Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting Bigger

It has been a little over 3 weeks since I last went out to see Bear. My shoulder and rib have continued to get better (I'm wondering if I actually cracked a rib as I'm still feeling some tenderness 5 weeks out). In those 3 weeks we've had a few nice days, but quite a bit of cold, too.

Today we had rain turning to snow with projections of 4+ inches coming over night with some plummeting temps. So we went out to check on the guys, give them a little food and some time to dry off and warm up.

Bear was definitely soaking wet, except for his huge, round, tubby belly, which was bone dry. That's right, 3 weeks of standing at not super nutritious bale in less than ideal weather and Bear gets bigger. At least I don't have to worry about him dropping weight in the winter. Or any season for that matter.

Inside he was mostly good. A little frisky actually. I let him roll right when we got in. After he adequately scratched himself he just jumped right up and proceeded to run around and kick his heels up a bit.

Once he calmed down I gave him some chopped hay and proceeded to groom him and dry him off some. After the snack we did a little groundwork. His backing was great. The disengages were just OK. He was a little more willing to go on the line than he sometimes is, but I think that was also due to being inside on solid footing. He threw in quite a few little bucks and kicks and big runs. Not ideal behavior, but it probably helped him warm up and get a little drier.

When we put them out it was actually quite nice. The snow had stopped falling and there was only a gentle breeze from the northwest. Bear stood around for a few pets and then walked off to load up on hot water. I'm definitely feeling better about him going into the winter, but we've got a blanket coming as a just in case.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Been Awhile

A few weeks ago I had another fall off Bear (which Robin wrote about here). It was by far my hardest fall yet. It left my left shoulder, hips, and ribs feeling pretty bad. Bad enough that I haven't felt up to getting back out there for some riding, or for doing anything much more intense than reading or walking to work.

I don't think Bear minded the time off. I did get to spend some easy time with him and Steen on a couple of the days. And Robin has been putting some short rides on both of them. It is nice that they're getting more time to hang out.

Today while I was at work she went and rode Bear in the arena. They did a lot of walking and trotting. Then she tried Steen's blanket on him.

It is just a tad big, but one size down would be way too small. And I don't think he'll mind the extra neck coverage at all.

My shoulder has started to feel a lot better these past two days, but I think I'm going to wait until after the holidays just to make sure everything is OK. Then it will be back to riding.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moving Faster

If anyone has actually been reading this blog these past few weeks they must be thinking how boring these rides have been. Walking around cones. Walking along the strip. Walking up and down hills. Is walking all those two do?

And I'll admit, it hasn't been super exciting. But I've had some annoying foot issues, and taking it slow has allowed Bear to slowly build up his back muscles. Today he was paying lots of attention to me, and I think he was almost a little bored. So I decided to try a little trotting again. We started by trotting back and forth between a few cones, and right away I could tell a big difference. His trot was still big and lofty, but nowhere close to how erratic it was a month ago.

We moved to trotting in big circles for awhile and he really relaxed into it. It was nice to see him enjoying himself and getting more and more comfortable. We only kept this up for about 15 minutes, but each minute got smoother and easier. So I'm looking forward to putting longer sessions into the trot. It should be good for both of us.

Robin had a nice bareback ride on Steen, too. He was in his normal, goofy mood. The two guys were in opposite ends of the pasture. Steen, of course, was right at the gate. Robin let him into the airlock and he proceeded to follow me all the way down to the other end when I went after Bear.

The ever curious Steen had to see what I was up to.

In the beginning of the ride he continued to act a little goofy as he would intermittently drift off to sleep and then startle himself awake. Eventually he settled down and gave Robin their very first outdoor bareback lope. It looked really good, too.

Bear continues to look good as well. Robin put together a nice shot of his two month progression. It is really rewarding to watch your horse get healthier and more fit. It helps that he likes me more and more, too.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Big Horse

This afternoon was the first time I climbed on Bear in 11 days. The first thing I noticed is that he is considerably wider. Like Bear I'm prone to some tight hips, and today he was really stretching me out.

But his growth is good growth. He is not getting fatter. In fact, his belly has been looking trimmer and trimmer. Instead he is putting on some really nice muscles through the shoulders, back, and who knows where else. He's just an all around stocky guy. I forgot the camera today, but I'll update a monthly side shot this weekend as I've now had him 2 months.  That was the same amount of time I had Sham, but these past two months have felt drastically different. In a good way.

Today was a nice easy ride. It was the first real cool day of fall. The morning was windy and cloudy, but right before we left for the barn the sun started to come out. It helped, but it was nothing like the Arizona sun we just got a little used to.

So we didn't ride long. My hips were actually getting a little fatigued from the stretch (I'll have to work on that), and my hands were getting cold. So the four of us just did some light work around the cones and walked up and down the strip. Bear was really good for all of it. He was quiet and his stops were prompt. He was backing nicely and paying a lot of attention to me (except for one period during our figure eights, I don't know what he wanted to pay attention to there, but it wasn't me).

This weekend we'll be sure to get back out for some more interesting rides. Although I'm a little disappointed they tilled up the soybean field, that takes away our close to home trail ride.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

R and R

Bear and I just had 8 days off of riding. I was in Arizona celebrating Jessie and Susie's wedding, and Bear was just in the pasture. The day before we left we had the chiropractor look at him. Yes, it does sound a little crazy, but she was very good. She confirmed that Bear was sore in all the spots we thought he was, then she proceeded to manipulate his legs and get some big hip pops. Finally she demonstrated a few stretches and exercises for us to keep doing, and that was it.

Unfortunately I was at work during the appointment, so Robin took care of him. It sounds like he was a little skeptical about it all, but he didn't give anyone a hard time. The chiro said we should give him a few days off before resuming our normal riding routine, but we were going to be gone awhile, so that was easy.

Arizona was quite nice. The temps were actually not a whole lot different than Iowa, but that is only because we have stayed so unseasonably warm here. The sun, though, was noticeably more intense.

I spent some time hanging out with the Stephen horses, Jak and Rojo, but I didn't ride this trip. We did get Jessie's new brother in law Simon up on Jak. Having come all the way from England he was not fully prepared, so I loaned him my Wranglers.

Jak was his usual self, quiet and slightly difficult for a newbie. He would mostly just decide to not listen to the neck reining. But Simon was pretty good, he stayed calm, stuck with it, and Jak improved. Simon had a blast.

Simon and Jak, with Robin instructing amidst the Catalina Mountains.

I'll have some not-highly-exciting video coming soon, including some bareback trotting.

The video is much more exciting than the onlookers would have you believe.

Today we got back into town. I had a busy afternoon at work and then dashed out to the barn for the farrier visit. It was a cool and exceptionally windy day. When we stepped out of the barn Steen saw us right away, whinied, and ran up to the gate. Bear looked up, and before we knew it he was running to the gate with the whole herd in tow (Bear showing us his nice, relaxed lope).

Robin let Steen into the airlock. Others tried to follow but she shooed them off a bit. Bear quietly made his way to the gate but felt a tad crowded. He pinned his ears at the others to get a little room, paused to nibble at some normally unreachable grass, and then let me halter him and lead him out.

Inside things were rather frantic. People were riding, trimming, grooming, and just taking up space. The horses were a tad keyed up, probably from the wind.

