Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Recap

Today is the last day of 2013, and I will not be spending any of it on horseback. So that means we get to do the official tally.

Total saddle time in 2013
200 hours, 10 minutes

Talk about barely squeaking over the finish line. This is the first year I came so close to falling short of my goal. Of course, it was also a big goal. But still. Tripping at the finish line would have been a bummer (even if it happened because all four of our horses were sick from bad hay).

Because setting goals and working towards them means gathering data, and also because I am a nerd, I have created three fun charts comparing various information from my last three years on horseback (I never kept track of this sort of thing before 2011).

So, it's certainly neat to see how my overall time with horses has increased, as has my time with almost all of our individual horses. (My time riding Bear was about the same this year and last.) Although some things didn't go quite as planned (for instance, I didn't really anticipate fully ceding Zoey to Brian and mostly taking over Laredo), it was definitely a year of learning. A year ago Steen was only just returning to work after his horrible fence injury, and I'd just gotten my new saddle. That saddle is not so new anymore:

Here's to happiness and horses and worn saddles, and a great 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finally, 200

[Herd update: Things appear to have equalized. I'm not 100% confident this whole thing is behind us. But I'm like 80% confident. So that is something.]

In some ways, this year has had some setbacks. Nothing major, but a glance back over 2013 seems to reveal a number of things that didn't go quite the way I hoped or planned. I suppose every year can't be the best year of my life, and certainly a whole lot of things could have gone a lot more wrong than they did. Nevertheless, when we were leaving the barn on Monday and heading for Chicago, it looked probable I would not meet my saddle time goal of 200 hours. But then Litefoot died, and we came back early. And so I had a few more days to ride.

And thus, today, on Laredo, I hit my goal. Woo.

It's possible I was slightly more excited about this than he was.

And one thing that has  been great this year is Laredo. He's turning into a really fun, solid horse. And the last couple of months since Brian and I decided to stop switching back and forth between Zoey and Laredo and focus on one each, he has gotten a whole lot more engaged and sweet. He even has more try. This is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but today it meant it felt like he actually seemed happy when I climbed onto his back.

Last winter he quickly got resentful of indoor riding. This year he's a lot happier to rattle off the things he knows. (Sidenote: Laredo is still experiencing some mouth discomfort, so he was a little distracted today. Our execution of things is a little flawed in all the videos below. But they'll give you the general idea...)

For instance, whirligig:

And backing a circle:

And loping circles:

And having the hairiest ears I have ever seen:

Even though he's still a total teenager, he's gotten pretty easy to be around. I'm looking forward to seeing what his five-year-old year is like.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 200:10

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Loss

On Christmas morning, we got the sad news that a horse in our pasture died. Of colic. This was after a different horse spent four days fighting colic and appears to have pulled through. Two cases of severe colic in short order is never a good thing, but in this case its particularly notable because in nearly six years years boarding at this facility, there has never been a single case of colic in the pasture herd. It now seems pretty likely that the bad bale was very bad indeed.

The horse stuff caused a bit of upheaval with our holiday plans. We stopped at the barn on the way out of town Monday morning. In zero degree weather, we brought all four horses in and got them moving around a bit. I was happy to see that Steen's mouth appeared somewhat better all around. The other three were also less hesitant to eat and showed good energy and alertness. We got on the road for Chicago feeling like things were looking up.

But then yesterday we woke up to the news that Litefoot had died. Apparently, it happened fast. At 2:30 pm on Christmas Eve he was fine. A few hours later, he was dead. The vet wasn't sure what happened. It was some sort of colic. The barn manager's guess is a rupture, as the vet couldn't feel much of an impaction. But whatever it was, the horse was in a colossal amount of pain until they let him go.

Litefoot was the only horse at the barn who had been around longer than Steen. Our barn owner picked him up when he was a yearling. My sister borrowed him a couple of years ago when she was out for a visit (back when I only had two horses) so we could all ride together. He was only 11.

My sister and me riding Litefoot and Steen in early 2012.

Of course, it was unbelievably sad to hear that a horse I have known for so long, have ridden, patted in the pasture, and seen pal around my our horses, was gone. But it was extra alarming because we thought the bad bale was gone, and the saga was over. The new hay was put out on Friday. Litefoot died on Tuesday.

My sister on Litefoot in April of 2012.

Brian and I had planned to stay in Chicago through the end of the week, but the news of Litefoot's death prompted us to head home early. We know both the barn manager and the barn owner are paying extra close attention to the herd. But still....

We stayed for Christmas dinner with Brian's family and loaded up the car this morning. We got to the barn in the early afternoon, and all four of our horses seemed fine. We brought Bear and Steen in and did a light ride, then brought Zoey and Laredo in and moved them around in the arena a little and assured ourselves they were ok. Steen's mouth no longer smells like a hamster graveyard, and he was only drooling a little. So again, we left the barn reassured.

Then we came home. Only to see on Facebook a few hours later that another horse in our herd is displaying colic symptoms.

Needless to say, we are not happy campers. But at least we're at home, fifteen minutes away from the barn, instead of off in Illinois. If something happens with one of ours, at least we can get there quickly. And if this latest horse turns out to need it, we can serve as relief crew for those trying to keep him going.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 197:15

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Bad Bale

It has been an odd week with the horses. On Sunday last weekend, Steen seemed much improved. We had a nice ride. I gave him more probiotics. I thought we were in the clear.

Year-end work has been nutty for me, plus I am still pretty sore. So again, several days passed before we made it to the barn again. Brian and I went out after work on Friday.

Steen came to me in the pasture, and immediately I saw there was something odd about his mouth. I took him inside and discovered that he was extra drooly, plus his mouth had a smell similar to what you might expect if a small animal crawled in there and died. I was about ready to get really alarmed when Brian mentioned Zoey's mouth also had big time stinkies. We brought our other two guys in for comparison. All four had varying degrees of extra drool and uber bad breath.

We called the barn owner, and ended up putting all four horses in stalls, giving them each a flake of nice hay, and waiting. All four chowed down with varying degrees of oddness. Steen would not touch anything with his lips. He would pick up hay with his teeth and then eat it. Laredo and Bear were a little less dramatic, but both were really unhappy with us poking around in their mouths.

Eventually, all four ate a flake of hay and produced normal poo. At a loss for anything else to do, we turned them back out.

We headed out again this morning, and found the situation largely unchanged. Steen was still super drooly and stinky. But I spent last night reading a lot about the various toxic grasses horses can ingest, and suspected we had a case of a bale that contained something bad. The herd got two new bales last night, so we're hoping it's just a case of working the toxins through their systems. In which case, exercise will help.

So I rode Steen in my ultra soft bosalita. I spent the first many minutes riding with my hands in my vest pockets. Then Brian was having trouble getting Zoey to take the bit (not normally an issue with her) and he noticed she had a couple of sores in her mouth. At this point, the barn owner was out, and when she saw a red lesion on Zoey's tongue she got pretty concerned. She went out and checked the rest of the herd, and came back in to announce that every single horse in the pasture herd has at least one sore in its mouth. While that wasn't exactly good news, at least it meant ours weren't the only ones having problems.

Since Zoey's lips were sore, Brian decided to ride her in the hackamore for the first time. That proved to be a good decision. They had a nice ride.

