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.