I proceeded to groom Bear a bit while I held his lead rope. Initially he tried to eat a lot of stray hay, but then he calmed right down. Unlike Steen, he was super clean, so I didn't have to do much. His coat is also looking really good. It is bright brown and getting very thick and soft.

After the grooming we did a few pre-trim stretches. I could tell he was noticeably more flexible than he was after our last ride. Perhaps the chiro did some good? When I held him for Duke he was a tad pushy at first. He never moved his feet, but he'd nudge me with his head or try to sniff noses with the stall horses. When Duke did his hind legs, though, Bear was perfect. I asked Duke to go slow since Bear is tight in the hind end. Duke obliged, but Bear was fine with everything. He even seemed to relax into the deep stretch.

We finished by giving them a quick snack and then put them out to pasture. Steen walked off first, and then Bear put in a nice trot to catch up. I had never seen Bear run around the pasture at all, and today I saw both a lope and a trot. I'm thinking the chiro really was a big help.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's Official

I own Bear, and I now have the paperwork to prove it. We waited a few weeks before sending it in just to make sure he was a keeper.

Friday was a busy day for Robin, so I went out to the barn for a solo-ride. As it was the end of the week, I was a little tired, but I perked up once I got Bear. He was really excited to see me and eager to ride. I just went with the bareback pads since I'm trying to ride without a saddle at least once a week to keep working on my seat.

The mounting was easy again; Bear doesn't seem to mind at all if I jump around him a few times and then leap up onto his back. When we started riding he was super responsive and attentive. I think part of it was that he was just having a good day, and the other part of it was Bear couldn't be distracted by Steen.

Bear was doing so well I was starting to think about walking a little ways into the soybean field to see how things would go when it was just the two of us. But before I could decide he had a little half spook and jumped into a trot right when I was turning him left. Last time I rode him in the pads he was a little agitated and I think the girth might have been too tight. This time I left it a little looser.

So when he turned sharply the pads started slipping. I tried my best to hang on, but I think the slipping worried him even more, so instead of slowing down he just got a little more agitated and moved off faster. I slid off and hit the ground with my arm and hip, and he kept trotting off a bit. That's fall number three for me.

When I walked up to him he seemed apologetic. We did a few little groundwork drills, but I could see he was calm and not worried about anything, so I hopped back on. He was a little less attentive than he was in the beginning, and since I had hit the ground once already I didn't want to push things. So we kept it easy and brief before going in for grooming and chopped hay.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, but we took the day off. My body was sore, and I was happy to lounge around and read. Then I raked leaves for awhile and that helped loosen my body up a bit. But there was no way we could skip both weekend days, so late this morning both Robin and I went to see the guys.

They were both great coming out of the pasture and attentive during grooming to the point of almost being mischievous. We thought it was a pretty good sign.

On the strip they were both very good going through the warmup, then our friend Gay came out on her bay Doc, and the three of us walked off onto the trails. There was a tractor in the soybean field, so we skirted that and went off to some of the areas neither Bear nor I had been to since early September.

There were a few mini-starts from Steen and Doc while walking through the machine shed/silo/tractor area, but other than that, everyone was great. Steen was in super fast walking mode, and Bear was actually doing his best to keep up. I think he was feeling good, and he was taking the downhills a lot faster, too.

On the way back Steen got a little excited to be going home. Robin and I had already decided we were going to do a little extra work on the strip, and this was perfect for him. While Robin put Steen through a more rigorous routine, Bear and I used the cone set up to practice a few things and settle down. In the end it was a really great ride.

In head news, Bear got a new halter. We found a super great deal on a used leather halter. It is dark brown and wonderfully supple. It fits him much better than the black one, and he loves it (really, just like Steen he'll push his head into it like he can't wait to have it on).

He also loves chopped hay.

The bummer is his flymask is gone. A few days ago we noticed it was missing, and we have not been able to find it. The pastures are too big and the wind is perhaps too strong. So it looks like he'll be back in the leopard print.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Soybeans and Sadness

Today was another gorgeously sunny fall day, and since we started out on the strip, Bear was back to standing like a champ. In fact, he was really good at everything today. We ran through some circles and figure eights and few other things to get warmed up, and then we walked off into the soybean field.

Steen was also having a great day. It was windy, so the guys couldn't hear super well, but despite this Steen was still shockingly relaxed. He had one funny little spook while we crossed a grassy section of field, but it was almost nothing. It didn't even bother Bear, and you could see Steen thinking that he really shouldn't be spooking. It is nice to see him getting increasingly comfortable with venturing out.

On the hills Bear was still stepping carefully, but I do think I'm seeing some improvement in his flexibility, mobility, and willingness to stretch his comfort zone. He also had a mini-spook towards the end. We were on the strip and something got him scooting along quickly, but both of us settled right back down. At the end we did a little more work within the cones and he was downright amazing.

So why the sadness? Jean's horse Schooley, one of my favorite horses at the barn, will be put down tomorrow. He is a 20 year old thoroughbred and has been having some health problems lately, so this is certainly the best decision. But it is really sad.

Jean and Schooley have become great barn friends. Robin and Jean have enjoyed many great rides together, and last fall I was lucky to go on a couple of the slower and more relaxed ones. Jean also knew that I really liked Schooley. Last spring she was kind enough to let me ride him. Even for a 20 year old he was a super spunky guy, but he had no problems leading me around the arena like a gentleman. I don't have any great photos of Schooley, but I do have a video from our ride:

Robin also has a nice Schooley write up on her blog.

I Won't Stand For It

That is what Bear told me when we tried to ride in a new location yesterday. A big, noisy, fertilizing machine was driving through the soybean field rendering that a useless riding space for the time being and making the strip a less attractive place to be on a horse. So Robin and I decided to check out the nice big grassy section on the west side of the barn.

The guys were a little snorty on the way over. Steen settled down almost right away, but Bear could not handle the cows in the nearby trees, all the stall horses hanging out by the fence and watching him, and he probably just didn't like the tractor noise, either. And I guess he decided he just wouldn't stand for it.

It was kind of funny, really, because I think of Bear as a champion stander. It is what he does best. But all horses get nervous and antsy, so it was interesting to see Bear's more fidgety side. We did eventually get over it after quite a few minutes of circles and figure eights and one rein stops.

By that time the truck was done fertilizing and we still wanted to ride. We weren't excited to take them into a recently fertilized field (who knows what chemical disasters could be there?), so we just did some relaxing walking on the strip and really concentrated on the steep hill at the far end. That all went really well.

We ended the day with chopped hay and stretching. Bear was super into the stretching today. He was very relaxed, and his range of motion was significantly better than it has been. That is a really good sign; I think we'll just keep doing what we're doing to keep him getting back into shape slowly. So far it seems to be working.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Easy Sunday

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to mention the weather again. This fall has been exceptionally sunny and dry. Sunday was in the 80s, and there was almost no wind. It was actually too warm. I like a nice day as much as the next guy, but in October I'd rather have a sunny day in the 60s than one in the 80s.

Bear agrees, too. He was super crusty and sweaty after our soybean adventure. And all we did was walk. There were also no spooks or bolts or dashes, that shows how low key we kept things. Bear had definitely limbered up some from the stretching and/or day off. It also helped that Steen was relaxed and our friend Gay came who was riding another quiet bay named Doc.

Throughout the ride Bear continued to get more and more comfortable. He was definitely tight in the beginning, but as things progressed he warmed up and started walking a little faster on the steep downhills. After the ride we untacked in the airlock while the guys grazed (we actually tacked up there, too, as the barn was noisy from the stalls being power washed).

