Sunday, June 29, 2014

And Then There Were Six

When we originally started talking about Brian getting a young horse, we thought we'd do it in the fall -- after we'd found either Aiden or Oliver (or both) new homes. But then we found a horse we really wanted. So we bought her and thought we'd just leave her with the breeder until the fall. Except then King arrived, and having five horses is kind of awkward for two people. A few other things happened too, and it got to the point that it just made sense to bring Brian's new filly, Nevada, home.

She arrived on Thursday, and her introduction to the herd went well. As usual, Jester the Shetland Pony adopted her immediately. It's nice that he's always so keen to show new horses the ropes.

So, we had a lot to do this weekend. I've been working with King, Oliver, and Steen this last stretch, and Brian now has Laredo, Aiden, and Nevada. We wanted to get all the horses worked each day. Which meant a lot of barn time.

These first two weeks with King have been super interesting. He is quite a horse. And unfortunately he has some decently well established not great habits. I've been trying to work through these systematically, and most of them are well on their way to extinction. Today, though, we pushed our boundaries and rode out in the trees for the first time. This made things a bit more challenging. Ultimately, we got a lot done. But it was not that easy for either of us. Still, I've really enjoyed working with King so far. He's a really nice horse, and he's very intelligent. I think he's so intelligent that he has worked out some systems and strategies that have worked quite well for him up until now. I'm dismantling those, and it's blowing his mind a little. These last few rides he's starting to feel different -- more open, less defensive. I'm taking that as a good sign.

I haven't been riding Oliver as much as I would like lately because I've been pretty focused on King. But he's been fun to start to get to know. Brian has always had trouble getting his right lead. Yesterday I worked on that and made some progress. I also rode him in the hackamore yesterday, just to get a feel for where he's at with his nose-pressure anxiety. He did really well.

Today I was with Oliver while Brian was out catching Nevada, and I took him to the strip to get started. He'd seemed a little nervous during tacking, I think because he was up at the barn alone, but out on the strip he seemed pretty fine. I decided to work him with the flag a little anyway.

Brian has done a fair bit of flag work with Oliver, and I've worked him with the tarp. He still has a couple things that get to him a little, but nothing major. I flapped the flag over his head and he was fine with that. Then I went to touch him on the shoulder.

And he exploded. He's done this with Brian a couple of times (only ever during groundwork) -- going haywire over something that previously never bothered him. He tried to spin and pull away, and when that didn't work, he went to bucking like a colt that's never had a saddle on his back. I had to pull him back around to face me, and then he was pretty riled up about the flag for about ... two minutes. Then he went back to being fine. I got him soft and listening and calmed down. Then I got on and we had a nice ride. Mostly we just walked and trotted up and down the strip, and he settled in more and more. By the time I got off he was totally chilled out, and untacking alone was no problem. So I'm not sure what set him off, but I'm glad we could work through things and get him to a more settled place.

As far as Steen goes, he's just been amazing lately. Getting on his back feels like putting on a perfectly worn in boot. There's nothing like spending a lot of time riding a lot of less educated horses to make me appreciate him, and how much he knows now. We've had a couple amazing rides in the tree lot where I felt like he was mentally with me 99% of the time. I can also just feel that I'm riding better lately. I keep learning little things from working through the small hiccups I run into with Oliver and King. Then I apply that new knowledge to Steen. It's like we just keep leveling up.

Aiden and Laredo are both doing great too. Aiden is really, really starting to fill out. It's neat to see him looking so round and glossy. The person who was supposed to come see him a week or so ago never showed, so he's still with us for the time being.

I haven't ridden Laredo in quite some time now, but he and Brian and getting many, many good things done. I think he's thriving a bit with all the one-on-one attention. Also, Google made this panoramic montage of them loping.

This weekend I rode three horses each day, which totaled to six hours in the saddle. All three of my guys are really different, both in terms of what they know and how they move. The variety (not to mention just the time) is definitely helping my versatility as a rider.

Tomorrow I'm going to pass King to Brian for a while. We'll have him for two months total, and we both want to work with him, but I think it's hard on the horses to get traded back and forth too much. So Brian's going to take over for a couple weeks, then I'll take him back in mid July.

Horseback Hours YTD: 119:55


  1. Six!?! Holy cow! While I'd love to have six horses, there's no way I'd keep up with riding them all. (I still feel like I'm neglecting my guys when I'm only able to get in one ride a week.)

