Monday, March 24, 2014

Foxtails and an Abscess

It seems to be a pattern that we end up calling the vet shortly after getting a new horse. This time around is turned out to be no exception.

As we mentioned, Aiden was a little off on the right hind when farrier saw him on Wednesday. We checked in with him on Thursday and Friday, and he seemed to be doing better.

But then on Saturday, Brian's parents came for a visit. They were curious to meet our new horses, so they drove over from Chicago to spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with us. We schemed about getting all four of us on horseback at once.

Except, yeah, that didn't happen.

We got to the barn, and I immediately noticed that the bale full of foxtails had not been replaced. Worse, the other bale was almost gone. The herd does avoid the foxtail bales if they have a choice, but when there's nothing else to eat, they'll eat the bad hay.

We went into the pasture and started checking everyone out. Steen had huge amounts of drool in his mouth and on his lips,and sores developing. Laredo was drooling blood. Bear and Oliver seemed the least affected. We took them inside and thought we'd just ride those two, but when it came to bridling, Oliver was so sensitive to touches on his lips, we couldn't even get the bit near his mouth. He's never offered the slightest protest about being bridled before. So, obviously, we weren't going to push that.

I took Oliver back out to the pasture and thought I'd bring Aiden to groom him and meet his grandparents. I noticed he was standing with all the weight off his right hind when I haltered him. Then I asked him to walk. He wouldn't come.

I worked on different angles, and eventually got him unstuck. But going forward he would only hop on three legs. He absolutely would not put weight on the right hind.

It took several minutes to go a few yards. I didn't have a plan at that point, so I unhaltered him and went inside, where Brian's mom was having a nice ride on Bear. Brian and I were discussing our options when I saw the barn owner's husband head out to the pasture with a tractor. We were the only ones there, and he's not a horse person at all, so I went out to see if I could help. I showed him the foxtails and explained the symptoms. He said the drought made this year so strange with grass growth, and clearly felt really bad about the bad hay. He wanted to come in with the tractor and pull out both bales, clean up all the leftover hay, and start fresh.

So, I drove the herd into the airlock. And Aiden didn't go along. The other horses were trotting and prancing and kicking it up. He stayed on three legs where I'd left him, calling. At that point, I knew whatever was wrong was really wrong.

After I got the rest of the herd secured, I took Aiden inside. He made it by hopping the whole way. We looked at the crack, but it didn't seem any worse than it had a few days before. He also had a little cut on his hock, but it seemed really minor. Finally, we called the vet.

I love our vet, but calling him means hours and hours of waiting. It's not his fault. He serves a huge region, but still, it wasn't quite how I'd hoped to spend my Saturday. Brian's mom finished her ride, and it was getting colder by the minute. Brian put Bear away. We soaked Aiden's foot. We iced Aiden's leg. Nothing seemed to make much difference. Finally, Brian and his parents went home to warm up and eat some food.

I waited. Brian came back. Finally, five or so hours after I first called him, the vet arrived. He looked at the crack and dismissed it. He looked at the cut and dismissed it. Then he found the massive heel abscess the soaking must have drawn out.

From there it was just a question of getting it drained and wrapped. Aiden was tolerant and quiet through most of this, in spite of clearly being in massive amounts of pain. Once everything was squared away, we put him in a stall, thanked the vet, and went out for a late dinner with Brian's parents.

In the morning, we checked on everyone. Aiden seemed relaxed in his stall, though still wasn't wanting to keep much weight on the foot. The new bales were out, and the rest of the herd was much happier. Still, we didn't ride anyone. It seemed nicer to just give them some time to recover. In the afternoon, we went back to soak the foot again and replace the bandage.


Today, Brian and I both had to work until 5, so we went out just to doctor Aiden. Fortunately, we saw a noticeable improvement. He would stand on the foot sometimes, and was a lot less touchy about the cleaning process. We soaked, cleaned, rewrapped, and put him back in the stall. Hopefully in a few more days, he'll be over the worst of it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Trees and The Wind

On Friday, we had another nice day at the barn, except Steen was still showing symptoms that there might be foxtails in the hay again. I looked at the new bale they'd put out to replace the last one that had foxtails, and found it chalk full of the offending weed. I talked to the barn manager, and hoped that was that. Brian had his lesson, so after an hour indoors during which he rode Oliver and I rode Laredo, we decided to head out to the tree pasture for the first time this year.