While Bear was munching on the long grass, I took the time to stretch his hind legs again. They have been stiff on and off since I got him, so I've really worked on picking them up and just going slow. To stretch them out I'd ask for his hoof, hold it gently, let him relax, and then slowly pull it low and away from his body. He'd continue to munch along until I hit a sweet spot, then his head would pop up and he would pause to enjoy the stretch.

It is nice to help him out and get the sense that he is aware and appreciative of what I'm doing. In the end we left the guys in the airlock to continue munching on the long grass before they have to make the switch to bales.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hill Walking

The weather continues to be perfect in this region of the US, and Robin and I went out to the barn hoping for a quiet ride through the fields. The barn was empty when we arrived, which is always a good sign. In the pasture the guys were working hard to get at the last of the grass. Steen saw us from a ways off and walked right over. It was the fourth or fifth day in a row that he's done that.

Bear on the other hand looked up, and then kept eating. He was more than happy to see me when I got up to him, but he was not about to walk over. I guess that is the difference between two and a half years of partnership. Or one of the differences at least.

Since we were thinking of heading out and about I put a saddle on. And it felt good to be in the saddle after a couple days of bareback. Bear was fine during our warmup and more than happy to walk through a few circles on the strip.

Out in the fields he was a tad antsy, though. There was a silo nearby that was getting pumped full of grain, and the loud sounds were not making the guys happy. They both kept looking sharply in that direction as we walked by. Then the field started to slope downhill and before I knew it Bear was bolting off down the grade and away from the noise. This surprised me more than a little bit. I got him under control without much problem, but he was still pretty keyed up. I've gotten used to him settling down rather quickly after such antics, so this left me a little keyed up.

I tried to relax as the four of us strolled through the soybean field. It is full of big rolling hills, so it was really nice. As I took deep, calming breaths I kept hoping Bear would do the same, but didn't. In the grand scheme of horse behaviors he was pretty darn relaxed, but I've just gotten so used to a super relaxed horse that I didn't know what to think.

We decided to just keep walking our big loops. We knew we weren't doing anything that should really upset him, so we just kept an eye on him. He would get better at times, but then again he had a small bolt on another downhill section.

After a little more walking we determined he was tight in the hips. This is not a huge surprise as he has been tight in the hips before. As we continued our easy walking we worked at keeping things as stress free as possible. This is finally when Bear started to settle down. On one of the last downhill sections he started taking little, slow, quiet steps. He knew that is what I was asking him to do. I know it felt better for him physically, and I think he was also eager to please me. He got a lot of "good boy"s and scratches after that one.

We finished the day with some relaxed grazing on the strip. I took this time to also stretch out Bear's legs. He was definitely tight in the hind end, but he truly appreciated me slowly pulling his legs out behind him. Robin said he would stop grazing, lift his head up, and just relax into the stretch. We went through a few rounds of that. I'll have to remember to keep it up in the future, but I'm pretty sure tomorrow I'll just give him a nice day off in the pasture.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Good Seat

That's what I had today. Of course, Bear didn't bolt or buck or run off or do anything quite like that. But he wasn't on his best behavior, either. He'd often express his desire to go in a direction different than the one I picked, his starts and stops were slightly unpredictable, and he would occasionally turn in a rough and hasty manner or jump into a brief trot.

And I sat it all rather comfortably. Without a saddle. I had the same light pad setup as yesterday, but from the moment I got on it felt significantly better. Even the mounting itself was better. Last time my leg pushed the pad up in an uncomfortable way for Bear, so today I was conscious of the possibility of that happening again. As a result my first mount attempt didn't have enough umph in it. I got halfway up and petered out. Bear didn't mind in the slightest. The next leap was big and smooth and I slid up with no problem. Again, Bear didn't move.

But as good as my seat felt, it wasn't that great of a ride. Bear was just off. He wasn't paying great attention to me, and he was not enjoying the ride. Shortly after I came up with a few exercises to keep us going, Robin said that he almost looked physically uncomfortable. So I got off to examine the pads and just give him a break.

Nothing stood out to me as causing a problem, so I exchanged his bridle for a rope halter and long line and walked out into the soybean field. We did some light groundwork, and he was actually quite responsive. Much more responsive than he was during our brief, pre-ride groundwork.

We then moved on to some trotting on the line and disengages, and this is where some interesting reactions came up. Like most times, going left was no big deal for him. But going right was another story. There were many bucks, slide outs, and snorty, choppy lopes. We are still unsure if he is physically uncomfortable with turning right (this seems increasingly unlikely given the calm, collected, and rather tight right turns I've been getting under saddle) or if he has a psychological issue with turning right. I've seen some small bucks on the line during right turns before, but I've also seen some pretty calm right turn work. This time he was a little off during the ride, and my guess is that he could sense I was not thrilled with him. So I want to think that he was nervous and defensive and a little scared to go right.

But I have no idea (and Robin doesn't either, when she worked with Bear on the line he was giving her the same response). I've only had Bear for about six weeks now, and we clearly have a lot to learn about one another. The good news is that we get along great, and despite the few minutes of excitement, Bear didn't have any problems calming down and coming to me for pets and praise. We'll just have to keep going slow and spending lots of time hanging out together.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bareback Outside

After a few cold nights and cool days we have moved on to some rather surprisingly warm fall weather. Today was close to 80, though it is amazing how different such temps feel in October than they do in July or August. They're never bad in the summer, but they do pack a whole lot more punch than they do in October.

Today the warmth allowed us to be super comfortable in t-shirts, but the guys were sweating a little in their pre-winter coats. Both Bear and Steen are getting quite a bit darker as their downy little hairs come in. I'll be curious to see how thick Bear's coat really gets once we hit actual winter temps.

The ride itself was fun and easy. Bear and I have really been focusing on doing things at the walk. We're just in no rush (why should we be?), and I think he really appreciates me taking my time. So today we decided to ride outside bareback. I did use our bareback pad, though. And I also put a thin pad underneath that. The combo was perfect. It felt super comfy, but I also had great feel and contact with Bear.

The mounting was a little funny. This was only my second un-assisted bareback mount. Since we were outside I thought he might be a bit more distracted and inclined to move about. I don't think he really was, though. However, when I jumped aboard my leg got caught on the back of the bareback pad and pulled it forward. He didn't like that much and decided to quickly walk around and swivel his hindquarters a bit. As soon as I secured my seat he settled right down.

And that was probably the most exciting aspect of the ride. We worked on our usual twists and turns and had no problems. Bear performed everything quite nicely, but when I wasn't asking anything of him he was a little distracted by Heather longing Tommy out in the soy bean field. Not a big deal really.

I imagine over the next many weeks I'll continue to practice my bareback riding. I can already tell that it has helped my seat some, and I can only imagine what it will do for me once we start moving around a little quicker.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Horsey Weekend

Again the weather was beautiful. The night times had frost warnings, but I don't think we ever got quite below freezing. The days were sunny and warmed up in the high 50s on Saturday and into the 60s on Sunday. We rode both days.

Saturday was a surprisingly busy day at the barn. We actually woke up early and got a decent start on the day, but so did some others. Two boarders were heading to a show (and trying to load Stella, who we're pretty sure had never been loaded before), the farrier came to fix a shoe, and the vet was there to help two other boarders with a skin condition that sometimes bothers the horses during wet weather. Oh, and the farmers were knocking down all the corn in the area, so there were some big horse-eating machines out there in the fields.

