Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Birthday Season

Like most horses, all of our guys were born in the late spring/early summer. Bear's birthday is the earliest, and today he turned 18. He does pretty darn well for his age. Other than being slightly more prone to getting stiff and sore than our other two, he really doesn't seem like he's in his late teens.

It was hot today, so Brian wasn't going to wear his chinks. He offered to loan them to me. I've been curious to see how they feel. They are custom made for him, so aren't an ideal fit on me, but luckily with chinks that's not a huge deal.

It was windy as well as hot, and walking out into the pasture the fringe was blowing around my legs. Laredo was way off in the distance, but after a detour around the windblock (following Steen) he came to me. So that's good. It appears his little bout of not being inclined to come is behind us.

I was afraid the heat would put a serious damper on Laredo's motivation levels, but he surprised me. His attitude has been undergoing a subtle shift lately. He seems a lot less inclined to get sullen about work, and seems to be really 'getting' that there is always an answer, and all he has to do is try to find it. Not that he was ever an unpleasant horse, it's just he's feeling more and more willing and engaged with the work. This is making him a whole lot more enjoyable to ride.

I started, however, thinking about his recent antics at the lope. On the one hand, it's a good thing he's showing some inclination to put energy into things, so we don't want to discourage him too much. On the other, we don't really want him running away with us every time we ask him for some speed. Like most horses, he stiffens up when he runs, so I started out working a lot on lateral flexion. We worked on an exercise where I'd move him out at the walk or trot, then gently bend him into a turn and finally ask him to step under behind, and stop. He got so soft, so fast working on this, and he was moving at a steady (if not exactly energetic) trot with consistency. So that made me happy.

From there we worked on short serpentines. These are getting better and better, and I was able to get him to  move evenly with all four quarters most of the time. We also worked on our teardrop shaped turns, when I would walk down the fenceline and turn him into a bend deep enough he would have to roll back on his haunches and move his front end across.

By the time we finished all that, he was feeling very attentive and very soft, so I went ahead and checked out the lope. He was great. He never even felt like he was thinking about taking off with me. I loped some nice circles and he was steering off my seat and legs. Only once did we come around a turn and he wanted to veer towards a new horse and rider who had just come out of the arena. I picked up one rein and he turned so sharply he got a ahead of me a little. So, that was a good reminder to work on shallow bends as well as sharp ones.

At the end of the ride we meandered down the drainage. He just loves to go out and explore, so after a really good ride it seemed like he deserved a little jaunt through the fields.

All in all, I liked riding in the chinks. I can particularly see how they would be comfortable in the cold or wet. I will probably acquire my own pair before too long.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 45:45

Sunday, April 28, 2013

More Great Weather

It was another beautiful day today, and our barn day started with a visit from the farrier. Steen got a trim but the other two didn't need it.

I rode Steen. I didn't do any groundwork at all because the door out of the arena was open, and I get a somewhat ridiculous kick out of riding through gates I normally have to dismount to open. But Steen is really to the point that I don't need to do groundwork every ride. I've been skipping it more and more often.

I mounted inside the indoor and rode out to the strip. One silver lining to the fact that our favorite spot to ride got torn up and turned into a driveway is Steen's comfort zone on the strip is effectively destroyed. I can't ride him there at all, period. So today I took him further down the strip to start with, and admitted to myself that it's was as much my comfort zone as his.

We started out with the set and turn again. Steen was stopping well from the start, really just softening and scooting to a stop when I sat deep. I was also applying my "no lean" way of thinking to how I handle the hackamore, and realized that sometimes when I'm asking Steen to step his forequarters around, I end up applying steady pressure. So I swapped that out for (very very gentle) bumping, and got surprising results. Steen started putting way more energy into moving his front around, which is great because we've had that movement down for a while but I've been unable to effectively speed it up.

So we had a day where we worked on extreme transitions. I'd pivot him around, collect him and launch him into a lope, then soften him up and bring him back to a stop. He was just on, ready to move out, ready to stop, ready to turn. At one pointed I loped him in circles around a tractor, brought him into the trot for a few strides, changed leads and loped around the tractor the other way. He was way softer all around today than he was on Friday. The only thing we couldn't seem to get right is he was disjointed with sidepasses, his haunches trailing well behind his front end.