I rode Steen. Brian gave his lesson while riding Laredo, and his student rode Bear. I mostly did my own thing. Steen was happy to be out. When we left Brian and his student behind and headed down to the far end of the lot, he was happy to go but not at all jazzed up.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my weaknesses as a rider (I always think about this a lot, but new horses give you new perspective) and there are a few things I really want to work on this summer. I was trying to keep them in mind during my ride.

Rhythm

This remains the biggest flaw in my riding (that I can see, anyway). I have gotten much better about getting into a rhythm with a horse, but I don't stay there long enough. After a minute or so, I end up thinking, "Ok, good, we've got this going well." And then I stop. One thing that struck me the first time I asked Aiden for a trot was the feeling that he would stay trotting without complaint for a good long while. Steen to some extent, and definitely Laredo tend to feel more like they are always looking forward to stopping. And with Laredo you have to frequently remind him to stay at a good pace. This is because I've not taught them to settle in like someone has taught Aiden to.

Timing

I suppose this is one of those things that can only improve incrementally over time, and I have made a lot of progress. I can now at least feel when I ask for something on the wrong footfall, and increasingly I can time up with footfalls and ask for a transition or a maneuver at the right moment. But I still miss more than I'd like to. So it's just something I need to stay aware of.

Softness

With Steen, he's soft most of the time. Where we tend to lose it is when things go a little wrong. If a transition fails to go quite right, if environmental factors get him distracted, or if he starts to lose motivation, he can come onto my hands a little. Oliver (and his ultra-reactivity to the bit) has recalibrated my understanding of what a horse is capable of responding to. In his case, initially he was escaping and evading, but nevertheless, I had never seen a horse move his feet so much in response to so little. Until Oliver, Steen was the lightest horse I'd ever ridden by a wide margin, but he didn't come to me that way. In the last six years, I've had to work pretty hard to undo the lessons he learned from his life before me, plus then repair all the mistakes I made riding him in the beginning. It's so easy to let what you 'know' about a horse inhibit what you can get done with him. I know Steen can stay soft all the time. I just have to find a way to help him do it.

I started out the ride just poking around the trees. It was windy, and there are lots of dried leaves leftover from fall. A number of times, Steen and I got caught in gusting leaf storms. Moments like this that do make me feel pretty good about how far we've come. Here we are, our first ride out in this area since last fall some time, alone, with leaves clanking against his legs and blowing up into his face. Steen didn't care. Six years ago, I would never have even tried to ride him in that kind of environment. Five years ago, he'd have been spinning and bolting repeatedly. Three years ago, he'd have been prancing. One year ago, he'd have been looking over his shoulder with a magnetic pull back towards the other horses. On Friday, he stayed with me.

That's not to say he never had any opinion about our trajectory. One of my biggest challenges with Steen over the years has been finding constructive ways to redirect him when he gets a magnet pull while we're out and about. The wrong kind of correction will spike his anxiety, which will only make his desire to get wherever he perceives as safe even stronger. This is one area I think the 1/2" roo-hide bosal has helped. It has given me a new layer of subtlety to use when we communicate. Every time we went around a tree and he saw the other horses and his attention went that way, I would ask him to get back on track with a touch on the shoulder with my foot. Sometimes, that was enough, but if not, I could gently bump his nose back into our bend. I worked on seeing how little I could do, and was surprised at how much I could get done with lighter asks than I'd ever used  in this kind of situation before. And the more times I asked lightly, the less he thought about the other horses.

In some ways, it's frustrating. I have had that mantra in my head for years. "Ask with less than you think it will take." And I thought I was asking with less. This ride, I learned I wasn't.

I guess there's a reason it takes a lifetime to get good at this.

After lots of walking, we trotted. I picked a tree and trotted a big circle around the trunk. I worked on getting in a good cadence and staying there. I worked on asking for a little collection and extension at intervals. He really settled in as we worked.

We cantered once, but the footing was a little slippery and as soon as I asked for it I started experiencing flashbacks to our tumble in the fall. I'm still not fully healed from when he went down with me cantering on the strip, so I didn't push it on that one.

After about an hour, Steen was feeling a little tired. I knew he was not at 100% because of his drooly foxtail mouth, so I hopped down and sat beneath a tree and waited for Brian to finish with his lesson.