My ride on Steen was pretty good too. He had a surprisingly high amount of energy. We walked and trotted at intervals, did a lot of standing, and a little loping.

After the ride, we went out to take Steen and Zoey back to the herd. We checked on Laredo and Bear. Bear seemed ok. His mouth was obviously sore while he was eating his supplement, but less-so than Steen's and Zoey's. Then we saw Laredo. He apparently had busted a few of his sores open, and was drooling blood-filled saliva. He looked pretty miserable.

We hung out with him and petted him and bothered him by invading his mouth with our fingers. But there wasn't really anything we could do. The bleeding isn't significant enough to be life threatening. Removing him from his herd and putting him in a stall would only stress him. So we left him out there, which made me feel bad. But at least the barn owner and the barn manager are both going to be keeping an extra eye on the herd until this whole thing settles down.

The good news is there are two others herds at our barn who get fed the exact same hay, and only our herd is having any trouble. So fingers crossed this will end with that one bale, and we'll see some improvement tomorrow.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 194:55

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Steen and the Bad Tummy

We didn't get to the barn all week again. Much of the week was quite cold, and I was on a super productive roll with work for some reason. I launched multiple websites, got a logo design approved, and was pretty much just a rockstar on the professional front for like five days in a row. So at least if I wasn't getting to the barn I was doing something useful with my time.

Today Brian and I headed out ready for a nice ride, but Steen was behaving strangely again. He came to me in the pasture but was a bit agitated as soon as we got inside. I turned him out in the arena and moved him around with the flag. He was moving fine, he just had this restless, edgy air about him. As I tacked him up I noticed he had some evidence of diarrhea on his hind legs, and a minute later he produced something that looked a good deal more like a cow patty than horse manure. But his temperature was normal, as was his appetite. His energy levels were higher than usual. So I decided a light ride might be a good thing for him.

During the ride, he was good. In spite of clearly not feeling well, he was doing his best to listen and behave. I kept things really easy. Basically we walked around for 40 minutes. His walk was snappier than it's been lately, and while he would stop and stand, he was happier moving. We did a lot of figure-eights and circles. At times during the ride he seemed to settle, but it never lasted. Also during the ride he produced another cow-pie and peed twice. Another strange thing was that he was licking his lips almost constantly, the whole ride. Steen is not actually much of a lick and chewer, particularly when he's nervous, so that was very odd. After the ride he was a bit sweaty, which is also unusual for Steen, particularly considering how light and short the ride was.

After the ride, I gave him a serving of Bear's Platinum Performance plus half a tub of probiotics. Then we went out to check on our other horses. Everyone else in the herd seems good. When we were hanging out petting Laredo and Zoey, I noticed the hay in one of the two rings is pretty different from what I'm used to seeing out there. For the most part, the bales our horses eat contain the local grasses that grow around the barn. But this bale had some of the flat, leafy chunks I'm more used to seeing in alfalfa.

This didn't totally register with me at the time. We said goodbye to the horses, drove home, and I turned to the internet. After reading a few alarming forum posts about cushings, kidney failure, and diabetes, I came across a discussion of what can happen to a horse that eats too much alfalfa. Namely: excessive urination, loose stool, excessive thirst, and extra warmth. Those were Steen's symptoms to a t.

So, I'm hoping that for whatever reason they have a bale out there with some alfalfa mixed in, and Steen went a little overboard on the tastier than normal grass. I'll check on him tomorrow and dose him with more probiotics. Hopefully he'll cool it on the alfalfa party (if that's the culprit) and they'll eat through these bales a get back to blander fare.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback Hours YTD: 192:15

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Regarding the Changes Around Here

As much as I loved the photo of Steen's rump that was featured on this website for a good long while, it was time for a redesign. And this time it came with a larger project. I've redesigned my blog, Brian's blog, and built a little website to attach them together. The website is amatuervaquero.com. My new blog url is robin.amateurvaquero.com. Brian's is brian.amateurvaquero.com.

Why the website? In truth, I blame Zoey.

When Brian and I decided to get a 4th horse this spring, we did it because we like working with inexperienced horses. We find it very interesting and educational to work at reforming undesirable behavior. We learn a lot every time we get the opportunity work with an unfamiliar horse. Our plan was to keep Zoey for a few months, teach her as much as we could, then sell her.

It turned out there were a couple of problems with this plan. First, Zoey reminded us that horses don't follow a schedule. The way we train has no room for meeting deadlines. Her two minor injuries meant we couldn't work with her for a chunk of the summer, so selling her a few months after we got her would have amounted to consigning her to an uncertain future. We don't want to do that. Not at all. We have gotten attached to Zoey, and we want to find her a home that is right for her. We would want to do the same for any horse.

Thus, we discovered the 'buy a horse and sell it quickly' strategy is unlikely to be something that works for us as a viable plan of action.

However, since getting Zoey, we've had a few interesting experiences. One is I have a student now, and that student has learned a lot and has already been able to apply what she's learned to the horse she rides when she's not riding with me. She's reported a lot of positive changes. The second is we've had an opportunity to work with a couple horses that aren't ours to help with some behavior problems, and have been able to facilitate positive changes in a short time.

These two things combined to make us realize we could try a different approach to fulfilling this desire we have to work with more horses. Rather than keep buying more horses for ourselves, we could train other people's horses and/or give more people riding lessons.

So, the new website is to provide prospective students/clients information about what we do and how we do it. We'll see how it goes! And also, it's official. Zoey is for sale:

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Few Cold Rides

Cold came early this year, and I am still far enough away from hitting my goal of 200 hours in the saddle that I can't let weather derail me. Nevertheless, the weekends of spending hours at the barn and riding multiple horses is behind us for the season. I can deal with one bitterly cold ride, but after that I want to go home and get warm again.

This week I've been recovering from our accident. Although the worst is behind me, it's still painful enough to do things like move and pick stuff up that I didn't make it to the barn all week. But Friday was Brian's birthday, and around here we don't let a birthday pass without a birthday ride if one is at all possible. So we bundled up and headed to the barn as the sun sank on an already cold day. We had a pretty fun ride in the indoor arena on Steen and Bear. I kept warm by trotting a lot. The only benefit of the cold was we were the only ones around.

On Saturday Steen was in a strange mood. He was edgy during grooming. He wasn't doing anything in particular, but he was standing with his head all high and rigid like he used to way back in the day before he learned how to be a sane horse, and he kept staring at the big doors (which were closed). I did some work to keep his mind on me during tacking and grooming, then a bit of groundwork before I got on. He continued to be distractable at first, but after a minute or two of work on the line he seemed to come down a few notches. Then I mounted, and Steen took a couple steps before I was fully settled in the saddle. This was somewhat shocking. I can't even remember the last time he did that (it used to be a huge problem). We worked on backing circles and standing still before I asked him to go forward.

The rest of the ride was ok. He wasn't exactly being bad, but at first he was just sort of twitchy. I trotted him around and he was doing his rigid head-up-trying-to-see-everywhere-at-once thing, and his stride was short and choppy because of it. I decided just to trot figure eights until he softened up. And he did eventually. Then we trotted some more and loped a bit and he had a lot of energy. But finally he settled in and Brian and I worked on the routine, including loping the straightaways, and we actually had some very precise and synchronized passes. So I suppose Steen is still entitled to 'off' days. And if this is 'off,' I don't have much to complain about.

