Monday, October 14, 2013

Slimming Down

The title is not actually referencing me, or any of our horses. (Most of them are putting their winter 'padding' on, so are doing rather the opposite.) No, I'm actually talking about a bosal.

Brian and I got our first hackamore two years ago. Brian gave it to me for my birthday, and neither of us had ever seen a bosal in person (much less ridden in one) so it was a bit of a crapshoot in terms of knowing what to get. While it's a nice bosal, over time I have come slowly to understand it is not a great fit for Steen -- physically, or in terms of how it communicates. To sum up, it gaps at the edges of his nose, and it's stiff for him.

I've known this, but I haven't precisely known what to do about it. Lately, though, Brian and I have been talking about moving Steen into the two-rein. This is a tricky decision because I know he's not ready for it, but I suspect I won't know entirely how to get him ready until I try. Poor Steen is my eternal guinea pig. I have not ridden in a two-rein now any more than I'd ridden in a hackamore two years ago. We're learning as we go, and you gotta start somewhere.

Anyway, long story short, we've been drooling at two-rein stuff on the interwebs, and a week or so ago we came across a lightly used 3/8 bosal and mecate on ebay for a song. We couldn't resist. We bought it (to someday go under Steen's two-rein bridle) and of course, I had to try it out.

The new bosal is considerably thinner than the old one. It's also roo hide up top, which makes it much, much softer. It fits Steen like a dream, since it's soft enough to conform to his rather narrow nose.

Fitting is one thing, but I honestly wasn't sure how Steen would respond. Holding it in my hands before the ride, it seemed like nothing -- so soft, so flexible. Since Brian was riding Zoey in the outdoor arena, that's where we had our first ride in the new gear.

It turns out my reservations were ill founded. Steen loves the new hackamore. I have never felt him so light, so soft, so willing to collect, to move off pressure. I knew the old bosal was too harsh for him, but I didn't fully realize what it would be like to be able to communicate with him without that block between us. After a few calibrating laps, he settled in to the new set-up and was clearly just happy.

He was relaxed at all three gaits, happy to go, happy to stop, and when he backed, it was like nothing I've ever felt from him before. He rocked back on his haunches and pulled from behind.

After I rode around for a while, Brian got on. And although Steen was a little keyed up at first (because, you know, Brian isn't me), he settled in and before long, was giving Brian many of the same soft responses I felt.

Today, I wanted to try the new hackamore again, and in a less controlled environment. I went out alone and rode in the tree pasture. We had another great ride. I tested the limits in terms of how much Steen would feel at higher speeds, but even when I let him rocket from one side of the pasture to another, he was there and able to come back to me when I picked up on him. It's also so much easier to work on holding collection for longer periods, as I can encourage him into a deeper frame without causing him any discomfort.

So, definitely a better all-around response than I expected. I'm very curious to ride in it a bit more and see what happens as the newness wears off.

Horseback Hours YTD: 156:45

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Two Interrupted Rides

We got a fair bit of rain last week, and there were some storms forecast the weekend as well. The farrier was out on Thursday, and all four of our horses got their feet trimmed.

Zoey is healing slowly. Brian rode her briefly last Sunday, but she was favoring her injured leg a tad at the trot, so he got off as soon as we saw that. We figured we'd give her another week before giving riding a go again. So Saturday we just took Steen and Bear out, thinking we'd have a nice fun ride in the newly mowed soybean field.

The ride started out great. Brian and I trotted out from the barn, up one drainage, then over to the soybean field. We loped up to the top of the hill together, then split up to work on various things independently. A newly mowed soybean field that's recently been rained on is fabulous footing, so Steen and I worked on trotting and loping circles, going up and down the hills, and overall just had fun romping around the huge open space.

A little while into our exercises on the hilltop, I noticed another horse and rider from our barn off in the distance. As I did circles and figure-eights on Steen, I could see them moving in our direction. Then I came around one corner to see the horse running the other way. For a moment I thought they were out of control, but then a moment later decided I'd been mistaken. They were far enough away it was really hard to tell. I kept working, but after a few more minutes it became pretty clear the rider couldn't get her horse turned around and heading in the direction she wanted, so I rode down to where Brian was working Bear and suggested we head over to see if we could help.

The rider was very grateful when Brian and I appeared. Her horse is the same age as Laredo, and she's had him about the same amount of time. He was apparently wigged out by the change in the fields. With the crops down, you can see a lot further in every direction. The time I'd seen them loping, he had indeed been running away with her, and now she couldn't get him to go anywhere but back towards the barn.

We offered to ride with her. She wanted to at least get to the gate at the far end of the property, so we went along. Her horse settled down once he had some moral support. I kind of thought we'd split off again at some point and do some more work in the field, but by the time we walked out to the gate and back to the barn, we'd been riding an hour and a half and decided to call it a day.


Today, we planned to ride all four horses. We started with Zoey and Bear, and rode in the indoor arena. Brian rode Zoey, and I rode Bear. That was a fun change. I rarely ride Bear, and he was good for me.

We mostly walked, with a bit of trotting and a few laps at the lope thrown in for good measure. Riding Bear is often a sort of time-lapse experience for me. I ride him just infrequently enough that he and Brian tend to make a lot of progress between my rides. He was very light to the hackamore today, and more enthusiastic about upwards transitions than I remembered. We also side-passed back and forth along the length of a pole, just for fun.