Horseback Hours YTD: 48:55

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunny Days

Today we finally had some warm weather. Technically, we just barely made it into the 50s, but the sun was warm and the air was dry. It felt great.

Aiden is getting some more time off to gain weight and heal his foot. Happily, he's seeming really nicely settled into the herd now, and appears to have taken my instructions to eat as much as possible to heart.


Everyone else got a ride today. We started the day with Oliver and Laredo. I spent about 10 minutes collecting Oliver video, and edited it down to one minute of highlights:



He's already way, way happier about the bit. He's not reacting to it nearly as much anymore. When he's not reacting, he's very soft. He wants to carry his head a bit lower than is ideal a lot of the time, and still has a tendency to overflex. But he's adapting to what we're asking of him really quickly. Brian checked out his lope now that his feet are in good shape, and he went into it as smooth as you please. His only funny thing is he continues to seem to have a little kink in the left side of his neck. It seems like just a stiff muscle. We're hoping it's just something that got strained during the trailer ride, and it will loosen up with time. We've been working on some stretches and massage before and after rides.


After warming up in the indoor arena, we took Laredo and Oliver out onto the strip. There, Oliver proved to be just a tidge more distracted, but nothing major.

My ride on Laredo was ok. He was hot, and didn't have a lot of life for me to work with. This continues to be our biggest struggle with Laredo -- just getting his energy up and keeping it there. Overall, it's getting better, but it's still something I have to think about for the bulk of every ride. Today, after standing around taking video of Brian for a few minutes, Laredo was pretty on board with the idea that we could just do that for the next 50 minutes or so.

So I worked on trotting him out. I've noticed lately that Laredo tends to get stiff in the corners of the arena. I've been working on asking him to get soft and round in each corner, both at the trot and lope. It's kind of a lot of work for both of us, but the practice seems to be helping our communication. It seems like he's more able to stay back on his haunches and bring his front end through turns with energy instead of losing a little acceleration every time he does something other than go straight.


After our first ride, we took Steen and Bear out. We left the barn's property and poked around some nearby fields. We kept things pretty quiet and just enjoyed the sun and the scenery.


Horseback Hours YTD: 46:45

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Feet and Tails

Yesterday, Aiden got the day off. When Brian rode him on Monday, he seemed fatigued, and also stamped his feet when the cinch came up. We've been riding these guys really light, but there's no getting around the fact that neither one of them has worn a saddle for years.

Brian did a light ride on Oliver followed by a ride on Bear. I rode Steen and Laredo.

Today, though, it was time for the farrier to come.

One thing that is great about these guys is they remain ultra friendly. After having to teach our last couple of horses how to be caught, I must admit it's pretty pleasant not to have embark on that journey with these two. They are always happy to see you.

Today, they were in separate areas of the pasture when we went out to get them. This is the first time that's happened. Aiden was tucked up against the windblock between Tate and a new horse whose name I can't remember. Oliver was at a bale. So I think that's a good sign. Hopefully their attachment to each other will naturally decrease as they realize they now have the opportunity to socialize with other horses.

Indoors, I discovered Aiden was a little off on the right hind. It didn't seem like much, but standing around he would cock that leg a lot, and doing work on the circle he seemed ok at the walk, but got a little limp going at the trot.

The farrier was late, which meant we had a while to hang around. After a small amount of groundwork and a lot of grooming, I took the opportunity to tackle Oliver's tail. Aiden's, unfortunately, proved to be unsalvageable. After my efforts on it last week, he managed to break the strands that were still attached at the top, and the massive mat pulled out on its own.


With Oliver, though, we had more success. Today I spent over an hour brushing out the matts. He was amazingly willing to put up with this. He never got bothered the entire time. In the end, I had brushed out a sizable pile of shed hairs, but the bulk of the tail was intact. Yay!


Duke arrived right when I finished on Oliver's tail. He assured me I had done the right thing taking Oliver's toes down myself, and gave me another little lesson on the kind of trimming I can do while being certain not to do any damage.

Both Oliver and Aiden were gentlemen with their feet, and Duke found the cause of Aiden's offness. He's got a little crack in the footbed along the inside base of his right hind. Duke took that side of the foot down a little extra to take the pressure off, and said he didn't think it would be a long-term problem, but if he wasn't moving better in a week or so, we could considering putting a shoe on that foot until it grows out. He also said he didn't think it was anything that was likely to recur, just a result of having too much flare on the edges of his feet for too long.