We rode for about an hour, at which point Brian and I were both running out of things to do. Laredo was showing similar energy for Brian today as he had for me yesterday, and their ride was a tad rough at times. We decided to bring things down a few notches and walk a circuit through the big pasture. That was nice. I still can't get over how different Steen is this year when it comes to exploring new territory. He's just not bothered.

We got back to the strip, and I worked on some short serpentines with Steen. He's good with these, but we hadn't done them in a while. He got super soft, and very back on his haunches, and at one point we came out of a turn and saw Brian and Laredo parked at the top of the strip talking to a friend. I pushed Steen into the lope and pointed him for the spot between Laredo and the fence. He scooted right up there, I sat down and he stopped so hard he bounced. We ended the ride there.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 44:25

Saturday, April 27, 2013

All Grown Up (Kind Of)

Laredo has been feeling a lot more mature lately. With his 4th birthday just around the corner, we've now owned him almost a quarter of his life. It's evident in all the little things. He is quiet now, familiar with our routine around the barn. Today, for the first time, I took my leather halter out to the pasture and slipped it over his ears to halter him. He didn't bat an eye. I think his issues with being headshy are behind us in earnest.

The herd got let into the second pasture last night, so while that is great they are out on some grass, it meant we couldn't ride there. So we went to the strip. It's kind of torn up, so we had to ride further down than usual. I started out working on stops. Surprisingly, Laredo was not great with this. He is usually our champion stopper, so this was not a good sign. I work on the set and turn, but the turn part of it was confounding him, so we simplified it to just trying to get a good stop.

We worked on this for a quite a while, and we'd get about five horrible stops followed by one good one and then get a string of bad stops again. Things were bad enough that I asked Brian to watch. He observed a few stops and had some suggestions about timing. Obviously for this exercise to work, you have to give the horse a chance to stop before you come in with more pressure. This is what it's supposed to look like:

Fortunately I do not have a video of what we looked like, but I can say it was nothing close to this.

With Brian's feedback, I regrouped and tried to give Laredo one beat more between the sit/slack-removal and the pull. Still, things didn't improve that much. Finally I stopped and Brian and I were just sitting there talking and I mentioned that Laredo was also not flexing well laterally. I flexed him a few times with Brian watching, and he commented that I was letting Laredo lean on the hackamore while I was waiting for him to soften up.

This, I think, is the hardest part of riding in the hackamore. It is so easy to let the horse lean. A well-fitted bosal hugs a horse's nose, is soft and pliable, and is not in any way uncomfortable when steady pressure is applied. The benefit of this is it allows a method of communication that is entirely free of discomfort. The downside is there is less incentive for the horse to stay off the hackamore. Laredo, in particular, likes to lean on things and the way I was asking him to flex was allowing him to do this.

It's so easy to miss these little moments. The leaning we're talking about here is ounces worth of pressure, but it adds up. I switched my strategy, so if I picked up on the hackamore at all and Laredo didn't immediately lift off, I applied small, rhythmic bumps until he softened. I started this with the lateral flexion, and he really softened up fast. From there I went back to working on the set part of set and turn, and the difference in his stop was incredible. I was reminded again that there should never be any pressure on the hackamore for more than a split second, and also that lateral and vertical flexion influence each other.

I went from there to working on short serpentines. This is an exercise I have neglected with Laredo because he is very bad at it. This is (obviously) the worst possible reason to neglect an exercise, but for the longest time we had such a problem with his forward movement that getting him to step evenly and bend that sharply just wasn't happening. Today he had a surprising amount of impulsion, so I gave it a shot.

They started oh so sloppy, but I worked on really bending him and keeping his motor going, and I was surprised how quickly we made progress. We went from there into some very nice trot work. He was turning off legs alone and moving with good energy.

Then we took a break to amble over to the second strip with another boarder on her horse Tate, who is the same age as Laredo. We had a quiet walk, but on the way home Laredo was making faces at the other horses like he wanted to incite some antics. Bear only pinned his ears and Tate didn't seem to notice, but when we got back to the barn I decided to see if Laredo had some energy to burn. I asked him for a lope up the strip.

It started quite smooth, but within a couple of strides he had accelerated past the lope to the gallop. I situated myself and pulled, and he didn't even feel me. So there I was, on a running Laredo, unable to stop him. We were bearing down on the other boarder and Tate, so I called out to let her know I wasn't in control of my horse. She stopped what she was working on. We thundered by. I continued to administer pulls until I finally managed to effect a bend, which eventually led to a stop.

