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

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