    I know what you mean about a horse that "fits perfectly". For a long time that was Trekker. We're starting to get that back now that I'm riding him more, but it was actually kinda strange to ride him for awhile there.

    I also find that horses tend to do better when there's not a whole lot of musical riders. Not that you can't ever switch things up, but if you're always switching they can easily get confused. Same goes for riders though, when I'm going back and forth between my guys a lot, I sometimes forget who needs to work on what. I might get annoyed at one horse for not responding properly...and them remember that I hadn't really worked on that thing with that horse.

    Anyways, your guys are all looking great!

  2. Yeah. I could certainly never keep up with six alone. It's hard enough to get 'my' three ridden multiple times a week. But we're doing it. Having so many sure gets you (and keeps you) out there.

    I think the one big mistake we made with Laredo was trading back and forth on him too much. I think it was just too much variation for him to try to sort out at such a young age, and it hindered his forward progress a little. It was when Brian took over riding Zoey entirely that he saw a huge change in her, and I saw a huge change in Laredo simultaneously because I was the only one riding him. That kind of opened our eyes. We've been taking a different approach with new horses since then, making sure they have a consistent handler for quite a few consecutive rides before we swap.

    I hope you're soon back to the perfect fit with Trekker. It's pretty nice to have a horse that feels like home. :)

  3. Heh, I have a hard time keeping up with two. Not too bad in the summer, but during the school year...yeah. I spend plenty of time at the barn though, just not riding. :)

    I've done a lot of reading on animal training, and I remember somewhere saying that you should stick with one trainer until something was reasonably well trained. If you need to have multiple trainers for one animal (say, all the kids want to be a part of training the family dog), then each should train a different behavior. Everyone is a little different in their timing, manner of asking, etc, so it's less confusing for the critter if one person does things early on. Once they get it, it's good to get other people involved so they learn to generalize.

    Just out of curiosity, what are you going to do when King goes back home and you're down to an odd number of horses? Is six the new four? :)

    1. Hahaha. Oh man. I don't think we can afford for six to be the new four. We're hoping we'll get Aiden rehomed around the same time King leaves. I'd love to keep them all, but reality gets in the way sometimes.

      I love just barn time too. Every now and then we end up stopping in out there to do things other than ride. That's always nice. :)

  4. On any given day I have between 6 and 14 horses to handle. As far as the critter being handled by multiple people, I see both sides. But if you're truly teaching your horse to learn, if the release is given when the horse TRIES every time he tries, there will be very little confusion. Just a moment or two where the horse tries to sort out what the person on their back is asking.

    1. I think I would agree and disagree, Jenn. A horse who has been taught to try and search for the release will definitely do that with multiple riders, particularly if the riders are constantly working to reward those tries. We see this with each other and with our students. And I think it can make for some rather resilient horses.

      But will it get the most out of a horse? I don't think so. If you were interested in getting good at something like ballroom dancing, you might get a lot out of having a different partner every night. But you would come nowhere close to achieving the kind of grace and timing that would come from working with the same partner day after day, month after month, and year after year. I believe the same can be said for horses and riders.

  5. A few years ago I would have not let anyone other than Zach ride my horses, so I can appreciate that you disagree with me, however, our experiences with horses are very different. Mine spans three decades (and I've made a living horseback) so I have a different/broader field to draw from. I'm not here to argue with you, simply to share my point of view.

    We have many horses on the ranch, that are ridden by countless honeyockers, or our kids who're just learning, yet when Zach or I get on them, they immediately turn to butter in our hands. That is because the horse will always take you up on the better deal. ALWAYS. You have to believe in what you're doing.

    One of the things that I think makes the horses better about having multiple people ride them, is that everyone uses their legs/hands differently. Some folks are really good at getting one to move out; some folks are good at making one dull; some folks are better at getting a soft feel than others, etc, etc, etc. And all of that combined makes something comfortable to ride because the horse learns to feel for all sorts of different things. That's not to say that there may not be a hard spot put in one by a student of ours, but it comes out with little effort on our part because of how we've handled the horses from the beginning.

    Another thing that makes a rider better is getting on more than one horse. The more horses you can ride, the better your timing and feel become because every horse is different. We have found, in our 5 years of running our internship program, that the sooner we can get the interns riding multiple horses, the faster they become handier. The same can be said with ground work because it's all related.

    But then again, maybe you and I are just after different things with our horses. :-)


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