Bear took it all in stride and wasn't bothered by a thing. Steen on the other hand was a little wound up. Robin had a long, hard ride with him on Friday, and he has been feeling so good that he just wants to go sometimes. I think all the commotion added to that desire to go.

So while Robin worked on getting Steen to calm down a bit and pay attention to her, Bear and I had a wonderful time refining our cone work on the strip. For the past couple of weeks we've really been working on flexing to the snaffle bit. He has gotten a lot better at it, but in that work I've kind of neglected the old fashion neck reining that he knows. So I consciously worked on that a bit more. The combination of a little direct reining (when needed) and the neck reining seems to work very well for him. We also did a little pre- and post-ride groundwork. All the stuff we fumbled through on Friday was even better on Saturday.

Sunday was almost the opposite of Saturday. The barn was empty, and the guys were good. Steen was especially well behaved. Bear was slightly distracted and wanted to hang out with Steen while we worked on the strip, but he was still good.

After a lot of strip work we decided to head out for a ride around the recently mowed soy bean fields. The guys seemed happy about it. Bear was walking energetically and checking everything out. It had been awhile since we last did some exploring, and I think he might have missed it. Steen stayed super calm, though. At times he was almost falling asleep.

In general, such relaxation is a good thing, but Steen is easily spookable. And sure enough, right when he was at his most relaxed he got spooked by something in the trees to our left. I was behind Robin and Steen at the time, so I got a great view of Steen dropping way down, pausing for just a split second to load all his muscles and tendons, and then springing out away from the trees.

I didn't get to watch much more than that because Bear was also watching Steen, and he decided to turn and run off as well. His action was fast, but not as fast or as powerful as our last spook. I did end up dropping my right stirrup, but I was able to keep him in a calm lope (our first, actually) up one of the soy bean hills. Eventually we stopped and in a matter of seconds Bear was back to his usual calm self. We all calmly walked back to the barn and had no more issues. Such spooks are never a great thing, but at least they let me work on my reflexes and continue to build confidence.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bear and the Bots

Wednesday I went out to ride with Robin and Steen. Things were nice, but Bear was a little bit off. He was not thrilled to be riding. He was just spacey. To get him out of it we did some easy stuff, then we did some thinking stuff, then we just did some plain old work, but none of it really worked.

I guess it was just an off day. But I also noticed that he had some stuff all over his legs. He's actually had it for a couple of weeks now, but it was a lot worse this time. Robin thought they were little bugs called bots, and a simple google search confirmed this.

So maybe the bugs had something to do with him feeling odd. Or maybe he just felt odd for some other reason. I didn't push him much, and now I'm working hard to get ride off the microscopic eggs attached to his legs. Today we did some of that while he grazed in the airlock. The nights have been cool, but the afternoons get warm and today the flies were happy to be out and bothering Bear. But at least he didn't mind me picking at his legs.

After the slow start, we went out to the strip to do some groundwork. We focused mainly on backing and coming. He got better at both. We mixed in some flexing, trotting on the line, and disengaging the hindquarters. He doesn't really get that last one. He'll do it nicely indoors when I need to shuffle him around something, but in a big open space he sees no need to disengage. We'll have to keep practicing.

The groundwork was good, though, because I could tell Bear was more responsive under saddle today. His woahs, backs, flexes, and starts were all better than they usually are. We worked on all those in between a couple of cones that I finally remembered to bring out to the strip. I'm not sure if they helped Bear, but they certainly gave me something to focus on.

After the ride we just hung out awhile. I couldn't believe that no one else was at the barn as it was a perfect sunny, warm, windless early fall day. So Bear and I enjoyed the time to ourselves. He's getting more and more curious about the things I do, like changing my shoes and getting drinks of water. He just wants to be a part of it. It's really nice; he's starting feel very much like my horse. Oh, and I finally got him to eat some apple core, though he might have just been trying to emulate Steen's enthusiasm for the treat.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grazing and Grooming

And a little riding afterwards, too. When Robin and I pulled Bear and Steen out of the pasture both the guys were quite ravenous. Saturday had been a chilly and wet day, plus the grasses just aren't coming up like they do in the middle of the summer.

Despite it being a Sunny Sunday afternoon with no wind and temps in the mid 60s, the barn was empty. So we took our time and just slowly groomed them while they grazed on the long grass in the airlock.

After the slow start we went out to the strip. Bear was a little tired and sluggish at first, but he is bending to his right side really well. We even did some tight corkscrewing in that direction, and he never showed any discomfort. From there we moved on to trotting. e is having more and more fun with the trot and getting increasingly relaxed. We finished off with a few more simple circle exercises and called it a day.

I rewarded Bear for the good ride with a brand new fly-mask. It is a nice, supple mask with a forelock hole and no animal prints. He seemed to like it just fine.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Bareback

Work has been exceptionally busy lately, and I came home with a tingle in my throat and a small desire to put my feet up and read a book. After a brief snack, a cup of tea, and a chat with Robin, I changed clothes (into my brand new pair of real riding jeans!) and we went out to the barn.

With both of us feeling a little tired and a stiff south wind whipping across the fields, we thought about maybe riding inside. Heather had just watered the arena, and it was empty, so that made the decision easy. And to keep things even easier, we both went bareback.

After a few practice flexes I decided to see if I could leap onto Bear without any aids. He is not a tall horse by any stretch of the imagination, so I knew it was physically possible, but I didn't know how he would feel about me doing it. Plus the sand in the arena is super deep (too deep, really), and that wasn't going to help my hops. I did a few jumps near him and leaned on him a bunch to make sure he was ready, and then I went for it.

And I almost made it. I'm pretty sure I would have made it, but Bear wasn't totally certain what he should do with himself so he started to walk off. I aborted that attempt and vigorously rewarded Bear for doing a mostly good job. Then I did another false jump or two and went for it again. This time I slid aboard rather smoothly, and Bear didn't budge an inch.

During the ride Bear was OK. He was pretty interested in Steen, so things were kind of hit or miss as far as his concentration went. But I had great luck introducing some super gentle cues when asking for him to back, and I also thought I saw some improvement in his right circles. We made a lot of righthand circles of varying sizes, and he moved through them without the jerkiness he exhibited in the past few rides.

The really exciting thing is that I've had Bear for four weeks now, and look at the difference in his body.

Bear after our first ride.

Four weeks later and still sporting the leopard print, though he's got a new one on the way.

It is really a striking difference. He has gotten more muscled pretty much everywhere; hindquarters, forequarters, legs, and neck. His mane has gotten longer, too. His tail is about the same, but that is only because we gave it a little trim in order to coax it to keep growing and fill out. And he's still got a decent belly on him.

All these changes have brought on other changes, too. He is friendlier, he walks faster, and I would guess that he is also feeling better. It will be fun to watch his progress over the next many months as he continues to get in better shape.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Consistancy and Improvement

Years ago I remember reading an article about training for cycling in which an exercise physiologist said that a person is always gaining or losing fitness, they are never static. The reality, of course, is that a person can maintain a certain level of fitness for a little while. But it really is only just a little while. A very short moment in time. I've come to think that a horse's level of refinement is somewhat similar. They are always gaining or losing refinement within their training.

