Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Summer Groove

Summer seems to be finally here in earnest. I got out to the barn multiple times during the week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.) Which was good because it means Aiden didn't get the whole week off.

 No, of course I am not looking at my phone while sitting on a horse I've owned less than two months with the reins draped over the horn. Who would do such a thing?

This weekend we rode all our horses both days. Saturday I had a really great ride on Aiden. We went out to the tree pasture for the first time.

Brian and I have been watching a video series produced by the Eclectic Horseman called Horseman's Gazette. We started from way back in the beginning and have been watching our way forward in time. The videos are pretty interesting, featuring a range of horseman and craftsmen. In the early ones, Richard Caldwell was still alive, so we've gotten to see some great snippets of him.

But the new person I've been getting a lot out of watching is Joe Wolter. Several of the videos involve him working young horse with cattle, and the most recent one showed him doing groundwork and settling exercises with a young mare with a lot of pent-up energy. What has struck me so much watching Joe is how patient he is, and how he supports the horse by setting things up and leaving her room to try.

This is, of course, what I'm always trying to do, but how well I succeed tends to vary from moment to moment. On Saturday with Aiden, I backed off a lot on my groundwork. Watching Joe work his mare, I noticed how little he did when asking for the front and the hind. Now that I can move a horse's feet around pretty easily, I think I've become a bit too quick to do so. If every time I ask for a horse to change direction I micromanage him through the movement, he's never going to figure out how to accomplish it without my help. As Martin Black says, "The horse knows how to be a horse better than I do."

So my work with Aiden was focused on leaving him a lot of leeway. And on Saturday, this worked great. He was really with me, and he seemed to be meeting me halfway in everything I asked of him. Our work at the walk and trot was great. He still doesn't feel awesome at the lope though. He'll go, and it's fine, but it's hard for him. He's still just really, really out of shape. So I haven't been doing more than tipping him into that once or twice a ride.

We were rocking the figure-eights around the trees, both at the walk and trot.

On Sunday, things weren't as good. He was more distracted, which meant my gentle suggestions followed by room to explore led to a bit of him blowing me off. I think he was pretty fatigued, physically. And I also think I left things a little too open for him at times. Nevertheless, it was a great weekend on Aiden. He's proving to be just so quiet and gentle. Now if his topline would just fill in a little . . . .

In other news, we went and visited Bear on Saturday. He was looking very happy and chilled out, and the people at Miracles totally adore him there. So that was great.

Also, Oliver is growing his coat back, and it turns out he's a roan. Who knew?

Also he's lost a fair bit of weight and gained a fair bit of muscle and is starting to look pretty darn good.

Horseback Hours YTD
Steen: 47:05
Aiden: 9:25
Total: 82:45


  1. I'll admit I'm a little jealous of all the time you get to spend riding. Other than the little "fun show" I did last weekend, I haven't done any real riding since...uhmm...awhile.

    I tend to under-mange a horse's feet more than anything else. I'm trying to get a little better about being able to time my cues correctly (i.e. asking for a turn when the horse can move the inside leg instead of crossing over with the outside), but this is largely because Tranikla needs this kind of support. In general, I kinda go with the idea that the horse knows how to manage all his feet better than I do. :)

    1. Haha. One thing about acquiring multiple horses that need work is it does sort of force you to get out and do something with them. A this point Brian and I both basically structure our work schedules around getting to the barn as much as possible. :)

      Yeah, I have never been inclined to micromanage. However, I am starting to realize that a lot of horses have been ridden by people who spent a lot of time getting in their way, and this has caused the horse to learn improper ways of moving.

      I know with humans they say it takes approximately equal time to 'undo' a habitual error in locomotion as it took to create it. So if someone has been playing tennis with a bad serve for five years, it can take up to five years of similar practice before the correct serve becomes second-nature.

      I think this is similar for horses. If you're riding a horse who has learned to turn around without engaging the hind, and he has been doing that for three years, it will probably take about three years of helping that horse turn around properly before he settles in and does it the right way on his own, every time.

      With Aiden, at first when I had him on the rope and I'd ask him to turn, he'd fall onto his forehand, fling his hips around himself in this strange, sideways stutter-jog, surge forward, then hop into a stiff trot to move off again. This is not the way any horse would choose to turn around in a natural setting. It was something he'd learned from a human.

      Early on, I had to manage him through components of the turn or he'd do it 'his' way every time. It was the same under saddle. He did not know how to get his hind underneath himself and use that base to support a turn.

      He's now starting to get the idea that there's a better way, and he will turn (more or less) properly if I walk him through the steps. What I'm trying to do now is let go a little and allow him to build on what I've started to teach him in hopes that he can start to find those steps without so much support for me all the time.

      So, while I think it's true that a horse who has never learned to move wrong will move right if he is not interfered with, most horses have been interfered with. Which means they are going to need some level of reprogramming. The hard part is finding the sweet spot. You need to provide enough support that the horse has something to work with, but not so much that he never learns to be independent.

      Fortunately, it's a pretty fun and interesting thing to work on and figure out. :)

  2. Huh, I never really thought about horses learning to move incorrectly from people. Tranikla does have some strange ways of moving, but I'm pretty sure they're more from his lop-sidedness than anything we did. (We probably didn't do a great job of dealing with it, but I don't think it came from us.) Some of it is definitely strength related though, as I've been building up his weak areas and working on flexibility, he's starting to move better all on his own. Interesting!

    I wish I had the work flexibility to schedule it around going out to the barn. I guess I could look into teaching night classes, but I really don't like being out that late. :)

    1. In most cases people accidentally teach horses to move improperly by getting in their way or putting them under too much pressure. Now that I know to look for this, I see it everywhere. It's pretty amazing to watch the ingenuity and resourcefulness of horses coming up with ways to get the job done even when their rider is completely in the way all the time.

      You have a good seat, you don't balance off the reins, you don't micro-manage, and you don't have unreasonable expectations. So it makes sense your horses don't do these things. :)

      Yeah, we are very lucky to have found our way into enjoyable jobs that allow us so much horse time. I wouldn't sacrifice sleep for riding, though. I don't function well if I don't get to bed on time.


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