Today we went to the barn just ahead of a snowstorm to ride the 'green team.' Zoey was super jumpy starting out, and even Laredo was a bit restless and insecure during tacking and grooming. I rode him in my bosalita, and mostly just tried to keep the ride easy and positive. He had some good energy, and was very soft to the unfamiliar pencil-thin headgear. He was also finally seeming a bit less tight in the right side that's been seeming to bother him lately. We had some good trotting and loping in both directions.

Zoey was good too. She came in pretty riled up, but Brian was able to get her settled.

So, in spite of temps never making it out of the teens, I got three hours of riding in. Just 8.5 more to go!

Ride Time: 0:50
Ride Time: 1:05
Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 191:35

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Farrier and the Flag

I meant to post about this a while ago, but somehow never got around to it.

A couple weeks ago, the farrier came out. We needed all four horses trimmed, and Brian had to be at work, which meant I had to handle them all alone. It was cool and had been wet the day before, and I suspected our steeds might be on the fresh side.

Our farrier is absolutely fabulous, and I feel lucky to have him at our disposal, but he lives over an hour away and he tends to give a window for his arrival. So this time he said he'd arrive between 9:30 and 10:00. No big deal, except that means I feel like I need to have all our horses in and ready to be trimmed by 9:30, even though chances are better that he'll arrive on the later end of that window.

So, I went out with a plan that was contingent on no one else being there, and was happy to see the barn parking lot empty. I brought all four horses in, ferrying them two by two from the pasture to the indoor arena. Then I tacked Steen up and climbed aboard with the flag in my hand.

I've worked horses from Steen's back with the flag only a handful of times, and I've never tried to do anything particularly precise before. I started out just moving the three horses I wasn't riding. I wanted them all to move around and warm up before the farrier arrived. It was a little bit of a challenge to keep them all together, and to convince Steen he wasn't to participate when the group surged ahead or got uppity. In general, though, I was surprised at how well everyone did.

Then I stopped driving, and Laredo, Bear, and Zoey grouped up in the middle of the arena. I then worked on cutting one horse out of the group, moving it to the rail and keeping it moving without allowing a return to the herd.

It was interesting to see how our different horses reacted. I did Zoey first, and this was tricky because Steen didn't want to crowd Bear the way I needed him to in order to get her split off. We went around and around quite a few times, with her not really leaving Bear's bubble. Finally I booted Steen into the space he didn't want to squeeze into, and we got her off onto the rail. We practiced going and stopping and changing directions. Then I made her stand still while I rode up and touched her all over with the flag and rubbed her neck and face. She was uncertain about that at first, but settled down quickly enough.

Laredo was the easiest. He was very attentive to my position on Steen, and quick to stop and look at me when I got in front of his balance point. After I moved him around a lot, he had no issues with me riding up and touching him all over.

Bear was not a big fan of the entire undertaking. He was the grouchiest about going, and the most motivated in terms of getting back to the middle. This was during the phase when he really wasn't feeling well, so I tried to keep things pretty quiet and low-key with him, just encouraging him to walk around and loosen up so he'd have an easier time lifting his feet.

It was just over half an hour before the farrier arrived. When I heard him pull up I hopped off Steen and pulled his saddle, and we got to the trimming. All four horses were polite and relaxed with their feet. So it turned out to be a fun way to get four horses warmed up and in a good frame of mind with a minimal investment of time.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

One Armed Ride

Today I woke up pretty stiff. I've been trying to piece together how exactly I hit the ground. Since I had no warning and didn't actually leave the saddle before impact, it's surprisingly difficult to piece together what happened and where my injuries are. I think I sprawled with one arm above my head. I don't have any visible bruising. All the damage seems to be pretty deep in the muscles of my thorax. All I know for sure is my right arm isn't good for much.

Fortunately, I have my husband. After lying around all morning, I was ready to get out of the house. We went to the barn and he put my saddle on Steen for me. I managed to get myself mounted with only minimal gasping and flailing, and got my right hand situated in my vest pocket. Then we poked around the outdoor arena for a while.

Steen was stiff too, though it was minor. Still, we warmed up slowly. I rode in my bosalita, since the delicate reins are easier to manage with one hand. I figure it was good practice for the two-rein.

We walked around, and eventually my stiffness seemed to lessen. Steen was moving well by then too. I asked for a trot. Either Steen wasn't feeling ultra enthusiastic or he'd picked up on how gingerly I was riding, because he eased into the slowest, smoothest shuffle-jog I've ever felt from him. We'd have fit right in at a Western Pleasure show. It was kind of hilarious.

It wasn't much of a ride, but I did most of it one-handed. I usually ride with my right hand on the reins, which is a habit I'm going to have to break if I ever want to do anything with a rope from horseback, so it was a good opportunity to work on my left-handed skillz. Steen was good - light and attentive and soft. Eventually I got him into a bigger trot, and we even did a little bit of loping.

Midway through the ride, a new boarder arrived. Her new horse was introduced to part of the herd in the 'airlock,' which is a fenced area that runs between the outdoor arena and the pasture where our horses live. Brian and I rode Steen and Bear over to watch, and although there was a lot of snorting and prancing and the herd getting stirred up and galloped around like mad, neither Steen or Bear moved a muscle in spite of their evident curiosity. Two years ago, Steen would have turned inside out if I'd expected him to hold still with those kinds of antics taking place only a few feet away. Three years ago, I would have preemptively dismounted when I saw the new horse arrive, to avoid the danger and embarrassment of the spastic behavior I knew would emerge.

So in short, my horse may have fallen over on me, but I still love him.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 184:45

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The One Where I Fall Without Falling

I'm by no means to the point that I'm anywhere near running out of new experiences to have with horses. Nevertheless, it's not that often now that I encounter a scenario entirely beyond my experience.

But today I had one, and I hope it's the only one of its kind I'll have for a good long while. Today, Steen fell over while I was riding him. And it wasn't a 'fall to the knees and get up again' kind of fall. I've experienced those a handful of times. This was a fully fledged tumble, and it happened at the lope. One minute we were cantering along, the next we were both on the ground.

I'm not clear on what happened. We are both pretty ok. He has a sore rump, I have a sore rib-cage/shoulder girdle. Brian was off down the strip, so he didn't see. I know it was fast. I felt Steen's inside hind foot slip, and then we were down. Then Steen was up again and I could feel the get-down pulling through my belt, so I got up too. By the time Brian loped back up, I'd unlooped the get-down and was standing there with Steen while we both tried to recover from the shock.

Up until the fall, we'd had a great day. We rode Laredo and Zoey first. It was a beautiful November afternoon, sunny and in the 40s. We were all basking in the mild temps. The first ride was good except both Laredo and Zoey are struggling with minor offness. Laredo gets tight on and off in his left haunch. We can't figure out what causes it, and it's not anywhere near making him lame, he just doesn't bend as well when he has to support himself on that hind leg. Zoey has this pseudo-favoring on the right front that comes and goes seemingly at random. And they were both hot, and potentially tired from our longish ride yesterday. We rode  for 45 minutes, mostly walking and keeping things quiet.

