Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Summer String

We've been in a pretty good rhythm with the horses. Work's been busy for me, so I haven't been getting out a lot during the week, but we've been getting really great weekend rides.

I've been focusing on Steen and Aiden. Aiden seems sound now, so I've been working on just getting into a good groove with the basics. He continues to be super friendly, and every ride we have a few more things working for us. I'm getting more and more comfortable on him.

Today, I felt like I finally had the back end totally in hand for the first time. It's taken some work with both Aiden and Oliver to get them consistently stepping under behind without dribbling forward or squirting to the side. Today I managed to get Aiden to step over behind without tipping his nose with my hands at all - just asking for the hind with the leg (while standing still). That felt good.

I also briefly played with using Aiden to move Laredo at one point. It's always interesting to up the stakes a little, and put yourself in a position where you have to get something done at a particular moment. With Aiden, a lot of what I've been doing has been building his confidence, so sometimes that means giving him time to work at something. Too much of that can lead to a horse that doesn't give you a lot of effort, though, so today we worked on accomplishing things with a little more precision. We got a lot done. He's getting smoother and more balanced both ways at the canter, is moving forward with more life, and stopping with more effort.

I also got some great stuff done with Steen this weekend. We've been watching some Richard Caldwell videos lately, and I'm always just so impressed with how soft his horses are, and how well they move. Today I spent some time working on one of his exercises with Steen. This involves tipping the nose in a little further than I typically do during the circle. If the horse gets stiff or his head comes up, Richard talks about bumping him forward with the legs. Intermittent high-headed-stiffness is something that crops up with Steen sometimes, and I've never found a productive way to address it. So I was excited to see this exercise.

I spent some time today working on a big, energetic circle with Steen, and asking for a nose tip and more life any time he got a little rigid. We made some good progress. I found when I got him soft with a good nose tip, he ended up very nicely balanced and moving evenly on all four quarters while being very soft to my hands. This seemed to feed into some really fantastic stops. Steen has never been a horse that stops naturally, and though I've made a lot of progress on that with him, today we hit a new level. The one Brian got in video wasn't even the best one of the day.

In other news, Oliver has been balding. He's got large areas of totally bare skin on his shoulders and neck. The vet thinks it's either lice or some other infestation. We're putting both him and Aiden through an intensive worming program, because they both seem to be struggling with different types of things that seems to indicate bugs. Three days into the five days of treatment, Oliver is starting to grow his hair back and Aiden has a lot more energy under saddle.

Hopefully, we're almost through the new horse adjustment period. Other than the bizarre hair issue, Oliver has been doing well.

Horseback Hours YTD: 74:35

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steen in the Two-Rein

It's been a little while since I rode Steen in the two-rein, and I feel like I've addressed a lot of the weaknesses riding in it last brought to light for me. On Tuesdays, I have my lessons with my student, J. She's been riding with me for close to a year now, but we've had some big breaks during that time. Lately, she's been coming out consistently again. I've had her riding Laredo, and she's really clicking with him. It's actually pretty fantastic to see your student and the horse you've trained getting along so well.

Last week, J had her best lesson by a wide margin, and her progress got me thinking about my progress. Usually during her lessons, I pretty much just sit on Steen and watch, occasionally using him to demonstrate some maneuver or other. It occurred to me that one of the things Steen needs in terms of us settling into the two-rein is time. He just needs to get used to wearing the spade.

So today, I rode Steen in the two-rein while I gave J her lesson. And things went quite well. Steen was fine with the bit, as he has been. For the lesson, I left the romal reins hitched around the horn, because I was paying a lot more attention to J and Laredo than Steen. When J left, I rode a little longer, to see what I could get done with both sets of reins in my hands. I was pleased to discover I could easily accomplish many of the things that were hard for us to get done with one hand last time I checked in on the two-rein. Still, I didn't push our limits. We mostly worked at the walk, with a bit of trotting and one little canter mixed in.

From here, I'm going to try to ride in the two-rein more consistently. Part of my difficulty getting going, I will admit, is simply my own ineptitude. I am not very competent at managing both the mecate and the romals. It feels like I have so much to learn and refine and understand. Fortunately, the work I did this winter on getting my seat and leg responses more consistent and refined was a big help today. Our communication never broke down, Steen never got upset, and I never did anything too clumsy.

The reality is, the only way I'm going to learn to use this equipment is to ... well ... use it. As with everything I've done with Steen, I'm just going to take it slow and see where the journey takes us.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 71:00

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting to Know Aiden

Now that Brian and I have four horses again, we're settling into a rhythm. We've divided our guys into 'strings' for the time being. I'm going to be working with Steen and Aiden for a chunk of time, while Brian is primarily in charge of Laredo and Oliver.

I rode Aiden for the first time since his abscess the weekend before last. We did a light ride in the indoor arena, and things felt pretty good. Then he ended up getting a week off. This last weekend, though, it was time to get back to work in earnest. I rode him both Saturday and Sunday. Overall, things went quite well.

Now that he's accustomed to his environment and not in pain, Aiden is proving to be even more laid back than we thought. In fact, this weekend with the sun and the exercise, he was actually a little low energy.

Both Oliver and Aiden are interesting in that most of the time they are pretty good about yielding to pressure, but every now and then they do the opposite. Most of the time you block them with a leg or a rein and they respond nicely, but every now and then they'll just plow straight through the boundary you're trying to set.

