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

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