Saturday, May 04, 2013

Saturday Swap

It rained all day Friday, so we didn't ride. We were supposed to get more rain today, but it was dry in the morning. We decided to head to the barn before things could get worse.

The bales are a little low, and we found the herd rather chilly and unhappy. I planned to bring Steen inside to give him some chopped hay, so went out with two halters. Steen and Bear both came to the gate when they saw us. Laredo was way, way out in the second pasture. I could just see him by the far fence, engaged in a game with another horse that involved head-tossing and rearing. I figured he'd never notice us from that distance. So I haltered Steen and handed him to Brian.

When the bales are low, certain herd members have a bit of a tendency to mob the gate and try to exit with you when you try to leave with your horses. Since Brian was trying to leave with two horses, I spent a minute encouraging those that weren't ours to leave us alone. The two worst offenders finally decided to leave and went galloping off to the other side of the pasture.

I turned back towards where I'd seen Laredo, prepared to walk out to get him, and saw instead that he was loping straight towards me with his head up and this look on his face like he was afraid we'd leave him behind. He cantered all the way across the second pasture, slowed to weave his way around a cluster of horses in the way, and then trotted the rest of the way up to me. What a guy.

We went to the tie rack. Steen got his snack and I returned him to the pasture. The ground was too soggy for riding outdoors, so we stayed inside, but we did open the big door.

Laredo was a little more low-energy than would have been ideal, but I worked on softening exercises interspersed with moving him out. He was pretty good, although a bit stiff loping at first.

It has been driving me crazy lately that both Steen and Laredo don't move nearly as well off my right leg as my left leg. I know it's my problem, but with both horses I have much, much more trouble getting them to yield their forequarters in that direction. This affects stepping the front over, whirligigs, and side-passing.

I have this chronic issue with my right side that makes it hard for me to move my lower leg in certain ways. This problem is considerably worse the less fit I am. As my recent two-week bout with the flu appears to have destroyed roughly 80% of my muscle mass, lately my right knee has been bothering me a lot while riding. I was aware this was probably a factor, but couldn't figure out how.

I worked Laredo with the flag at first, and had him stepping his front great in both directions, and doing good whirligigs in both directions. Then I set down the flag and I could not get him to move his front over. We'd get great whirligigs going one direction, then I'd switch. I'd get the hind no problem, then I'd ask for the front and he'd stick as if someone nailed his front feet to the ground.

I asked Brian to watch me. I did several whirligigs in the direction that we had working, then tried the other way. We got stuck, as usual. Brian said I was not leaning back and opening my shoulder. I, of course, thought I was doing these things, but I tried again, really focusing on getting my weight onto my right hip, which is hard when I'm tight on that side.

If I ever start to doubt that rider balance is the most crucial aspect of how a horse moves, moments like this drive that lesson right home again. I got Laredo stepping under behind, then really forced myself on my right hip, opening my left shoulder and getting all of my weight off Laredo's front left foot. Laredo executed an almost perfect step over as soon as I got out of his way. So, I just need to remember that if I'm tight and uncomfortable on my right side, I need to exaggerate what I think I'm doing in the saddle.

After that, we had no more trouble with moving the front anywhere I wanted to go. I also worked a lot on holding collection for a few steps at the walk and trot, through both upwards and downwards transitions. This went much better than I expected. I was really impressed with how well Laredo collected and stayed soft through different movements.

We rode for about an hour, and then stopped to talk. Brian was doing only walk work with Bear today in hopes of helping his back recover from its recent bout of soreness. We had both kind of run out of things to do, so decided to swap horses. We hopped down, pulled our saddles, and switched.

I climbed on Bear for the first time this year. Lately every time I ride Bear I think I should ride him more. However, due to his age, we regular his workload, so often it works out that it doesn't make much sense for me to ride him. Still, it was fun to get on today. He was happy to walk me around. We worked on a bunch of bending exercises, spiraling exercises, and some leg-yields, all at the walk. Bear has a totally different motor than our other two horses. He has a huge haunch, and everything he does, he drives from behind. It's a different feel than I'm used to.

We tooled around for about half an hour, then decided to finish up. I went to retrieve the flag from where I'd left it on the side of the arena. I nudged Bear up to the wall without trouble and picked it up. At first he was fine, but then the flag got into a zone on his right side where we think he can't see that well, and he wasn't so happy about that. He started hopping and spinning around. I was more concerned about him tweaking his back than anything else, so I bent him to a stop. But as soon as I let his straighten again, he saw the flag again and start hopping and spinning. We did this three time and finally I dropped the flag. In normal circumstances I just would have worked him until he was quiet, but in this case it wasn't worth the possibility of setting his recovery back.

I made him approach the flag after I'd dropped it. He shied around a little but I got him near it. Then I dismounted, and did a little work with him on the ground until he was accepting the flag without trouble. Then I got on again, keeping the flag on his left side. He's not nearly as troubled on that side, so it was a lot less of a challenge. He still got a little sticky, but I got him to walk around the arena quietly while I moved the flag around.

I thought that was a good place to stop. But it was another interesting illustration of how much trust matters. Bear doesn't care about the flag at all when it's Brian who is holding it.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 49:10

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