but he walked on. We drew closer to the top of the strip, and Brian and Bear trotted past us and continued  up to the top. Steen tried out the prance again, and got a few more pulls. Then I asked him to walk a circle. Once he tried to charge out of it towards Brian and Bear and I administered my hardest pull yet. He went still and again the ears flicked back and he stood. His head came down a few notches. He sighed. I asked him to move and we walked three of the most perfect circles he's ever given me.

We walked up to the top of the strip and by the time we got to the end he'd reverted to being attentive and awesome. He was paying more attention to the hackamore than ever before, and was soft to my legs as well. We trotted a few figure eights and my hands basically didn't come into it at all. He was energetic, but trying hard to behave.

By then we'd already had a rather more demanding ride than I'd planned for, so we mostly just sat around chatting with Cathi. I took a few bad photos of Brian and Bear.

Then it occurred to me I could hand the camera to Cathi and we could get a rare shot of Brian and I riding together. Woohoo!

So, it was a really interesting ride. This was the most success I've ever had getting Steen's mind back quickly after he's gotten riled up by something, and I think it was the hackamore. It is interesting to be able to be more and more effective about my release. I used to think, "My horse is going crazy and you want me to let go?" It seemed like a recipe for disaster. But now I see the only way to teach a horse is let him make a mistake. The key is being prepared with an effective response to the wrong answer.

In the past when Steen's brain has clicked off I have responded by increasing pressure on the reins. His response then turns into a reaction to that pressure. Pretty soon he's prancing and chomping the bit. Even if I keep pressure on one rein at a time, or do a lot of turns and stops, it's trading one kind of pressure for another kind of pressure. He builds and builds and builds.

Today I was able to trade pressure for release for the first time ever in one of his meltdown moments. And it worked. Without his bit to lean on or battle with, Steen had no option but to think. He did not like those pulls on the hackamore. He didn't like them enough that he put some effort into figuring out how to get them to stop happening. And just like that, his brain reengaged and the ride didn't turn into the war it would have not all that long ago.

So, as much as this ride wasn't the relaxing amble I was expecting when we got out of the car, it was a really good ride. I had been afraid push would come to shove and I would find I did not have the same kind of control in the hackamore as I do in the snaffle. And it turns out I was half right. Except I have better control in the hackamore than I do in the snaffle. That's really good to know.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 142:45

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Birthday Gets Bigger

I bought my current saddle about a year and a half ago, and while there are quite a few things I do love about it, there are also a number of things I don't love. For one thing, it's a trail saddle and as much as I try to situate the fenders so they are far enough back that my foot stays under my hips, they creep forward constantly and I find myself in a "leg out front" position all the time. While this is the preferred position for a lot of Western riders, the more I work on refining my riding, the more I find this laid back pose a hindrance. I feel regularly inhibited by my saddle's inability to let me really line up while I'm riding.

Also, while the saddle is an ok fit for Steen, it is not great. Sometimes he still gets dry spots on the shoulders. On Laredo the fit is decidedly mediocre. The flared tree means it rides too low on a horse without big shoulders or high withers. It has a real tendency to shift on him if I don't really snug up the cinch.

While the things I do love about it (the way it looks, the softness of leather, the fact that it is light and easy to carry around) have been enough to make me content to stay riding in it for a while, I have to admit every time I ride in Brian's saddle I get a little jealous. The Wade style tree fits all our horses way better than my saddle fits any of them. Also, the seat is so balanced, the stirrups are pre-turned, and the tree is rawhide wrapped hardwood (mine is fiberglass coated wood). It's a noticeable step up. But Brian's saddle also weighs over forty pounds. And while I'm working on a weight program that involves repeatedly pressing a 26lb kettlbell and I can now officially do a pull-up, forty pounds is more than I want to have to heave on and off of Steen's back and in and out of our tack locker on a regular basis.

So I've been waiting. We had some plans of placing a custom order for a lightweight Wade for my birthday this year, but when the time came I realized it felt foolish to spend that kind of a money for a style of saddle I've never actually owned. So we didn't do it.