Zoey was ok for Brian. Her time off has resulted in a loss of most of the fitness we'd built up earlier in the summer, and she was a good deal more jumpy and nervous than she was before her injury. It's always a bit of a bummer to see that kind of backsliding, but I suppose it's inevitable when a green horse ends up needing so much time off. Her leg did seem better today, though there were one or two strides where she seemed to give a bit on that shoulder at the trot. The wound is fully closed and not at all tender, so light work seems like it might help break up any remaining tightness. Still, Brian kept the ride really short and easy, and mostly she seemed pretty ok with everything.

After ride one, we grabbed Steen and Laredo and headed out. We rode on the strip for a while, and Steen was amazing. Ever since I had my epiphany about using the hind end to control the shoulder, I've been riding Steen rather differently. So much of Steen's ability to relax under saddle comes from feeling he understands his job, and whenever I change the equation on him, even if it's only a little, there is a transition period where he's a lot more anxious until he 'gets' the new concept. We've been working through that anxious phase the last few weeks, but yesterday he felt good, and today he felt excellent. It's certainly been worth the work. Today we were walking in a circle and I played with influencing the placement of his individual feet in the turn using just my seat and a little life in my inside leg. Steen loves this kind of thing. He thrives on subtle communication, and it was great to feel we were clicking again. We walked and trotted and loped around the strip.

Brian was having a great ride on Laredo as well. It was a cool day, and Laredo had a lot of life and lightness.

After a pretty thorough warm-up, we headed out into the fields. Laredo was a bit amped. I've never actually seen him trot out with so much energy. He looked great, but it was clear the removal of the crops was having a similar impact on him as it had on the young horse who had freaked out the day before. By the time we got to the top of the hill in the soybean field, Laredo was looking around in a nervous, edgy way totally unlike the mellow dude we're used to.

We stood for a while, and Laredo seemed to come down a few notches. I worked on walking and trotting some circles on Steen while Brian and Laredo worked a little ways off.

I was going around a bend away from Brian and Laredo when I heard the sudden thunder of galloping hooves. I turned around to see Laredo in a dead-out sprint, careening down the steep soybean hill with Brian on board.

I watched as they raced all the way down the hill, across the drainage, and started back up the grassy slope on the other side. There, Brian finally had terrain he could work with, and he brought Laredo to a stop.

Steen was not so happy about being asked to remain on the hilltop while Laredo galloped off. I worked him in circles until he settled a bit, then we trotted down to meet up with Laredo and Brian, who were making their way back in our direction.

Laredo wasn't even tired, and Brian didn't really know what set him off other than the general anxiety caused by the massively changed landscape. We made our way home, working a lot on bending and trying to get both horses back into a better place mentally.

I don't know if it's a good or bad sign that it still felt like a decent ride in spite of Laredo's runaway. It is a bit of a bummer to see that behavior resurface, as we hadn't had one in quite a while. Nevertheless, Brian handled it well, and Laredo sure did look pretty when he was flattened out and sprinting for home.

We rode a while longer after we got back to the barn, and both horses settled in and gave us no more trouble.

Ride Time: 1:40
Ride Time: 0:40
Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 151:50

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Lessons and Visitors

I have apparently not quite settled back into consistent blogging mode, so another catch-up post it is.

The end of September was busy. I had some sort of strange illness that mostly amounted to me feeling kind of bad but not horrible unless I tried to do something physically taxing, at which point I would spike a fever and need to lie down. I kicked this just in time for a visit from Brian's parents. We took them to the barn on Friday, and had a great ride with them and our three geldings in the tree lot.

One thing I have perhaps not mentioned is we got a third McCall a few weeks ago. It's a used Wade Trail, similar to mine. We found it on ebay for a shockingly good price and just couldn't pass it up. We picked it up for two reasons. One, we want three good saddles that fit all our horses, and two, Brian has been thinking he might be more comfortable in a saddle with a smaller and narrower seat than the one he's riding now. The new saddle is both things, and though for various reasons it won't be the right saddle for him long term, it's a good one for him to ride in terms for narrowing in on the exact set-up he wants.

Fortunately I recently sold my Cashel, and Brian's old saddle is for sale as well, so hopefully we can keep ahead of the accumulation. I figure as long as we don't have more saddles than horses, we're doing alright. :}

So, we got Laredo, Steen and Bear all tacked up and went out into the tree pasture. It was nice not to have to relegate one of our guys to an ill-fitting rig. Cathy rode Bear, I rode Steen, and Brian rode Laredo. We had a fun and relaxing ride. Bear and Cathy got along really well, as usual.

After a while, we changed things up a bit. Cathy traded Bear for Steen, and Dutch climbed onto Bear. That went well also. I gave Cathy a few minutes of instruction on using only her seat to get Steen to transition upwards from walk to trot, then back down from trot to walk, then stop. I draped the reins over the saddle horn and held the end of the mecate for this, and she rode around me in a circle. It was neat to see her explore and figure out how to influence Steen without using her hands. Then I gave her the reins back and she rode around a bit on their own. Dutch also did quite well on Bear, so all in all it was a great visit.

On Tuesday I had a lesson with my student, who has missed a few weeks due to being out of town. Having a student has been a very interesting experience for me. It's one thing to know something, quite another to teach it to someone else, and still another to find a place where your horse and your student can meet in the middle in a place that doesn't frustrate either of them. On Tuesday, my student (we'll call her J) had hurt her back and needed to do something easy. Brian was with me as well, and had been thinking about riding Zoey but discovered she was still limping. So we ended up in the tree lot with our three geldings again, and had another really nice ride. J rode Bear for the first time. As she gets a little more familiar with the way I've pulled the rug out from under her in terms of everything she thought she knew about riding, I think it will be useful for her to get to feel all our different horses.

While we were riding, J told me she's been applying some of what she's learned from me to how she rides the mare she leases, and that she can already see a change for the better. So that was pretty cool to hear.

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