Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Letting Go

Since we went to our first Buck clinic, I've been working hard to change the way I ride in any number of ways. The biggest is to do with my legs. Before Buck, I thought I used my legs, but really, I didn't. I hadn't been that great at using my legs before Steen, but he was so sensitive to any leg pressure I ended up riding him in this ridiculous posture, my legs held straight out to the side most of the time to avoid brushing him and causing a leap/surge/meltdown.

What I've learned since then is how to support a horse with my legs. This has done wonders for me and Steen. I figured out all of Steen's anxiety essentially came from never knowing when someone was going to pull on his mouth. When I'm communicating with him with my legs, that takes the guesswork out of it for him. He always knows what I'm going to ask him to do next.

But I still have been struggling with the legs/hands progression. I know I should ask with my legs first, then reinforce with my hands if necessary. The problem is Steen will feel the subtlest little tip of my hand, and rely on that instead of legs in terms of steering.

I've been working on riding him without my hands at all for a least a little portion of every ride for a couple of months now. We've made a lot of progress. Today I got on and started the ride without hands, walking circles in both directions and then progressing to figure-eights.

this is Steen's ultra lazy trot

We were in the outdoor arena, and Brian was on Zoey. He'd been doing a lot of groundwork with her, and before I got on I'd decided to see how Steen was with the tarp. I'd never exposed him to a tarp before, so I was curious to see how it would go. When he first saw it, he arched his neck and snorted, but then I touched him with it and he quieted right now. I rubbed him all over, whacked him with it, moved him with it, laid it on the ground and walked him over it. He didn't mind. But he was pretty awake and soft by the time I mounted, so maybe that was a factor in terms of the ride that followed.

Whatever the cause, our ride was amazing. I started out with no hands just to sort of check in with it, but then I just kept going. I must have spent 90% of the ride with the reins looped around the horn. Once every five minutes or so we'd miss a turn, and I'd have to reach down and tip Steen's nose in the right direction. I also spent a few minutes working on softness and collection and canter departures from standing still. But that was it. I have never ridden so long and so freely without reins in my hands, and I didn't really set out to do it today. But as the ride went on I got better at riding with my body, and Steen got better at listening to my body. We were trotting some very nice no-handed figure-eights when Brian joked, "I want to see your no-handed lope."

I laughed too, but then a few minutes later we came through a turn and I thought, why not? I pushed Steen into a lope. We went a few nice circles. I didn't keep him on the rail, but turned him off into a small circle. We went a few laps, then stopped from the lope, all of this with the reins looped around the horn.

my hands think they have reins in them, but they don't

I'm not actually someone who aspires to bridleless riding, but great communication and control with the legs alone is a critical thing to have in place before advanced into the two-rein. After this ride, I'm realizing Steen and I are closer to the next step than I had thought.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 105:15

Sunday, July 21, 2013

And the Heat Hits

It's been a hot week, with heat index readings into the range where they recommend you be careful with your horses. The nights haven't been cooling off, which means they don't have a chance to recover from the brutal days. We've been taking it easy.


It was Duke Day, and all our horses were due for a trim. We got out to the barn early and took Steen and Bear on a trail ride. We hadn't ridden all week, and we spent a few minutes warming up on the strip. Since I've been using Steen as a lesson horse, I'm noticing he is often rather dull to my subtler cues when I get on. I've been spending the first five minutes or so of every ride recalibrating him a bit. Typically, Steen is quite good at moving off my leg and giving to light pressure, but it is amazing to see how quickly he will lose that when he's ridden by someone who hasn't learned to be consistent with releasing yet. I've found if I am a bit persnickety with him from the moment I get on, he'll be through the dullness and back to the soft horse I'm used to in short order. If I kind of try to ease him back into a more responsive mindset, it will take the whole ride to get anywhere with him. So I start off moving quickly through all our basic maneuvers and demanding some quality from him right off the bat.

My other new thing I'm doing with Steen is mounting him from the right. Believe it or not, I had never mounted a horse from the ground from the off side in my entire life until Saturday. My primary reason for doing this is I can tell my left stirrup leather is starting to get just a tad stretched. I figure if I mount and dismount from the wrong side every time I ride Steen, that will start to even things out. But I will admit it was an embarrassingly clumsy first time. All my muscle memory was misfiring. Luckily Steen was not bothered as I awkwardly heaved up.

The trail ride was good, if not quite as fabulous as the last couple. We moved out a lot more, loping along the open double-track side by side for the first time ever. A few minutes later we encountered a heap of tires, and these bothered Steen a bit. So we stopped and worked on not trying to bulge or turn away from them. I pushed Steen harder than I ever had before when he's been troubled by something on the trail, blocking his attempts to turn or back pretty firmly, and pushing him until he would go forward and sniff the tires. At which point he, of course, realized they were no big deal. We walked quietly around them in both directions and moved on.

Ride Time: 1:20


I rode Zoey in the outdoor arena. I did some work with the flag at the tie rack before I tried to saddle her, touching her all over with it until she could stand without flinching. She was good, never tried to escape the flag. And then when I saddled her she took the saddle without a single step. But this continues to be her most inconsistent and sub-par thing. She just gets nervous when she sees the saddle coming. We've made progress, but we're not done yet.