Then I was looking at ranch classifieds site the other day, and I saw a saddle for sale. It was a simple roughout Lady Wade by McCall, which meant it was built on the same tree as Brian's saddle (so we know it fits all our horses). It was a really good price, the right size, and lighter weight than Brian's model. After a fevered evening of discussions and scribbled pros and cons lists, we decided to buy it. Brian called the shop in the morning... and learned the saddle had been sold.

But they had another one. It's almost the same in that it's the same size and built on the same tree, but the skirts are even trimmer and it's half rough-out, half smooth-out.

It's on its way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Little Ones

It's apparently been our week to do new things with the horses. Today our friend Adele brought her two sons out to meet Steen and Bear. Ben had been out before, several years ago, back when he was tiny and Steen was rather a less steady creature. Now he's quite a big bigger and more capable of doing a bit more. (Note: All photos and videos in this post are courtesy of Adele.)

We brought all three horses in initially just so the boys could see the full array, but put Laredo back out in the pasture before we got them on the same side of a fence with anyone. We took Bear and Steen outside.

Noah was quite focused on what he wanted. He kept pointing at Bear and saying, "Horse. Ride." We distracted him by letting him help with the grooming...

Back in the indoor arena, Noah was ready to go but Ben was hesitant. He said he didn't want to ride, but after watching Noah aboard the placid Bear for a few minutes, he changed his mind. I put him up on Steen.

Both the horses behaved beautifully, and the boys were utterly tickled.

We went through a number of different configurations. When they'd had enough of riding their own horses and wanted to switch, we did that. Then they dismounted again and spent a few minutes looking at the tractor and watching Brian lope Bear around a little. After that Ben expressed an interest in going faster. We weren't sure how well he'd be able to hold on at the trot, so decided I'd get on Steen and he could sit in front of me. Steen has an uber smooth jog, so I figured it would work out. At this Noah wanted to climb on with Brian too.

I've never ridden with a kid in front of me in the saddle. I wasn't worried about Steen. He was remarkable about all of this. He is so funny about kids. He's great with them: slow and gentle and trusting in a way he isn't with adults. Still, once we got going I wasn't sure about the trotting. Steen was steering nicely off my legs and one hand, but Ben didn't have what seemed to me a very comfortable position.

Luckily after walking around for a few minutes Ben decided he didn't want to go any faster anyway. So I handed him down to his mom.

They had another look at the tractor, came back for one more short, solo ride each, and then they'd had enough. We said good-bye and they headed home.

Brian and I lingered for a short ride in the indoor. Steen's leg is making visible daily progress now, so I wanted to give him another light workout today. We milled around for a few minutes then played a slow game of cow. It's hard to win if you are the cow in such a small place unless one of us utterly blows a turn, but it was fun anyway. I kept Steen at the trot and he gave me some very nice stops and turns.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback hours YTD: 141:55

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our First Haul

Today we were invited to trailer with Cathi and her daughters and some other friends over to some local trails. This is the sort of thing we daydream about doing all the time but never have, lacking our own truck and trailer and also not knowing where to go around here.

When I lived in Arizona, I had literally unlimited miles of trail right out my back door. Things are different in Iowa. While we've learned a bit about how to explore along the gravel roads and fields of people we know, it's not the same as riding on a defined trail.

So we were keen to go along. We knew it could be a long ride over varied terrain, so I wasn't going to risk Steen this close to being healed. Which meant I'd  be riding Laredo.

We'd never loaded either Bear or Laredo before (though obviously they have both been hauled). We didn't have an opportunity to practice, and due to some logistics involving Sylvia's pony, Bear had to go in first. He was a total champ, following Brian into the trailer without hesitation. I brought Laredo next, and he stepped up with no problem as well.

In the trailer, Bear looked a little worried but Laredo was his usual laid back self. We drove. We unloaded. We tacked up. I climbed on. Laredo felt great. He was a little more energetic than usual, but happy to listen to my legs as we warmed up a bit before heading out.

