Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Fever?

Today we got back to town from a trip to Chicago. We were exhausted, as the trip involved the arrival of our new niece and a lot of quality time with our 2-year-old nephew. But we rallied and got to the barn, and decided to ride Steen and Bear to keep things easy. We started in the indoor arena and at first were keeping things pretty mellow and low-energy. I worked more on rectangles with Steen, and also tried to start rocking his weight between different feet without actually moving them.

We worked on the routine a little, and had a horrible, sloppy run-through at the trot. So we decided to try it at the lope, and (bizarrely) it went much better. In spite of a lot of sharp turns and having to change leads twice, we made it through with pretty good synchronization. I think it was one of those things where we upped the challenge level by a lot and our horses stepped up.

Then we went outside and over to the second strip. It was the first time we'd been over there all year, and the guys were great trotting out.

We walked part-way back, then decided to trot. Bear hopped into the lope and I said we could go with that. I pushed Steen into a really pretty canter. But by then Brian had stopped Bear, then picked up the lope again, and something either got kinked up in Bear's back or he just got bent out of shape about something. He started hopping around and putting on speed, at which point I felt Steen's energy come up. He started doing the thing where he just pours more power into every stride. Pretty soon we were galloping.

I never felt out of control, persay, but I could feel that Steen was going to need to go for a while longer before I'd be able to stop him without some extreme intervention. So I said to Brian, "I'm not really in control right now. Are you?"

He said, "No, not really." So I said we'd better just ride them home. I experimented with a few pulls, but the footing is still soft and also there has been a lot of trenching work going on around the fields. There are areas that look solid but are full of sinkholes. I was more concerned about using my leverage for safe steering than to achieve a stop.

Brian, on the other hand, worked on some pulls until he got Bear stopped, and as soon as Bear stopped running, Steen came right back to me. All in all they were running for about one minute (according to my GPS report) and topped 20mph.

Once they were stopped, they were fine. I mean totally fine. Even Steen was completely willing to walk home on a loose rein.

So it was an interesting little experience. The good part was that I felt entirely ok with being on Steen in a pseudo runaway state, because I knew I could keep my seat and stay with him until there was an opportunity to get him safely back under control. It is also a good gauge of what it takes mentally now for Steen to leave and come back me. I never felt like he lost track of me completely, just that he was unable to keep himself from running.

It has been an interesting progression for me and how I feel about galloping a horse. I used to love to gallop any horse I could, even though running meant being out of control for a little while. I have never ridden a horse that can come back from a gallop without being allowed to run themselves out a bit. When I was younger, it didn't bother me to lose that control. Probably because I didn't know there was another way to ride.

Then I started to learn what it was like to actually have control of a horse, and from there I went through a phase where out of control moments were very scary.

Now I think I have reached a place where down-to-the-footstep ideal is the level of control I strive for, but it's unrealistic to think I can get there overnight, or even for many more years. What happened today wasn't ideal, but it also nowhere near a disaster. It is kind of funny that Brian and I could have a little discussion about what was going on and what to do about it in the midst of the unplanned gallop.

I think it was Ray Hunt who once was asked the question, "What do you do when a horse runs away?" He said, "You ride him."

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 30:00

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Squishy Ground

I was curious to see how Laredo would be for me today after his long, somewhat difficult ride with Brian yesterday. I expected him to be tired, so was pleasantly surprised when I got on and that was not the case. He was soft to the hackamore and moving out nicely from the start.

My goal for the day was to achieve energy in all movements, most particularly at the walk. I wasn't riding with my spurs, because Laredo is getting increasingly sensitive. It used to be that if I kicked him without a spur, it meant nothing to him. Now he really, really doesn't like it when you kick him. That is great because it means he will start to try to find ways to avoid being kicked, which means we have to kick him less and less.

One of Laredo's most frustrating habits is he loses considerable momentum every time you turn him. So I worked on walking him out in a straight line and bending him into a turn. If his motor died while turning, I got after him until he sped back up. This worked so well that after about four time he actually accelerated through a turn. Good boy.

We also worked on motivation at the lope. I did the same thing at the lope that I did at the trot a few rides ago. I asked for the lope, and my goal was to make it one entire lap of the arena without having to ask him to keep it. This actually took much, much longer than I expected and resulted in the longest time I have ever loped Laredo. He started out lazy but compliant, went through a period of being pretty grouchy and trying to cut corners and drop the lope, but finally he settled into a consistent cadence and stopped thinking about how much he'd like to stop. We achieved our full lap, I said woah and he slammed on the brakes. What a goof. You'd think we rode him into the ground every day and never fed him at all.

At the end of the arena work we decided to go poke around the fields. This didn't go quite as well as planned. Mainly, the ground was SOGGY. Laredo slipped on some downhills, but we persevered and made our way into the large pasture thinking if we went up on the higher ground it would be less squishy. That proved to be not at all the case. Instead we found snow on the hilltops, so decided to turn around (by pivoting, of course).


