Thursday, March 06, 2014

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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