Then we got Bear and Steen and headed out. There was a big tractor on the horizon working along the fenceline, and Steen watched it from time to time as we did our jaunt around the fields. Hunting season is just around the corner, and there were people out doing target practice on some of the surrounding land. I am not a fan of the sound of gunshots, and neither is Steen. He stayed with me the whole time in spite of being a tad edgy. At the end of the ride we had to pass a truck and some people. I could feel his nerves. Still, he held it together. A minute later, we loped up the strip he was balanced and soft in my hands. In spite of his uncertainty, he never did anything other than what I asked.

We made it back to the strip, and it was there I thought I'd canter a few easy circles. Over the years, I have ridden my share of unbalanced, sloppy canters. This was not one of them. Steen was balanced and moving nicely. He didn't spook. The footing was fine. We did a few straightaways. I nudged him into a circle. We did one full circle and then boom.

So, I don't know what to think. I'm not sure there's much I could have done to prevent the fall. I wish Brian had seen, or we had it on video, because I feel the only real benefit of having wrecks on horseback is what you learn from them. I'm not sure what my take-home lesson on this one should be.

At least we are both ok. That is the important thing.

Ride Time: 0:45
Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 188:40

Friday, November 29, 2013

Laredo and the Five Horse Arena

As I've mentioned before, the indoor arena at our barn is on the small side. I am not complaining about its size. I am grateful to have a place to ride in the winter, even if it's not ideal. Still, the fact that it is small comes into play to influence our rides sometimes.

Today we headed out thinking we'd have the place to ourselves again. We were wrong about that. Brian and I (and Zoey and Laredo) were the first two into the arena, but within five minutes we were joined by the barn manager giving a girl a lesson on Sassy. A few minutes after that, the barn manager's daughter came in on her horse, Smokey, and a bit after that another boarder entered with her horse.

That was five horses and riders in the arena, plus the barn manager with a whip who often had to help steer Sassy. Needless to say, things were a little crowded.

I was on Laredo, and he's pretty chill about most kinds of activity. My goal for the ride was to keep him energetic. After my handful of rides with spurs, I've feel like they are making him defensive. I've decided I'm not going to use them regularly, though I might put them on at intervals.

I've been thinking a lot about what we've learned at various clinics about horses that get bogged down in the details. At Buck's clinics, he tends to tell people to lope a horse across the arena if it starts to get dull. Martin Black has a similar strategy. I think Laredo's problem is he can lose confidence in himself when he's asked for something complex. If he starts out distracted or just not interested, that leads quickly to him throwing up walls and ignoring anything that happens after the first failed attempt.

So today I went out with a new plan. Basically any time I asked Laredo for anything and he responded with dullness or distraction, I kicked him into a trot or a lope, made him go a few laps around the arena, returned to the same place we'd been, and asked for the same thing again.

I have to say, it worked quite well. I only had to do it a few times, but every time we came back to the place we'd started and I asked for whatever we'd failed at a second time, he gave me energy and try. With Laredo, I don't care so much about him getting everything right, I just want effort.

Having all the extra commotion in the arena turned out to be kind of fun. We spent a lot of time in the trot, and any time half a lap of space opened up, I'd push Laredo into the lope for a few strides, then bring him back to the trot. It was good practice for both of us, and I think the combination of the varied company plus my modified method kept him more interested for longer.

Zoey did really well with all the chaos as well. She's turning into quite the little trucker.

This photo is from a week or two ago. I never used it but I thought it was pretty funny.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 165:55

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Ride

For the first time ever, Brian and I stayed in Iowa City for Thanksgiving. The reasons we stayed home were numerous and not worth going into, but the upshot was we had nothing to do other than whatever we wanted. No family of the non-equine variety to hang out with, no obligatory traditions.

So, of course, we went to the barn. We took Steen and Bear out and had another great jaunt around the fields. It was still medium cold -- around 30°, but the ground was not as hard as it was last time we were out. We walked, trotted, and loped around for well over an hour, checking out the frosted fields and drainages.

Both the horses were great, but Bear seems to have really turned a corner. He was moving nicely, had good energy, and just seemed perky and responsive in a way we haven't seen in many weeks.

After the ride, we put blankets on Bear and Steen. I'm still not a total blanket convert (I think both Laredo and Zoey will be better off without them) but our two older fellas seem to do better with extra clothes.

On this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for these guys:

The rest of our herd, too, of course. But these two in particular.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 185:35

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Winter has arrived in earnest, and a good deal earlier than usual, too. The good news is I don't find cold nearly as off-putting as I used to. My windproof insulated breeches plus my leather chinks provide a pretty impenetrable suit of armor for my lower body, and I have insulated boots and insulated gloves and a neck warmer and a helmet liner. I have a baselayer/down shirt/vest/sweatshirt combo for my upper body.

The benefit of having all these clothes on is it's easier than one might expect to stay warm in sub-freezing temps. The downside is there's a sort of overall muffling effect on communication as a whole.

This weekend, we rode both days but we did not ride twice each day. We thought we might, but in the end it's hard to finish one frigid ride and immediately start another.

We've had an interesting little reminder on how diet impacts behavior these last couple of weeks. As the weather started to cool, Brian and I started giving both Steen and Zoey a pretty good ration of SafeChoice grain after hard rides. I have long been skeptical about feeding grain, but recently with Bear's anemia I have been worrying there might be some deficiencies in the hay our horses get. I thought maybe some grain could help offset this by providing some things the hay might not. Also both Steen and Zoey can tend towards the lean side when they're getting a lot of exercise.

Interestingly, a short time after we started with the 'grain bombs' (as we called them), Steen started showing dullness under saddle and Zoey found a renewed reservoir of anxiety about being caught in the pasture. Several times in a row, Brian and I went out to get our horses only to have Zoey bolt from him the moment he got near her. She would then gallop wildly around with far more craziness than we saw even when we first got her. She'd use up so much energy going nuts before the ride, by the time Brian got on she hardly had anything left to give.

I don't know what finally made me connect it to the grain. I think it was one particularly explosive gallop initiated by nothing more than a brush of a rope on her neck. It's always frustrating to see behaviors you've worked so hard to fix come back up again, but in this case it was mystifying as well. We've been 'over' this for quite a while, and all of Zoey's anxiety-driven behaviors are much, much improved lately.

So I was trying to puzzle it out when I realized Zoey's new freakishness about being caught coincided exactly with when we started feeding her SafeChoice.

Their faces right after we told them they'd be getting no more grain.

We took both of them off the grain, and less than three days later Brian walked up to Zoey in the pasture and slipped the halter on without so much as a batted eyelash from her. Neither of us has had a problem approaching her in the pasture since.

Steen seems better off the grain too. This weekend he was back to being himself under saddle. He was far more responsive than he was the handful of rides before, which was a huge relief. Steen being dull was really freaking me out. So it's odd that the grain would cause Zoey to turn into a basket case about being caught and Steen into a sleepwalker, but I'm back to being convinced it is best to feed only hay (and supplements that address specific, identified, imbalances).

On Saturday we rode inside, but on Sunday we went out and poked around the snow-dusted, frozen fields. It was cold and breezy and the footing was not ideal, but the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I could feel all the extra layers between me and Steen. My insulated boots decrease contact between foot and stirrup. My gloves mean I can't feel as much subtlety in the reins. I even noticed the increased padding in my breeches, muffling my ability to communicate via my seat. It was interesting to me that the difference was so notable. I tried to use it as a chance to pay more attention to balance, and controlling Steen's speed by where my weight is in relation to his drive line. This was fun and interesting, and helped me maintain a bit more a 'hands off' approach to the ride. Both Steen and Bear were total champs about being out in sub-par conditions.