Naturally, right when we got a few steps down the side of a big, slick-sided hill, Laredo looked off into the distance and decided something we couldn't see was Scary. He stiffened up and started bouncing between my legs and hands, and backing up when I wouldn't let him go forward. It wasn't anything that would have been that big of a deal in normal circumstances, but I wasn't that happy about having it happen on a slippery hillside. Still, there was nothing to do but work with him and hope he didn't knock himself over. And it turned out fine. I got him to the bottom of the hill without any sudden bursts of speed or changes of direction, then worked on flexing him and moving his hind until he stopped feeling so rigid. Then we walked home.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback Hours YTD: 28:30

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Searching for Center

Steen's basics have been so solid lately I've been having to push myself a bit to be equal to the task of teaching him more. It's one thing to have a good seat and to guide a horse through the basic maneuvers most people expect a horse to do. It's something else to keep yourself positioned so as to never inhibit the horse's ability to do what you are asking. I am by no means perfect at this, but it is starting to be more obvious to me when I'm getting in the way.

Today we were stuck in the indoor again. I started with using the flag. One of Steen's major remaining flaws in terms of groundwork is he has a tendency to interpret unfamiliar stimuli as a command to move. So if I twirl a rope or flap the flag around he tries to yield to that object, whether or not I'm actually driving him with it. So today we worked on standing still even when the flag was making a lot of noise everywhere around, and also yielding to the flag when my body language was clearly asking for that response. He did pretty well, although I could tell it was difficult for him.

I got on and we started out walking the rectangle, with the four sides made up of a collected forward walk, side-pass to the left, backing, and side-pass to the right. These were amazing. I did them entirely with collection, and Steen was so soft and so attentive. With walking forward he'd wait for my seat to ask for each step, and then when I shifted to side-passing, the only change would be a slight re-positioning of the reins and lifting one leg to five him a place to go. It was pretty magical. We are also getting much much better at backing with rhythm. A couple of times we got through the whole rectangle on the same cadence.


We also worked on some simple lead changes, and jumping into the lope from backing. Steen really nailed that a few times.

I also watched Brian and Laredo quite a bit. They were still having some calibration issues. It is useful to watch Brian ride him, because it helps me see more clearly some things that happen when I am on him too.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 27:15

Sunday, March 24, 2013

So Much For Spring

We woke up to snow and chilly temps, but headed for the barn right away in spite of the weather. We found the herd all tucked around the wind-block.


Steen came trucking up to me as soon as he saw us, which was just fine because although I intended to give him the day off I had a big old bowl of chopped hay for him. He's losing weight lately, the way he always seems to do in the spring. He's not too thin yet, but nevertheless it seems worth upping his calorie intake in any way I can.


Laredo was wet and covered in clinging ice and snow. Inside, I rubbed him down with a towel, then  brushed him until he was dryish. I scrubbed all around his ears. He never pulled away. In fact, he was loving it. Definitely a good sign.

I worked him with the flag a bit before getting on. This was kind of funny. Laredo is not quite sure if the flag is a game or what. He likes to chase it and try to get it in his mouth. At one point I asked him to move and brought the flag in towards his hip and he lined up and threw out a kick with his hind leg. A minute later he tried to strike it with his front when I  brought it in under chin. I both instances I just upped the pressure and moved him off. It's so interesting to watch Laredo when he encounters new things, because his array of responses is so much more varied than our older horses. He's still just such a kid about so many things.

I mounted expecting him to be rather fatigued from our long ride yesterday. I was surprised to find him lively. He walked out with good energy from the start, and when I asked for the trot and did some figure eights, while he could have been going faster he at least wasn't dogging it, and he had good cadence. For the moment that is a huge accomplishment for him, so I rode quietly and enjoyed it.

I have been thinking a lot lately about cadence and rhythm, because I think they are the key to the all Laredo's weak points, as well as the places I still get stuck with Steen. So today I was trying to think about how to encourage consistent movement. A little ways into the ride, I asked Laredo to back. He backed up softly for about two steps, got sticky, had to be encouraged to back more, then lightened up again for a couple more steps until I let him stop. I realized after we went through that sequence several times that this is a pattern for him. I also realized that in that little space between the first light steps and the last light steps, he's getting away with leaning on the hackamore.

So I prepared myself with slightly shorter reins and asked him to back again. Once again we got: light step, release, light step, release, sticky step, fall into pressure. When I felt him come into my hands, I responded with several quick, sharp pulls on the hackamore. I was more firm than I often am, but the moment he lightened up and started moving back I went back to asking with the lightest pressure I could. We got a few more light steps, then he fell into the hackamore again. We repeated the process.

We ended up backing 1.5 times the length of the arena, but finally at the end he got the idea. He stopped falling into pressure and started preparing to take another step back every time I asked. When we got ten consecutive soft steps with no pressure on the reins, I stopped him and gave him a good long, break.

From there, the ride was amazing. He continued with a level of lightness I've never felt for a sustained period out of him before. We did get stuck backing a few more times, but it only took one bump to remind him why he didn't want to lean. He continued to move out well too. We had some nice laps at the lope and some lovely sidepasses.

Midway through the ride, I picked up the flag. We worked on some whirligigs with the flag providing some impulsion. Those went pretty well, though my flag handling skillz definitely need some refinement.

At the end, we did a couple circuits of the routine. Laredo was great. The big shocker is he never seemed tired at all, even after an hour of fairly demanding riding. So I think really what we deal with him is disinterest and distraction more than lack of energy on a physical level. But we're figuring it out.

