Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Ride of the Year

It was 50 degrees. We planned on riding outside but the winds were kind of outrageous, so we just rode inside. It was a pretty good ride. I was hoping for just a nice, relaxing time with my horse.  This week I was tired and we didn't get out to the barn much.  I usually have a slow down with winter.  Maybe that is starting to happen.

The ride was good.  Bear and Steen were both warm and a bit sluggish.  Bear was actually very stiff in his lower legs when we were doing some groundwork, but he seemed to loosen up pretty quickly.  After I had been on for just a few minutes he was much, much livelier.  When we started trotting and working on some transitions he kept telling me the next transition should be into the lope.  Since he was stiff in the beginning I wanted to keep warming him up, but I guess he was good.

We started loping and it was very easy and relaxed.  He was moving good and staying on the rail and not trying to get out of it at all.  Robin said he had that happy Bear expression on his face.  It was truly the best indoor lope on him I've ever had.  We went for quite a few minutes.  He was certainly worse going to the right, but now that we've got a good base of fitness going, I'll feel better about pushing that direction more.

After the running around we worked on 'the routine.' We had not done this in a while, and I messed up on the first round.  Then we got three pretty good ones in a row.  For the first one our timing was decent, but Bear kept dropping the trot and I had to work hard to keep him going.  After that he figured it out and was much better.

We rode for an hour, and that gave me 109 hours and 5 minutes for the year.  Sometime last spring I noticed that if I just averaged 10 hours a month that I could get over 100.  So that became my goal.  Not a very big goal, but it was enough for me to really accelerate my abilities on horseback.

Here is the month to month breakdown if anyone is curious.

January 0
February 2:35
March 4:30
April 9:20
May 14:50
June 10:30
July 5:05
August 11:15
September 12:15
October 12:40
November 12:55
December 13:10

Not the most even of years.  The spring was a long build up until some great riding in April and May.  That is when Bear got super fit.  Then there was a lull in the mid summer.  Bear had a super minor injury, and it was hot.  So we didn't ride much.  Things got going again at the end of the summer, and then we attended the Buck Brannaman clinic and the stuff I learned there really carried me through the year.

Next year I think my goal will be 150 hours.  Not huge, by any standards, but it will be a little bit of a challenge.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Back to Stiff

Since we had all our riding gear with us, we decided to swing by the barn on our way into town.  It was a warm afternoon and no one was there.  The guys were both sleeping in the pasture, so I don't think they were thrilled when we pulled them out to work.

We rode inside as we were both a little tired as well.  Robin has been working on suppling up her bosal and mecate and it has made a huge difference.  It probably helped with the good ride she had.

Bear, on the other hand, could have used some suppling and softness over his four day vacation.  When I got on him he was his usual quiet self, but he felt like a different horse through the reins.  He would flex nicely, but that was about it.  Soft feel, backing, gentle turns, all those were missing.  It was almost like someone with super heavy hands rode him the whole time I was gone.  It was a little disappointing since we had been going so well together.

But it did give me some stuff to work through.  I was tired, so it was a little difficult for me to stay patient and soft, but I did my best.  It started to work, too.  Over the course of our hour long ride we worked on flexing, serpentines, getting the soft feel and multiple gaits and did lots and lots of backing.  For some reason this was his worst thing.  Instead of tucking his head he would hold it high with his nose out.  I had to patiently hold some pressure to get him to move.  We got to where going straight back was decent, so then we did a lot of backing in circles and zig-zags.  I was able to get some of that softness back, but it was a little hard on both of us.

Because of the heat, Bear was also just generally sluggish.  So we did a little bit of loping just to liven him up and get the blood going.  He was great to the left.  He perked right up and followed my leg cues.  To the right, stiff.  Really stiff.  A few times we got into some tight spots where I thought we might run into the wall.  At the last second he would respond to my legs and reins and give me a sharp bend.  These were by far the sharpest turns I've experienced at the lope.  At least now I know what we're capable of.

Robin watched these parts and she did notice that he was not moving great to the right.  So he does have some stiffness somewhere.  I didn't push it, and we cooled down with some non-demanding exercises.  Hopefully the light work and little bit of running will help him loosen back up.

This week is supposed to be warm.  Like in the 50s warm.  It is kind of nice, but I'm also wondering where my winter is at.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My First Non-Robin Lesson

On Thursday afternoon my Mom took us to her huge hunter/jumper barn for a treat.  The three of us were going to have an hour long, semi-private lesson. On Thoroughbreds.  Going into this ride I was a little nervous.  Things have been going really well for me lately, but I really only know Bear at this point.  And I am not a confident enough rider to always handle different situations well.  So I had no idea what to expect.

