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.