We put them back out in the windblown snow. Maybe someday spring will come and stay.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 25:45

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Out Again

It was cooler and partly cloudy today, with a chilly breeze, but we were determined to get out and about again. We waited for the day to warm as much as it was going to, then headed for the barn.

I rode Steen again. He came to me as soon as I went into the pasture today. Good boy.

We started with another little warm up in the arena. I did some work with the flag, both on the ground and under saddle. Steen gets so funny with groundwork. He tries so hard, and then when you let him come in for pets, all he wants to do is stand there and get loved on. In the picture below his body language makes it look like I've been hounding him for half an hour when in reality I moved him around a little for less than five minutes.


He was better with the flag under saddle than I expected, and it was great for helping add some energy to some of our movements. We went through quite a number of exercises in a short period of time, and I was a little demanding but Steen was completely with me. Brian was on Laredo today, so I wanted to do everything I could to make sure we would not end up being the weak link in some little moment of trouble.

We decided to do the same ride as yesterday. After about 20 minutes of warming up indoors, we headed down the strip. When we got to the bottom, Laredo got just a tad fussy about a big pile of gravel, which made Steen perk up and look around. I worked for a minute or two on keeping his nose pointing where we were going and not letting him look around and decide to be scared of things. Pretty soon his energy went right back down.

The only real hiccup of the ride happened just a minute later. We left the strip and went into the big pasture. I was walking along about ten feet from the fence, and Laredo and Brian were on my other side. Laredo was a bit behind me and Steen, but I could see him in my peripheral vision. All of a sudden, Laredo looked at the horizon, decided something was scary, and ran for cover. In this case that meant rolling back on his haunches, popping his front end over, hopping into a perfect, fluid little lope and tucking himself between Steen and the fence, where he stopped.

He did this so fast neither Brian or I even had much time to react. Brian rode through smoothly, and Steen didn't even seem to notice. It was such a babyish maneuver. The only time I've seen a horse do anything like it is when I've seen a foal get freaked out and tuck up against its mother.

We paused so Brian could work Laredo in some bends until he stopped trying to stare at the horizon. Steen again started looking where Laredo was looking, but I worked on backing up and moving the front around the hind. A moment later we continued and they were both back to being pretty quiet.

Steen was great the whole rest of the ride. We went over to the salad bowl. Instead of just one circuit trotting back and forth along the bottom, we did four or five. We spent a good deal of the ride trotting. We wanted to tire Laredo out a bit, and cover a lot of ground. We only loped a little, but when we did, both horses were good.

Finally we decided we'd had enough trotting, and headed back. Steen walked home at the same speed he walked out. Every time we stopped to open a gate or let Laredo catch up (Laredo's energy was definitely flagging by the end) I worked on moving Steen's feet in precise ways. He was always soft and attentive.


So, all in all it was another great outing. We went five miles, and a good percentage of that time was at the trot. I'm so pleased with Steen. We made it through another long, demanding trail ride without so much as a startle.

Laredo did great too. This was the first time he'd been out of the indoor arena in months, the first time he's ever been out on the trail without a large group of herd-mates, and the first time he'd been to the saddle bowl. That's a lot to pile on all at once, but he handled it.

Unfortunately, it's supposed to snow again tonight and tomorrow, so this may be the last ride of this kind for a while. *sigh

Ride Time: 1:50
Horseback Hours YTD: 24:45

Friday, March 22, 2013

Getting Out!

It has not been the nicest spring, and while today only graced us with highs in the 30s, the sun was out and there was no wind. We bundled up, but shortly after getting to the barn realized we'd be able to tack up outside.

The herd was feeling a bit frisky, and when we went out to get our horses a couple others who have only recently been added to our pasture began to romp around. Steen had almost come to me, but then decided to run off after his buddies. Steen will usually come, and will always, always, let me approach him. But I would prefer him to come all the time. So I decided this was a good moment for a lesson in coming no matter what else is going on. It ended up being a bit more of a job than would have been ideal. Steen got pretty riled and I had to move him quite a bit before he finally conceded the point and came. Brian helped by blocking escape routes, and he had Bear on the lead by then, so we were all already warmed up before we even got saddles on.

The funniest part was Laredo kept coming up to me in this concerned way and kind of standing with me and looking at me like, "Look, I know the answer. I came. Isn't that good enough?"

Obligatory sunny hitching post shot.

We did a few minutes more of warming up in the indoor arena. I worked Steen with the flag a bit more, but he was already very eager to please by then so I didn't push him.

We didn't have much of a plan when we headed out, but we wanted to ride outside. The strip was squishy in places, so we didn't linger there. As we got towards the bottom, we saw the gate into the big pasture was open. In we went.

The horses were great. Bear was lively and moving without stiffness. Steen was quiet, walking with his head down, steering off my legs. We joked that they have finally met in the middle.

We rode through the big pasture and trotted up the incline into the treed lot. Steen was trotting out, but he was back on his haunches and listening. His trot was steady. We went the whole way up to the gate into the tree lot without me having to check him.