I backed Laredo up quite a few steps, and he was soft, so I thought maybe he'd just gotten a little over-excited. I decided to give him another chance, pointed him back down the strip and asked for a lope.

He took off like a rocket, straight into the gallop. Once again it took a series of some of the firmest pulls I could muster to get him bent and stopped.

I was not that happy with our youngster by then. It is amazing how much stronger and more physically mature he feels when he's having these opinions now. As soon as I got him stopped I backed him a good ways, then moved him into a figure-eight at the trot. At first he was dishy and distracted, wanting to blow out the corners and launch back towards the barn. I worked on getting his focus back, and when his nose dipped out of the turn I brought it back in. I worked him until he started to get a little tired, then asked him to keep his energy up with the trotting.

It took about five minutes. Finally I had him moving with energy but he was also soft again, moving to turn with a shift of my seat instead of a bump on the nose. After I felt we had our lines of communication open again, I pointed him back up the strip and asked for the lope. He moved into a beautiful, smooth lope and went with his ears up and his attention on me until we got to the top and I asked for a stop. He nailed it, haunches first, and was very happy to stand and rest.

So, all in all, it wasn't an ideal ride, but at least the problems were new problems. We've never actually worked on rating Laredo's speed within a gait because we've had to struggle so much just to get him moving out consistently. I'm glad to have some energy to work with, even if there are moments when it's a mixed blessing.

After the ride, he was sweet and quiet. And even though I was pretty demanding with him for much of our ride today, he never got sullen or grouchy. So I think it's going to be a good summer for Laredo.

We put them back out on grass!

Ride Time: 1:50
Horseback Hours YTD: 42:55

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Years

I got completely taken out by a virus and was down for the count for about two weeks. My primary symptoms were weakness, lightheadedness and vertigo, so riding a horse was out of the question.

However, today I was finally back to feeling good. Also, it was a special day. It was my 5th anniversary of owning Steen.

In some respects, it's hard to believe it's really been five years. In others, it's pretty evident. I'd like to say the big change is in Steen. It is true that in the last five years he's changed from an underweight, uneducated spaz-case into a pretty darn solid hackamore horse.



But really, it's me who has done the changing. When I got Steen I was under the impression I knew a lot about horses, and it only took him a few weeks to teach me I was wrong about that. Realizing I was in over my head with him is what pushed me to look for more information, and in searching for a good system I finally found the tradition we follow now, which gave me access to knowledge that has allowed me to communicate with Steen in ways I couldn't even imagine five years ago.

We rode in the middle pasture for the first time this year, and when I climbed on in this different space it made me think of how it used to be such a big deal to change anything about my routine with Steen. Today we were out in the open and the wind was blowing like you wouldn't believe. But this kind stuff just isn't a factor with our communication anymore. That's not to say we get through every conceivable situation without a single hiccup. The difference is now when we hit a rough patch I know how to work through it, and I see it as an opportunity to fix something and make Steen a more solid horse while I learn something about what went wrong and why.

Today Steen was all around just a bit stiff on the hackamore starting out, and a bit more inclined than usual to get distracted. So we worked right off on stopping. Steen will always stop, but his conformation doesn't lend itself to nailing the stops, and it is an effort for him to stop with quality. He is not always inclined to put that effort in. So at the start of the ride I worked on the set and turn. This basically involves trotting or loping a horse out, and then sitting deep to ask for a stop while simultaneously taking the slack out of one rein. If the horse does not stop, you apply one hard pull to the hackamore. Calibration is important here, because you have to make sure you come in firm enough that the horse stops. Then you drop all pressure  on the nose, move their front around their hind and trot off in the other direction

Steen is a sensitive horse, and he doesn't like getting pulled on, so it didn't take more than one or two pulls to remind him how important it is to keep his mind on me. From there, he was a lot softer. We went on to more of our usual, less demanding things. We trotted and loped the entire fenceline in both directions, we loped circles, trotted figure-eights, and worked on leg yields and sidepasses. He felt very solid, and some of our lopes were just incredible. To have him in that wide open of a space and be able to open him up and really ask him to move out, and then feel him soften and come right back when I change the energy in my body is really pretty great.