Our ride was good. She took all the groundwork very well, and by the time I got on her back she was quiet and relaxed. The only bummer was she was a tad tender from the trim the day before. I chatted with the farrier about the state our horses' feet were in (way too long), and we're going to change the way we do things. He comes to the barn on a schedule because he lives pretty far away and it's lot of driving for him to do just one horse. But we have four horses now and we're probably the most active riders at our barn. For most people it doesn't matter that much if the timing isn't ideal, but for us it does. He said next time to call him and he'll come out for just us.

It's been dry and the ground is hard, and both Zoey and Laredo were tender (we didn't ride the other two so don't know of they were). This is the first time in five years with this farrier that any of our horses have ever been tender after a trim, so I tend to blame the conditions.

Anyway, Brian was on Laredo. We did some work in the outdoor arena at the walk, and decided to play a little slow-mo cow. This went surprisingly well. Zoey already stops with her hind, and she moved her front end around nicely. Since we were only walking it was very slow and pretty boring, but it was a good way to work on some precision.

Then we decided the sand in the indoor might be nicer on their feet, and went inside. I wanted to check out Zoey's lope. After walking around a few laps in each direction (she felt fine), I moved her onto the rail and asked her to speed up. There was a piece of PVC pipe set out a little further down the arena. We'd walked over it in both directions so I didn't think it would be a problem, but as we came down the rail and I asked Zoey for some speed, she got super confused. She latched onto the PVC pipe, clearly thinking she was supposed to jump it. Her whole body went rigid and I could feel the anxiety come up in her. She couldn't decide whether she was supposed to trot or lope, and ended up doing this weird, scooty compromise that somehow wasn't either one. We reached the pipe, she flung herself over it in a pretty tidy leap that would have cleared an actual jump, then went fast-trotting off down the opposite rail.

As soon as she'd latched onto the pipe, I'd decided to just leave her alone and let her do what felt best for her. I stopped her after her hop and petted her, but she was keyed up for the first time all day.

The people we bought Zoey from bragged to us that they'd had her jumping over 3.5'. Zoey is a green, sensitive horse with slightly pigeon-toed front feet and a flaw in her front left pastern. I can't believe anyone with sense would jump her at all, ever, much less when she only had a couple of months riding under her belt. We've seen evidence that she was pushed too far too fast through all of our work with her, but this was a glimpse of a whole new layer of that. It's sad to me that so often a willing horse is taken advantage of. They end up confused and anxious, and oftentimes injured because so many people don't seem to realize that just because a horse will do something doesn't mean that's the right thing for that horse to do at that time.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. We went back to trotting and she calmed down quickly enough. I tried to get her into a lope but she was tired by then. When I asked for speed (avoiding the PVC pipe) she moved into this long, low extended trot that was possibly the fastest trot I've ever ridden. I decided that was effort enough. It was stifling hot in the indoor arena and we were all sweat-slicked by the time the ride was over.

Also, tiny puppy:

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 103:55

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July is Kind (So Far)

Usually July in Iowa is not all that great. It tends to be hot, humid, and buggy. Not my favorite combo. This July has been much better than usual. We've had a lot of mild days.

We've  been getting out on the horses a lot. And as far as the blogging in concerned, that's part of the problem. We're riding so much it's hard to keep up with it, hard to find the time to write about every ride.

So that means I haven't been blogging at all, which is not at all ideal. I think this is my biggest dry spell since I started this blog in 2008.


But things are going really well. I'm just going to mention some highlights.

Zoey is finally coming to us in the pasture (as opposed to moving away from us, or just tolerating us approaching her). We've also been taking the groundwork to a new level with her, and it's helping her both to be quieter about strange things in general, but also to gain confidence and learn she can encounter something unusual and scary but not have to be truly freaked out or rattled by it. She continues to demonstrate so much try. I've never met a horse another horse who wants to get along with you so much.

Laredo has been a bit spacey as far as try and attentiveness is concerned. So we've actually been hitting him with the groundwork pretty hard as well. We have the opposite goal with him. We want to wake him up and teach him being responsive and paying attention and moving his feet is the best way to keep himself out of trouble. He seems to be taking it all just fine, and yesterday Brian had a truly, unbelievably, awesome ride on him. I've had a small number of those with Laredo, but Brian never had, so that was good.

We've been getting Bear and Steen out on the trails quite a lot, with excellent results. A couple weeks ago we did a swap and headed out on each others' horses. That was super fun. I'd never ridden Bear on the trail before, and he was great.

Today we headed out and did close to five miles of trail, trotting the vast majority of the time with a fair bit of loping thrown in. Steen and Bear both moved out nicely, seeming to enjoy themselves. We've been working on being controlled and relaxed at the lope, and it's really paying off.

Also, my mom came for a visit. We dragged her out on the trail the first day. that was the first time we ever took our three geldings out together. A couple days later, she rode Steen around the tree lot for a while. She was sore from our ride and Steen was latched on to me, so I just walked around for a while and he followed me. We walked and trotted that way, and it was kind of a crack up.

So, in a nutshell: we're riding a lot and things are good. And I'm hoping I can get back into a better blogging habit.

Also, Brian put up a catch up post with tons of photos. You can see that here.

Horseback Hours YTD: 102: 05

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