We went through the tree lot too, and by the time we got to the other end, it seemed we might as well head across the street and check out the salad bowl. We did a combination of trotting and loping to get over there, and Steen just felt great. He trotted when I wanted him to trot, loped when I want him to lope, and never sped up or slowed down without me asking. At one point I even brought him back to a walk while Brian trotted down the hill in front of us and loped up the other side. Steen's ears were flicking between me and Bear, but he walked quietly until I gave him permission to run to catch up.

It was a great ride. I don't actually remember the last time I've had such a fun and relaxing outing. Steen would move out, then stand or walk quietly. He never spooked, never shied, never even snorted at anything.


And Bear was great too. He was actually more apt to try to pop into the lope than Steen. Clearly, he's feeling good lately. It's nice that he's in such good condition approaching his 18th birthday.


One funny thing I didn't realize until halfway through the ride is this is the first time I've done a trail ride in a hackamore. Steen has historically been such a handful when we're out and about, I had always felt hesitant about not having a bit. I'm glad I didn't think of it until we'd already gotten so far into the ride. He was fantastic, and I felt entirely comfortable. I've ceased to think I have more control of a horse just because I have a piece of metal in its mouth. This ride was so good because we've been putting so much time into refining the details, working on precision, and getting our communication streamlined. Plus, I actually feel like I can be more precise and effective with a hackamore than a snaffle, so it was good to get this final milestone out of the way.


Ride Time: 1:25
Horseback Hours YTD: 22:55

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Needles and Flags

Last night we got an email saying the vet would be at our barn in the morning for anyone who needed vaccinations and teeth. Our guys had their teeth done in the fall, but we needed shots. We had to cram the barn in between two other things, but it was good to get out there.

We also had a new piece of equipment to take with us. We finally got around to getting a flag, and we were curious to see how the horses would react.

We brought all three in and turned them out in the indoor. I took the flag and walked to the center of the arena and waved it around for a minute. I was careful not to look at them or make it seem like I was driving them.

They all freaked out. It surprised me, actually. Our three are pretty quiet about most things, but apparently a flapping piece of fabric on the end of a metal pole is its own category of scary.

So I just hung out with them for a while, playing with the flag. Steen was the first to approach and sniff, but he left again after snorting at it once or twice. Shortly thereafter, Laredo got curious enough to check it out. After a few experimental sniffs and nibbles, he was cool with it, and a few minutes after that he was pretty sure the flag is a really fun toy. I had him chasing it when I dragged it around on the ground, and he'd let me touch him all over with it.

Bear, however, wouldn't let me near him. I could walk up to him if the flag was behind me. If I brought it forward, he'd sniff it, but if I moved it near him, he'd leave.

We put their halters back on when the vet was ready for their shots. They were all well behaved for their injections, and the vet took a look at Steen's leg. He commented several more times on what a nasty injury that was, and said it's looking about as good as we could hope. I mentioned the tightness and he said with the amount of trauma the leg went through he's sure there is a lot of scar tissue that will still need to break up and disperse over time, but in all likelihood it will be a temporary problem.

After the vet left, I approached Steen with the flag with his halter on, and he was fine with it. I touched him all over with it. He flinched once or twice, but never moved a foot. Bear was the same way when Brian approached him with the flag once he had a halter on. Completely not bothered. So that's an interesting little illustration of the herd mentality.

I put Steen back outside and got Laredo tacked up. We had our best bridling yet. I rode him without my spurs today. The way we ride, the point of wearing spurs is to use them to liven the horse to the point that you don't need the spurs anymore. I thought it would be good to check in and see what we could get done without them.

I had a good ride. We've been continuing to watch the "7 Clinics with Buck" DVDs, and he talks so much about life in the horse. I know the underlying problem to all our small challenges with Laredo is a lack of life, but he's not the sort of horse you can bully into liveliness. If you get too hard on him, he just shuts down even further.

Another thing we really lack is rhythm. His movement is inconsistent at all gaits. He naturally likes to go slow. If you hurry him up, he'll surge ahead, then slow down until you hurry him again. This makes it so hard not to nag him. It's easy to get into a habit of bumping him to keep his speed up, which just makes him dull.

So today after some warming up, I set out to trot some decent figure-eights. My goal was to get one full circuit during which I did not have to ask him to speed up. I posted the trot to make it very clear what kind of rhythm I wanted out of him. When he fell behind my pace, I asked him once with my legs to speed up. If that didn't work, I popped him on the butt with the end of my mecate. If I wasn't correcting him I just rode as quiet and smooth as I could.

At first he had a few sticky places where he wanted to drop off, and I had to pop him once or twice each circuit. The pops would startle him and a little and he'd surge ahead, which was fine with me. I'd let him come back to a nice pace and try to keep him there by posting.

It took about five minutes of solid trotting, but his attitude changed a lot during that time. He slows down when he gets distracted or starts thinking about other things, so this is as much about keeping his attention on me as anything else. By the last lap he was trotting a lot more steadily, and his expression had softened as well. We got one full figure-eight without me needing to speed him up at all, so we stopped.

The rest of the ride was really good. After the trotting, he was considerably softer to hands and reins. I moved him in and out of lope a fair bit, working on picking it up and coming out of it with more precision. We did a similar exercise at the walk where he'd get slow and I'd ask him to walk faster and if he didn't comply we'd jump into the trot.