On the trail, things went pretty well. Initially Laredo wanted to really walk out, so I had to work on keeping him off the horses in front of us. This is always challenging for me. With Laredo in particular, steady pressure on the bit gets you nowhere fast, and he was a bit distracted by the excitement of being out with a group. I had to work on finding the right amount of pull to adjust his speed.

Our first hiccup came when we reached a water crossing. The water was murky, deep enough to be almost to the horses' knees, and there was a slick mud slope on each side. Laredo marched right up to the muddy down-slope, then slammed on the brakes. He stood considering for a moment, then tried to hop around and go back the way we had come.

I was ready for him, and blocked him before he could go anywhere, using my heels and hands to tell him the only way he could move was forward. He looked at the water again, tried to turn again. I blocked him again. He stopped again. Then he just stood still.

One of the other riders, Heather, offered to come back across to see if he'd go with another horse. She rode her mare, Rain, into the water and up to Laredo, turned around and started slowly back across. I gave Laredo a nudge with my heels. You could almost see the lightbulb go off in his brain. He trucked down the slope, through the water and up the other side.

Next came Sylvia, who didn't want to cross and had to be encouraged by her mom, and finally Brian on Bear. Bear didn't even turn a hair. He tromped right through like it was nothing.

We continued on up a trail and into some woods. Laredo was still a little inclined to walk faster than the horse in front of him. I was concentrating very hard. I had to correct him a lot,  but I wanted to make sure my corrections were just and my releases complete. I also was trying to ride well, to move with him but encourage a slower walk with my seat. It was quite mentally demanding.

Still, Laredo was good. At one point another horse bumped into him on a tangled, narrow part of the trail, and he hopped around a little trying to find a place to go but didn't kick or get bent out of shape at all.

Then we got to a section that was mostly downhill, and that was the hardest part of the ride. Laredo wanted to hurry on the downhills, so I got into the habit of checking him at the top and making him wait so he had enough room, so I wouldn't have to drag on him when he was halfway down. He didn't like being held back very much, but he put up with it.

The best part of the ride came after we finished our loop and returned to the part of the trail that would take us back to the trailers. Heather offered me the lead and I took it. Laredo was able to move out and I could give him his head. He was great, walking fast, looking around, but not spooking. He did hesitate at a couple scary trees, but I was always able to get him to move past them.

After about twenty minutes of leading, I could feel Laredo growing fatigued. I fell back a few horses. The remainder of the ride was great. He was slowing down, so I didn't have to check him anymore. In fact we worked on moving in and out of the trot to keep pace with the faster leading horses. Going through the water on the way back was a non-issue.

It was getting dark as we pulled their saddles and loaded them up, but again both Bear and Laredo stepped up without comment. We hauled them home and put them back in the pasture in the dark. All in all, the outing was a great success. It was such fun to ride somewhere we'd never been before, and so affirming to know our horses can handle new experiences with such equilibrium.

Ride Time: 1:50
Horseback hours YTD: 141:25

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Return of the Double Ride Day

Today I got to use my new mecate. And I have to say, it looks pretty darn good on Laredo. It felt good too. The mane hair just has so much more life than the nylon I've been using on my snaffle. I particularly noticed it during groundwork. There was a lot more energy to the communication.

Things went well once I got on too. I only rode Laredo for half an hour today. His energy level was good and the return to more consistent work is already having an impact. He's starting to trade in the hay belly for better muscles in his haunch and shoulder, and he's feeling stronger underneath me again.

We spent most of the ride at the walk and trot, but at the end I took him down the strip for a lope. He is a fast learner, and he must have been able to tell from my body language that I intended to take him down to the drainage, turn him and lope him back up. He walked slower and slower the closer we got to the drainage, and right before we turned he stopped walking entirely. I encouraged him through the stall with my heels and got him pointed up the strip again. Then he didn't want to go. He dragged along at the trot and only finally picked up the lope for about three strides and dropped it again.