Today Bear and I rode on the strip again. Robin and Steen kept us company, but they did their own thing. Bear and I worked on our super relaxing walking routine of woahs, circles, spirals, and figure-eights. It was hot and sunny (a whole 25 degrees warmer than yesterday), and Bear was a little lethargic. But he was still improving with the exercises.

After a very thorough warm-up, I decided to work on some long, fenceline trotting. He perked right up and even seemed to enjoy it. His trot is big and floaty, and I'm still learning how to ride it comfortably, but he was more than willing to check his speed against some light contact from the snaffle. In fact, he hasn't shown a single moment of discomfort in the mouth/head area since we switched bits.

Once we had gotten hot and sweaty from some trotting we went back to some simple circles to cool down. Robin and Steen had already ended their ride, so I chatted with Robin while Bear and I circled around those two. He was energetic and extremely responsive to the pattern and the small cues I was giving him through the reins and my sitbones.

The only downside to the ride was the slight lethargy in the middle, but it really wasn't a problem at all. And after the ride we worked on some leg stretches to help loosen up Bear. He seemed to take to them pretty well. His hind is a tad tight, but I think he almost enjoyed the stretches. I'll have to continue lightly doing them and see how they go.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lessons on the Strip

After yesterday's successful ride where Robin coached me through a few simple exercises, we decided to do more of the same. It was an even cooler and wetter day, and Bear was even further out in the pasture than he usually is. Everything else, though, was great.

Once inside, Bear was great with his feet. A lot of this improvement is no doubt him getting used to me, but he is also getting more flexible, too (despite the tightness when he turns right). Today he lifted his feet before I would even ask for them. And he'd patiently hold them up while I cleaned them out and then fumbled to put apple cider vinegar on them to keep the thrush at bay.

Out on the strip again, we started with some ground work. Robin did this part. She is far better than I am at asking horses to do things that they don't fully understand. Bear was pretty good for her, but he was often looking over at me. He was also visibly more relaxed when I took over and climbed on. I hope he will be equally as relaxed with Robin at some point, but I have to admit it is a pretty nice feeling when your horse likes you best.

Up on his back I just followed the fence and worked on the woahs. Only a few were so so, most were quite amazing. He would often stop on just the word and a slight raising of the reins, no pressure on his mouth.

From there we did big circles in both directions and then moved to doing spiraling circles down to a point in the center and then spiraling back out to the big circle. He was shockingly good at this on his left turns. But on the right turns, it was a tad too much. His circles were more like unequal pentagons, and he would try to get to the center too quickly because he knew he'd get a rest there. So I aborted that plan and just went back to larger circles on the right side. That worked Ok.

All in all it was a relaxing and non-dramatic ride, though Bear did have two little inexplicable spooks when he got too close to Robin at the center of the cirlce. They were good for my seat, and he always settled right back down.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

No Falls, No Bucks

That's right, no bucks. On Thursday there was a buck, and I was able to stay on. So now I can say I've ridden a bucking horse.

It happened in the indoor arena. It was just Bear and I. We had done our usual warmup of lots of walking and easy circles, stops, and flexes (still working on the snaffle). Then the plan was to cruise at the trot for awhile. I figured it would be a nice way to really get to know Bear's trot and see how he is inclined to move.

The cruising started out alright. Then Bear got a little confused. Then he started trotting over to the arena's exit and stopping by the gate. I would get him off the gate and keep him trotting without much of a prompt. But the fourth time it happened he moved off sharp and fast and threw in a buck. Maybe two, I wasn't sure.

I reined him in and flexed his head to the left to make sure he wouldn't buck again. When I looked down at his face it was apparent that he was already back to his super calm self and was showing no signs of anxiety or agitation. Nevertheless, I decided to get off and not press my luck. Three falls in quick succession is not something I want achieve.

We exchanged his bridle for a rope halter and long line and went outside to do groundwork on the strip. Our groundwork routine is pretty rusty, so I didn't spend too much time working on the new things. Instead we kept it simple with him moving out of my space and then coming to me when asked. If he didn't come, I made him work on the line until he was ready to come to me.

At this point Bear was definitely nervous. I think he knew he shouldn't have bucked, and he was probably expecting some punishment. Maybe harsh punishment. But that is not what I wanted to dole out. I wanted respect, not fear; so I didn't press him too hard, and I went home to think about the events of the afternoon.

After much contemplation and discussion with Robin, we figured the likliest answer was that he was a little sore and possibly confused by the relatively new bit and the new concept of cruising. After I thought about it, I realized that Bear was not doing well turning right. A few times when I asked for the right turn, he jumped into a trot. When we were on the lead line, I couldn't get him to go around me to the right, and I tried pretty hard. And when he bucked, it was immediately after a sharp right turn.

So I gave him Friday off, and on Saturday Robin and I went out to see how he was doing. There were no apparent signs of soreness, but he is definitely stiffer going right than he is going left. So we had a super non-demanding day on the strip. Robin hung out bareback on Steen and gave Bear and I a little lesson. That way she could really keep an eye on both of us.

And it was fun. We did some simple drills that involved following the fence and stopping at a post of my choosing. We walked in lots of circles in both directions. And we did some figure-eights. In between we did lots of standing, flexing, and backing. Bear was not great at everything, but he was relaxed. And we could see him trying and slowly limbering up on his right turns. I'll have to be aware of this and keep going slow with him.

We also got a lot of cool pictures. It was a cloudy, fall day, so the light was pretty good.

Robin's got some more cool shots on her blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The One Where I Fall Off, Again

The barn was empty when Robin and I arrived this afternoon. The sky was slightly cloudy and the temperatures were neither too warm nor too cool. Plus they had mowed the strip, one of our favorite places to ride.

Steen was waiting almost right by the gate when we entered the pasture, but Bear was way down at the end. So I had a bit of hike to get him. As usual, he was happy to see me and more than ready to start to fall asleep while I groomed and tacked him up. Since we would be riding on the strip, I decided to give the loose ring snaffle another go. I brought the tom thumb headstall with in case I needed it.

Bear and I started with lots of walking back and forth on the strip. There were two rather large hay bales a good distance from one another, so we would periodically circle around those and work on backing and flexing to the bit. He was quite relaxed for all this. In fact, he was neck reining better than he usually does in the tom thumb. I have a feeling that bit was pinching him a little.

After a thorough warm-up we started doing lots of trotting. With the snaffle it was easier for me to control his speed, but he still has a big, floaty trot. It is mostly fun, I just need to keep practicing at it. And what I really need to practice dealing with are his tight turns. He is a very agile little horse. Robin gave me a few pointers for how to lengthen the arc of the turn by applying pressure to the outside rein. I worked on this at the walk and Bear seemed pretty receptive.

We continued to do lots of trotting. During this time, Robin and Steen were doing their own work. Lost of circling, trotting, and loping. They were definitely busy, and Bear was often interested in them. Thankfully I could get him to pay more attention to me after we'd join up and then split apart.

Although one time I was working on some tight circles with Bear so that Robin and Steen could lope off in the other direction, Bear had other things on his mind. We had been trotting for quite some time, so Bear was tired (he's actually putting on a bit more weight). In mid circle, he saw the open end of the strip, the one we enter and exit from, and he eagerly jumped in that direction. I reined him in and turned him away from the entrance.

And he listened, which is great. He just stopped and changed direction so fast that I fell right over the side him and landed on my already sore right butt cheek. He slowly walked off towards Robin and Steen. At least he didn't walk out of the strip, which is where he wanted to go originally.