Midway through I picked up the flag and used it to help move his hind and front separately. I was a little clumsy with it, but Laredo figured out what I wanted nevertheless.

First the hind.

Then the front.

By the end of the ride he was a bit tired but also in a really open state mentally. I didn't have trouble with him rooting or leaning on the hackamore, so hopefully we can keep him moving in the right direction. I will say Laredo is a good challenge for me. I've never worked consistently with a naturally low-energy horse, and it's certainly pushing me to find solutions I've never needed before.

After the ride, Laredo was in a great mood. Here he is standing like a champ while I hang up the hackamore and get his halter:


Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 21:30

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Frigid March

Today the farrier was out, so there were a bunch of people at the barn to get their horses feet done. Brian and I got there early to fit in a ride before it was our turn. I rode Steen. It was a super cold morning, and he was riled up and snorty when we first brought him in.

Ready to flee should the blanket turn out to be of the horse-eating variety.

But he settled right down as soon as we started grooming. We got our ride started before anyone else even arrived. He felt powerful but relaxed.

Steen was great again. I worked on outside turns using the haunch, so I'd walk along next to the wall, bring him to a stop, and ask him to step his front end towards the wall and then move off in the other direction. The idea is to help a horse learn to get their butt under them while turning. We were a little clumsy with this. Or really, I was clumsy. But Steen was trying and we made a little progress.

He felt great at the trot and lope from the start. I did more work on leg yields, and loping circles, and asking him to soften and collect at the lope without dropping the gait. It surprises me how smooth and vertical Steen can make his canter if we get things right.

We also worked on jumping from backing into the lope. Steen got really good at planting both hind legs and leaping forward. He loves stuff like that.

Brian was having some trouble with Laredo, though. Laredo is starting to seek contact with the hackamore the way he used to try to lean on the snaffle. Today instead of moving off pressure, he was leaning into it. For some reason, Laredo is not as relaxed with Brian yet as he is with me, and their last few rides have been a bit of a struggle for both of them. I watched them a lot and tried to piece together some theories as to what's going wrong with them, and fortunately I think we got some of the problem sorted out. By the end of the ride they were doing a lot better. We even did the routine with loping on the straightaways and they did a great job.

All three of our guys were awesome for the farrier, and got compliments on both their feet and their behavior. That is always good.

On a random note, somehow a few weeks ago Brian and I ended up combing through the internet looking for horses that are related to our horses. It started with a search for Bear's offspring (he was a stud until the age of 12). We found several, and could see the resemblance  So then I went hunting for Steen's family. He has no kids, of course, but I did find his father. He's a registered paint by the name of Last Piece of Candy. The pictures aren't great but you can see some similarities. Pretty funny.


Ride Time: 1:25
Horseback Hours YTD: 20:30

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Getting Somewhere

We got to the barn early today and had the place to ourselves. Laredo came all the way out from behind the windblock and sloshed through the muck to get to me. He is, in fact, the best of our three horses about coming to us, I guess because we started working on that with him from day one and have never stopped.

Steen usually comes to me, but he seems to do it most consistently on the days I am going to be riding Laredo. *sigh* It always makes me feel a bit bad to have to tell him he can't come.

During grooming, Laredo seemed different about his head. He never tensed up when I was working on that side of his neck or head with the brushes, which is a first. He had some hair around his problem ear that had gotten wet and dried out, so it was kind of matted and crunchy. I got a jelly curry and intended to work on being able to get to that area to see if I could help with it at all. He surprised me. Instead of stiffening up and leaning away, he leaned into the curry when I began rubbing around the base of the ear. I rubbed and rubbed and his head drooped lower and he let out a huge sigh. I went all around the ear and even rubbed the ear itself. No negative reaction at all.

When I bridled him, I did it without sneaking past the ear. When I touched the off ear the firs time, he did not move his feet but his head came up. I did the same thing as last time and got contact on the ear and left my hand there until he relaxed. Then I let go, gave him a break, and tried again. I was able to guide the ear forward and through the bosal hanger without any more fuss.

So that was huge. He's also starting to "get" a number of the things that have made him feel behind Steen and Bear as far as overall ground manners are concerned. He has stopped trying to chew on his lead rope when tied, and seems to finally understand that standing tied means not moving any feet at all, ever. So we've recently graduated him to bouts of what we call "neck tying," which is just our variation on ground tying. We toss the lead rope over his neck and his job is to stay put no matter what happens. Our last two times out he's achieved complete immobility even when he knows we are off rooting around in the treat bin to bring him a post-ride snack. These are all excellent milestones that are making it more relaxing to be around him in general. And I'm sure it helps his overall mindset that we're having to correct him less leading up to the work we do under saddle.

Our ride was ok. It was good, I suppose, but it wasn't quite on par with our last one. He started out almost over-energized and we kept kind of bouncing between him putting a bit too much energy into things and not quite enough. I worked on varying pace and speed and tasks a lot. I have been trying to be very mindful of what I'm asking for with Laredo. So I will sit on him and decide on the exact exercise I am going to do, with an exact goal in mind. Then I will ask him to move and we'll work on that one thing until we've achieved a positive change. Then we stop and sit again while I come up with the next thing. This seems to keep his overall interest level higher. He seems to get the frustrated when he can't see the point of what we're doing.