He also said both horses have good feet. He was particularly complimentary about Oliver's.

After the trim, we gave them both a snack. Aiden was standing better after the trim, but still a bit sore heading back out to the pasture. Hopefully he heals up quickly.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Oliver Overview

Today, I rode Oliver for the first time since the test ride at their old home. My impression of Oliver that first day was that he was pretty darn solid, and that has been borne out by what we've seen since we got him down to our barn.

Oliver is a pretty interesting horse. (I know, I know. Aren't they all?) Although the first day Brian worked with him he was super pushy and needed a lot of reminding to stay out of your space, once the lesson clicked, it has stayed put. The last few days he's been quieter during tacking and grooming than Aiden (who has a tendency to strain around a little try keep an eye on what's happening around him). Oliver is happy to chill. He's not dead to his environment, he's just relaxed.

My groundwork with Oliver didn't feel like work at all. He was following a feel, stepping in both directions, disengaging, backing, all of it off light asks with the air of an old pro. When I got on, he didn't move his feet until I asked him to (something we're still working on with Aiden).

Oliver is a smooth ride. He knows how to move off your leg, though upwards transitions can be sluggish. Like Aiden, his biggest hang-up is his mouth. He is more reactive to bit pressure than any horse I've ever ridden. At first, we really had to puzzle out how to help him with this. His first rides, Brian would pick up the teeniest little amount of pressure (literally there was still drooping slack in the reins) and Oliver would just fly backwards. Any attempt to encourage him forward with the leg would get him dancing or going back faster. We decided to just wait it out -- pick up the lightest of light pressure and wait for him to try to hold still and break at the poll.

The first time took a minute, but he got it. Since then, Brian's been building on the lesson each ride. By the time I got on today, he only did the backing thing a few times. It was always when I asked for something, he gave me a try that wasn't what I was looking for, and then got frustrated when he didn't get the release. He'd default to flying backwards. When this happened I'd just wait for him to find a way to stop and get soft, and we'd start over.


One thing that seems to be difficult for Oliver is disengaging the hind. He really wants to rock forward when you ask him to do this, and in spite of his ultra-reactivate response to the bit when you engage it on him, when he decides to initiate contact, he comes onto your hands pretty hard. He will give you a nice soft flex when you pick up one hand, but when you ask him to step under, he will dive forward and try to push through the bit. I worked on bringing the foot in as little as possible and seeing how little I could do to get him to try stepping under. Eventually, we managed a few steps without the forward lean, but it's not consistent yet.

We measured Oliver as well. He's just over 15 hands. He's lost a little weight, too, which in his case is ok. Obviously we will make sure the trend does not to continue, but he had a little to spare. :)


Horseback Hours YTD: 44:35

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Aiden Assessment

We've had Aiden and Oliver for just over a week now, and things continue to go well. For the first several days, I worked with Aiden and Brian worked with Oliver.

Aiden has a sweet temperament with a slight inclination towards anxiety. His initial pushiness and tendency to want to walk on top of you have not resurfaced since the first day. He enjoys facepets and has an endearing habit of nickering when he sees you coming.

Our groundwork has made consistent progress. I can now move all of his feet with a light ask, disengage front and hind, and have him walk off in both directions without causing him any worry. It's a little harder for him to disengage in one direction than the other, but we're practicing and he's already gotten a little smoother.

Although not spooky, Aiden can get anxious about environmental factors. Most particularly, other horses coming into the arena have an impact on his ability to stay focused on his rider. Two rides in a row, we were joined partway through by a rider with a horse that's fairly dominant in the stall herd. As soon as the new horse arrived, Aiden really wanted to keep an eye on him at all times. He'd try to crane towards the other horse no matter what direction we were going.

I worked on trying to re-engage him in ways that were supportive, but it took a few attempts to find something that worked. After a circle proved to be not enough of a challenge and a small figure-eight proved to increase his agitation, I was able to get him into a pretty good rhythm working on a rectangle - going forward, left, back, right. Once I was able to get him back with me, the extra horse became less of a distraction.

Aiden also has some anxiety about the bit. He has a tendency to want to escape backwards when you ask him to try something he doesn't know the answer to. Every now and then, he'll go the opposite way, and fling himself onto pressure.