I gave him brief rest (because a try is all we're looking for at this point), then turned him to go down the strip again. He stopping walking and refused to go forward before we were even halfway down. I gave him a few medium nudges with my legs, but he was wadded up enough I thought too much heel might make him buck. So I took the end of my new mecate and experimented. It's a tad longer than my old one, and it turns out I can reach his butt with it.

I started with just a flick of my wrist that resulted in a very soft pop, and it was a good thing I didn't start with more because Laredo spurted forward straight into a trot. I went with that, and trotted him to the drainage, turned him and asked for the lope.

He shot into the lope like I've never felt before. I gave him his head and let him run. He went all the way up to the top and I let him stop near Brian and Bear. Then I just hopped right off. I figure getting off his back is the biggest reward I can offer him for putting out all that energy for me.

I handed Laredo to Brian, took Bear back to the pasture and got Steen. We had another nice ride. It was considerably colder today than it has been the last two days though, and the cold always makes Steen lively. He was a bit more unsure about the fertilizer tanks and overall a little more touchy than the last two days, but his behavior was excellent so I can't be too critical of him. His leg is still looking good and I continue to think the light rides are helping with the healing.

Back in the pasture, I took a photo of Laredo and Brian, just to prove we haven't let our three year old turn into a marshmellow.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 139:35

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thirty More Minutes

I enjoyed my solo trip to the barn so much yesterday I decided to do the same thing again today.

We takes loads of photos. Only every now and then do we get a good one.

It was another beautiful day, and I had another wonderful ride. The herd was scattered and waaay way out on the big hill in the big pasture. Steen saw me when I got to the gate out of the middle pasture, and came all the way in to greet me. He even loped part of the way.

Steen the white dot on the hillside.

My knot had come out of his tail. But fortunately I'd done some research and practice and was prepared with a better technique. I tied a new knot before the ride.

My attempt at a war knot.

Hopefully this one will last until I see him again tomorrow. The good news is the thuja zinc made a lot of progress on the rain rot in just one day and his cut is just looking better and better. I actually think the light rides are helping, possibly because of the increased circulation to the leg. So hopefully it's only a matter of another week or two before I can let his poor tail down for good.

We had another super mellow ride. We worked on resting further down on the strip than Steen generally prefers to go, and on not being scared of the fertilized tanks and tractors. I worked on picking a line through the grass that was off the fence and walking exactly where I wanted. It sounds trivial, but this is the sort of thing I couldn't do at all a year ago. We also worked some on pivoting and leg yields. We again keep things mostly at the walk with just a couple brief periods of trotting. He was great about everything, although I could tell when we were trotting he was really ready to give me a lope, should I ask for one. Not yet, buddy.

After the ride I got a business call I had to take and Steen stood without moving an inch while I talked on the phone for about 15 minutes. It's so nice that he's just as well behaved when I work with him alone as when we've got Bear or Laredo out with him.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback hours YTD: 138:35

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What A Year

Sometimes it seems the years go so fast. But at other times you look back on what's changed in 365 days and it blows your mind.

Today is my birthday. (I'm thirtysomething.) Last year on this day Brain gave me a hackamore. It was the first hackamore either of us had ever owned. It took us quite some time to figure out how to tie the mecate onto the bosal. (We didn't know the bosal should be shaped and the mecate soaked to help it soften.) I had never ridden in a hackamore before, and didn't do a great job my first few rides. I was inclined to cling, to ride with my reins too short and not make a large enough distinction between yes and no. Things went fine in spite of us being such rookies. It's just evident in retrospect I didn't know exactly what I was doing.

While I'm still far from being a hackamore expert, we've learned a lot in a year. We ride both Steen and Bear primarily in the hackamore now, and the change has been very positive for both of them as well as for Brian and me.

This year Brian gave me another mane hair mecate for my birthday. This one is for my snaffle headstall. (My other one has ruined me forever. Nylon will never feel nice again, I fear.) He also gave me a pair of spurs, a few flowers, and a treat to have with afternoon tea.

The shortbread has since mysteriously disappeared.

The rope is similar to my old one, but tan instead of brown, and with one strand white instead of black. It's neat to compare the new to the old. My one from last year is so soft now.

