Sunday, December 16, 2012

Busy Weekend

We had a lot to get done this weekend, largely of the "preparing for the holidays" variety. Saturday was dreary and rainy. It was pretty much wet all day, and instead of going to the barn we got copious amounts of very "responsible adult" types things done, like cleaning the house, and finishing our Christmas shopping. Fortunately we did offset that in the evening by having a night of port and horse videos.

We watched "Road to the Horse" from 2008. I have to admit, watching these are kind of a guilty pleasure for me. On the one hand, I don't like some things about the event. Mainly, I don't think it's the best thing for the horses. But on the other hand, it's so interesting to see the different horses and the different clinicians. We've watched the videos from quite a few years now, and seen trainers I've read about and learned form. My estimation of Martin Black went up a few billion notches when we saw him compete in 2006. Then when I saw Clinton Anderson in 2007 it did the opposite. I went from thinking he was pretty good to kind of hating him a little.

So, anyway, this time it was as interesting as ever, and more relevant than ever now that we have a young horse who comes up with not ideal answers to things sometimes. It is amazing what you can get a horse to accept in just a few hours, although I do tend to wonder how such an intense start pans out in the long run.

Today we had a lot more to do, but were determined to ride. We got a barn trip crammed in between printing envelopes for our holiday cards and a going away party for some friends. I rode Steen again. I guess I'm  having trouble resisting riding him now that I can.

We had another great ride. It was chilly again, but I put Steen's blanket on on Friday, so he wasn't uncomfortable when we got there. I wanted to do a lot of trotting today, and the cold helped motivate me.

I'm feeling some real differences in Steen since we got back to riding. I've ridden him less than a dozen times since his injury, and half of those were barely rides, when I just got on and tooled around at the walk for a few minutes. Maybe it's just the (somewhat unfair) contrast between him and Laredo, but he's just feeling great lately. I do also think part of it is the saddle. My old one was always a bit too wide in front, and that made it dip slightly. I didn't even realize it until it was gone, but I now think this was a major contributing factor in my annoyingly persistent tendency to lean forward a little and balance on my stirrups whenever things started getting less relaxed.

Today I continued my work in getting Steen out of his comfort zone. He's already showing some improvement. Our boundary has extended quite a ways down the strip, and his behavior when we're out of the zone is not as frantic. Today I took him way down to the entrance to the large pasture and worked on circles and figure eights at the trot. This was a little challenging as he was doing the thing where he would trot reallllly slowly away from the barn, then dive into the turn that would put him facing back towards the barn, then be stiff about the turn going away from the barn, etc.. But I worked on sitting back in the saddle, keeping my legs in the game and using my hands only as back-up. I also worked on not letting his speed get to me, and riding smoothly at whatever pace he wanted (as long as it was a trot.) We worked for quite a few minutes, until the diving was reduced to a slight pull, and then we stopped.

And here is where Steen can sometimes be a hard nut to crack. It's VERY hard to get him to relax out of his comfort zone. We stood for a few minutes and he did not relax. There was no sighing, not licking or chewing, and every muscle in his body was standing by waiting to be given permission to go back to the barn. So we went back to trotting and worked on figure eights for quite a few more minutes. Then we stopped again and again there was no softness in his body as we stood there. I thought maybe I should give him a little longer. He stood staring out into the big pasture, and then he either heard something or saw something I didn't, and his head came up a few more notches. I thought, "I'll just give him another minute to realize nothing is there. A second later his whole body started shaking, and I remembered that Steen can go a little nuts sometimes.

So I got busy pretty quickly at that point. I decided speed was not going to be our friend at that moment, so fell back to pivoting on one foot. I started with asking for the hind, and true to form I got way more steps than I was asking for at first, but I focused on being gentle, putting a little more bend in his neck and giving him a tiny break between moving each foot, but not enough time for him to get back worrying about whatever pasture dwelling monster was going to rise out of the grass and come eat us.

After a few minutes of pivoting he was back with me, and I decided to work my way back up to the barn. At first he wanted to do his power walk, so I worked on circling him whenever I felt his focus getting too much on going home. Each time we did as many circles as it took until I could get one that was even all the way around. These were great. We drew incrementally closer to his safe zone while doing something productive, and then way, way further down than usual, we got through his anxiety. In the middle of one circle he sighed. I stopped him and he stood quietly, head down. As we stood there he yawned, flicked his ears and licked his lips. Just like that, he clicked back over to awesome Steen.

When I got back to the top, Brian commented that we looked great down there. He says he thinks Steen is moving more freely in the front than he's ever seen, and I'm sure this is a result of my better posture thanks to the saddle. So I'm really happy with our little outing. Steen came right to the edge of freaking out, but he didn't actually lose it. In the end, he never took a single step I didn't ask him for. That's pretty darn good.

Steen is also backing really well lately. At the Martin Black clinic he talked about how most people lean back when they ask their horses to back up, which actually puts all their weight on the horse's loin, which inhibits the horse's ability to engage those muscles to go backwards. He suggests leaning forward slightly and getting your weight off the loin. I've been doing this with both Steen and Laredo and they are both lifting up and backing much better than usual. In this photo I'm probably leaning forward too much, but Steen is soft and engaged and going back quite well.

The footing was kind of soggy so we kept things at the trot. Due to another run away attempt by Laredo, Brian was trotting a lot of circles too. We rode for a bit longer than we planned, and we both got a lot done.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 150:20

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