Although the ride in general felt just ok, we did have a couple of stellar moments. The best one was we did the routine with Brian and Bear and threw in loping on the straightaways. We have never tried this with Laredo before. It makes the routine considerably more challenging for both horse and rider. I wasn't sure if Laredo and I could manage it. But he surprised me. We got both into and out of the lope both times close enough to when we were supposed to that we kept synchronized with Bear and Brian. It was so good the first time we did it we decided to let that be the end of the ride.

So, I'm trying to stay focused on the positive with him. As the basics start solidifying, I think my major challenge is going to be to stay aware of his youth and inexperience and not expect too much of him too fast, yet at the same time continue to make sure we challenge him enough to keep him making progress.

In other news, I have  ridden more in March so far than any other month this year. I'm still not exactly racking up the saddle hours at the rate I would like to, but it's an improvement.



Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 19:05

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Tiny Outing

Today the sun was out, and although it was not exactly warm it felt like spring. 

Steen is shedding in earnest now. He was warm under his blanket. Hopefully he can go naked before much longer.

We were indoors for most of the ride. I started out working on figure eights with no hands. It has been driving me crazy that Steen and I still struggle with this. I can hold the reins in one hand and essentially not move, and do very nice figure eights. But if I put the reins down entirely, sometimes things are great, but sometimes our precision goes right out the window.

I have been trying to figure out where the breakdown is, and today I finally had an epiphany. I was paying very close attention to what my hands do when I ask for a turn and I noticed I have an exceedingly ingrained habit of always using a supporting rein. Most of the time it is just the tiniest brush of my rein on the neck. I don't even actually move my hand, it's just a subconscious tilt to bring the outside rein into contact. It's tiny, but it is enough to make a difference.

Of course using a supporting rein is not bad. However, I would prefer to be able to manage basic steering without that crutch. So now that I've noticed the habit I'm starting down the lengthy road of rewiring. What I am trying to do is change my sequence. Right now I seem to apply the supporting rein slightly before or simultaneous to asking for the turn with my seat/leg. What I want to do is ask for a turn leg/seat first, then apply supporting rein if the leg gets no response. And of course if I have to, come in with the leading rein.

The problem is I have been doing it the other way for decades. If I get distracted it's really easy for me to revert. Luckily, Steen is a fast learner and he's already adjusting to the idea that legs mean turn even when there's no rein on his neck. Today we had a few successful serpentines of various sizes between fails, so that is a start.

 A little while after we got on, we were joined by a little girl on a pony and her father on foot (he was giving her a lesson). Our small arena can get cramped, but I tried to think of it as an opportunity to work on our precision.

Steen was so good. He wasn't distracted by the pony. He is carrying himself so well lately. He has been a bit tight and fast at the lope the last few rides (the extensor tendon in his right hind is still not at 100% and I think it pulls sometimes when he bends at higher speeds) but today he felt relaxed and balanced. I was glad that a few extra degrees in temperature meant he was much more able to stay smooth. We worked on canter departures and short circles and precise stops. He felt entirely with me the whole time. We also worked on leg yields. I'm starting to ask him for more reach when he steps across, and today we reached some new levels of extension.

After about fifty minutes we decided to venture out to the strip for our first outside jaunt of 2013. It was super soggy and we had to navigate between puddles of water and piles of melting snow. We just walked around for a few minutes, venturing down to the first steep hill, then stopping and standing around for a moment or two. Both Steen and Laredo were quiet and relaxed, and it was great to be out in the sun.


Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 18:05

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Refining Laredo

We managed a mid week barn trip for the first time in ages today. It was cold but sunny, and it felt great to leave town in the afternoon.

I rode Laredo. Before the ride, I worked quite a bit on his head/ear issue. It's basically reduced at this point to more of a grouchy reaction than a genuine fear response, and it's only triggered when you actually touch his right ear. This is vast improvement to what it was a few months ago (genuine fear reaction whenever anything moved towards his face or head) but it's still very much there.

The way we bridle, I usually slip the headstall over the horse's right ear first by reaching over the horse's forehead and guiding the ear gently forward with my hand and slipping the headstall behind, then doing the same with the left ear. This doesn't work with Laredo because as soon as you try to touch his right ear he starts the evasion tactics.

Today instead of just slipping the headstall on (which is possible if you are smooth and quick) I worked on helping him tolerate contact with that ear. I slipped the bosal over his nose and moved my hand with the hanger to his problem ear. When I touched it he started bending his head away and backing. If he backed, I went back with him. If he bent away, I bumped his nose back over with the bosal. I kept my hand on the ear until he figured out he could hold still, then waited for his head to drop a little. As soon as that happened, I removed my hand and the hanger strap and let him rest.

We did this a few times, and he stopped trying to back away after the first. Finally he allowed me to cup his right ear and guide it into the hanger without doing anything more than raising his head.

I figured that was good enough for the day. I put the hackamore all the way on, and we went to the arena.

The problem ear...

We proceeded to have a great ride.  I suspect part of the awesomeness came from the ear work. He was already in an open mindset when I mounted, and I could tell. He was both soft to the bosal and willing to move out.