New rope on the right, old rope on the left. Both still have a long way to go before they're fully broken in.

Brian had to work a long day, so I decided to celebrate with a solo (easy) ride on Steen. I spent a long time cleaning his leg before I got on. He's now got an outbreak of rain rot below the cut, so I'm trying to get ahead of that. But the cut itself is making progress. It's a little smaller every day.

After all the cleaning I tacked Steen up and took him out to the strip. It was a gorgeous day: sunny and in the mid 50s. Steen was bit hot, actually, so that ensured things would stay mellow.

Fighting to say awake. The sun is soo warm.

The ride was tame by any standards. We just ambled up and down the strip, stopping now and then to bask in the sun. We worked a little on figure-eights, circles, stopping and backing. Steen was great. We had two very brief trotting sessions. I fed him the last of his rehab supplement yesterday, and I'm happy to report I haven't seen him favor the leg in a couple of weeks. Today he felt smooth at the trot. So I'm hopeful once the cut finishes closing up we'll be back in business.

I only rode for half an hour, but it felt great. Sometimes a ride where you know you're not going to do anything in particular is a real treat.

Obligatory poorly framed solo birthday ride headshot.

Afterwards I did some more grooming and attempted to tie up Steen's tail in a way that will keep it away from his cut without wrapping it or bagging it. I don't think I did it right. We'll see if it stays in or not.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback hours YTD: 138:05

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Early Winter Riding

After the cold storm, we got a hard freeze, but the last few days have been nice: sunny and in the 50s.

Laredo has put on a bit of a hay gut with his winter coat, which isn't helping with his energy level. Yesterday I worked on trotting. We would trot for a few minutes and get some good things done, then stop for a long rest. It's actually surprising how difficult it is for me to really let him rest. I find after we come to a stop I am always wanting to work on something (soft feel, yield the hind, step the front over, whatever) mere seconds after we stop. Really just sitting on his back and letting him absorb what we just did takes some effort.

But the resting is having a positive impact. Laredo did not shut down at all during the course of the ride, and although at the very end he was starting to seem fatigued, even late in the ride we were accomplishing a lot. I worked on a figure eight pattern that involved trotting one half and walking the other, and tried to make all turns and transitions without the reins. It didn't work all the time, but we had several full circuits where I didn't use my hands.

He's actually not nearly as fat as he looks here.

Ride Time: 0:50

Today we had a great ride. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we started with something auspicious  Although I didn't mention this at the time, on Saturday we had a bit of a milestone moment with Laredo. I was able to bridle him without unbuckling the headstall. I slipped it over his ears like you do with most horses. We've been working up to this for a long time, and I've found the key is taking a long, long time to sooth him between when you take his halter off and before you offer him the bit.

I succeeded in bridling him without unbuckling the headstall again today, and we headed out to the strip. There were fertilizer tanks parked all along the bean field, so we started by investigating those and doing some groundwork. Then I swung on and we walked around a little. Again, I'm amazed at how much I can use my weight to influence Laredo's direction. He's smaller and less physically developed than our other horses, and hasn't ever learned not to pay attention to his rider's position. When I shift he just shifts with me. It's like magic.

I spent a huge portion of our ride on an utterly loose rein. After lots of walking and trotting, we ventured out into the soybean field with Brian and Bear. We had a number of long, long trots, during which Laredo never got forward or chargey. I was prepared to circle him if he got too goey, but it never happened. He also wasn't sluggish. We'd go way way out into the soybean field and trot all the way back to the barn. Laredo just trucked along like a trooper the whole time. When we got to the top of the strip, I let him rest.

At the end of the day, I did a few runs at the lope. Yesterday he was great about loping, but today he was pretty tired. He picked it up okay, but didn't stay in it for long. One thing Martin Black talked about with the young horses at the clinic is to not nag them for doing what you want them to do. So when you have a young horse who isn't entirely comfortable at the lope, don't ask him to lope then kick him to keep him in the lope. Let him lope and while he's loping, remove all pressure. When he stops loping, reward him with a rest. Only then should you ask him to lope again.

