Sunday, September 28, 2014

Parting with Oliver

I don't know what happened to September. One moment it was just starting. All of a sudden its nearly over.

It's continued to be a good month with the horses. We have Brian's student coming out to ride Aiden a couple extra times a week on her own. They are getting along really well. Since that's been making us less keen to sell him, we decided to list Oliver for sale as well. We've never had two horses for sale at once before, and it was a bit interesting in terms of seeing who got more interest and for what reason. We had one person come look at Aiden a few weeks ago. While that seemed promising during the test ride, it didn't lead to a sale. Mid week this week we had a couple people passing through Iowa City ride both of them. They had a super ride and asked us if we'd give them a package deal, to which we said yes. We spent one strange evening thinking Oliver and Aiden might both be leaving. But those people ended up finding another horse they preferred for the girl who was genuinely the one shopping, which was fine with us.

Then, this weekend, we had a sudden surge of interest in Oliver. We had three people trying to schedule times to come see him, but the first one rode him, bought him, and took him home.

Which means we're back down to four horses. It's a little surreal, how quickly it happened. With the horses soon to come in off the pasture for the winter and Brian needing to start putting more hours on Nevada, it was the right time. We feel great about the sale. Oliver now belongs to a girl who is just starting high school. She's been riding her aunt's horse for years and is ready for her own. She fell in love with Oliver. Watching her getting to know him reminded me of the experience of buying my first horse when I was just about the same age. It's a magical thing -- that first horse.

So it's a good thing, but it's always a little sad to say good-bye. Oliver is a really neat guy. Brian and I both had a lot of good hours with him. He was fun and versatile for visitors as well. On Saturday, Brian's mom and sister came over from Chicago for a ride. All four of us got on horses and rode together. That was fun for all involved. It's certainly been pretty easy to have so many horses that are just well broke and relaxing to be around.

Little did we know that was our last day with Oliver. A motivated buyer is a good thing, but it's also a tad startling. For the moment, we're taking Aiden off the market so Brian's student can continue to enjoy him. We might sell him in the spring. At which point we'd obviously have to buy another horse.

Horseback Hours YTD: 189:00

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Big September

It is September 7. So far, this month, I have spent 10.5 hours in the saddle. This is probably a new short-term record for me. I'm not sure I've ever started a month off with such a bang.

Mostly, I blame the weather. It's been absolutely gorgeous out. We've had perfect temps, just enough rain to keep the grasses growing, and nights cooling down enough so the horses get a good break.

This weekend, Brian and I decided to put a priority on pushing our boundaries. We ride in a lot of different places, but with riding multiple horses most barn trips now, we've gotten a bit out of the habit of going out past the immediate surroundings of the barn's arenas, pastures, and the nearby strip. This weekend we decided we'd tack on a little exploration of the waterways around nearby fields to every ride.

Mostly, that went well. On Saturday, after a really great ride on Oliver and Aiden, we ventured out to the second strip. Both Oliver and Aiden were alert but relaxed. Even though there were swarms of grasshoppers making crazy popping noises in the corn, breeze rattling the just-starting-to-dry-out crops, and we were in new territory, they both stayed with us. We didn't push on for more than a quarter mile or so, but it was a good little foray beyond our normal pattern.

Next we rode Steen and Laredo and took them way out to the far end of the property boundary. Steen was so, so relaxed. It was the kind of ride that made me remember how nervous and flighty he used to be with a sort of disbelief. We did an easy circuit around the fields before heading home.

Today, Brian rode Nevada again for the first time after her six week hiatus. We stayed in the indoor arena for that, and I rode Oliver for the first time in many weeks. Other than one little rearing episode during groundwork, Nevada took coming back to work with her usual equanimity. Oliver started out kind of uncertain as to why he was hanging out with me instead of Brian, but we settled in quickly.

After the first ride, Brian and I got on Steen and Laredo and rode out with a purpose. There were several abandoned fly masks scattered out in the big pasture (one of which was ours) so we decided to ride the whole pasture and collect all that we saw. We found ours right up in the winter lot. I hung it up on the fence to dry, and we trotted out to collect another we'd seen from a distance on the far far hill top. Once we'd picked that one up, we realized we should put ours on Oliver. So trotted all the way back up to the winter pasture to get the fly mask where I'd left it, then back out to where Oliver was grazing. Brian then succeeded in putting the fly mask on Oliver from Laredo's back.