A few rides in, though, this is improving. I've been working a lot on softness, starting with asks so light the only thing he feels is a little rotation in the slobber straps, and waiting until he breaks at the poll. He's starting to relax. Our last ride, he would soften to the bit both standing and at the walk with good consistency. His mouth was also really busy the first ride, but by the third it had quieted down a good deal. So hopefully that means he's starting to trust that nothing is going to bite him in the mouth.


So, I remain pretty excited about these guys. It's great to see Aiden's confidence increase each day. The main thing he needs to do now is put on some weight. We're supplementing his free choice hay diet and making sure his work is super light for now. The first couple days in the new herd, he got a little thinner, but as of today he seems to have started to move in the other direction.

We also measured him. He's a solid 15.2. Which means he's our tallest horse.


Horseback Hours YTD: 42:50

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Triple Double

Today, we rode three horses each. I rode Aiden, Tate, and Steen. Brian rode Oliver, Laredo, and Bear.

We had a great day with both Oliver and Aiden. Oliver was the big surprise. His attitude was hugely changed today. His pushy, restless inclinations was almost entirely gone. He lead nicely, stood quietly for tacking and grooming, and was pretty darn great under saddle.

Aiden was really good too. He lead nicely in from the pasture, and our groundwork was good. I had an easier time moving his forequarters from the ground. His big issue today was he wanted to come towards me when I asked him to change directions. Also, when I first introduced the flag (I hadn't used it with him before) he was pretty freaked out at first. Once he got up the courage to sniff it, though, he got over it pretty quickly. Pretty soon, I could touch him all over with it.

Both Brian and I had great rides. I just can't believe how nice these horses are. Both are showing willingness to learn and adapt. They're both getting soft to the bit. They have nice gaits, they settle into work without protest, and when you challenge them they will try to find the answer. Here's a little video montage of groundwork and riding:


After finishing up our first ride, we grabbed Tate and Laredo. We only rode those two for 30 minutes, because Tate's owner arrived. She's made a lot of progress on healing, and is ready to get back in the saddle herself. So this was our last time riding Tate. Which is fine, because we certainly have plenty of other horses to work with.

We wrapped up the day by taking Bear and Steen out for a jaunt. We looped and zigzagged around the fields, mostly walking, but with a few little trots and canters thrown in. It was cool and breezy, but it felt really good to be out and about.

Ride Time: 1:00
Ride Time: 0:20
Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback Hours YTD: 39:05

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Little Video

Today I had to work all day, even though it was nearly 60 degrees out for the first time this year.

I can't complain, really. The flexibility of my job is the reason I was able to pick up two new horses on Tuesday, then give a presentation at the university yesterday followed by an immediate trip to the barn. But today was my comeuppance. I did take a moment to pull a brief video of Oliver and Aiden off my phone. Otherwise, I had to put thoughts of horses aside.



Fortunately, next week is spring break for Brian, and I intend to work reduced hours. So we should be able to get a lot of horse time in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Rides

Today we headed out after work to see what our new guys were up to. They were easy to catch, and we took them indoors to do some groundwork.

Both Aiden and Oliver need some serious work on ground manners. They aren't reactive or spooky or violent, but they are pushy, and seem to completely forget about their human handler the moment something more interesting/scary/exciting appears. Oliver is worse than Aiden. It takes more pressure to get him to back off, and more frequent reminders to get him to give you enough space to be safe.

Since I'm still gimpy and injured, Brian worked with Oliver today. We need to stick these guys. I'm not sure how tall they are, but Oliver is big. He's burly as well as being a good height. Aiden is leaner, but also taller, I think. I'm pretty sure Aiden is taller than Steen.

Aiden is 7, and he's a Quarter Horse. Here's his pedigree.

Oliver is 8, and he's a Paint. Here's his pedigree.

I had a nice time working with Aiden. He's really sweet, and it didn't take too many blocks to get him to start respecting my space. Ten minutes into ground work, I had him walking off nicely in both directions, disengaging both ways, and backing with intermittent softness to the halter. Things we struggled with on the ground were disengaging the forehand and getting a soft feel or flex without getting the feet involved. But all in all, I was pleased with him. He seemed to want to engage with me, and he was trying to figure out what I wanted.