This goes against what most people think. I can't count the number of times I've heard riding instructors yell, "Don't let him drop it." Today (and yesterday) I let Laredo drop the lope, and rest, in hopes this will make him more inclined to pick it up the next time I ask for it.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 137:35

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chilly Sunday

Today we got buckets of rain. While it was raining, it stayed relatively warm but after the storm passed temps began to plummet. We headed out to the barn in the early evening because we knew at the very least Steen would uncomfortable.

He was. He met us at the gate, nickering and shivering. We took all three guys inside, although Bear and Laredo were not at all uncomfortable. We turned them out in the indoor, where Steen immediately rolled about eight times then started rearing. Total dork:

We toweled them all down, moved them around a bit to get them dry, gave them all a snack and put them back out. We're not supposed to get any more rain tonight, so I'm sure even the delicate Steen will be fine.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I was excited to get on Laredo again after everything we saw and learned at the Martin Black clinic. There was one young, green horse in the group of riders that often bucked when asked to lope, and a couple of other horses that were kicking up for various reasons. It was great that Laredo has just recently started to develop this habit and at the clinic we got to see Martin guide several people through dealing with it.

One of the interesting things about Martin Black is he consistently points out that the problem is not what you think it is. So in the instance of a horse that is cutting off part of a circle, the problem isn't that the horse is cutting the circle. The problem is the horse wants to go over to his buddies or barn or wherever he's trying to get to by cutting the circle.

With horses bucking or kicking out while being ridden, Martin said the problem is either a horse that doesn't know his job, or a horse that knows his job but doesn't want to do it. So you need to work on making the job clear to the horse, and motivating the horse to do the job.

Our biggest challenge with Laredo is definitely motivation, and it was interesting to watch Martin Black help the one rider on the super green horse work with getting the horse more comfortable with things. Martin was careful to never push the horse too far, but when the horse did act out a little, Martin ignored the behavior.

There was one major thing we took away that I think is going to be key to our work with Laredo. The number one way to motivate a lazy horse is to let that horse rest. Rest is the key to getting a horse that doesn't want to go happy to move out. Rest is the key to helping a horse absorb what it just learned. Rest, and not demanding too much too fast.

We've made so much good progress with Laredo, I think the last few weeks we've been getting ahead of ourselves. We came back from the clinic reminded that he is only three. He is still new to all this, and both physically and mentally immature.

Today we rode out in the big pasture. It was the first time we've ever ridden Laredo out there, and the first time we're ridden out there at all since last fall. We kept things very simple, going up and down hills and stopping to rest a few times. I worked mostly on steering with my seat and weight and was amazed how much I could get done. I hardly used my reins the whole ride.

Laredo was good. He walked out at a good pace, though he got stuck on a couple of the downhills. Instead of getting impatient with him when this happened, I stuck with him and tried to be encouraging. Towards the end of the ride he went down two steep inclines without hesitation.

It was great fun to ride out in that space again, though the reason we went out there ended up being rather sad. We had noticed we hadn't seen Mo around for a few days, and got worried about her, so we decided to ride out and look in all the nooks and crannies to make sure she wasn't down somewhere. Our search didn't turn her up, and later we learned she was put down while we were out of town. Sad news. Although she was old and lame, she was really good friends with both Bear and Steen. They will certainly miss her.

Bear and Mo by the windblock

Steen and Mo napping in the sun.

At the end of the day, we put Steen back out in the pasture. There's a big storm rolling in and although he's not fully healed, we think he'll be more comfortable with his herd.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback hours YTD: 134:05

Friday, November 09, 2012

Getting Better With Age

I've been feeling a bit bad lately that my horse's injury means I'm putting the lion's share of time on Laredo, who Brian and I are supposedly sharing. So today we did a swap and I rode Bear.

Bear is in great shape lately. The extra hours we've been putting on him to compensate for Steen being out of commission are really showing in positive ways. He is well-muscled and not at all overweight. He's energetic and responsive and seems to like his job.