When we arrived we poked around for a bit and then found out the horses we would be riding were tacked up already.  I had a dark brown guy named Chip.  I'm not sure exactly how tall he was.  My guess would be 16.1 or 16.2.  Certainly taller than Bear, but not enormous.  It took me a while to adjust the English stirrups, and I even had to get some help from the instructor after I was mounted.  But in the end I was fairly comfortable in the saddle.  It had a more generous cantle than I was anticipating, and the lack of horn didn't bother me in the slightest.

We walked around for just a few minutes, but really that was just for us. The horses were warmed up.  So we moved into a posting trot and stayed there for a long time.  I have not really been working on my posting since we've been indoors (Bear's trot is so much slower inside), but the loftiness of the Thoroughbred trot and the hunter saddle made posting feel like the most natural thing to do.  And it was really a lot of fun.

The instructor would give out little pointers to all of us as we trotted around.  For me these were mostly about my fingers on the reins (I like to lace my fingers in the reins when I'm softly collecting my horse, and I think the hunter/jumper school likes a firm, full hand grasping the reins) and of course my diagonals.  When I'm posting outside we are rarely making tight turns, so I have spent no time thinking about diagonals.  Thankfully I have been thinking a lot about where my horses feet are, so I picked up on the diagonals pretty quickly.  I didn't get any instruction about keeping my heels down or fixing bad posture, so I felt really good about that.

After maybe half an hour of moving in and out of the posting trot, we worked on the canter.  Initially we tried to get them all going together, but each of us were having different problems with our horses.  So we went one at a time.  This was good for me because the cues for getting into the canter were a little different than what I'm used to.  I was able to watch and listen as Robin and Mom had their turns.

When I was up it only took a couple of tries (mostly because I like to start by asking with less force than I think I'll need) to get Chip into a nice canter.  It was fun and easy to ride.  One of the big things I learned in the lesson was about moving down from the canter to the trot.  The instructor told us to collect them a little more and have a bit more pressure on the outside rein, then just move right into posting and the horse will follow.  Chip was great with this (of course, I'm sure much of that was due to his excitement to stop running).  It will be fun to work on this with Bear when I get back home.

So all in all, the lesson was really great.  It was fun to ride with Mom in her natural environment.  She was definitely the better poster of the three of us.  Unfortunately, she drew the short stick when it came to horses as hers was not so keen on the canter.  She was able to work through it and get a good ride, though.  She is hoping next time she can ride October, the horse Robin rode.  He was the most solid and speedy of the bunch.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lope Transitions

On our way out of town we decided to hit the barn for a ride.  We would be taking all our riding stuff with us to Chicago for a lesson at my Mom's barn, so it really didn't make any difference if we packed all that stuff or wore it.

Lately our indoor rides have been longer than we thought they would be.  This has been great for getting Bear back in shape.  Which I think I can say he is now in better shape than he was right before Thanksgiving.

I kept this ride very active and constantly switched in and out of all the exercises we are working on.  Bear has been responding to this approach very nicely.  What I kept coming back to was working on our lope.  This was by far the most loping we have done since maybe sometime in the summer.  I spent many rounds going in both directions, but instead of just pushing him into a lope for a while and then getting a big hard stop out of him, I would keep him going between the trot and the lope with a soft feel and a shift of my seat.  He responded to these transitions really well.  Although he did get a little excited at times during the trotting.  Usually a few requests for a soft feel would bring him back.

Since we have been loping quite a bit I am sure that is part of the reason I had such a good ride.  I think the other reason was I was back in spurs.  The spurs Robin got me for my birthday were too narrow for my boot heel.  Also, the shanks were pretty long.  So we got a bigger spur with a slightly smaller shank, and today I wore them for the first time.  I am still adjusting to them, but I was significantly more comfortable than I thought I would be.  And when it came time to keep loping, it really only took the slightest bump with the spurs to remind Bear that he should keep moving out.  I really only had to do that in the beginning, too. Bear is such a funny guy, often I just need to show him I mean business once and then things are great.

We left the guys out in a slightly muddy pasture to hang out over the holidays.  We have been getting a lot of rides in (far more than I thought we would in December), so I'm sure they'll enjoy their days off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Double Work

Today was the first day of my vacation, so I went to the barn this morning with Robin (she still had some work to do, but she was game for some horse time).  The days and nights have both been warm lately, and that means the winter lot is a mess.  I should have gone out there in muck boots, but I didn't.

