Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Kid Turns Four

Yesterday as we rode in off the trail with the sun shining, I was envisioning a wondrous three day weekend of double ride days. Instead we woke up this morning to thunder and heavy rain, not to mention unseasonably cool temps.

We waited. The rain didn't stop. We checked the radar. One storm rolled out just as another came in.

We've learned our lesson before about riding during storms. While it's technically feasible, the huge metal roof of our indoor arena makes it unbelievably loud in there even during a medium rain. It's really not a relaxing environment.

So we waited some more, and around 3:00 the rain let up enough to make going to the barn seem worth it.

We found the herd in a line against the windblock. I wish we'd have taken a photo. It was hilarious. Sometimes new boarders comment on the windblock and its overall ugliness and seem to wish it would be removed, but all it takes is a visit to the barn in less than ideal weather to see how useful it is for the horses. The were standing on the leeward side, sheltered from the worst of the rain, packed together facing out, hierarchy temporarily forgotten as they all used each other to say warm. They were all there, except Steen and Bear, who were on the bale.

I had taken out two halters, because I thought there was a good chance Steen was going to be uncomfortable and want to come in. I was right. So we brought Laredo, Steen and Zoey inside. They were all shaking a bit with the cold, but we gave them all a snack and they all settled down quickly. We toweled them off. I kept Steen inside until I had Laredo ready to go, by which point the rain had mostly ceased, so I put him back out.

Today was the Laredo birthday. He is now officially four years old, but today he was acting as babyish as ever. He was tense and nervous from the storm. Every time I came near, he wanted to lick my hands or shirt. When I wasn't near him, he wanted to chew his rope or mess with the locker latches or fidget around. Zoey was also nervous, and as there is only one place to tie when the barn is closed up, Laredo was tied but Steen and Zoey were standing. Steen is great with this. He'll just park where you leave him, but Zoey was more inclined to flinch away from the towel and fidget around, which makes a good deal of sense considering we've had her for two weeks. Laredo has been with us over a year now, and should know better. I was having a hard time not being irritated by his antics.

He was antsy, reactive, and distractible during groundwork, so we did more than usual. Once I got on things were ok. He wasn't doing anything bad, but he was a mental ping-pong ball. Any time there was a movement or a sound or any kind of external stimuli, his focus would shift there.

Of our four horses, there is no doubt Laredo tries my patience the most. I was trying so hard not to let him irritate me, to correct him fairly and with patience each time his mind wandered, but I was getting irritated anyway. We worked on all sorts of things, and it was all just mediocre. On the other hand, there wasn't anything I could necessarily find to focus on and try to improve. We were stuck in the land of him doing what I was asking, but only with half his brain engaged.

I remember this phase with Steen. It was like he had learned his job well enough that he could go through the motions without having to fully engage with what I was asking. At the time, I found it hard to address without feeling like I was just being unnecessarily mean. I felt that way again today.

We'd gone to working on small figure-eights at the trot. They started out ok, and just got worse and worse and worse. Finally, Laredo pushed through my leg in one turn, I bumped him with it to remind him it was there and got absolutely no response. So I picked up the long end of my mecate in preparation for a pop on the butt, and he straightened right out, became fully focused, and went through several flawless figure-eights. I let him stop, and we rested for a while.

We moved on to the other things. The first time I asked him for a lope he was highly enthusiastic, to the point I was wondering if he remembered he was even carrying a rider. Laredo's age is definitely translating into increased fitness. He is rather strapping these days, and carrying a rider no longer seems like an effort for him. So I brought him back to the trot and we worked on precise upwards transitions for a while. He was great. I'd soften him up and prepare him at the walk, and we'd spring into the canter.

But then our stops fell apart, so we worked on those. Then I looked over and saw Brian and Zoey backing a nice circle. This is an exercise I don't practice as much as I should, so I decided to back a circle too. But Laredo did not want to back a circle. He kept getting stuck. He wouldn't move off my seat while backing, and when I tried to make it more clear to him what I wanted, he'd freeze up and stop moving at all. We worked at it, and he started leaning on the bit. Brian stopped to watch, and suggested I shouldn't give him a release until he actually turned loose for me, which is what I had been trying to do but it had taken so long I'd chickened out and given him a release for a partial try.

So I repositioned myself and we tried again. Recently it seems to me the hardest part of riding horses is knowing how much pressure to apply at any given moment. Too little pressure, and the horse doesn't get the message. Too much, and they feel threatened. The amount of pressure needed varies tremendously based on the horse, and my big challenge with the Laredo is he often needs more than I prefer to dish out.

But I kept at it, picked up a firm hold on the reins and locked my arms against my sides. I did this to make sure I did not pull. You can't pull a horse back, but you can give him a reason to lift off of pressure. Then I waited. Laredo braced and backed and braced and backed and finally lifted of the pressure, gave at the poll, and turned loose.

And this is the thing. When he turns loose, he turns into a different horse. From there, I could take him wherever I wanted. He would move out off a shift in my seat. He's step his front around at the touch of a rein. The rest of the ride was much better, and he was finally actually trying to stay focused and do what I was asking.

After the ride he was a lot less obnoxious too. So I need to keep exploring with him, and find more constructive ways to get him into the right mindset sooner.

Because of how long it took us to get the horses in, dried off, fed, tacked, and calmed down enough to ride, we didn't leave the barn until well after 6:00. Unfortunately we're supposed to be in for more storms tomorrow AND Monday.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 70:10


  1. I was just backing circles on my 4 year old kid a couple of days ago. I agree, I need to practice it more and he gets stuck one direction over the other. But I will keep at it because it is supposed to help with leads, as advised by Buck.
    You are doing awesome. As for me, I
    Must. Keep. Practicing. With. Quality.

  2. Thanks Suzanne! Definitely something I need to work on this every ride...


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