Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Little Show

Well, 2013 is still a bit slim on the saddle hours. We've had rotten weather and my work-load continues to be rather heavier than is ideal.

But, today we went by a show that some of our barn peeps were riding in to watch the competition. I am not very into the show world and I don't think I ever will be, but it is interesting sometimes to see what goes down at these things. I try not to be an overly critical person, but I have to say an hour at a show is about enough to leave me sick to my stomach. The percentage of horses in that ring that were happy and relaxed was infinitesimal. People who looked like they were having fun was almost as rare a sight.

At any rate, I will not digress too far. We watched our girl ride in a handful of classes, and I found I am inept at judging these sorts of open shows. Apparently what I consider good horsemanship and what the judges admire do not overlap much.

After the show, we went  out to the barn and had a nice little ride. I rode Steen. He's definitely getting back in better shape, and was keen to go. So worked on loping a fair bit and some fun things like simple lead changes and hard stops. He seemed to be having as much fun as I was, which is always a nice feeling.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 5:45

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fun With Spurs

I've been riding consistently for over 20 years now, and while I do have quite a few experiences under my belt, the thing I love about working with horses is how the learning never stops. You never know when you're going to have a new "first." For instance, today I rode in spurs for the first time.

What took me so long, you  might ask? Well, a number of things. As a child and young adult, I was entirely anti-spur. I thought spurs were overly harsh.

Over time, I've come to learn that a spur is just a tool. Like any other tool, it can be used properly or improperly. When used correctly, a spur can give you a more precise point of contact and thus refine communication. Also, a bit of well applied spur here and there can help to soften and liven up an unresponsive horse.

Still, even after changing my mind about spurs, I didn't have occasion to use them myself. For one thing, Steen is such a sensitive horse, it was quite a lot of work just to get him not to rocket off when he felt my calf touch his side. For a long time, the thought of riding him with a spur on seemed like an invitation for a train wreck. Even now, though he's to the point that he'd be fine with spurs, I don't see the point with him.

But now we also have Laredo, and his default energy level is almost as far to the opposite end of the spectrum as you could get. Some days his inertia can be frustrating.

Since I'll be riding Laredo regularly for the foreseeable future, Brian got me a set of spurs for my birthday. They turned out to be too narrow for my boot heel. We exchanged them, but then we were out of town for a while, then we were out of the swing of riding. I just kept leaving them at home.

But today was the day. Last night, temps plunged. It was in the teens when we were getting ready to go for our ride. I knew I was going to be on Laredo in the indoor arena, and it seemed as good a time to strap on the spurs as any.

We found everyone in the pasture, fluffy and cold. We brought Laredo and Bear indoors and moved them around for a few minutes to allow them to warm up their cold muscles. Laredo was in a super playful mood, switching back and forth between chasing the ball around and trying to induce Bear to romp. We let them have fun for a while, then groomed and tacked. Bridling went much better today, and then I took Laredo back to the arena and mounted (being very careful not to gouge his butt on my way up).

Laredo is a good size for me. My spurs are on the short side, with rounded rowels. Where my leg hangs, it does not take much effort for me to engage them. I wanted to let him know I had them on first thing, so I used them to ask him to step his hindquarters one way and then the other. He complied, not seeming at all bothered by the sensation of metal instead of boot heel.

We moved on to other things. I stuck with my recent strategy of keeping the ride varied and somewhat fast. We worked on trotting out, trotting circles, and stopping. Once he got near the ball and he wanted to go play with it. In my attempt to block his swing, I gave him a rather firmer bump with the spur than intended. He straightened out and went back to paying attention to me, but didn't get upset.

I decided to see how his lope would be. I asked him to pick it up, and he was slow to get into it at first, so I brought my heels in and engaged both spurs. I didn't kick him, just dug in just enough that he could feel them. He sort of stuttered in place, then took off, leaping into a fast, powerful lope. I disengaged the spurs, of course, and let him run, but made him stay in the lope until things smoothed out quite a bit.

We kept up the same things for most of the rest of the ride. We worked on moving through the gaits, and also stopping and moving individual feet. He was moving his front end from side to side quite nicely and freely off just a very soft ask. His lateral flexion at higher speeds is also improved dramatically since my first ride on him after the break.