We had a good long ride, enjoying the sun and being outdoors. Both Bear and Steen were great, so we decided they deserved a little fresh grass. We rode out the big pasture and stopped for a while to let them graze on the strip.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 41:05

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shameless Self Promotion

Obviously all of you who read my blog know I write about our horses a lot, but what many of you might not know is I write fiction as well. And my first published book is now available on Amazon (it even has some horses in it -- in a very minor way.)

Right now it is only available as an e-book (but a print version will be available soon). Today and tomorrow (April 19th and 20th) the book is going to be FREE on Amazon. So if you like free stuff and you like reading, hop on over to Amazon and grab your copy.

**and now back to your regularly scheduled program**

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Smooth Ride

We found the herd all wound up today. Laredo came walking right up to us initially but then got swept off with a group of passing horses, after which he decided not to come  back. We haven't had to reinforce the idea that Laredo should come to us when we look at him for close to a year, but suddenly its three times in quick succession. Unfortunately the footing is so bad in the pasture right now, it's hard to keep the pressure on him when he's moving away. Today one of my muck boots got so deeply mired down that I stepped right out of it and into a wet heap of hay and manure. Big time yuck.

Fortunately Laredo remembered his manners and came up to me shortly thereafter. I got him inside with the intention of doing some pretty intense groundwork. But then he was just great on the rope. Like soft, light, paying attention, moving with energy, not invading my space. There was nothing to get after him for, and I've worked with horse's long enough that you can't teach them about anything other than what is happening right at that moment. So I turned him loose in the indoor arena with our other two while Brian and I brought Whisper in, because he was three-legged lame. We helped our barn owner get him hosed down. It was unclear what the exact cause of the problem was, though it seemed likely he was either kicked or he strained a tendon.

Laredo was good for grooming and tacking, and when I got on he was moving nicely. I worked again on systematically keeping him in one gait at a steady cadence. Whether it was walk, trot, or lope, I would move my hips at the rate I wanted him to go, and if he fell behind I'd give him one nudge with my legs. If that didn't produce an immediate effort to speed up, I popped him on the butt with the end of my mecate. Overall, this worked quite well, and he was putting definite effort into his forward movement most of the ride. I didn't have to pop him very often at all.

We also worked on coming out of the lope into the trot and staying there, then moving back into the lope again. Laredo really likes to slam on the brakes coming out of the lope, and while that is a good thing sometimes, at others you want him to keep going. We saw improvement with this as well.

The other funny thing was working on our rectangle. Laredo is so quick to pick up on patterns. He has already learned that if we go to the middle of the arena and sidepass, that means we're going to back up, then sidepass the other way, then go forward. He will even get ahead of me asking sometimes. So funny. But his sidepass is gorgeous lately - soft and even, with good reach.

Overall, it was one of the smoother rides I've had on Laredo recently. He never got fussy or grouchy, and he had a lot of good energy for most of the ride.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 39:45

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chilly and Chill

In spite of some issues with motivation, we made it to the barn after work today. The weather has been consistently cruddy and everything is all over mud again.

Steen was in a funny mood today. He was about as quiet as he gets. There were even times I found myself wishing he would respond to my cues with more energy. I have thought on and off that it would be interesting to ride him with the spurs sometime, not because I think he needs livening up but because I'm curious what it would do for us in terms of precision. Today would have been a perfect day for that, but I'd left the spurs at home.

We had a fine ride. We had to share the arena, but that's never a problem for Steen. Not that long ago I used to feel a bit nervous and confined when three horses were in that space. Now it's not really a problem for me.

We just did all our usual stuff, and it was all fine. We worked on our rectangle, and he's getting much better at taking multiple consecutive side-passing steps in both directions.

After the ride we put them all out together in their purple blankets.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 38:45

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Three Blankets

Today was the epitome of miserable spring weather. We had a cold rain all day, and it was chilly, damp, and breezy. We headed for the barn as soon as Brian got home from work, knowing we'd find some pretty unhappy horses.

They were all lined up against the wind block, heads down, butts to the wind. All except Steen, that is, who was eating when we got there but the left the bale before he saw us and started wandering around looking forlorn. As soon as he noticed us at the gate he came hurrying over, walking sideways because of the blowing rain.

He was shaking all over. I've seen him shivering and uncomfortable, but these were full-body spasms. I hurried him inside and gave him a generous helping of chopped hay while I worked on swiping the worst of the water off, toweled him down, and then draped his blanket over him.