I moved through as many exercises as I could think of. He was great with everything. After a while I started working on some lateral movement with him, which we just barely touched on with him last fall but haven't revisited since.

I thought it would take some tries and building up before I got anywhere with this, but he surprised me. I asked for a leg yield by picking up just the lightest pressure on one rein and asking him for a step over with my outside leg. I was very subtle with both cues. His immediate reaction was to give to the bosal and soften up front. Then he took a few more steps noticing the pressure was not going away. He couldn't bend because of the rein, so he stepped sideways. Just like that.

I dropped rein and leg and gave him big pets. We revisited this a few times over the course of the ride, and every time I could see him soften up and think about it, then make the right decision on how to move.

Later we worked on a walk, trot, lope pattern with Bear and Brian, and this was great too. The first few times we managed to get everything done, but each time we did the same pattern, Laredo got better at it. By the end he was just amazing me. Each time he knew we were approaching the part of the arena where we were going to make a transition, he got himself physically prepared. But he never once anticipated. Every single time, he waited for me to ask for the transition, then gave it to me.

We kept the ride short because I felt  like this was the most consistent effort I've ever felt Laredo put out in one ride, and I didn't want to work him past the sweet spot.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 17:00

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Steen Weekend

We may have gone over to a friend's house for dinner last night and accidentally consumed a little too much wine. As a result, we weren't up and out of the house at the crack of dawn today. And of course, daylight saving's time stole an hour of our night on top of everything else.

We limped out to the barn around 1:00. It basically had not stopped raining since we were last there. When we put Steen and Laredo back in the pasture after our last ride, we noticed Bear was shivering. We've never seen Bear shiver before, so we brought him in, dried him off and put a blanket on him.

So today he and Steen were both wearing soaked purple blankets. Luckily the Wugs seem to be entirely waterproof and both horses were bone dry underneath.

I opted to ride Steen today because wine has been giving me vertigo lately and I was still a little light-headed. Not so much that I figured I was going to have any trouble riding, but enough that I wasn't sure I was up for any Laredo antics.

It was fun to ride Steen again. I haven't ridden him in two days in a row in a long time. We worked on our "things" for the first part of the ride, then did a trot a lap/ lope a lap exercise with Brian and Bear. Both Bear and Steen were full of energy at the start of this, and just blasting into the lope each time we asked for it. My downwards transitions were leaving something to be desired at first, but we kept it up until we were both getting considerably mellower loping and more precise switches between the gaits.

Then we switched to walking figure-eights and trying to vary the pace within the walk to stay in the right place in relation to each other. That was challenging in a totally different way. Steen is getting pretty good about softening up into the hackamore and staying soft, and listening to the rhythm of my seat to figure out how fast to move his feet. He wasn't so good about walking out when necessary.

At the end, we put their wet blankets back on. It's odd to see Bear in a blanket, but he was limber and happy today in a way we haven't seen for months. He doesn't seem to suffer in the cold most of the time, but he does get stiff. If wearing a blanket has the potential to make rides more comfortable for him, it might be worth having him wear one all winter in the future. I guess we'll see where we're at with him next fall.


Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback hours YTD: 16:10

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Signs of Spring?

We knew it was going to be a rainy weekend, but were determined not to let this phase us. Today we got up and went right out to the barn. We found everyone super, super wet. We took Steen and Laredo inside and got them cleaned up, but we didn't allow them their usual pre-ride romp as we didn't want them all over sand.

Steen was warm and dry under his blanket, but shedding:


I hadn't seen him for a few days so there was quite an accumulation under his blanket. Hopefully this means we will get some nicer weather soon.

Steen was good with groundwork. I worked some on backing with rhythm from the ground, in hopes this would translate to under saddle work later. At first he wanted to jump left or right after we went more than a few steps, but I stuck with him and he settled into it.

I got on right about the time Laredo started having a mini meltdown. We suspect it had something to do with the feel of the saddle on his wettish back. I watched Brian work through it. He did very well. I have never actually seen Laredo that upset, but Brian was both firm and fair with him. While I was watching Laredo go nuts and Brian handle it, it occurred to me that we are long past the days where I need to intervene and keep a horse from taking advantage of him.

My ride was fabulous. Steen is such a pleasure to ride these days. I focused on backing for the early part of the ride, and also working on moving the front end around the hind with more energy and life. Steen and I have been stuck with this maneuver for quite some time in that I can get him to move his front with no trouble, quite consistently, but I can't seem to make any headway hurrying it up.

One of the video clips we saw had Buck teaching a young horse this precise thing. He rocked the horse back three or four steps every time it tried to move forward, and this really allowed the horse to understand how to set his feet up to not to have to go forward. I started doing this with Steen and it instantly helped with both his backing and his stepping his front over.

Later in the ride we had sort of a great moment. Brian and I are people who tend to just do our own thing and not talk about it. No one else at our barn rides like we do, and for the most part not a lot of people seem interested. We get the odd question here or there, which we answer, but other than that we don't tend to talk about what we're working on.

Today, though, the owner of our barn came out and asked me a few questions about bosals. Her daughter is thinking of starting her new horse in one. So she, her daughter, and another guy came over to the edge of the arena to chat. I sat on Steen and answered her questions, and then she asked about mane hair mecates. I said we love them, and that I can't imagine going back to riding in anything else. I explained how they are soft and flexible while still having so much life in the rope. I said this allows a subtler level of communication than I knew was possible before I started using one.