We moved in and out of the lope quite a lot, and I think the frequent transitions were fun for him. Between lopes he was giving me one of the happiest, most energetic trots I've ever felt from him.

The crowning moment of the ride was at the very end. I asked for a lope. He picked it right up and we went about a lap. Then I shifted into a post, asking him to trot with my body only. He came out of the lope into a perfect, balanced posting trot. We trotted half the arena, and I asked for the lope again. He moved straight into it. We went another 3/4 of a lap or so, and I sat down and said woah. He slammed on the brakes and stood there looking rather pleased with himself. We'd accomplished all this without my hands so much as moving.

So, all in all, it was a great ride. At the end of the day, I don't think the spurs had a huge impact. After all, I barely used them. But I do think with Laredo it doesn't hurt to have the extra option, and at any rate it's always good to have another tool in my kit.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback hours YTD: 5:00

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Out in the Sun

Today was sunny and in the 50s! We seized the opportunity to ride outside.

It was great to be back on the strip. I rode Steen, and he was full of energy from the start. For the most part, he wasn't misbehaving, but it was one of those days I could have pointed him at the horizon and opened him up and he'd have been in a gallop in a heartbeat.

Early in the ride, I worked on simple stuff at the walk and trot, with one short lope thrown in. I can really feel how weak Steen's back and hindquarters are as a result of his injury, so I worked on exercises to help him re-engaged behind. We did short serpentines, and also I would trot him out in a straight line and turn him in a teardrop shape to head back the opposite direction without slowing down. When we get this right, it forces him to bend nicely and scoot his hind legs up beneath him to get through the turn. All of our trots were super fast, but I worked on just going with him and letting him move out if he wanted. I figure he can use the conditioning.

We also worked quite a bit on moving individual feet, and I had a couple stints of taking him out past our comfort bubble. The first foray down the strip was uneventful, but the second one got a bit nuts. I got down just past the drainage, and stopped to work on short serpentines. Steen has trouble relaxing and focusing on work when we're outside of our safe zone on the strip, so my hope was to get him to engage mentally with light but somewhat challenging work. Unfortunately Whisper was in the pasture right next to the strip, and apparently was feeling rambunctious. He started galloping up and down the fenceline right next to us. The first time he took off, Steen felt like he was thinking about going after him, so I bent his head around. His energy then came up to the point that it was just below meltdown point. I, of course, tried to occupy him with other things. I will say when he's that fired up, he moves like a dream. We backed two great, complete circles, hopped the front end both directions, did some sidepasses and leg yields and he was just soo responsive. But every time we came around a turn and started pointing back up to the top of the strip, he would drop his inside shoulder, straighten out, and try to plunge for home.

Of course these days Steen's plunges for home happen at the walk. At any point during any of this we could have walked back to the barn on a loose rein, and a number of times I asked him to stop and he stood quietly (if not willingly). However, all of it was in Steen's "my brain is half on" mode, which I do not like and am trying to conquer for good and all.

We'd been working on various things for many minutes, and he was starting to calm down a bit, when another outside incident interfered. Three teenage girls were out riding, and they decided to gallop their horses up the strip straight at us. They were borderline out of control. At first they were just laughing, but as they drew closer one of them started screaming and another one started yelling "woah" repeatedly while her horse continued to run full speed ahead.

I thought they were in trouble, so I dismounted quickly. I'm not sure what I thought I could do to help, but at any rate it didn't come to anything. They all got their horses stopped before they reached me.

I got back on, and Steen and I continued to make our way back towards the top of the strip. We trotted some circles and figure eights, walked some circles and figure eights and drew slowly closer and closer to where Brian was riding Laredo. Finally I could feel Steen's brain reengage fully.  I pointed him at the top, and he walked quietly back up to our comfort zone.

Once there we did more trotting, more precision stuff, and more bending. His trot stayed fast all day though.

Anyway, in spite of the antics, it was a nice ride, and a productive one. It's good to know at least half of his Steen's brain will stay with me if there are galloping horses and madness all around.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback hours YTD: 4:30

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


We probably could have ridden outside today as it was warmish and dry, but I was pretty tired and I also felt like another ride indoors on Laredo would be a good to build on the things we worked on last time.

We started with a difficult bridling. There was some dried dirt and ickiness behind Laredo's right ear, and he wasn't happy about my efforts to scrub it off before the ride. As a result, he was already in a defensive mood before I even picked up the bridle, so it took several minutes of face petting and baby steps to get him to relax and take the bit.