Brian came in a moment later with Bear and Laredo. They were both shivering too, though not nearly to the extent Steen was. Laredo was the least worried about things and the least quivery. Bear was about as agitated as I've ever seen him.

We let Steen stand there and warm up while we got the other two snacks as well and tacked them up. Steen was warm under the blanket and getting dozy, and the rain had stopped by the time we were ready to go. I put him back out with the herd in a much happier state.

Laredo was in a funny mood. He was a little keyed up and responsive enough that he was bordering on reactive. I did enough groundwork with him to make sure he wasn't going to explode into a bucking horse the second I got on, but didn't want to do much more than that. Since so often we deal with a low energy problem with Laredo, I wanted to get on while he was still feeling fresh so I could use his energy to my advantage.

He was both soft and a little sticky at the start of the ride. We've observed before that he gets a bit confused about the sensation of wearing a saddle when he's wet. We started with a slow warm up. He was moving off my legs like I've never felt before. It was amazing. He was almost as responsive as Steen, though not as precise. Still, we moved through a lot of good movements right away.

Bear was in a similar state. He was loping around looking like a seven year old, all softness and energy at the same time. I joked to Brian that we need to get them wet and slightly chilled more often.

I moved Laredo into the trot, and his energy was good. After a bit, I asked for the lope. I thought there was a good chance he'd get a little wadded up, and he did. I had one moment where I thought I'd made a mistake not bringing him down a few more notches with groundwork. We went around a turn and the saddle shifted slightly. Laredo slammed on the brakes and threw his head between his legs. I thought I was in for a serious launching. But I lifted his nose gently and squeezed him with my calves and he unstuck, looking more confused than anything else. We moved back into the lope. We had one or two more sticky moments, but after a few laps in each direction he evened out and was moving nicely.

So we went back to the cow exercise we played yesterday, again with having Laredo calling the shots. He was great, both at collecting and hanging back when necessary, and at jumping out and chasing Bear down. We had one phase in the middle where we lost it on backing through the turns, but I think it was more to do with me getting into a hurry than Laredo not listening. Throughout the ride he was stopping like nobody's  business. I had to really hunker down and soften up to sit his stops. It was great fun.

After that, I worked for a while just on softening Laredo for a few strides at the walk and the trot. He did so well with this. He lifted off the hackamore like a champ, never leaning or getting grouchy. Here we are (sorry about the blurry) moving forward with a bit of softness.

He was backing really softly as well.

After the ride, he still wasn't dry but he was in a great mood. With his coat slicked down you can see that he's getting in better shape, which I think is helping with his energy levels and all around motivation.

We're supposed to get more rain and cold and even some snow. We blanketed all three of the guys for the first time ever and put them back outside with instructions to keep each other warm.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback Hours YTD: 37:45

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

T-Shirt Weather?

Brian got home from work today and we were both keen to get to the barn. It was nearly 70° out. I slathered on sunscreen, put on one of my thin summer barn t's, and as we drove we discussed which fantastic outdoor environment we would ride in.

Except then we got to the barn. And the sun was no longer out, a cold wind had kicked up, and it looked like they'd gotten a lot more rain than we did in town. We found Laredo lying in a pile of muck, more than a little filthy.

I keep a spare sweatshirt in the car for just this type of miscalculation. By the time we got the horses tacked we'd agreed we'd just rip the ground up anywhere we rode while being uncomfortably cold. Somewhat disappointed, we adjourned to the indoor arena.

But it actually turned out to be a great ride. We opened the big door for light and air. Laredo was in a fabulous mood. He was soft and willing with Brian, and they had one of their best rides to date, which in turn was making me happy.

Steen and I started out with more flag work. I did some groundwork with the flag attached to the saddle, and  worked on continuing to help Steen understand the difference between when the flag means move and when it does not. I did the same with swirling my mecate. We're making progress.

I got on and worked through a number of different exercises, then I grabbed the flag and rode around with it for a while. Again, we worked on the concept that Steen should only yield to the flag if he's getting a signal from me to do so. He has the most trouble moving into it, but also tends to want to pull his hindquarters or shoulders away from it. Last week Brian rode Bear and walked, trotted, and loped with the flag. I thought, "I don't know if I could do that with Steen." Nowadays when I have that kind of thought, I file it away as something to work on soon.