These are the kinds of silly jobs we create for ourselves because we don't have real work to do with our horses. While none of this necessarily needed to be done via horseback, it was pretty fun to do it all on four legs instead of two.

After trotting and cantering around the big pasture a fair bit, we took Steen and Laredo out into the fields again. They were, if possible, even more relaxed than the day before. We tooled around for an hour and a half before calling it a ride.

So, yay for long rides and beautiful weather. It was definitely the kind of weekend that has me counting my blessings.

Horseback Hours YTD: 178:25

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Few Weeks in the Two-Rein

We're having a really lovely late summer. Really, the whole summer has been surprisingly nice, but the last few weeks have been particularly gorgeous. Accordingly, we are logging lots and lots of barn hours.

With King gone and Nevada getting a little break, Brian and I have reverted to our previous breakdown of mounts. I'm riding Steen and Aiden. He's riding Laredo and Oliver. (This choice is mostly due to the fact that my saddle fits Aiden better and his fits Oliver better.)

All the horses are doing well, but the most exciting thing going on for me is that I've finally made a total transition into the two-rein with Steen. I dabbled with the set-up on and off for quite a few months, but every time I rode in it it made me aware of things that were missing or not quite right with my communication in hackamore. We'd go back to the hackamore to work on the deficiencies.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I tried the two-rein again. For the first time, it felt all good all through the ride. I rode in it again the following day, and it felt really good. The third ride was even better still.

That string of riding brought me to a decision. No more dabbling. With Steen being 14 and this being my first time using a spade, if we're going to do this, now's the time. We're not going to find a better moment.

It also helped that we recently watched a video by Bruce Sandifer that went into an in-depth exploration of the mechanics of the spade bit and how it works in comparison to a lot of popular bits commonly in use today. This helped me really set aside any lingering fear that I would somehow accidentally hurt Steen with the spade, plus gave me increased understanding of how the spoon and mouthpiece work, and why.

So, for the last few weeks, I've ridden Steen exclusively in the two-rein. We're both increasingly relaxed about the headgear, and he's rapidly building up his understanding of the signals. As his understanding and my aptitude increase together, I'm starting to get glimmers of why a spade bit is so unbelievably cool. I have seen other people ride in spades, read about them, watched videos on them, and collected all sorts of abstract information about them. But finally really riding in one is something else entirely.

Unfortunately, it's the kind of thing that's really difficult to talk about. Much of what is different isn't really quantifiable. The most obvious elements is the subtlety. On Steen in the hackamore, I can usually put him exactly where I want with only a little pressure/effort. On Steen in the two-rein, it takes even less. I'm starting to learn how little itty bitty twitches of my fingers cause the bit to signal, and Steen so far has shown very little difficulty in translating these minute shifts into instructions that reach his feet.

The other things that are different about riding in the two-rein are a lot harder to describe. Increasingly, I understand why Martin Black says the work he does with young horses is essentially geared to get them into the two-rein as quickly as possible. He talks about the two-rein being his favorite part of the bridle horse progression. And that brings me to what is perhaps the most noticeable difference in riding Steen in the two-rein. It does feel like leveling up. For both me and Steen, there's a lot more to think about. There are simple changes, like just riding around with two sets of reins, and there are subtle things, like the way the spade moves in his mouth when he holds his head at different angles. It's like adding an entire new layer to our potential to communicate.

We have yet to have a moment where the bit gets in the way or causes a problem. Every time I ride in it, Steen is more relaxed about taking it and holding it from the get-go. Of course, we still have a long, long way to go. I'm trying to be realistic about what's ultimately possible for a horse like Steen, who has a very checkered training history, two traumatic leg injuries, and is now past his prime, particularly given the fact that he's in the hands of someone who is learning as she goes. Still, it seems that as long as we're both enjoying the learning process, there is no reason to stop pushing on.

Horseback Hours YTD: 173:10

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