When I caught back up he was super calm. Like nothing had happened. I did a few flexes to the bit and climbed back on. He was fine. So after a few minutes of walking around the hay bales, we went back to the end of the strip, and I made him do some figure-eights. Sometimes we'd walk right up to the edge of the strip, stop, and then back. He didn't love that part, but he was still pretty good with it.

After I hopped off he still wanted to be my best friend and get lots of head scratches. He's so funny. And I really can't be too mad at him. Sure he got a little excited at one point, but then he completely did what I asked of him. I just couldn't keep my seat. Perhaps next time I'll be ready.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bear Foot

Saturday was Duke-Day at the barn. And it was a good thing too, because Bear had been wearing shoes for quite a few weeks.

For reasons out of our control, we got to the barn a little later than we hoped. That meant we were a little ways down on the list. So I spent quite a bit of time hanging out and talking to the other boarders. It is still interesting for me to be around all the other horses and see how they are for things like hoof trimmings.

After awhile Robin and I went out to get our guys. They were easy, and they were quite happy to just hangout with us indoors for awhile. Bear was actually a bit muddy (it had rained the night before), so I spent a long while scrubbing all the crusties out of his coat. He enjoyed that.

When it was our turn for a trim Bear was pretty good. He was certainly calm and happy to be standing for me, but at one point he shifted a bit and bumped into the stall wall. And he is still pretty tight in his right, hind leg. Duke had to go slow and keep that leg a little lower. But all in all it was pretty good since Bear had never had a trim here and never met Duke before. I imagine things will go smoother the next time.

And as far as his feet go, Duke says they look great. They are solid and should be fine for barefooting in all the plush grass we have. Still, I'll be sure to keep a close eye on them.

After some more hanging out we put the guys out to pasture and snapped a few goofy pictures of them.

Bear still waking up from our long, relaxing grooming session.

Mid yawn, or sticking out tongue? It can be hard to tell as Bear is getting a bit more relaxed and goofy around us.

He's got a ways to go before he is as goofy as Steen, though.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bear Back

After work, Robin and I headed out for quiet, Friday afternoon at the barn. But there were more people there than we expected. Usually we have the place to ourselves on Friday afternoons/evenings. Thankfully we slotted ourselves in between people leaving and arriving, so we weren't all trying to do the same thing at once.

Bear was excited to see me in the pasture. I gave him three days off, partially because I was sore from hitting the ground, and partially because I was just busy with life stuff. But it was nice to see that he missed me.

Right when we started tacking up I realized I was missing something. No headstall, bit, or reins. We had taken them home to repair some of the leather ties after the fall. We left the whole thing on the coat rack.

But we turned the less than ideal situation into a fun opportunity. I've been having a sore spot on my foot and wasn't looking forward to riding in stirrups. So I hopped on Bear bareback and used Steen's snaffle and mecate reins.

On our second test ride we tried out Bear with a snaffle. He wasn't too thrilled about it. But now he knows me and we've got a pretty good thing going. So we worked on flexing to the bit, following the rail and doing periodic small circles, and later on some tight figure-eights.

And for an older horse, he did remarkably well. At times he would get a little head tossy or stiff necked, but then he would always come around and flex very nicely. And through the course of the ride he got softer and more responsive with everything I asked of him. This is very encouraging news because I am not all that thrilled to be riding him in a tom-thumb. Those are a bit too harsh for my tastes. So with any luck, we'll be transitioning to a nice, loose ring snaffle in no time.

After the ride we all hung out in the arena. Bear was pretty funny about it. If I took a couple steps away, he'd step towards me. It is like his favorite position is to be just a foot away from me. Very good news for our relationship.

And when we put the guys back in the pasture, Robin and I stayed in the lounge and enjoyed ourselves an ice cold Coors. It was a very relaxing day at the barn.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The One Where I Fall Off

Yup, I took my first fall off a horse today. Like most falls, it wasn't as bad as you think they're going to be. Of course, falls and crashes could always be horrible, but most often they are just a pain in the ass. This one was literally a pain in the ass, as that is the first place I hit the ground.

It was a beautiful Labor Day afternoon at the barn, but it was super windy. We were planning on a nice, long, relaxing trail ride. The boys were a tad jittery in the beginning. Perhaps due to the wind, also partly due to a big rottweiler that was a ways down the road from us. All in all, no biggie, though.

We did our brief warm-up on the second strip and had plans of venturing over to the west side of Wapsi rd. When we head down a little section of double track, the horses can look left and see the barn. Bear always wants to go back at that point. On another ride he gave me a lot of trouble there, but this time he walked down the track pretty willingly. Steen was up ahead, doing his fast walk. Bear kept looking over his shoulder, longing for The Barn.

And then Steen had a medium spook and spun back in our direction. I was thinking more about Steen's silly spook than I was about my own mount. And the next thing I knew, Bear had done a super fast spin and taken off for home. In the spin I lost my right stirrup and felt like I was leaning pretty far back. So I kind of made the decision to just kick my left foot out and scootch off the back of him. That is how it looked in my head. It was probably not nearly that pretty or controlled. And my butt is currently wishing that I came off with a bit more control than I did.

As I was getting up and shaking off the initial stiffness, Bear was trotting off to the barn. He stopped about halfway there, but then he decided to keep going. After making sure I was OK, Robin went after him. He got a few big pops on the mouth when he stepped on his reins, and one of them even broke off.

So after many minutes of walking up to the barn, fixing the rein, and getting back to the spot of the fall, I finally climbed back aboard. I was nervous, but he was fine. We walked up and back on the double track section and then rode back into the big grassy strip. Here I proceeded to work Bear a bit harder than I have so far. The fall was certainly an accident, but I don't want Bear thinking about the barn when he's not supposed to. And he is definitely adjusted to his surroundings by now.

I didn't do anything super hard, but we did a lot of walking, trotting, circles, stops, backs, figure eights, and whatever other pattern I was thinking about at the time. He was paying a lot of attention to me, and he got pretty tired. So it was very productive. Robin snapped a few nice shots of us.

Bear's got a big, floaty trot, plus I was probably a tad nervous, so I'm hanging on to the saddle.

Trotting away from Robin and Steen, things were going pretty good at this point.

Still trotting and hanging on, but I've got a big smile on my face.

I'm blogging a bit out of order here (but I thought the fall was pressing enough to go first), my parents were up this weekend and we all had a good time visiting Bear and Steen. The guys were on their best behavior, and Steen let both my mom and dad have a good ride. Robin's got a nice write up about it, but here are a few more pictures from the day.

Mom and I cruising around the arena.

Bear spends a lot of time walking behind Steen and trying to catch up.

In a previous post I joked about Bear "falling asleep" during the tacking, on this day he really did fall asleep. We had to wake him just to feed him a little grain.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On the Strip

He's still got the leopard print fly-mask. At least he really likes it when I put it on him.

It is only September 3rd, but it is already feeling like fall is here. Today was windy, cloudy, and quite cool. This is fine by me, as fall is probably my favorite season. And it is the season where I first got really interested in riding, so I'm very excited for this fall.

Today Bear walked out of the pasture with me, and he didn't stop once. He was never bad about it, but he often dawdled. I think this is a good sign that he's getting used to me being his guy.

Inside he was falling asleep for the grooming and tacking again. With the cooler weather I thought he might have a bit more energy, but not today.