So we worked on moving with precision at higher gaits with the flag. We had some funny, dishy moments, and one or two unplanned big stops when I brought the flag past Steen's balance point while he was moving out. But overall Steen was trying really hard and he wasn't being spazzy or spooky at all. I was pleased with what we got done. Brian tried to take some photos, but the light was horrible. Still, one is kind of neat. You can see the red blur of the flag, and the boot Steen's still wearing to protect the split in his heel.

Later in the ride, we worked on a variation of cow we made up on the spot, which we were hoping would help Laredo start to put more energy into yielding his forequarters. Brian does a really job explaining it here, so I won't rewrite it all. Suffice it to say, it was very fun and it worked nicely for Laredo. Steen was great. I've been working on having him move off while holding collection, so I'll gather him up while he's standing and not release the reins when I ask him for an upwards transition. He is getting good with this. When I pick him up he rounds up so nicely and then stands there coiled and ready to go. I loped him out of tracks quite a few times today. And once I got warmed up, I even took my sweatshirt off for a while.

But by the time we got home the temperature had dropped into the 40s. What gives, Iowa?

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback Hours YTD: 36:50

Sunday, April 07, 2013


The sun was out today, and we waited for things to really warm up before heading out to the barn. Our plan was to do a double ride, starting with me on Laredo and Brian on Steen, then switching to me riding Steen and Brian riding Bear. We planned to do the first ride on the strip and head over to the salad bowl for the second.

One of the interesting aspects of boarding at a facility attached to a working farm is you never quite know what's going to be going on any given day. Today we pulled up to find three huge pieces of machinery parked on the strip, right where we usually ride. At first this was annoying and disappointing, but while we groomed the horses I made an effort to adjust mentally to their presence and by the time we got out to the strip I was ready to think of it as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

We started out doing groundwork near the machinery, making the horses lead between us and the tractors, and otherwise get used to moving in their vicinity. Laredo, being a highly inquisitive three-year-old, was more curious than nervous.

At the Martin Black clinic, someone had a horse who was really inclined to spook, even at familiar objects. They asked what to do when a horse wanted to look at something. Martin said, particularly with young horses, you get them brave by allowing them to approach an object they are uncertain of and conclude that it is nothing to worry about. He said as long as a horse is walking directly towards something with its ears up, he will let it approach. What he won't do is allow the horse to stop, shy, or wheel away, and he won't force the horse to get closer than it wants. He said if you do this consistently, a horse will soon learn to march right up to something its unsure of instead of trying to run from it.

With this in mind, Laredo and I did some close up inspection of the equipment after I got on. More than anything he wanted to stand around and nibble the tires...

So pretty soon we moved on to other things.

For most of the ride, we just did stuff near the equipment, but after awhile I decided to use it my advantage. I started trotting figure-eights around the two largest pieces of machinery. It was kind of fun to have a real obstacle to work around, and I think it helped Laredo be more interested in the exercise.

After a few laps trotting, I started asking for a lope on the straighter parts of the figure eight. This went well. Laredo went into the lope nicely and between the machinery without a second thought, and came back to the trot when I started posting.

We took a break (I must admit I really enjoy watching my husband ride my horse, and spent a fair bit of time doing that and taking pictures) and worked on other things for a time. Today I was trying very hard to be soft with Laredo. We're working on speeding him up, so it can be easy to get quick to hurry him. Today I wanted to see what we could accomplish if I gave him just a little more space between asking and insisting. Overall I was very pleased with how soft he was, particularly backing and stepping the front over.

Eventually we went back to our obstacle course. I started asking for him to lope an entire circle around the biggest piece of equipment. These went well at first. We got two circles that were quite nice. But Brian and Steen were down the strip, and it was a hot day. Laredo started being not so keen on continuing with the exercise.

Laredo always has a bit of a pull in that direction anyway, and with Steen and Brian down there, this was stronger than usual. On our third circle he dropped the lope, and I had to work a little to get him back into it. When we came around the corner and were pointing towards Steen and Brian, he tried to veer in that direction. I blocked him without any trouble and we went back towards the barn. But then he dropped the lope again and kicked out when I asked him to get back into it. When we went around the turn that time his pull towards Brian and Steen was stronger.

By that point I wasn't going to let him stop until we got another nice circle, but the ride was getting rough. He kept dropping or nearly dropping the lope, kicking out and getting wadded up when I made him move out again, and finally when we came around that turn again he leaned on the hackamore and surged for Brian and Steen.