We rode on the strip. My primary goal was to make the ride pleasant for both of us. We started with a lot of walking since in cooler weather Bear needs a longer warm-up. I worked a little on some of what we learned about pivoting on individual feet at the Martin Black clinic, and was surprised at how much success I had with this even on Bear, who I don't know as well as Steen and Laredo.

Later in the ride, I worked on figure-eights. I often find when I ride Bear I use my hands more than I seem to on our other horses, but I know Brian can walk (and sometimes trot) figure eights on him with no hands. So I decided to set my reins down and see what I could get done. This was a really good decision. I learned that Bear is just not quite as soft to my leg as Steen is, and the result is I often ask with the leg and get no response, which makes me come in with my hands. But I found when I used my leg just a little more firmly, I got a lot more response. We even managed a few figure eights with almost no hands.

At the end of the ride I did a couple of straight lopes up the strip. I always seem to lope Bear in a circle, even though I know loping in a circle is not always physically easy for him, and loping with a rider he doesn't know that well tends to make him nervous. I don't know why I don't lope him straight more often. We had a couple of beautiful runs up the strip, and at the end of each I let him rest and relax.

It was fun to ride Bear, and it's particularly nice to feel like I can hop on any one of our three horses and have a great ride.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 135:05

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ridin' High

We were out of town Thursday thru Monday. We went to the Chicago area to audit a Martin Black clinic, which was great. The setting was small and intimate, only eight riders and a handful of auditors. Martin gave all the riders a lot of one on one attention, and we learned a whole lot by watching.

Tuesday was an ohmygodihavesomuchworktodo day for me. I had asked Marissa to apply the spray to Steen's leg while we were out of town, and I hadn't heard anything from her, so I was reasonably certain things were fine. Still, I was more than ready to get out to the barn when Brian got home from work today.

I was hopeful heading out that the leg would have healed a lot during my absence, so at first I was pretty disappointed when a very grubby Steen greeted me with a scab on his leg that seemed just as big as the last time I saw it. I brought him in and looked more closely, though, and saw that it has indeed made a lot of progress. The scab is in that flaky stage, where bits of its break off at the slightest provocation. The swelling right below the cut has decreased even further.

The ankle was a bit puffy again, though, so I decided another day of light work on the strip would be good. And after a little discussion with Brian I went ahead and put Steen's saddle on too. Our vet told me about two weeks ago that I could ride Steen if I wanted, but that seemed super premature to me. Today I thought the main thing we needed was some mobility. And I'll be honest. I love Laredo and Bear but I'm really, really missing riding my own horse.

I had to tie my mecate back on my bosal before I could put the hackamore on, and as I stood there working on that Steen kept reaching towards me with his nose. When I finally went to put it on, he was "helping" get his head into the bosal with so much enthusiasm I could hardly get it on him.

So we went out to the strip and did some groundwork. Steen was FULL of energy, putting a lot more effort into every movement than was strictly necessary. When I had him trot on the line he would give these extra little hops with his front end every time I had him change directions. I almost looked like he was doing a little dance. It was hilarious.

Finally I got on. Steen seemed so TALL. I walked around for a few minutes feeling like I was sitting on a phone book or something.

He was also really revved up. He was more than ready to get to work. He was blowing his little signature half-snorts every other step, and he was moving out with as much energy as he could put into a walk. After so much time on the lackadaisical Laredo, it felt great. I mean really, really great. Steen has his faults, to be sure, but taking time away from riding him and working more with other horses really only reinforced how much I adore him and how well we suit each other.

Of course I couldn't exactly do anything to use his energy up. My plan was to ride for no more than 20 minutes, walking only. So I worked on a few things we learned at the clinic. Martin Black talked most about three things: where the feet are, where your weight is, and being careful not to pull for more than an instant.

I've thought a lot about my weight in the saddle for a long time, but one thing Martin Black did differently was encourage people to exaggerate shifting their weight and then ask their horse for a little movement. Seeing where the horse went would do a lot to illustrate how their weight was affecting their horses' ability to move. He also emphasized the difference between leaning and actually shifting your center of gravity. You can lean and still stayed centered on the horse, which doesn't help your horse at all.

