Saturday, June 29, 2013

June Recap

Well, so June happened.

So far this summer, we've been riding a lot. In May my total was over 28 hours. I've never ridden that much in a month before. At least, not since I've been keeping track. And honestly probably not since before I was keeping track, either. June has been not quite as much riding, but it's been busy in other ways. All of a sudden I'm an author, and being an author takes a surprising amount of time. I suddenly need to tweet and blog and promote my book. And while so far I've had a lot of positive feedback and the whole experience has been quite rewarding, it's really eating into the amount of time I spend writing about my horses. (!)

Since I'm so behind, I'm going to give a short update for each horse (in order of appearance (in my life)).


Steen has been amazing lately. My mother in law visited earlier this month, and rode Steen twice. He was an utter doll for her. We rode in the tree pasture two days in a row, and we walked and trotted around. She has a good seat and fantastic attitude and was happy to be out with us, and he took care of her even when things fell apart with Zoey (more on that later) and overall just outdid himself in the 'solid mount' category.

In that same vein, I am suddenly a horseback riding instructor. We had a friend, Jane, out to meet Zoey a few weeks ago. She has been riding most of her life, but in a 'rough and ready' sort of way. She wants to learn refinement, and she might be looking to get her own horse in the fall. There is a chance she and Zoey could be a really good match in a month or two, once they both learn a little more. So in the meantime she'll be riding our other horses once a week, and probably Zoey a bit too (she already rode her once and that went well). And who knows? Maybe it will lead to a pretty awesome outcome for everyone concerned.

I gave Jane her first lesson last Tuesday. She rode Steen, and he was great for her too. I can't believe the way he will tolerate things lately, not getting ruffled even when people who aren't me ride him in ways he's not used to. Luckily Jane is both a willing and apt student, and it hopefully won't be long before their communication is a bit more streamlined.


Things with Laredo have also been pretty darn excellent lately. Brian and I have both been making a concerted effort to eradicate the gray zone in our handling with him, and it's really paying off. A couple weeks ago we had the most amazing trail ride. Brian rode Bear, I rode Laredo. We were out for an hour and a half, and we walked, trotted and loped through areas we hadn't been in almost a year. Laredo was so stoked to go, and he stayed engaged with me the whole time. He was smooth and relaxed and curious, the only hiccup being going up and down a really slippery, muddy slope where he got a bit anxious. But we got through that and recovered to have a pretty awesome lope on the way home.

We've also had a few great rides in the tree pasture lately. It's a good space for him, because we can use the trees as obstacles, but there are also large open areas to work on various things in. Earlier this week we (finally) brought a tarp out to the barn to add to our groundwork arsenal, and this has been a good challenge for all our horses.

Increasingly, Laredo is feeling solid and easy to be around. His ear issues are gone, his rooting and nose-out tendencies have pretty much disappeared as well. It's pretty fabulous. It's certainly making it feel like all the time and effort were well invested.


Overall, things have been going well with Zoey also. We've had a sort of give and take with her. When she arrived, we threw a lot at her at once, and mostly she took it quite well. Then we perhaps got a bit complacent. I made a pretty major mistake when my mother in law was visiting, and on the second day decided to ride Zoey out in the tree pasture with Brian on Laredo and Cathy on Steen. It was a warmish day, and buggy, and the last couple of rides Zoey had had diarrhea. She was antsy tacking up, antsy during mounting and when I got on she didn't feel settled at all. Also, we'd never ridden in that space before.

But, you know? I wanted to have a nice ride with our guest, and I didn't let Zoey's needs make an impression on me. We tooled around for a while. My main concern was making sure I never got too near Steen and Cathy, just in case something went wrong.

Zoey was bothered by the bugs, and at one point we were all walking along and she stopped and reached behind her with her head, the way horses do when they're trying to brush off a bug. Except she had apparently forgotten I was on her back, and she clocked her eye, hard, on the rather pointy toe of my boot.

Needless to say, she lost it. She tried to bolt. I shut her down and we spun in circles for a long, long time. Even after she stopped trying to run she was quivering and shaking and having a hard time holding still. I should have stopped then, should have taken a few steps back, maybe done some ground work or something else to build her confidence back up. Instead I shrugged it off and we kept going.

About ten minutes later, I was on the ground, Zoey galloping away, Brian trotting up on Laredo, Cathy stepping on Steen just to be safe. What happened? Well, everything. Basically, Zoey reached her melting point.

The play by play was simple. I asked for a trot, Zoey leapt into it, got pretty forward, and I tried to bend her into a gentle stop. When her head came around, she saw the toe that had nearly taken her eye out a few minutes before. And she panicked. She tried to bolt, I bent her again. She saw my toe again. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I must have shut her down a half a dozen times before finally I lost a stirrup, fell forward onto her neck and couldn't bring her head around, at which point she opened up (she's a fast little thing) into a dead out run for the barn. I bailed, rolling off in at least what turned out to be a fairly graceful unplanned dismount.

A fall is always a little humbling. This was my first in 2.5 years. I got back on, of course, and our ride wrapped up ok. But it was a good reminder for me. Zoey is green. I was riding her as if she was not green, with too much of my mind on things other than her. I let warning sign after warning sign go by unheeded, and I got what I deserved.

So, we've taken a little step back with her, focusing more on groundwork and desensitizing, and little details like making her come to us in the pasture instead of just tolerating us approaching her and haltering her. It's already paying off. Today she came to me from a good distance off, stood perfectly still during saddling for the first time ever, and we had an excellent little ride in the outdoor arena.