Once I mounted up, though, things felt good. We worked again on a lot of the encouragement focused stuff from last ride. Our first trots were energetic, and just when I was thinking I might ask for a lope, something with a loud motor started up outside and he rocketed into one with only the barest encouragement from me. This was easily the fastest lope I've felt from him. He was really moving.

Since it was only almost my idea, I made him keep going for quite a few laps more than he would have chosen to go on his own. He was fast but smooth the whole time. We did many laps and once or twice he tried to drop the lope so I gave him a tiny pop on the butt with the end of my mecate. When I did ask for a stop, he dug in and planted it. He stops from behind naturally, and he's usually pretty happy to slow down, so we're getting some seriously quality stops out of him already.

Laredo's also been feeling a bit more physically  mature to me lately. He'll be four this spring, and he's gotten a lot broader in the chest recently. His back is short and strong, and his gaits are increasingly effortless and smooth. I can't wait to see how he looks in early summer when he's back on the big pasture and all shed out again.

The rest of the ride went very well. I tried to keep things light and just have fun with him. We loped quite a few more times, and he always picked it up nicely and never got upright or crabby. We did some nice trots as well, plus some work on the routine.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 3:15

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Things to Remember

We rode in the indoor arena again today. Steen wasn't quite as energetic as he was last ride, and he was thinking a little more than I would have liked about going to the middle of the arena and standing still. This is habit that surfaces now when we ride indoors. Basically what it amounts to is a very minor pull to the center of the arena whenever we switch from doing one thing to doing another thing. So, for instance, we'd transition from the trot to the walk. He'd dip towards the center, I'd pull him back with the hackamore. We'd walk for a minute and I'd ask for a slight bend. He'd dip towards the center, I'd pull him back with the hackamore. It gets more pronounced the faster we were going, so if we lope a few laps and return to the walk, it's more of a dive to the center than a dip.

Really, the problem is a result of the fact that we don't ride indoors very much, and when we do they tend to be kind of lazy rides. In spite of me going out of my way to rest him on the edges and do plenty of work in the center, some rides Steen just does this.

My problem is this: it annoys me. Instead of focusing on all the good things we have going on, I get obsessed with this one little thing. I correct him and correct him and correct him and it doesn't seem to make any change. Because it's such a little infraction (it only takes a teeny pull on the hackamore to get him back on track) it feels over-reactive to do much about it. But this ride I finally decided I should see if I could address it more directly. Three times in a row, when he made his little veer towards the center, I tried to block him with my leg (as usual). If he ignored that, I took the slack out of the rein, waited for a heartbeat (as usual), then instead of pulling with the small amount of force I knew he would need to get him straightened back out, I gave him a serious, hard pull back onto the track I wanted him to be on.

The first, time, it surprised him a lot. The second time, he really woke up. The third time he got even more awake. There was no fourth time. After that, he was listening to my legs like a dream. We went on to do some lovely work at all three gaits, including some excellent no-handed figure eights. Brian caught the tail end of these on video:

So this is just another reminder to me to avoid that gray area of feedback like the plague. Medium corrections don't accomplish a thing.

The other thing I need to remember is Steen has had four months of little to no saddle time. He's still physically and mentally recovering from a major injury. The trap I fall into with him is I get on and he immediately feels so much more sophisticated than Laredo, it's easy for me to hold him to an unfair standard.

Luckily, by the end of the ride I had remembered these things and I think we both ended up feeling like we'd gotten some good stuff done.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 2:25

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Back on the Kid

We're definitely having a somewhat lackadaisical start the year in terms of riding. But the weather is never great in January, so we tend to figure we'll get out there when we get out there and not worry too much about how often it is.

Today it was time to get Laredo going again. Ever since he had his slight shoulder injury in the fall, we've been riding him only lightly. But we now figure he's had plenty of time to heal, and it's time to get back to his training in earnest.

Bear also seems to do the best in the winter if he gets ridden pretty regularly (exercise helps keep him less fat and more limber) so we decided on the way to the barn I'd be the one to ride Laredo.

I tacked him up, and he was good, although getting the bridle on was a bit slower than it has been lately. He's still not entirely over his ear issues, though they are nothing compared to what they used to be. There's ice and snow and mud everywhere outside, so we were confined to the indoor. We have hardly ridden Laredo inside. The last time we did, Brian was on him and he got a bit grouchy about loping.