Bear seems to be doing better on the whole. He's back on the supplement recommended by the vet, and he's seeming steadily perkier in recent rides. We're hoping it's a permanent fix.

Horseback Hours YTD: 184:15

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Birthday Rides (2013 edition)

Somehow it never occurred to me until my birthday last year that I could give myself the day off to celebrate. In theory, a perk of running your own business is you can occasionally decide to do things like this for purely self-indulgent reasons. Of course, I almost never do.

But today, I did.

I checked my email once in the morning, replied to one message while waiting for the day to warm up. Then I went to the barn.

Of course I had to take the obligatory selfie-with-Steen birthday photo. He was not so into the tradition this year. Look at that stinkeye.

First, I rode Steen. Steen has actually been somewhat low energy lately. I initially thought it was just because he's getting more and more relaxed with his work, and really loves his new roo-hide bosal. But the last couple days it has seemed like more than that. When the vet was out to do teeth a couple weeks ago, he also took fecal samples, and today we learned that Steen has a pretty bad infestation of worms. Laredo has a decent one too.

Knowing Steen has that to deal with until the meds kick in, I wanted to cut him a little more slack today and try to just enjoy the ride at whatever energy level he felt like outputting. I tacked him up, and put my birthday gift from Brian on my saddle.

Can you see it? Hint: It's red.

After a warm-up, we went out and did one loop around the big field. We did this almost entirely at the lope. Steen was happy to go, so we just stayed going. I'm not sure I have ever loped him quite that far in one go before. It was fun. His lope is getting so much more balanced and steady. We can actually lope downhill without feeling like we're about to fall.  Then we did a lot more trotting and loping around, all just undemanding, fun stuff. It's really nice to ride just for fun every now and then.

After riding Steen, my plan was to ride Laredo and head home. But then I got into a chat with the barn manager, and because it was my birthday and I had no real agenda, I ended up talking to her for a really long time. By the time I walked out to get Laredo, Brian was done with work. So he came out to the barn to keep me company on my second ride.

I rode Laredo in my spurs. I'm still struggling with 'try' issues with him, and although in general things have gotten a lot better, there are moments I need to make a bigger statement with him, and I just don't have the size and strength to do it. My hardest kick falls into Laredo's 'medium' zone, which means it just dulls him. This is a big obstacle with things like lateral movement -- moments I don't have a hand free to give him a little pop on the butt with my mecate to remind him to wake up and focus.

So I'm going to ride him with the spurs for a while. I hope this will accomplish two things. 1) Get him light and lively enough so that I don't need spurs to motivate him. 2) Get myself accomplished enough communicating with spurs that I can wear them more often. I have ridden in spurs less than half a dozen times to date. I mainly don't use them because I'm not good at using them. I only know of one way to get more proficient.

Laredo is fat right now, which means my feet are actually pretty high up on his sides. Which means the spurs are very much there, and any sloppiness in my foot or lower leg will lead to a bump.

We were both pretty aware of the spurs throughout the ride. Laredo was more energetic and motivated from the moment I climbed on. He was far more responsive to the spurs than the last time I rode in them, which is  a good sign, overall. At first he was a bit irritated by them, but I worked on using them to communicate in ways that weren't uncomfortable for him, and he got happier about them. And they helped a lot a few times when he got stuck or his motor died in the middle of something.

Nice soft leg-yield at the walk.

It was a nice ride. At the end we had some good loping. He was really 'on' by then, and I was amazed at how much trajectory control I had just using my seat and balance. We loped along the rail for a while, then did a few small circles, then did a pretty steep turn and parked next to Brian and Bear, all without me using my hands or legs, just seat.

I will say one thing for Laredo. When he's with you, he's kind of amazing.

In other news, Bear has also really, really been dragging lately, to the point that Brian and I have been quite worried. We had some bloodwork done when the vet was out, and his results came back showing he's anemic again, plus has elevation of his muscle and liver enzymes. The vet sounded optimistic though, and suggested we get him back on the supplement that we gave him last time he was anemic, and this time leave him on a maintenance dose for the foreseeable future. Fingers crossed this will be the ticket to getting him back into a happier place.

Ride Time: 0:55
Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 179:50

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time with the Kid

Since Brian has mostly taken over riding Zoey lately, I've been spending lots of time with Laredo. And it's been neat in a number of ways. Since we got him a year and a half ago, Brian and I have switched back and forth working with Laredo consistently, usually alternating rides. While this is great in some respects (helps him be more versatile, gives us the ability to have in depth conversations about his progress) the downside is you don't get quite the same emotional attachment on either side, or quite the same level of individuation in terms of his understanding of subtler cues.

Lately, I've been riding Laredo in my new roo-hide hackamore. It fits him nicely, and it's interesting to see the different way he responds to its feel. Since it's so much smoother and softer over the nose, I feel like it's great for working on holding collection more. My other hackamore can get kind of scratchy when it's engaged. This one doesn't do that at all.

I didn't really expect to notice a huge difference in the way Laredo responds now that it's essentially only me working with him (for now), and I haven't noticed a huge change. But I have noticed a small one. He's coming to me more quickly in the pasture. He's showing a bit more affection and engagement in small ways. So that is interesting.

One day this weekend we found his lying down in the sun. I walked up and petted him and haltered him. I've never had another horse who will just let you touch him all over when he's lying down.

The main thing I've been focusing on with Laredo lately is cadence. Our biggest struggle remains moving with energy, all the time. I've lately realized I can only give Laredo a break when he's not moving. With Steen, that is not the case. I can let him walk between exercises and he'll get a nice mental break. But with Laredo, if we're doing anything other than standing, I have to stay vigilant to keep him in a good cadence, or he just gets dull and distracted and I end up validating a behavior I'm trying to fix.

Since realizing that, things are better. He is learning that when I'm asking him to move, he needs to move with quality and energy. Always. No matter what.

Which is good, because when I can get his energy to stick around, we're finally able to start working on lateral movement. We've been working on tipping the hind in and out at both the walk and the trot, and have finally achieved some consistency with leg-yields. This all comes back to energy, as it used to be that I'd ask for a lateral movement and Laredo would just die on me. No forward movement means no lateral movement either.

We've had some longer, more demanding rides lately, both mentally and physically, and he's doing well. Zoey is doing well too. She's really thriving now that she has her 'own' person. It's pretty neat, both for her and Brian. This weekend we had the two of them out on the strip, and after a pretty long, decently challenging ride, they were really happy to stand side by side and doze in the sun.

Horseback Hours YTD: 176: 25

Sunday, November 03, 2013

First Ride in the Two-Rein

Today (after an excellent ride on Laredo) I rode Steen in the two-rein for the first time. It was definitely interesting. Steen took the spade willingly enough, but once he had it in his mouth he spit it out. I gave him a moment and put it in again, holding it in place gently with my hands while he explored it, then slipping the headstall on when he didn't try to jettison it again. I let him stand there for a while. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of those first few minutes. He was making some funny faces, though he was clearly not upset, scared, or in any discomfort.