He also said at one point, "Think of it like you're on a giant beach ball. If you rock your weight back, the ball will roll forward. If you rock to the left, the ball will go right. Use your weight the same way on your horse."

It's amazing how you can read and think and watch and try and struggle to get a concept through your thick skull, and then suddenly one person can say one thing and it all becomes clear. For some reason the beach ball analogy struck home for me.

So while I was working on walking Steen around the strip, I played around with influencing his direction with my weight. Of course Steen is already responsive to my legs, but I do always have more trouble turning him right than left. I have thought this is because my left hip is weaker and less flexible, but today I realized its because I don't shift my weight correctly. Even though I think I'm taking my weight off that right front shoulder when I ask for a right turn, what I'm really doing is leaning a little to the left and keeping my center of gravity right in the same place. Derned right side dominance.

Steen was great. Soft to my leg, soft to the hackamore, and I might be making this up but I swear he was just as happy to have me on his  back as I was to be there.

After dinking around on the strip for a while, Brian and I meandered down the drainage. Steen walked out like a champ, but in spite of the snorting and extra energy, never did anything other than walk. Heading back to the barn his energy came up an extra notch. I made sure to let my hips go with him and keep lots and lots of slack in the reins. We made it back up to the top and did a few more circles. He did pick up the trot once at the very end, but dropped it when he felt me move my hand to pick up the rein, before I could even make contact. What a guy.

The swelling in the ankle had gone down by the time I got off, and the leg looked otherwise the same. So I'm going to keep a careful eye on things and maybe do a light ride every few days until the scab is gone entirely.

Ride Time: 0:20
Horseback hours YTD: 134:05

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Some Steen Time

This leg injury has had so many complications I'm hesitant to say it is healing for fear of bringing some change for the worse down upon us. But I'm going to say it anyway. Steen is getting better. The end is finally in sight. The large swollen ridge below the cut has started to go down, which is good except it is draining into the ankle, so that is getting puffy. I thought some light work might help break up the inflammation, so instead of riding Laredo I spent yesterday doing groundwork with Steen.

He was pretty filthy when I got him out, but he seemed happy about the long grooming session. And when I took him to the strip he was eager to head out.

We did a lot of really light groundwork, starting with leading and progressing to other things. Steen was unbelievably good. He put effort and energy into everything I asked, but wasn't spazzy at all.

I was happy to see he was moving well. He's not lame on the leg any more, though after we worked up to trotting I did see him turn on it and have an "ouch" moment. Although the wound is closing up, I think it's going to be another few weeks before his extensor tendon is fully over the trauma. So mostly we kept things very slow.

We worked on stuff like picking his feet up with the rope. I've done this with him before, but this latest accident was a good reminder to stay on top of these things. Our vet said if Steen had struggled any harder, this could have been a whole lot worse. Of course there wasn't anything I could have done to keep him calm about the electric shock part, but a horse that gives to pressure on the legs doesn't fight if it's caught up in something, which can save its life.

Backing and moving off pressure was great all around, but the most touching thing was the way Steen was when I wasn't asking him for anything. He would put his head down and stand with his forehead just in front of my torso. Once when I petted him after he did something really well, he nickered at me. His whole attitude was (and here of course I am anthropomorphizing terribly) almost of relief. I think he was happy to be doing something again too.

And I have to say, it felt great to spend some non-injury-related time with him. I've had Steen 4.5 years now. I've never owned another horse that long, and I've certainly never taught a horse as much as I have taught Steen. I know him better than I know most of my friends, and I've missed working with him.

The movement did help the ankle get less puffy. Afterwards I let Steen graze while Bear and Brian finished their ride. Although he's been hanging around doing nothing but eating good hay for weeks, Steen was highly enthusiastic about snarfing down all the fresh grass he could manage. In this shot below you can see the healing leg wound on his right hind and Brian on Bear off in the distance.

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