Sunday, September 22, 2013

Laredo Weekend

With Zoey out of commission, we were down to three horses for the weekend. We decided to focus on getting Laredo out and covering some ground. His tight hocks seem better, and he's actually getting a tad chunky.

Yesterday Brian rode Laredo and I rode Steen and we were out for over two hours. It was a gorgeous day, sunny, in the 70s, and the grass has rebounded thanks to a few good rains. The crops are coming down but the landscape is otherwise green. We rode out as far as we could in one direction, turned around, did the same thing going another way, and finally headed home.

Steen was actually a tad keyed up on the trail, and every time we reached a spot where he knew which way led to home, he had a bit more of an opinion on which way we should go than I would have liked. I was able to work him through these moments and get him back into a good mindset every time, and he never spooked or acted out in any other way, so it wasn't a huge deal. Just not quite normal for him.

Today it was my turn to ride Laredo, but first I had a quick little ride on a new horse that just arrived at the barn. His name is Danny, and he will belong to the barn owner's 10 year old daughter. He's half arab, half quarter horse, and he's huge.

He's five years old, and doesn't have a ton of saddle hours under his cinch. I just walked and trotted him around for a few minutes, but I always enjoy the chance to feel another horse.

Then Brian and I hit the trail. And while yesterday Laredo had some spunk, today he was tired. And that made him a joy to ride. We did a lot of trotting and loping, and he moved really nicely the whole day.

The only part of the ride he had a bit of trouble with was crossing the short stretch of gravel that connects two of our grassy footpaths. He was a bit unhappy about going over this yesterday, but today his feet were clearly a bit tender on the rocks (he was fine on grass). On the way back I took pity on him, got off, and walked.

Our ride today was shorter, only an hour and a half, but it was great fun.

When we got back we brought Zoey in to clean her shoulder up. It's looking a lot better - is draining less and finally has a scab formed over most of it. So hopefully it won't be a whole lot longer before we can get on her back again.

In other news, Steen's right shoulder has suddenly gone all red and sunburned, so he's wearing his fly sheet again. I was kind of hoping he wouldn't need it this year. Hopefully it's just for a few days.

Ride Time: 2:00
Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 144:25

Friday, September 20, 2013

Three Great Rides on Steen

I had a little phase where my rides on Steen weren't going so great. He caught a little cold that was going around the pasture, and had a cough, but his cough seemed better the more I rode him so that made me feel like I shouldn't just give him some time off. Still, he didn't seem to enjoy being ridden all that much. He was distracted and buddy sour and barn sour.

While I can look back at what 'barn sour' and 'buddy sour' used to mean for this particular horse and recognize that what I was experiencing lately was not even dramatic enough to be a 'problem', and while I can definitely understand that a horse can't perform at the same level when they're not feeling well, these rides were a tad frustrating.

Life has thrown a few other things into the bucket as well. I seem to have hit my fall Brown Wing Studio boom, and the extra work stress has caused a flare-up of my convergence insufficiency. Roll all that together and we've had a few weeks where life hasn't been quite as peachy as usual.

However, this week things have turned a corner. We finally(!) got some rain, and that has the dust down. Since my last post, I've ridden Steen three times, once on the trail, once in the tree pasture, and once in the big pasture.

All three rides were really good. The buddy and barn sour issues we'd been dealing with when he had his cough are gone. Today, in particular, I just felt like I could point him anywhere and go where I wanted at any pace, any gait.

We spent a lot of time on top of the hill in the big pasture today. Steen and I worked on trotting and loping circles alone, and Brian and I also played some cow. It made me remember how a couple years ago just riding out into the big pasture was grounds for a breakdown. Today Steen was as mellow as they come.

I recently had an epiphany about the hind end. It's one of those ridiculous epiphanies I should have had years ago, because I've heard person after person talk about how important the hind is, and how you don't really control your horse until you've got the haunches, etc. etc. etc..

Somehow, though, a few weeks ago, I finally understood what this means. It started with Brian talking about a post he read on a forum. It was about the hind end. Brian blogs about this here. We chatted about the hind and circles and at first it didn't seem like we had covered any new territory. But then I went and got on a horse again, and this stuff rose to the surface, and I suddenly understood how the hind end influences a turn.

I can't quite put into language the level of revelational this has been for me in terms of feeling when a horse is balanced and when they are not. With Steen, we've filled a gap I've been aware of but unable to fill. It's the reason he still doesn't stop that great and will sometime feel unbalanced. It all comes back to the hind end. All of it.