After a little while, he settled down and started rolling the cricket and looking more like his usual self. Hearing the cricket made me happy, because that's a sign the horse is relaxed enough to work their mouth, and is at least on the right track towards accepting the bit.

After he seemed relaxed standing there wearing the bit, I took him to the indoor arena. I walked him around for a while, and he was rolling the cricket and showing no signs of any sort of agitation. So I hopped on.

The extra reins felt awkward at first, but since I was keeping the romal reins longer and only engaging the mecate, it wasn't all that different from what I'm used to. Still, in the early part of the ride all the work I've done on leg-only steering payed off. We started with circles and figure-eights and I didn't use my hands at all. Steen was even more relaxed walking than standing, and soon we were walking and trotting circles and figure eights while I experimented with different hand positions and he got used to the feel of the bit in his mouth.

And really, Steen did well. He stayed pretty ok with everything. He played with the cricket on and off throughout the ride, and was salivating a lot. At times he had a kind of funny expression on his face, but overall his demeanor was relaxed. Even though I wasn't using it, the bit did cause some changes in the way he moved. He was overall lighter on the front end, particularly with regards to how he moved his shoulder through turns.

After a  thorough warm up, we progressed to loping on the rail, followed by some simple lead changes. Never through any of it did Steen start to seem agitated or perturbed (and with Steen you know if something is bugging him). A couple of times when we were standing I gently engaged the spade, and he gave to it laterally and vertically without any confusion or fuss.

So, overall I'm pretty pleased with how the ride went. I had a slight worry the bit would not fit Steen, or wouldn't work for him. You read a lot about different horses having different needs in terms of what bit will work,  and I don't exactly have a dozen bridle bits for Steen to choose from. Fortunately, all signs seem to point to go. Brian took some photos and video, and even at higher speeds and in more complex maneuvers, Steen never braces or gets upset.

It's also interesting to feel how a horse moves wearing a spade. It's something I've heard about and read about and seen, but it's kind of impossible to quantify, now that I've felt it. Even one ride in, it's caused some small adjustments in the way I think about balance, particularly while turning, and I have a number of little things I'll be thinking about and feeling for the next time I ride Steen in the hackamore. My plan from here is to use the two-rein at intervals, and in between the two-rein rides, continue to refine and advance what we're getting done in the hackamore.

The first time I saw Buck in person, he talked about the bridle horse progression on the last day of the clinic. His words made an impression on me, mostly because I could tell how deeply he felt about this tradition, and this way of training horses. He said something along these lines:
"You might start teaching a horse these things in the snaffle, and you might think 'You know, this is good enough for me.' And maybe it will be. But then you might put a hackamore on that horse, and you're going to feel something different, and you're going to think, 'Wow, this is pretty great.' And then you're going to ride in the hackamore for a while, and one day you might wonder about the two-rein. And then you'll ride in the two-rein, and you'll feel something you never felt in the hackamore. And then maybe you'll work the two-rein until you're straight up in the bridle, and you're going to end up somewhere you couldn't have imagined when you started out. And then, when you're in the bridle and that's working for you, you're going to see all the things you could have done better in the snaffle, so you're going to want to start all over again."
I have to admit, when I heard him say this I had already 'decided' I was never going to be interested in progressing past the hackamore. Riding in two reins sounded complicated, and spades looked evil.

But Buck was right. When you ride this way, you train the horse to hunt a feel. What you don't realize at first is you're teaching yourself the exact same thing.

Ride Time: 1:05
Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 168:50

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Getting to 200

At the end of 2012, when Brian and I talked about our riding goal for the next year, we picked something that would be difficult. We agreed 200 hours would be a stretch. Of course, we're aware some people ride 200+ hours in a week, but considering we both have full time jobs that don't have anything to do with horses, 200 hours on horseback is a lot for us to fit in. (OK, maybe 200 in a week is impossible, but you get the idea).

Brian is on track with the goal, but I am a little behind. At the start of November I had 165 hours. In the true winter (once we're confined to the indoor arena) it is harder to really rack up the time, so my goal is to make the most of any remaining good weather we have. I'm hoping to get down to the single digits by the time December rolls around. This might mean riding every day, or close to it. But November is my birthday month, so I figure I deserve all the barn time I want.

Today, we made good progress. I logged over 2.5 hours or riding, starting on Laredo and switching to Steen.

The horses are all doing pretty well. Zoey is finally all healed up, and we have found she seems to make more consistent forward progress if we're not constantly changing riders on her. For this reason (plus the fact that she seems to be a bit more relaxed with Brian in general) Brian has been doing the bulk of the work with her lately. This means I've been riding both Laredo and Bear a bit more than usual, and that is fun.

I've also got some exciting new gear for Steen. We have finally purchased our first spade, and now have a complete two-rein set-up. In the near future I'll introduce that to Steen.

But since I know I'm not going to be able to make a 100% switch, and my experience with the roo-hide bosal I got to go under the spade bridle illuminated for me just how much Steen's old rawhide hackamore was inhibiting our ability to communicate, I also got a 1/2" roo hide bosal from Martin Black, and happened to find a gorgeous 1/2" Doug Kraus mecate on ebay to go with it.

I rode Steen in the new hackamore for the first time today, and it fits him very well. We had a nice ride on the strip. The most interesting thing I'm finding with the roo hide bosals is how much more willing Steen is to collect and hold collection in them. In his old hackamore, he'd get a bit upside down if I tried to keep him in frame for more than a few strides, but today we worked on staying collected for minutes at a time, particularly at the canter.

Even at the lope, he's softer than he's ever been before, and I'm looking forward to being able to focus more on simple lead changes, lateral movements, and the handful of other things I know we need to make progress on before we can really embrace the two-rein all the way.

Ride Time: 1:15
Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 166:40

Monday, October 14, 2013

Slimming Down

The title is not actually referencing me, or any of our horses. (Most of them are putting their winter 'padding' on, so are doing rather the opposite.) No, I'm actually talking about a bosal.

Brian and I got our first hackamore two years ago. Brian gave it to me for my birthday, and neither of us had ever seen a bosal in person (much less ridden in one) so it was a bit of a crapshoot in terms of knowing what to get. While it's a nice bosal, over time I have come slowly to understand it is not a great fit for Steen -- physically, or in terms of how it communicates. To sum up, it gaps at the edges of his nose, and it's stiff for him.

I've known this, but I haven't precisely known what to do about it. Lately, though, Brian and I have been talking about moving Steen into the two-rein. This is a tricky decision because I know he's not ready for it, but I suspect I won't know entirely how to get him ready until I try. Poor Steen is my eternal guinea pig. I have not ridden in a two-rein now any more than I'd ridden in a hackamore two years ago. We're learning as we go, and you gotta start somewhere.

Anyway, long story short, we've been drooling at two-rein stuff on the interwebs, and a week or so ago we came across a lightly used 3/8 bosal and mecate on ebay for a song. We couldn't resist. We bought it (to someday go under Steen's two-rein bridle) and of course, I had to try it out.

The new bosal is considerably thinner than the old one. It's also roo hide up top, which makes it much, much softer. It fits Steen like a dream, since it's soft enough to conform to his rather narrow nose.