My primary goal with Aiden this weekend was to build his confidence. He's a little more of a nervous temperament, and I want him to feel safe and comfortable with me. So I focused on giving him a lot of simple tasks and positive feedback. I was trying to make a very clear distinction between how it felt when he was being attentive and I knew he was trying and responding, and those moments where he'd just lean on me or blow through my leg.

I think it worked out the way I'd hoped. From the start on Sunday, Aiden was even more quiet and settled than he'd been the day before. We also had less moments where he came onto pressure. After a little warm up, I tipped him into the canter. It was a little work to get him into it, but once there, he felt pretty mellow and smooth. I didn't push it. I definitely don't want to overwork him, but I always feel like a know a horse a little better once I've felt walk, trot, and canter.

At any rate, I like Aiden. He's sweet and friendly and laid back. He's a very easy horse to get along with. I'm looking forward to hanging out with him a lot this summer. He's put on some good weight recently, too. I'm curious to watch him continue to fill out.

Horseback Hours YTD: 70:05

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Farewell to Bear

It's been hard to bring myself to write this post, so I have been putting it off. We recently came to a difficult decision. Bear has moved on to a new home. He is now in the hands of the good people at Miracles in Motion - the therapeutic riding program where I volunteered some years ago.

This change is the result of a year and a half of monitoring Bear's health and happiness. While it seems he thrives in light work, too much or inconsistent riding leaves him a little off. It's not a focused kind of problem - not a particular sore spot or definable issue. It's more of a general overall, mild distress that seems to crop up and leave, then reappear at irregular intervals. It's easy for us to over-work him. A ride that is fine for him one week will leave him uncomfortable the next. Or, sometimes, he'll get a week off and come in seeming down and uncomfortable.

We were struggling with this a lot last fall, and almost donated him to Miracles then. In the end, we decided to wait one more season. He's been on the supplement recommended by our vet for over six months now, being ridden in tack that fits him very well. We kept him in good shape all winter, and hoped with enough careful conditioning, we might be able to move him past this difficulty.

But we've seen no consistent change for the better. Every time we seem to beat the issue, it reappears, seemingly at random. He's 18 years old, and it seems like he might just be kind of beyond the point where he can thrive in the work we have for him.

Now, with Oliver and Aiden in our lives, we've found ourselves needing to get back down to four horses. But Oliver and Aiden have a lot of potential, and while we could doubtless sell either of them now, we'd rather keep them for a while, get them fully back into good shape and work, and learn from them as we teach them our way of doing things.

It was the right time to retire Bear. Nevertheless, it was hard. We are lucky to have such a great place to send him. The Miracles people came and met him a couple of weeks ago, and were very impressed. All signs indicate he will be perfect for their program. I have seen first-hand that their horses are well cared for and properly handled. They are used lightly, each horse's load carefully tailored to what he can handle. They are aware of Bear's limitations. The therapy horses are mostly older geldings. They live in a herd environment, get lots of attention, and are only used for therapeutic purposes. The people at Miracles have a lot of practice keeping old guys in good health - far more than we do. I think Bear will enjoy his new role.

Still, it was more than a little sad to see him go. They came and picked him up on Wednesday. He's currently with them on a 60 day trial. There's a slim chance they won't take him, but it seems unlikely. He is everything a therapy horse needs to be - sweet, steady, reliable, solid.

In may ways, it's a win-win. Bear gets the lifestyle he needs, the program benefits from having him. We just have to adjust to not having him in our lives. Our trips to the barn this last week have been a little sad. After 3.5 years, it is strange to walk into the pasture and not see Bear there, dozing in the sun or wandering over for facepets.

We're going to miss him terribly, but I feel lucky to have had the chance to spend some time with such a remarkable guy.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Slow Spring

It's been a really busy 10 days or so. For the first week after draining Aiden's abscess, we unwrapped, soaked, flushed, and rewrapped it every day. That was a lot, because it meant going to the barn every night, even if Brian and I both worked long days. Plus, this (naturally) coincided with Brian being out of town overnight for work, me working extra hours to wrap up and launch two large projects, and me catching a cold.

After five days or so, we moved Aiden from the stall to the side pen. On Tuesday, we removed the wrap entirely and put him back in the side pen. Fortunately, the ground out there is dry. He'll get dusty, but the healing wound shouldn't get packed with mud or manure or anything very nasty. He's stopped favoring the foot entirely, and it seems to be well into the mending process. Hopefully we don't see any backsliding.

The other horses are doing well. We ended up giving everybody about a week off to get over the foxtails. In spite of that, I ended up with 28 saddle hours in April. That makes this my best April ever, and actually ties (to the minute) for my best month of riding since I started keeping track.

We had a few good rides this weekend. On Sunday there was an attempt at an organized barn ride, which ended up not going out due to high winds. This meant we were sharing the indoor arena with four other horses and riders for a while. We all took turns passing the giant soccer ball around and moving it with our horses. Brian was on Oliver, who hadn't been exposed to our ball before. But he stepped up and took his turn like a total champ. He was happy to move it, happy to stand quietly when it moved towards him, and totally not bothered when other horses had problems.

Steen was good too. He does not mind the ball at all anymore, though he doesn't love moving it. At one point, another person's horse got a little bothered and jumped towards Steen to evade the ball, and Steen didn't bat an eye. I quietly asked him for a step over to give them more room, and he complied without any agitation. So these are good little experiences to bolster everyone's confidence.

We also went outside a couple of times. Unfortunately the footing is still pretty soft. Hopefully the grass will start growing soon and we can get out of the arena with more consistency.

Horseback Hours YTD: 53:40

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