So these last few rides, I've been thinking about the haunches and using my inside leg to keep Steen's hind in line with him every time we bend at all (as opposed to only thinking about the hind when we're doing a maneuver specific to the hind end). It's made a big difference. Any time he gets stiff, I just work on getting his loin soft and his hind under him and we go right back to feeling great.

Horseback Hours YTD: 141:45

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Zoey Update

In some ways, our summer with Zoey hasn't gone at all as planned. After a trim a few weeks ago, she was a bit footsore. We gave her some time off. When she got over that, she had a strained stifle or hock. We gave her some more time off. As soon as that cleared up, she got a puncture in her shoulder that left her lame again.

So, at the moment we're waiting for her to heal so we can get back to riding her. Brian and I have talked it over and decided that what we agreed on in the spring (we would sell this horse before winter, no matter what) isn't going to work for us. Basically, we're going to keep Zoey until we can find her a good home with people who are right for her.

It's not exactly how one is supposed to 'flip' a horse. But you know? You get attached. It's easy to sell the hypothetical horse you don't own yet. It's hard to sell the sweet, living, breathing mare who has made so much progress in just a few months.

The thing is, we bought a fourth horse because we wanted to learn more. And in that respect, the summer has been everything we could have hoped. We've learned a lot from Zoey. A lot. And that's a good thing.

One day when she was a bit sore in the stifle/hock region, I decided not to ride her but instead work her as much as possible from Steen's back. This went quite well. I worked on ponying, getting close to her, making her yield to me/Steen, and following a feel. After our warm up, we headed out to the tree pasture and I ponied her around a bunch at the walk and trot.

Here I'm working on moving Zoey's hind with Steen's front.

She was fast to learn to yield to the rope, and it was great for me to get more comfortable with dallying, and great for Steen to become familiar with the sensation of being pulled on. And it's something I never would have thought to do with our other horses.

So much about Zoey has changed in the last few months. She's happy to accept the halter in the pasture, she stands quietly for grooming and tacking. She leads nicely and she's easy to be around.

Unfortunately we've not gotten the hours in on her back that we would have hoped, but she's doing better under saddle as well. Hopefully we'll get her healed pretty soon here and back into more regular work.

In the meantime, we're just going to have to have four horses:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Teeth of a Four-Year-Old

As is quite obvious, my blog has languished this summer. For the first time since I got Steen in 2008, I have utterly fallen out of the habit of posting about my rides.

But I don't want to let this blog die, and catching up feels daunting, so I'm going to just jump right back in. Obviously I have not written about quite a few important events and epiphanies, but I'm going to try to just bring those up as backstory where they fit in with current events.

So, yesterday it was hot. Really hot. It's been a brutal summer, with crazy amounts of sun and no rain. No rain. At all. For weeks now. And this is Iowa. The horses hardly got any time out on the grass, because the grass barely grew this year. I try not to worry about things beyond my control, but still I can't help but fear for what this winter will bring in terms of hay shortages.

Anyway, Brian and I decided to ride in spite of the heat. It was breezy and we took advantage of the shade in the tree lot. I rode Laredo.

Laredo has had a few little hiccups this summer. After a trim about eight weeks ago, his feet were sore. This led to us giving him quite a bit of time off. Right about when we came back from that, he seemed to pull a hock or loin or something. He was off on the left hind. So we gave him more time off. The last few rides we've been back on him he's seemed better, but fussy with the bit.

In the old Vaquero tradition, horses were started in the hackamore. They weren't introduced to their first bit until they were five at the youngest, and this was because of what happens in a horse's mouth before he's mature. Laredo is well over his old leaning and rooting issues, so we conjectured this new fussiness was something to do with his teeth.

Today, I decided to put him in the hackamore again. I was planning on a light ride anyway, due to both the heat and his recent stiffness. And I have to say, things went really well. We worked a lot on hind-end control, walking, figure-eights, and moving out. Towards the end I worked on holding some softness through some bends, walk-trot transitions, and leg-yields. The whole time I thought about one lesson both Brian and I have returned to this summer in different ways with all four of our horses: be softer. Always. In every situation, at every moment, be softer than you think you can be and it's amazing what you can get done.

Laredo was more responsive to my hands today than I've ever felt before. He's different lately too, just more mature, a little less goofy. I guess the kid has grown up a bit.

And he was clearly more comfortable in the hackamore. His mouth was quiet all day. We'll be getting his teeth looked at soon to make sure there's nothing unusual happening, but we were planning on putting his snaffle away for the winter anyway. It might be we just make that transition a bit sooner than planned.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback Hours YTD: 137:25

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