Fitting is one thing, but I honestly wasn't sure how Steen would respond. Holding it in my hands before the ride, it seemed like nothing -- so soft, so flexible. Since Brian was riding Zoey in the outdoor arena, that's where we had our first ride in the new gear.

It turns out my reservations were ill founded. Steen loves the new hackamore. I have never felt him so light, so soft, so willing to collect, to move off pressure. I knew the old bosal was too harsh for him, but I didn't fully realize what it would be like to be able to communicate with him without that block between us. After a few calibrating laps, he settled in to the new set-up and was clearly just happy.

He was relaxed at all three gaits, happy to go, happy to stop, and when he backed, it was like nothing I've ever felt from him before. He rocked back on his haunches and pulled from behind.

After I rode around for a while, Brian got on. And although Steen was a little keyed up at first (because, you know, Brian isn't me), he settled in and before long, was giving Brian many of the same soft responses I felt.

Today, I wanted to try the new hackamore again, and in a less controlled environment. I went out alone and rode in the tree pasture. We had another great ride. I tested the limits in terms of how much Steen would feel at higher speeds, but even when I let him rocket from one side of the pasture to another, he was there and able to come back to me when I picked up on him. It's also so much easier to work on holding collection for longer periods, as I can encourage him into a deeper frame without causing him any discomfort.

So, definitely a better all-around response than I expected. I'm very curious to ride in it a bit more and see what happens as the newness wears off.

Horseback Hours YTD: 156:45

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Two Interrupted Rides

We got a fair bit of rain last week, and there were some storms forecast the weekend as well. The farrier was out on Thursday, and all four of our horses got their feet trimmed.

Zoey is healing slowly. Brian rode her briefly last Sunday, but she was favoring her injured leg a tad at the trot, so he got off as soon as we saw that. We figured we'd give her another week before giving riding a go again. So Saturday we just took Steen and Bear out, thinking we'd have a nice fun ride in the newly mowed soybean field.

The ride started out great. Brian and I trotted out from the barn, up one drainage, then over to the soybean field. We loped up to the top of the hill together, then split up to work on various things independently. A newly mowed soybean field that's recently been rained on is fabulous footing, so Steen and I worked on trotting and loping circles, going up and down the hills, and overall just had fun romping around the huge open space.

A little while into our exercises on the hilltop, I noticed another horse and rider from our barn off in the distance. As I did circles and figure-eights on Steen, I could see them moving in our direction. Then I came around one corner to see the horse running the other way. For a moment I thought they were out of control, but then a moment later decided I'd been mistaken. They were far enough away it was really hard to tell. I kept working, but after a few more minutes it became pretty clear the rider couldn't get her horse turned around and heading in the direction she wanted, so I rode down to where Brian was working Bear and suggested we head over to see if we could help.

The rider was very grateful when Brian and I appeared. Her horse is the same age as Laredo, and she's had him about the same amount of time. He was apparently wigged out by the change in the fields. With the crops down, you can see a lot further in every direction. The time I'd seen them loping, he had indeed been running away with her, and now she couldn't get him to go anywhere but back towards the barn.

We offered to ride with her. She wanted to at least get to the gate at the far end of the property, so we went along. Her horse settled down once he had some moral support. I kind of thought we'd split off again at some point and do some more work in the field, but by the time we walked out to the gate and back to the barn, we'd been riding an hour and a half and decided to call it a day.


Today, we planned to ride all four horses. We started with Zoey and Bear, and rode in the indoor arena. Brian rode Zoey, and I rode Bear. That was a fun change. I rarely ride Bear, and he was good for me.

We mostly walked, with a bit of trotting and a few laps at the lope thrown in for good measure. Riding Bear is often a sort of time-lapse experience for me. I ride him just infrequently enough that he and Brian tend to make a lot of progress between my rides. He was very light to the hackamore today, and more enthusiastic about upwards transitions than I remembered. We also side-passed back and forth along the length of a pole, just for fun.

Zoey was ok for Brian. Her time off has resulted in a loss of most of the fitness we'd built up earlier in the summer, and she was a good deal more jumpy and nervous than she was before her injury. It's always a bit of a bummer to see that kind of backsliding, but I suppose it's inevitable when a green horse ends up needing so much time off. Her leg did seem better today, though there were one or two strides where she seemed to give a bit on that shoulder at the trot. The wound is fully closed and not at all tender, so light work seems like it might help break up any remaining tightness. Still, Brian kept the ride really short and easy, and mostly she seemed pretty ok with everything.

After ride one, we grabbed Steen and Laredo and headed out. We rode on the strip for a while, and Steen was amazing. Ever since I had my epiphany about using the hind end to control the shoulder, I've been riding Steen rather differently. So much of Steen's ability to relax under saddle comes from feeling he understands his job, and whenever I change the equation on him, even if it's only a little, there is a transition period where he's a lot more anxious until he 'gets' the new concept. We've been working through that anxious phase the last few weeks, but yesterday he felt good, and today he felt excellent. It's certainly been worth the work. Today we were walking in a circle and I played with influencing the placement of his individual feet in the turn using just my seat and a little life in my inside leg. Steen loves this kind of thing. He thrives on subtle communication, and it was great to feel we were clicking again. We walked and trotted and loped around the strip.

Brian was having a great ride on Laredo as well. It was a cool day, and Laredo had a lot of life and lightness.

After a pretty thorough warm-up, we headed out into the fields. Laredo was a bit amped. I've never actually seen him trot out with so much energy. He looked great, but it was clear the removal of the crops was having a similar impact on him as it had on the young horse who had freaked out the day before. By the time we got to the top of the hill in the soybean field, Laredo was looking around in a nervous, edgy way totally unlike the mellow dude we're used to.

We stood for a while, and Laredo seemed to come down a few notches. I worked on walking and trotting some circles on Steen while Brian and Laredo worked a little ways off.

I was going around a bend away from Brian and Laredo when I heard the sudden thunder of galloping hooves. I turned around to see Laredo in a dead-out sprint, careening down the steep soybean hill with Brian on board.

I watched as they raced all the way down the hill, across the drainage, and started back up the grassy slope on the other side. There, Brian finally had terrain he could work with, and he brought Laredo to a stop.

Steen was not so happy about being asked to remain on the hilltop while Laredo galloped off. I worked him in circles until he settled a bit, then we trotted down to meet up with Laredo and Brian, who were making their way back in our direction.

Laredo wasn't even tired, and Brian didn't really know what set him off other than the general anxiety caused by the massively changed landscape. We made our way home, working a lot on bending and trying to get both horses back into a better place mentally.

I don't know if it's a good or bad sign that it still felt like a decent ride in spite of Laredo's runaway. It is a bit of a bummer to see that behavior resurface, as we hadn't had one in quite a while. Nevertheless, Brian handled it well, and Laredo sure did look pretty when he was flattened out and sprinting for home.

We rode a while longer after we got back to the barn, and both horses settled in and gave us no more trouble.

Ride Time: 1:40
Ride Time: 0:40
Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 151:50

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Lessons and Visitors

I have apparently not quite settled back into consistent blogging mode, so another catch-up post it is.

The end of September was busy. I had some sort of strange illness that mostly amounted to me feeling kind of bad but not horrible unless I tried to do something physically taxing, at which point I would spike a fever and need to lie down. I kicked this just in time for a visit from Brian's parents. We took them to the barn on Friday, and had a great ride with them and our three geldings in the tree lot.