Ever since the Martin Black clinic I've been thinking a lot about Laredo's laid back personality and how to keep him from becoming resentful of work. I started out the ride with a lot of flexing and yielding the hindquarters.  He had about a month off with our vacation, so I wanted to make sure he was soft.

Then we got going. I worked on moving him out a little bit at the time. When he was walking slowly, I'd ask for a bit more speed. If he picked up the pace, I'd immediately back off and give him some pets. We moved from working on extending the walk to moving into the trot. I kept the trots super short at first. I'd let him pick it up, go about one side of the arena, then stop him and give him a little break. Over the course of a few minutes, his trot departures got considerably more snappy and he had more energy in his trot.

From there we moved on up to loping. I did what I saw Martin do with the young horse in the clinic who had a tendency to kick out while loping. I moved him into the trot, asked him to leave the trot, and then stopped asking him for anything as soon as he loped. We had four great, short canters this way, each one more energetic than the one before, each with a decent breather after we stopped loping. We never loped more than about a quarter of the arena, but his transitions and energy were great and he never got bunched up or hoppy.

Then Brian and I worked on the routine. I worked on using my seat and legs and keeping my hands soft when I did have to use them. I was astonished at the energy Laredo was putting into his trot. We were out-trotting Bear at times.

We did the routine twice, then did a walk-trot exercise where we stayed half an arena apart. This went well too, and as the most physically demanding part of the ride. Laredo has a tendency to fall out of the trot to a dead stop, so we worked on trot to walk without getting stuck. Again, things went very well.

All in all, the ride went considerably better than I thought it would. It was one of those rides that left me thinking, "This is an awesome horse."

After the ride, Laredo was happy and relaxed. He's got such a shaggy, thick winter coat, he's definitely not suffering from the cold. In fact he's putting on just a bit of chunkiness around the middle.

My last ride on Steen, I tried to use the Strava app to track my ride, but it only recorded the first two minutes and the last two. This ride I tried a different app: Sports Tracker. While it did track the whole ride, I have serious doubts as to its accuracy. For instance it says we hit 18.8 mph, and if you look at the satellite scribble of my ride over a map, I seem to have gained a magical ability to pass through walls and fences.

I guess, at the very least, I know I rode for 45 minutes.

Steen was not very happy at being left in the pasture. He came to me the moment he saw us arrive, followed me around the pasture when I got Laredo, and came back to the gate when we put the other two away.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 1.5

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Home to Winter

After our weeks in sunny Arizona, getting back to Iowa (where there is snow on the ground and temps have been in the teens) has been a bit of an... adjustment. Between the backlog of work-related tasks and some work we're having done on the house, we had an unusually busy week and didn't manage to make it to the barn until today.

But this morning we headed out first thing and found the guys in the pasture. Steen made a b-line for the gate as soon as he saw me, but I was pleased to see his leg is clean, not swollen and he appears to be in good health all around. I think he was just happy to see me.

We took all three guys inside and turned them out in the indoor arena for a while, where Laredo entertained us by putting a surprising amount of energy and effort into playing with the ball. I had my new smartphone in my pocket, which means we get to start 2013 with some Not Highly Exciting Video:

After Laredo had his fun, we put him back outside and tacked up Steen and Bear. Swinging into my saddle felt great, and we went on to have a very nice ride. I was pleased that Steen felt strong and energetic. The first time I asked him to trot he felt like he could really go for a lope, so I tipped him into one and he felt really happy to just zoom around for quite a few laps. We worked on the routine with Bear and Brian, did some more figure eights, trotting, loping, leg-yields, etc.., but mostly just enjoyed being back with our horses.

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 Sum Up

It is now officially 2013. 2012 was a great year with the horses, and both Brian and I met our goals. My final  stats are as follows:

Horseback hours: 153:05

Here's a breakdown of the horses I rode:

And here are all my rides and how long they were:

So, that leaves us with our goals for 2013. Brian and I both going to try for 200 hours in the saddle. This is going to be an outside stretch for us, but I think it's worth shooting for. It will require us to lengthen our average ride, and we might not hit it. But we've reached our goals the last two years, so it seems worth putting it out there, even if we fall short.

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