Then I said, "See how Steen will back without me even putting pressure on the reins." I shifted my body into the position I use when I ask him to back and twitched my reins just slightly. I expected him to go back, because he always does, but what I didn't expect was how well he went. He tucked his head in the perfect "bridled" position, scooted his haunches up and under, and took four or five perfect, fluid steps backwards. I swear he knows when he has an audience.

There was this moment where the three of them were literally speechless. The guy said, "Wow." Then my barn owner said, "Yeah, the bosal didn't even move."

I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging, and I certainly do not cultivate good horsemanship to be a show off. But I have to say that was a satisfying moment. :)

Ride Time:  1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 15:05

Friday, March 08, 2013

Prioritizing Happiness (aka: Horses)

We've basically been making it to the barn on weekends only lately. This is not at all ideal, but the weather has been bad and my workload rather overwhelming.

Arguably my greatest lifelong personal struggle is with my attention span. I seem to have something like the opposite of ADD. What I mean by this is it's very easy for me to get excessively focused on one aspect of my life, often to the detriment of everything else.

Being that I am my own boss, this can translate into a problem with over-working. I have to set firm rules for myself. These rules consist of strict limits to prevent me from working constantly. Here are a few of them:
  • no working on weekends
  • no checking email before I accomplish my personal goals for the morning
  • no working after dinner
  • no answering the phone or responding to clients outside of normal business hours
  • no getting work email notifications on my phone
I'm sure you get the idea.

But the problem with these rules is I set them for myself and only I can enforce them. Inevitably it seems to happen that once or twice a year my workload balloons suddenly. The only way to stay on top of it is to work a lot. Which is fine. That is how it is to be a small business owner. I don't mind spending a few weeks here and there logging super long days to get caught up. The key for me, though, is not letting this go on for too long. I get stressed when I feel I can't get all my work done, and stress makes me work harder, which makes me more stressed. Before I know what hit me, I'm not making time for the horses, not sleeping well, barely leaving the house, and only eating because Brian feeds me.

I have been in one of these phases basically for all of 2013, and last week I realized I have to put a stop to it. I had started breaking a lot of my work-limiting rules, so step one was putting work back in its place.

While I would prefer to "work to live," rather than "live to work," in all honesty the line can blur for me sometimes. I could easily becomes a live-to-worker. But I don't want to be that person. A lot of things slip in my life when I work too much. I may be cranking out websites like nobody's business, but I am not happy.

Horses have been my most consistent reliable source of happiness for my entire life. The more I ride, the happier I am. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen with horses as with work. The more I ride, the more I want to ride and if I'm not careful I'll find myself sneaking out to ride too many mornings a week, then getting home and blogging about my ride instead of getting right to work. This is fun, but not sustainable from a monetary standpoint...

Life. It's a balancing act. I have gotten unbalanced. So my resolution for March is to prioritize happiness, which means going to the barn more.


Sunday, March 03, 2013

And a Few More

The weather has continued to keep us confined to the indoor arena. While I am very grateful to have access to such a facility, it definitely limits our riding options. This time of year it often seems we start to struggle to come up with things to do and work on.

When that happens, it means we need some inspiration. So we've returned to working our way through our "7 Clinics with Buck" DVDs. I can't get over how great these are. They are almost as good as actually going to a clinic. You get to see Buck ride, and you get to see people learn and make positive changes with their horses.

The first time we went back to the barn after watching an hour or two of Buck, we had plenty to do in our tiny indoor. I have identified a number of quantifiable things I want to accomplish with Steen in the next few months. I have put together a list of what I plan to work on every ride until we have them pretty solid:
  • backing softly and with rhythm - while we're good at backing, and we're good at backing softly, we are not good at keeping the energy level consistent and the steps in a steady, even cadence
  • precise transitions - I have already seen some improvement with this but we still need to get better
  • speed variation within the gaits - I often let Steen default to going whatever speed he feels like going as long as he's in the gait I have asked for, which is inhibiting our progress
And then there are a few more long-term things I feel like I need to pay more attention to than I do:
  • finding the feet - I am so much better about knowing where my horses's feet are than I was a year or two ago, but I still make timing mistakes that come from not being aware enough of what foot is bearing the weight
  • always ride as if I can ride how I wish I could ride - it's easy to get lazy and just ride how I ride, but when I go to the barn inspired and wanting to take my horsemanship to a higher level, I'm a step ahead of the game before I even put my foot in a stirrup
With Laredo it's not quite as easy to make lists. I have continued to feel like we're entering a new zone of willingness and comprehension with him. We've continued to ride him in the hackamore, and he's showing more energy and try lately.


But as Steen starts to approach the level we were working at before his injury, I am finding the Laredo/Steen contrast to be increasingly stark. It's a challenge for me to switch between the two of them, and to stay fair to Laredo by not expecting too much from him while still challenging him.

He's also starting to seem older lately. It's still a few more months before he turns four, but the increased mental and physical maturity will hopefully mean we can get a lot done with him this summer.

Ride Times: 0:45, 1:05, :50
Horseback hours YTD: 14:05

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