My initial plan was to have an easy ride inside. The wind can be annoying, and my foot has been bothering me, so I didn't want to ride too hard. But there was a lesson going on. So Bear and I walked outside and checked out the strip.

The strip is a quarter mile long stretch of grass with a few hills in it. It also follows the fenceline of the pasture. Last time I tried to ride Bear outside alone he wasn't happy about it, so I thought being near his buddies might make it OK.

It did. He mostly followed the fenceline like a pro. Oddly enough, he was worse about walking back in the direction of the barn. And we were almost always still near the herd when he would have his little attempt at changing our direction. Thankfully they were pretty half-hearted, so I got to work on directing him and acting before he thought about turning.

It was great practice. Bear was certainly bored, but I got to pick where we went, and it wasn't taxing for either of us.

After the ride I groomed him again and tried to give him my apple core. He was not into that at all. So I have a semi-tubby horse that likes neither carrots nor apples. This surprises me a bit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More Riding

Wednesdays I usually get off work early, so I'm going to try to make a lot of them barn days. There is a good chance Robin will join me for most of them. I wasn't sure if she would today, as she got out for a ride with Jean this morning. But after a little work and lunch, she was ready to head back out.

And I'm glad she came. Well, I always enjoy it when she comes, but with her and Steen there I knew Bear would be up for going out into the fields. And he was.

Bear and I cruising through the fields.

Again the tacking up went smoothly. I'll probably have to stop mentioning it soon. But today was slightly noteworthy as I picked his feet for the first time. I haven't mentioned it before, but the first time I rode Bear I had a hard time with his feet. Or maybe he had a hard time with his feet. As a fifteen year old we thought he was just really, really stiff in the hind end. When I picked one of them up, it shot back like a rubber band and kind of kicked me in the side of the leg. Not a huge deal, but I was a little worried about the long term issue of this stiffness and the fact that I would have to frequently clean out his hooves.

The vet check was great, though. And we were assured that such stiffness shouldn't be a big deal at all (in fact, he was not nearly as stiff as we though). So we took things easy on Bear and went slow with his feet. While some of it was no doubt stiffness and being out of practice, some of it might have just been him not knowing us and being reluctant to hand over a hoof. Today he lifted his feet like a gentleman. I think it is a nice sign of our progressing relationship.

Out on the ride things were nice. It was a cool, cloudy day, and Steen was riled up. He was antsy on his first ride, and that carried over into the afternoon. Bear and I would walk at a steady pace, and Steen and Robin would get up ahead. When he started getting goey Robin would turn him in lots of circles. He seemed OK with this. But he never fully settled down.

Robin spinning Steen in circles.

Bear and I had a couple of moments where he wanted to pick the direction. I was much better at letting him know that I was in charge, and after a few moments of hesitation he was very willing to follow along. Bear is great practice for me in many ways. He gets slightly agitated and tests me at times, but once that brief moment is over, he goes back to standing and relaxing like nothing ever happened. So I get to build confidence and assert my authority, but I don't have to deal with a worked up horse the whole ride. It's great.

Bear decided to go visit the camera woman (I got him turned where I wanted to go right after the picture, I swear).

The route just consisted of us going out and about on the second strip of grass and the three-hills section. The hills were new to Bear. He was pretty alert and curious about the wild turkeys, but other than that he was mostly fine with the new territory.

After the ride there were many face scratches and pets. I put him out to pasture and put his fly-mask (which is now a bit muddied) on with no problem. Watching him walk away I can already see that he's getting some muscle back into his haunches. It shouldn't be too long before his top-line muscles fill in a bit more and his gut starts shrinking.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Solo Ride

We had some brief storms this afternoon. Then it got rather nice out. There is a chance for some pretty heavy storms tomorrow, so after work today I decided to get out and see Bear.

Bear is off to the left.

The herd was leisurely grazing in the pasture. Again, Bear had no problem letting me shoo away the flies, scratch his neck, and put the halter on. He wasn't as excited about walking out of the pasture, as he stopped more than the two or so times he has been in the past. But I kept him going with some light taps on the butt and a few encouraging words.

Steen watched us from afar. He is the friendliest horse in the world who won't come right up to you.

Inside the arena Bear was great. I worried that he'd be nervous about not having another horse there (or anything, the barn was super quiet; just how I like it, really). But he wasn't worried in the slightest. He was so relaxed that he was falling asleep during the tacking up.

Whoever was there before me had watered the sand down, and I didn't really know what to expect from Bear on a solo ride, so I just hopped on in the arena. He was sluggish (from the nap, no doubt) but fine with it all. We did a long, slow warm-up. Then we trotted for a little while. His trot felt a whole lot better than it did over the weekend. I think it is a mix of being active again and getting used to me.

Then I pushed my luck a tad too far. I brought him outside with the hopes of walking down the grassy strip a little ways. He was still his super calm self, and I remounted with no problem, but then he was adamant about turning back towards the barn. I reined him pretty hard to get back where I wanted to go, but he would have none of it.

So then we just sat there for a minute. He was fine with that. Surprisingly relaxed really. I decided to try a few more times, but he always reverted to fidgeting, dancing, and turning where he wanted to go. With a bit more confidence I have no doubt we could have gone down the trail a ways, but perhaps going out alone is a lot to ask of a new horse in a new setting.

We did groundwork instead. I had to show him that I decided where his feet went, not him. We did some flexing, backing, yielding of the hindquarters, and a small amount of longing back in the arena. I wouldn't say he was good, but he knew enough to get by.

So all in all, it was a productive solo experience. It could have gone better, but now we also know what we have to work on.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

And Three Makes a Habit

I've had three rides on Bear, all including a little outdoors and indoors, and each one was quite good. And as the saying goes with horses, three is habit. So I have no doubt we will continue to have wonderful rides for quite some time.

But they won't be without their hiccups and challenges, and today I saw a few of those already. It was by far the most crowded the barn has been since Bear moved in. Lots of horses were in their stalls, Cathi (the barn owner) and her daughter were doing chores, and Jean was tacking up her big thoroughbred, Schooley.

Bear initially stood quietly, and though we tied him in the same general area as we did yesterday, there was now a young mare right in front of him. I don't think he would have been too bothered by this, but that mare has a bit of reputation for being a hussy, and she was doing her best to get Bear to break into her stall. So there were a few stamps, kicks, and squeals.

All in all, it was quite minor. We moved Bear down a bit and tied him next to some geldings. No more problems.

Once outside he was moving nicely and responding to my ques very quickly. Jean and Schooley accompanied Robin and I, so we had a threesome (or sixsome if you count the mounts, too). Bear was very relaxed around Schooley, and it looked like the thoroughbred had the same feelings for Bear. Perhaps old bays just get along.

We walked along between fields, and went through one rather overgrown area. The brush was up to our boots in some places, but none of the horses cared. After a long, slow warmup, Jean left to go work Schooley, and Robin and I continued on to another section of trail. We got close to home and this was the first time Bear strongly voiced his opinion on where we should go. I think he was tired, but that was no reason for me to let him pick the route. We were only going to add a little section of double track and then head for home.

We had a few moments where I'd turn him right and then he'd turn back left. I'd say go forward and he'd go backwards. Nothing terrible, but Bear is pretty strong. Much stronger than Cal, the mare I got used to riding out on the trails last fall. Since I didn't know how Bear would react to my insisting we continue down the trail, I started by asking pretty nicely and then slowly increased the pressure. He got the idea and willingly walked down the trail.