I was prepared for this. Laredo doesn't attempt full-on rebellion very often, but when he does he gives it his all. He's succeeded in running away with Brian twice, and I was determined not to let him get away with that again. As soon as I felt him gather himself and start to bolt, I sat back and pulled. With the way he was already trying to lean, I knew I was going to have to apply a lot of force if I wanted to be effective. So I basically pulled as hard as I could. I don't think I've ever done that to a horse before. Brian happened to take a photo right at the moment I engaged the hackamore.

The pull worked, but only barely. I got him stopped but not turned. So I backed him up and made his life miserable for the ten seconds or so during which he was not going forward but was still intent on his agenda of escaping down the strip. I backed him until he was soft, turned him around, and pushed him back into the lope.

Fortunately, the lesson took. Laredo loped a beautiful circle, smooth and even, with no stiffening or veering at all when we came around that corner. I stopped him and we rested (facing away from Brian and Steen). I think I was breathing harder than he was.

Then we went the other way, and it was soft, smooth, and even.

By then we'd been riding for about an hour. We did a few things to cool down, and Brian handed me Steen and went off to get Bear. I untacked both Steen and Laredo and rubbed them down while Brian got Bear from the pasture and cleaned him up. I turned Laredo back out, put my saddle and hackamore on Steen, and we were off again.

We headed for the salad bowl. Steen was already well warmed up from Brian's ride, and super quiet. We ambled over, taking the long way through the pastures. Once there, we both worked on loping circles. This is something we've both struggled with in the past: taking our horses entirely out of their comfort zone and asking them to focus on both moving out AND paying attention.

It went really well. We've never worked them in this area before, and they both had a tendency to be a bit uneven about pace and inclined to veer towards the barn or each other, but this stuff was very minor. Both horses stayed soft and responsive and entirely controlled. Overall we were both really happy with the work we got done.

It was such a fun, relaxing outing. The salad bowl is huge, and it's neat to have such a large space to work with. Best of all was how comfortable we all were. We plan to make this a more regular part of our riding routine.

Ride Time: 1:00
Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback Hours YTD: 36:00

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Windy and Dry

It was not the most enticing weather today: bright but hazy, with crazy winds. But it was at least warm, and when we got to the barn we got to meet the new baby that arrived during the night. The mare, Jackie, has been unbelievably big for weeks. She seems a lot happier with her little girl on the outside.

The vet was also there, doing dental work on a bunch of horses. So the barn was crowded and noisy and the wind was just screaming in the roof. It was the kind of day that makes me glad our horses are quiet. There was nowhere to tie, but even Laredo has standing figured out now, so it was no problem. We just parked them near our locker and got ready to go.

The split on Steen's heel looks like its healing fine, but I don't want him to re-injure himself. So I rode him today with one bell boot to help protect that foot, which earned me a perplexed comment from our barn owner.

Steen was in a funny mood today. He was quiet when standing but a little amped when I asked him for things. Not in a skittish way. It was more like he was putting a little too much effort and energy into everything. We worked on various things out on the strip. When I first asked for a lope, he seemed to keep getting the wrong lead behind. After a few false starts though we evened out and he starting giving me these beautiful, relaxed circles. He's carrying himself so much better than he used to. He's soft to my hands at the lope, and I feel like I can make minute adjustments to his trajectory with my seat and legs. We loped quite a few circles and it felt awesome.

Overall, it was a pretty low energy ride. Brian was riding Laredo and we played cow a little. Steen was giving me great canter departures, nice stops, and a number of really fluid changes of direction. Laredo did well too, and even legitimately won once when he and Brian outfoxed and outmaneuvered me and Steen.

After riding on the strip for a while we went out through the bean field and back along the second strip. Steen was quiet and relaxed in spite of the wind. It is just amazing to me how different he feels riding out lately. He's so quiet and confident all of a sudden.

We put them back in the dusty, wind-tossed pasture. Both Steen and Laredo immediately availed themselves of the dry ground to replace all the dirt we brushed out of their coats while Bear got his old man vitamins.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback Hours YTD: 33:50

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sunny Strip Ride

Today we rode on the strip. It was great to tack up outside and ride outside and feel warm the whole time. We're still way below average temps for this time of year, but at least we're getting some days that it feels nice to be outside.