One thing I have perhaps not mentioned is we got a third McCall a few weeks ago. It's a used Wade Trail, similar to mine. We found it on ebay for a shockingly good price and just couldn't pass it up. We picked it up for two reasons. One, we want three good saddles that fit all our horses, and two, Brian has been thinking he might be more comfortable in a saddle with a smaller and narrower seat than the one he's riding now. The new saddle is both things, and though for various reasons it won't be the right saddle for him long term, it's a good one for him to ride in terms for narrowing in on the exact set-up he wants.

Fortunately I recently sold my Cashel, and Brian's old saddle is for sale as well, so hopefully we can keep ahead of the accumulation. I figure as long as we don't have more saddles than horses, we're doing alright. :}

So, we got Laredo, Steen and Bear all tacked up and went out into the tree pasture. It was nice not to have to relegate one of our guys to an ill-fitting rig. Cathy rode Bear, I rode Steen, and Brian rode Laredo. We had a fun and relaxing ride. Bear and Cathy got along really well, as usual.

After a while, we changed things up a bit. Cathy traded Bear for Steen, and Dutch climbed onto Bear. That went well also. I gave Cathy a few minutes of instruction on using only her seat to get Steen to transition upwards from walk to trot, then back down from trot to walk, then stop. I draped the reins over the saddle horn and held the end of the mecate for this, and she rode around me in a circle. It was neat to see her explore and figure out how to influence Steen without using her hands. Then I gave her the reins back and she rode around a bit on their own. Dutch also did quite well on Bear, so all in all it was a great visit.

On Tuesday I had a lesson with my student, who has missed a few weeks due to being out of town. Having a student has been a very interesting experience for me. It's one thing to know something, quite another to teach it to someone else, and still another to find a place where your horse and your student can meet in the middle in a place that doesn't frustrate either of them. On Tuesday, my student (we'll call her J) had hurt her back and needed to do something easy. Brian was with me as well, and had been thinking about riding Zoey but discovered she was still limping. So we ended up in the tree lot with our three geldings again, and had another really nice ride. J rode Bear for the first time. As she gets a little more familiar with the way I've pulled the rug out from under her in terms of everything she thought she knew about riding, I think it will be useful for her to get to feel all our different horses.

While we were riding, J told me she's been applying some of what she's learned from me to how she rides the mare she leases, and that she can already see a change for the better. So that was pretty cool to hear.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Laredo Weekend

With Zoey out of commission, we were down to three horses for the weekend. We decided to focus on getting Laredo out and covering some ground. His tight hocks seem better, and he's actually getting a tad chunky.

Yesterday Brian rode Laredo and I rode Steen and we were out for over two hours. It was a gorgeous day, sunny, in the 70s, and the grass has rebounded thanks to a few good rains. The crops are coming down but the landscape is otherwise green. We rode out as far as we could in one direction, turned around, did the same thing going another way, and finally headed home.

Steen was actually a tad keyed up on the trail, and every time we reached a spot where he knew which way led to home, he had a bit more of an opinion on which way we should go than I would have liked. I was able to work him through these moments and get him back into a good mindset every time, and he never spooked or acted out in any other way, so it wasn't a huge deal. Just not quite normal for him.

Today it was my turn to ride Laredo, but first I had a quick little ride on a new horse that just arrived at the barn. His name is Danny, and he will belong to the barn owner's 10 year old daughter. He's half arab, half quarter horse, and he's huge.

He's five years old, and doesn't have a ton of saddle hours under his cinch. I just walked and trotted him around for a few minutes, but I always enjoy the chance to feel another horse.

Then Brian and I hit the trail. And while yesterday Laredo had some spunk, today he was tired. And that made him a joy to ride. We did a lot of trotting and loping, and he moved really nicely the whole day.

The only part of the ride he had a bit of trouble with was crossing the short stretch of gravel that connects two of our grassy footpaths. He was a bit unhappy about going over this yesterday, but today his feet were clearly a bit tender on the rocks (he was fine on grass). On the way back I took pity on him, got off, and walked.

Our ride today was shorter, only an hour and a half, but it was great fun.

When we got back we brought Zoey in to clean her shoulder up. It's looking a lot better - is draining less and finally has a scab formed over most of it. So hopefully it won't be a whole lot longer before we can get on her back again.

In other news, Steen's right shoulder has suddenly gone all red and sunburned, so he's wearing his fly sheet again. I was kind of hoping he wouldn't need it this year. Hopefully it's just for a few days.

Ride Time: 2:00
Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 144:25

Friday, September 20, 2013

Three Great Rides on Steen

I had a little phase where my rides on Steen weren't going so great. He caught a little cold that was going around the pasture, and had a cough, but his cough seemed better the more I rode him so that made me feel like I shouldn't just give him some time off. Still, he didn't seem to enjoy being ridden all that much. He was distracted and buddy sour and barn sour.

While I can look back at what 'barn sour' and 'buddy sour' used to mean for this particular horse and recognize that what I was experiencing lately was not even dramatic enough to be a 'problem', and while I can definitely understand that a horse can't perform at the same level when they're not feeling well, these rides were a tad frustrating.

Life has thrown a few other things into the bucket as well. I seem to have hit my fall Brown Wing Studio boom, and the extra work stress has caused a flare-up of my convergence insufficiency. Roll all that together and we've had a few weeks where life hasn't been quite as peachy as usual.

However, this week things have turned a corner. We finally(!) got some rain, and that has the dust down. Since my last post, I've ridden Steen three times, once on the trail, once in the tree pasture, and once in the big pasture.

All three rides were really good. The buddy and barn sour issues we'd been dealing with when he had his cough are gone. Today, in particular, I just felt like I could point him anywhere and go where I wanted at any pace, any gait.

We spent a lot of time on top of the hill in the big pasture today. Steen and I worked on trotting and loping circles alone, and Brian and I also played some cow. It made me remember how a couple years ago just riding out into the big pasture was grounds for a breakdown. Today Steen was as mellow as they come.

I recently had an epiphany about the hind end. It's one of those ridiculous epiphanies I should have had years ago, because I've heard person after person talk about how important the hind is, and how you don't really control your horse until you've got the haunches, etc. etc. etc..

Somehow, though, a few weeks ago, I finally understood what this means. It started with Brian talking about a post he read on a forum. It was about the hind end. Brian blogs about this here. We chatted about the hind and circles and at first it didn't seem like we had covered any new territory. But then I went and got on a horse again, and this stuff rose to the surface, and I suddenly understood how the hind end influences a turn.

I can't quite put into language the level of revelational this has been for me in terms of feeling when a horse is balanced and when they are not. With Steen, we've filled a gap I've been aware of but unable to fill. It's the reason he still doesn't stop that great and will sometime feel unbalanced. It all comes back to the hind end. All of it.

So these last few rides, I've been thinking about the haunches and using my inside leg to keep Steen's hind in line with him every time we bend at all (as opposed to only thinking about the hind when we're doing a maneuver specific to the hind end). It's made a big difference. Any time he gets stiff, I just work on getting his loin soft and his hind under him and we go right back to feeling great.

Horseback Hours YTD: 141:45

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