When I led him in from the pasture, he was on top of me the whole way. He stepped on the end of my mud boot immediately after I haltered him. I had to lead him with my elbow out to keep him from crowding me, and swirl the rope in my hand to keep him from barging ahead.

On the way back out, he walked quietly at my side with his head down. I only had to correct him once, for getting ahead when I stopped to open a gate.

I rode him, too. Tacking him up was no problem. He walked off when I mounted, and in general is not a huge fan of holding still when you're on his back, but on the whole he didn't do anything bad. He's rusty, and it shows, but there weren't any red flags.

We didn't accomplish anything spectacular. He was responsive (though not soft) to the bit. He was decent about yielding to legs. He wanted to dribble forward a lot, but he was good bending in both directions. He has this big floaty way of moving. I'm excited to see how he'll feel after he gains some strength and his topline fills in. We walked and trotted around for about half an hour, and although he was distracted at times, he was attentive at others.


Oliver does not seem like he's going to be quite as quick to settle in. He was less quick to take the point about crowding, and more restless during tacking and grooming. He seems to be a confident, inquisitive horse. He has a little too much of a belief that he calls the shots and can get into anything he pleases. It's clear he's not in the habit of respecting boundaries.

But, I will say a few things for both of them. 1) They're not spooky. The 4-wheeler was zipping around dragging the arena while we were doing groundwork, and there were tons of people and other horses and dogs and comings and goings which they both handled without so much as flinching. 2) They don't have any real hang-ups. They're not head-shy, you can touch them anywhere, they'll give you their feet, they take the pad, saddle, and bridle without comment. 3) They are relaxed about being ridden. They both need a lot of refinement, but overall, it's easier to be on their backs than on the ground next to them.

After the ride, Aiden was content to stand quietly. Oliver was a bit more restless, wanting to get into anything nearby. We spent a good long while working on their matted manes and tails. I am annoyed that I didn't think to take a picture of Aiden's tail before I started working on it. I didn't know a horse's tail could get like this. It was basically one solid dreadlock about three feet long. It seemed like several small animals had died in there and fused together. I spent about 45 minutes working my way through the matted hair. I don't really know how much of what's there is still attached and how much is going to just pull out as I go through it, but I figure it's worth the time and effort to avoid chopping off what amounts to pretty much his whole tail. It's going to be a multiple outing project, but I made some good progress today.

So, overall, a pretty good start. You can tell they are both still uncertain about their surroundings and what's going to be expected of them, but you have to give them props. They've done nothing but hang out in a pasture together for years, and today they took everything we threw at them with minimal anxiety.

Ride Time: 0:35
Horseback Hours YTD: 35:15

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aiden & Oliver

Today, I took the afternoon off work and headed to the barn. Once there, I climbed into a truck with our barn manager, and we drove north for a while. We pulled up at a farmhouse, and chatted with the man who came out to meet us. Soon thereafter, we loaded these two guys into the horse trailer.


And then we hauled them back to our barn, where we unloaded them and turned them out in the indoor arena. They were a tad wound up after their adventure, and romped a bit. I'd been watching them for a few minutes when Brian arrived, and we regarded our two new horses together.


Yep. They're ours. Aiden and Oliver are their names, and they come from a situation where their primary owner has moved on to other things. They haven't been worked with much for several years.

As things stand, their feet are long. Their manes and tails are matted with burs. They need to learn a few things about respecting a person's space. Oliver is a bit fat, Aiden is a bit thin.

But underneath all that, they seem really nice. Nice enough that Brian and I bought them both when we went up to look last weekend at them, intending to maybe buy one. We rode them both, and were impressed by how nicely they went under saddle in spite of having not been in work for so long.


So, we're going to spend some time with them and see what they know and how they polish up.

Horseback Hours YTD: 34:40

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Sunbather

This afternoon, I got a call from the manager at our barn. This always gives me a little lurch of worry. I picked up, and she said it might be nothing, but Laredo had been lying down for most of the day. It was a sunny day, and 'warm' (by which I mean way below average, but warmer than it has been), and it's possible he was just getting in some good naps. He hadn't shown any signs of distress, but she'd never seen him off his feet quite so much for so long.

She said she could bring him in and monitor him for a while, but I said I'd rather come out. I was suffering from work-related inertia anyway, so it was a good excuse to leave the office.