I rode Laredo. I continued with my focus of being precise with what I ask for, with a concrete goal in mind every single time I asked him to move. We also took plenty of breaks between asking for things. He was pretty good. I expected him to have more energy and distraction because we were outside, but that wasn't really the case.

We worked a lot on moving the front around the hind. He's gotten stuck with this lately. He always wants to rock forward, so I worked on asking him to back a few steps, then step across, back a few steps, then step across. We did that over and over until we got to a point where he took one step and was actually set up to take another. We also worked a lot on backing with consistency. I'd keep him going back until I could feel he was prepared to take another step after the one I'd just asked for, then let him rest.

We also worked on consistent energy at the trot. He's getting better about this. He still has a tendency to want to slow down in the turns, so I worked on hurrying him through those as well.

A lot of Laredo's slow-down problems come from his tendency to carry his head too low. For a long time we haven't specifically addressed this because it seemed like too much to throw at him at once. Now, though, he's clearly developing an understanding of his job. So today, particularly towards the end when he was getting tired, I worked on gently lifting his head when he starting dropping his poll below his withers. I don't care about his head being anywhere in particular, just not so low it's inhibiting his ability to balance properly. Interestingly, each time I lifted his head, he responded by picking up the pace. Definitely something to keep working on.

We also loped some circles. These went better than I expected. He had one place he wanted to bend out in each direction, but I had no trouble keeping him in line. Once he dropped the lope and I popped him on the butt and he surged off but didn't get stiff or scared and after the initial burst of speed, came back to a nice circle.

He's looking pretty ragged though. His tail got chewed off a few weeks ago by a new horse that no one knew had a tail chewing habit until he'd destroyed a few tails, and his winter coat is completely beat up and half fallen out. Looks aren't everything, but I'm looking forward to seeing him in new summer duds in a few more weeks.

Steen was also enjoying the weather. He was conked out in the pasture when we arrived. It worried me just a little. This is only the second time in five years I've come out to find him lying down. But he got up to say hi and was clearly his normal self. Then when we were riding I saw he'd tucked in for another nap in the sun.

Ride Time: 1:15
Horseback Hours YTD: 32:35

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A Ride in Thirds

I forgot to mention last post that Steen kicked himself during our unplanned gallop and split open his heel. It was bleeding a lot when we got back to the barn, and I hosed it off and packed it with Neosporin. The bleeding stopped quickly after that and I wasn't too worried about. Still, I was anxious to see how things were looking today.

Steen has been coming to me in the pasture like a champ since our re-education on that subject a week or so ago, so I took him in and looked at his foot, which looked fine. Still, I rode him with an over-reach boot on that side to help ensure we didn't re-open anything.

Today we rode 1/3 inside, 1/3 on the strip, and 1/3 out on the trail. Inside I worked on rectangles and figure-eights. My work on asking with the leg befor engaging the supporting rein is starting to result in a big difference in how Steen responds to my legs. Today we were executing really great figure-eights with the reins draped over the horn and my arms crossed from the get-go. He's also starting to put more speed into yielding his forequarters, which is finally allowing us to consistently move fluidly through the whirligig.

We worked on some loping, but it was a little sloppy. The transitions we struggle with the most are trot to lope and lope to trot. Stop to lope, walk to lope, lope to stop, and lope to walk are all great, but something about my timing at the trot is still really holding us back.

After about half an hour, we went outside. The wind was super chilly but the footing on the strip was great. I worked on some walking and trotting exercises. When we're outside, Steen has a tendency to drop his inside shoulder and hurry when we're turning towards home, so I worked on teardrop-shaped turns inside of u-shaped ones. This throws him off-balance if he puts too much weight on his forequarters, and forces him  back on to his hind. This worked quite well to correct him. We'll have to keep working on those until I get that habit ironed out.

After the trotting I moved him in and out of the lope from the walk a few times. His lope outside was a thing of absolute beauty. He felt soft and collected and strong and completely relaxed and at home underneath me.

From there we walked back to the second strip. We encountered three tractors in just a few minutes, and both Steen and Laredo were looking at them with some uncertainty. I kept my seat moving at the cadence I wanted and when Steen stalled once or twice, just gave him a little squeeze with my calves. He came unstuck each time and kept going.

On the way back I could tell Steen was remembering the gallop, but other than putting a little more energy into the walk, showed no inclination to repeat the performance.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 31:20

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