So we had my first little test, and it worked out just fine. I'm sure there will be a few more of these over the coming weeks and months, but that's all part of the fun.

When we got back into the barn we brought out our big sponge and cooled the guys down. I'm not sure if Bear had ever been sponged down before, as he was a little uncertain and fidgety, but once he felt the cool water he settled right in. Like me, I think he's looking forward to the true fall temps that should be just around the corner.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The First Rides

After work on Friday, I rushed home, made a cup of tea, ate a snack, and headed out to the barn with Robin. It was day two of Bear's stay in his new home, and we wanted to check on him. If things looked good, we were hoping for a short ride, too.

And things were better than good. No one is picking on Bear. In fact, he has a couple of friends in the herd already. But he doesn't prefer the herd to me. At least not that I can tell. When I walked up to him he kindly let me halter him and lead him out of the huge, green pasture and into the arena.

Everything was going so well that Robin and I thought I should get on and ride. That was great, too. We walked and trotted around. Bear stops and stands like a champ, and he's pretty supple when it comes to neck reining. I felt very relaxed and in control with him. So then we rode out of the arena with Robin and Steen and went for a stroll down one of the big green strips.

Again everything was great. He's not scared of trampolines, silos, big farm machinery, cars, crunched cans, or anything so far as we can tell. The ride was great. I think it might have been the best Friday-at-the-barn yet. And that's saying something, cuz we've had some pretty fun Fridays at the barn.

Nothing like a great roll to celebrate a fun ride.

Saturday morning we went for a repeat. And it really was quite a repeat. He was great coming out of the pasture, even more relaxed while tacking up, and better at stopping, standing, and neck reining when I hopped on in the arena. I only rode inside for about 3 minutes this time. We just wanted to make sure that he wasn't sore or bothered by anything.

Then we went out into the fields with Robin and Steen, and they showed us some new places to ride. There is another big rolling strip of grass on the west side of Wapsi that is really great to ride on. It was so big that we didn't even get to check out all of it.

He also doesn't mind when I fish around in my pocket for the camera and then take shots along the ride.

I'm trying to make these rides fun and easy. Bear is a little out of shape. So for now it's lots of walking up and down hills and a little trotting thrown in. Yesterday's ride was 45 minutes, and today we went for an hour. It will be fun to watch his physical progression grow along with our relationship. Hopefully in the not too distant future we'll be able to get some long loping rides on those lovely strips of grass.

I'm not really sure why I feel the need to keep the halter around his neck when I'm putting his fly-mask on, all he ever wants to do is hangout with us after the rides.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meet the Bear

About four months ago I had to send my first horse, Sham, back to the guys we bought him from. He wasn't working out, mostly from a behavioral standpoint. He had a bit of a dangerous side.

I was grateful that the guys took him back. They said they could find a horse that would suit me better and asked for a little bit of time to do that. Easy enough, though I was more than a little disappointed to send Sham back. Sure, he was difficult, but he was my difficult horse. A short while after Sham went back, Robin and I went to the UK for a month. That helped. When I came back I spent a lot of time back on the bike. Then I crashed, with my wrist taking most of the impact.

And now, four months later, I went back to the brothers who sold us Sham. They found a possible replacement. Another bay, but a little older, a little wiser, and a whole lot more gentle. His 15 years of experience had me both excited and a little nervous. He is out of shape, and he has a bit of a gut, but he's got beautiful gaits, and he loves people.

His name is Birthday Diplomat, but he goes by Bear. It fits him nicely.

Robin met him at the barn late this morning. He came off the trailer like a gentleman and hung out while she chatted with the driver. His introduction to the herd was uneventful. Unlike Sham, he won't be the leader of the herd, but neither will he get picked on. He's got too much experience for that.

Head mare Star and pretty high gelding Steen give Bear the sniff from both sides.

I went out in the afternoon to see how things were going. The flies were bugging him, but we came equipped with a mask. All they had was leopard print, unfortunately. But it should serve its purpose.

Hopefully it gets really dirty soon. But Bear should feel better knowing that Schooley the 20 year old ex-racehorse has the same one.

In the arena he hung out with us like he's been living here for years. It was a great sign, and very relaxing. One of the things I love about Steen is how easy he is to hang out with. Steen was so rough around the edges that it took many, many months to get that. It feels nice to have a horse that is willing to hang out with you on day one.

And this weekend I'm looking forward to hitting the trails with Bear. Updates to follow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Ride Again!

Actually, I've been riding for a little bit now, I've just been too lazy to blog about it. For the past couple of weeks Robin has been swamped with her web work and her last month at the art gallery. So a couple days each week I've gotten Steen out for some relaxing walk/trot rides. Just to keep us both in shape.

The first ride was in one of the big pastures. We cruised, we followed the fence, we did lots of figure eights, and even worked on riding from one point to another. All great stuff for both Steen and me. The other rides involved mostly the same kind of things, but we worked in the outdoor arena instead.

Some days have been better than others, but on the whole it has been positive. It has also forced me to work on a few things that I've never tried. Like posting. Thankfully the barn was empty while I flopped around during Steen's rougher trotting moments. But sometimes I got into a decent rhythm. It is something I will definitely keep working on.

These rides should continue over the next few weeks. And after that we have a big trip to Europe. Once we return I should be ready to get back to horse shopping again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Horses are Dangerous

They are big and strong, and the spooky, flighty characteristics that have kept them alive on the plains for centuries can make them unpredictable. And Sham has a little too much unpredictableness. Last week he kicked at a barn worker who was taking food into the pasture. She tried to quietly shoo him away from the gate. He just looked at her and then let fly a big kick towards her head. Thankfully she was able to duck away, and he did not hit her.

That was certainly the most dangerous Sham has been since I've had him. But there have been a few other questionable moments (some I've blogged about, others I haven't). The sad news is that we cannot keep him at our barn. With the help of Robin, I have made a lot of progress with Sham. And I never felt he was dangerous when I was around him. But our barn is mostly a pleasure riding place, and we just can't keep a horse there that might be dangerous to others.

So on Sunday we loaded him into a trailer and sent him back to the guys we bought him from. It was sad. Sham loaded with ease, which was just another sign that we were making nice progress with him, but it just wasn't meant to be. He was, in truth, a difficult horse. Very smart. And not all that inclined to work with people. He always had a calculating look about him. It was as if he was tolerating us. Perhaps he was too much for my first horse. We shall see.

There are so many unknowns when working with horses. A few weeks ago Cal (the little red dun I rode in the fall) was sold to a young girl. The day after Sham kicked out at the barn worker we found that Cal has started rearing, bucking, and striking out at the people working with her. This was rather shocking news. I didn't think Cal was physically capable of such actions (she is rather tight in the hind end, and also a rather gentle spirit, or so I thought).

The good news is that I will be getting a new horse. The guys at the Meyer Horse Co. graciously took Sham back and offered us a trade. They guarantee their horses, but we only later found out that was a soundness guarantee, not a behavioral guarantee. So I feel very lucky that they are willing to work with us.

But I miss Sham. So I'll be taking a few quiet weeks to be away from horses, and then later looking at new horses. Perhaps I will blog about those. Either way, I imagine this blog will be continued (under a new URL of course) once I get settled. I'll keep you informed.

I have no doubt that in a different setting he would make a fine companion.