I found Laredo up and on the bale. He seemed perky and happy as I led him in. We did a bit of groundwork, and he seemed normal. I groomed him, and he was giving off every indication of being his usual self. I decided to do a light ride. I had him mostly tacked, and left him tied for a moment to grab something out of the lounge. When I came back, he had produced a pile of very nice manure. Always a good sign when one is worried about digestion.

So, we rode. He was actually far more energetic today than I'd felt in a while. When I asked for the trot for the first time, he felt positively lively. We tooled around for a little less than an hour. I'd taken my roo hide hacakmore out, because I figured if Laredo needed walking, I'd ride Steen and pony Laredo. I was also thinking about the reminder I got working with Tate, that less is more when it comes to getting/keeping a horse soft. And Laredo was soft today. I've started to be of the opinion that changing headgear causes a brief false-positive impression almost no matter what, because the different feel causes the horse to pay more attention. (I think this is why so many people go looking for a new bit every 3-6 months.) So part of what I was feeling today was likely the different hackamore.

But nevertheless, it was a good ride. We were dodging lessons horses the whole time, but Laredo was unflappable. At one point the barn manager (who was on foot and chasing a beginner on a pony around with a lunge whip) looked at me after accidentally running right into my trajectory, whip flailing, and said, "I'm glad your horses are so sane. I couldn't do this with anyone else in here."

Just for good measure, Laredo pooped again right when I put him back in the pasture. So, in the end, I got a nice ride on a day I otherwise wouldn't have. Thanks Laredo!

In other news, it's been a great year for riding so far. In spite of my lingering injury and the horrible, horrible weather, I have twice as many saddle hours now than I had last year at this time.


Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback Hours YTD: 31:20

Working with Tate

As I mentioned in my last post, one of our barn friends had a (non horse-related) accident that has left her unable to ride. She's probably going to be grounded for a month or two. Her horse is just a few months older than Laredo, and she got him right around the same time. Since she's out of commission and we're down to three horses, we offered to ride him a bit to help keep him in shape during her recovery.

Of course, we're not being entirely altruistic. I'm at a stage where I find it so unbelievably interesting to work with different horses. We've been around this horse a lot, but never handled him. It seemed like a good opportunity.

I've ridden him twice now, and it's been really interesting. Tate's owner doesn't ride the way we do, and we know from chatting with her that there are some things he does that she finds frustrating. So far we haven't encountered any 'bad' behavior, but it is quite different to get on a horse that does not have the sorts of controls we're used to. Tate has a few minor conformation flaws, and these affect his balance. He tends to want to carry his head with his poll well below the withers, and he moves by pulling himself forward with his front feet instead of driving from behind.

To try to get him to engage his hind a bit more, we set to work trying to free up the hindquarters. His balance problems threw a wrench in our plans with this at first. Any time you'd ask him to step his hind, he'd just crash forward onto your hands, root on the bit, (or barge into your space if you were asking from the ground) and dink around in an unbalanced forward circle. To get around this, I started using one rein to soften him in the poll and jaw before asking for the hind. If his head and neck were soft and his poll was elevated, I found he was able to step underneath himself. The main issue was just being patient. Tate is not at all soft to the bit. That meant I spent a lot of time holding light, light pressure until he started to explore. The lighter I picked up him, the softer he tended to come through. As long as I had the patience to wait for him.

Between Brian and I, we've now ridden Tate four times. We're making sure not to mess with anything fundamental to how his owner rides him, but we've seen some progress with the balance issue. Yesterday I had him stepping his hind from one side to the other off of just a little pressure from a heel, and stepping the front over in response to a wiggling foot, sometimes with no reins at all. What I find most interesting is how much faster we're able to teach horses these things each time we have an uneducated one to work with. What took us months to get working with Steen and Bear, we sketched in with Tate in the first couple rides.


I do think Tate is a particularly willing horse. The only hiccup we've had is one rambunctious moment during our first ride when he took off into the lope with me. The way he picked it up felt like he seemed to think it was something I wanted, even though we were just trotting through a figure eight we'd been working on few a minutes. I tried to ease back him back to the trot and he got a bit hoppy for a moment. One of the things he sometimes does to his owner is run away with her. But I got him stopped without trouble and he quieted right back down.


At any rate, I'm happy we have the chance to ride him. He seems like a nice horse - very willing to try, and easy to get along with.

Horseback Hours YTD: 30:30

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