Also, she and Bear are just totally pals lately.

Horseback Hours YTD: 90:15

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Snaffle and a Rope

One of my long-term horsemanship goals is to get handy with a rope. This is partly because I think it would be neat to work with cattle in the future, but also because using a rope adds a whole extra level of sophistication to your riding. When I watch riders who not only have perfect control and communication with their horse, but are doing everything with one hand because they have a rope in the other, I am awed.

Of course, I also see hacks leaning on their horse's mouth and causing a lot of pain and suffering to both the horse and the cow. I don't want to be one of those people. Which means I need to get competent with the rope before I ever try to use it.

The problem is, I am not a natural with ropes. It takes me like a year every time I have to learn a new knot, and in spite of my best efforts I create kinks and snags in my mecates and lead ropes all the time.

I'm getting better. I think a lot of it just has to do with paying attention. Brian has actually progressed to the point that he can throw a loop. I can't even figure out how to twirl the loop over my head without ending up with the whole thing wrapping around my wrist and hitting me in the face.

But, the only way to improve is to try. Today Brian had the rope out. After he was finished with it he offered it to me. I figured it couldn't hurt to see how Steen dealt with the coil.

Steen is good with ropes. He doesn't mind them touching him, though he still sometimes has issues with the sound they make if they're swirling fast. Brian handed me the coil and I rubbed Steen with it and he didn't care at all. Then I whacked it on my thigh so the coils rattled, and Steen wasn't as happy about that. He got a little tense.

So we worked on walking and turning and doing various other non-demanding things while I made noise with the rope. Steen was good. Other than some very minor flinching at first, he was fine. I then worked on steering him with the rope by blocking him with the coils and having him yield to them. This was trickier, but he got the idea without too much trouble. Most of our issues were my sloppiness, trying to manage the rope and my reins.

Due to the hole Steen rubbed in his nose with the hackamore while grazing on Friday, I rode in the snaffle today. I have been thinking on and off it would be interesting to check in with a bit on Steen and see how it goes anyway. It's been over a year since I rode Steen in anything but a bosal.

We finished with the rope and moved on to our more normal stuff. I have to say, I was surprised at how Steen felt today. I thought there would be some loss or fuzziness in our ability to communicate. This was not the case. Steen was SOFT, and was responding to then feel of the slobber straps to a degree I didn't even realize was possible. We worked a lot on holding collection, because I could just take a little slack out of the reins the teenist bit and he'd just tuck his nose right in and happily move along.

He was particularly light on his forehand and responsive to my legs. It was neat to feel, and also encouraging to see these tools are working for me the way they are supposed to. The point of using a bosal isn't to bypass the problem if your horse can't deal with a bit, or vice versa. That's not to say using one or the other at a particular time on a particular horse might help with a particular problem, but correct training in one should facilitate communicate in the other. So I must be doing something right.

The only thing that seemed to suffer a slight setback was (surprise, surprise) our stops. But we worked on them and they improved over the course of the ride.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 75:40

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Doing What It Takes

We stopped at the barn on the way to Chicago today. It was still soggy, still overgrown. So we rode inside. But we had the place to ourselves. That makes a big difference.

I rode Laredo. I started off with some groundwork with the flag. Brian and I have both been trying very  hard lately to draw a more obvious line between the "good deal" and the "make it happen" aspects of training with Laredo. I had this in mind from the very beginning.

We started with basic circle work. I'd point, offering him the chance to follow my feel. If he didn't go, I did a big, over-exaggerated cocking of my arm, preparing to bring the flag in to whack his shoulder. If he didn't go, I followed through with a firm whack. (For the record, the pole of the flag is flexible, and the fabric is soft. I don't think you could hurt a horse with it if you tried...) I didn't give him any other ask between the good deal and the flag coming in.

The first time, he needed the whack. The second time, he went when I raised the flag, so I didn't need to follow through. A few times later, he moved off a feel. After that, he was on the ball - paying a lot of good attention to me and putting effort into doing everything I asked.

I didn't belabor it with the groundwork. I mounted after a few minutes. We walked off, and when I asked him to turn I got his trademark sluggish, downhill, heavy-on-the-forehand-while-losing-all-momentum response. I nudged him with my heel to ask him to bring his front through with more energy. No response. So I set myself up, raised my leg way out, and brought it down with one firm kick.

He shaped right up, and several more turns in that direction were good. Then we went the other way, and the same thing happened.

But after that he was awake and alert and had good energy. I worked on gently correcting his head position when he got his poll too low or his nose too far out in front of him. I tried to vary the ride a lot, both in speed and what I was asking for. We worked on canter departures from the walk, and got some really nice ones. I think he's to the point that we can challenge him a bit more and that will help keep him interested. All in all, it was a better ride than I've had on him in a little while.

One criticism I sometimes hear of the methods of the tradition we follow is people can perceive them as rough or abusive. While I disagree entirely with this opinion, I do still find it difficult to dial up the pressure sometimes. The thing is, when done correctly, there is no doubt one moment of enough pressure to get your point across can replace literally hours (and sometimes years) of nagging. I see so many horses at our barn that are dull to all kinds of pressure. They are also lifeless and unhappy in their work.

To paraphrase Betty Staley: What is more abusive? Upping the pressure on a horse once to a degree that it makes him really uncomfortable? Or kicking him over and over, multiple times a ride, every day for the rest of his life?

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 74:35

The Archives


Popular Posts