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.