Bear was on the bale but not really eating.  I was trying to convince him to come to me by starting to play 'the game.'  It wasn't working very well, and I had to make him move some by tossing the lead rope at his hindquarters.  That worked, but he just moved to a muddier part of the pasture.  I slogged to a different vantage point and continued.

Unfortunately, Bear was not interested in coming to me.  I could have walked right up to him and put the halter on anytime I wanted, but since I started 'the game,' I kind of had to finish it.  Besides, there were foot deep puddles of muck I'd have to wade through just to get to him.  Robin had no trouble getting Steen to come to her.  She was inside and grooming for a while before she brought me my muck boots so I could more effectively play 'the game.' She's the best.

I got Bear moving around and he would think about coming to me, but he never did.  I actually gave up.  I'm not sure how long I played or how many times we went across the lot, but I got sick of it, and a little mad at him, too  He is certainly smart enough to figure this out.  So I just haltered him up and then took him to the indoor arena where I proceeded to play 'the game' some more.  I didn't want him thinking he got out of something.

He ran around for a few laps, stopped, and then came right to me.  Thanks Bear.  You could have saved us a lot of trouble if you did that half an hour ago.  At least he got a lot of exercise loping around outside and inside.  When I was grooming and tacking he was standing there like he does after many of our mentally exhausting rides.  He actually looked a little surprised when I pulled the saddle out; he probably thought he was done.

Robin was much faster than us, so they had been riding for a little while when we got in the arena.  I didn't do much groundwork and just hopped on.  He was excellent with the soft feel, and we proceeded to walk around and mix in some backs and backing circles (each time he left some excellent circular footprints in the sand).

Once warmed up we started trotting and worked on the feel, but mostly I concentrated on getting that feel and then using my seat to bring him down to a walk.  We were much better at this today.  After a particularly good transition I remembered what I was doing on the previous ride, getting a good change and then moving to a new exercise.

So we proceeded to work on what Robin and I have been calling 'whirly-gigs,' getting the horse to separate the hind end and forequarters by first stepping under with the hind and then bringing the forequarters across.  A few weeks ago Bear and I were doing a pretty good job with these.  And then something went wrong.  When I would ask Bear to halt his front end and step under, he would sometimes do it, but he was always stepping over and giving me some super sharp turns from the forehand, too.  It didn't feel great, and it certainly wasn't what I wanted.  I decided to give them a break for a little bit and hoped that in the time off we could both figure out what wasn't working.

Sunday night I re-watched Buck's hackamore DVD.  It was excellent to see for a second time, and I got what I hoped would be two crucial pointers (the second will come later).  When initiating a whirly-gig, keep the supporting rein completely clear of the horse's neck.  Only when you stop cuing the hind end and bring the outside leg into play do you apply the supporting rein.  As soon as I watched that I thought I was maybe not keeping my hands as wide as I should have.  I used to ride with them much wider, but now that I've been improving on my leg cues I have brought them in closer, and often I just use one hand.

So today I tried the whirly-gigs again, but I was conscious to keep my hands far apart.  It worked.  Mostly.  Sometimes I would either mess up or Bear would get a little confused and try to hop through with his front end, but mostly we did an excellent job.  I got a few good ones and was poised to keep going when Robin reminded me I should give it a break and then get back to it.  Thanks, honey.  That is exactly when I need to hear such advice.

With all our quiet and precision based exercises going well, we decided to move into the lope.  Robin loped Steen first.  It was her first time doing it in the hackamore.  They both looked pretty darn good.  Steen was cruising without a worry in his head, and Robin was completely off the reins and just using her body to guide him around the arena.  It was cool.

Bear and I, well, we were nothing like that.  Just like in lopes past, it was easy for me to get the first few strides out of him, and then he would drop into the jackhammer trot and make things really difficult on me.  I got some timely kicks and was able to keep him going, but it was pretty short lived.  The rough trot is extremely frustrating, and it is hard for me to ride and give the kicks when I need to.  And then I was annoyed at the little Pomeranian hanging out in the arena.  I felt I had to keep an eye on her and keep Bear going.  I didn't really, but it was an extra distraction I didn't need.

Robin volunteered to get her out of the arena.  That changed everything.  Not the absence of the dog, really, but both her and Steen were out of the arena, too.  So Bear didn't have his magnet spots.  The first time I asked him to lope after they left we were able to run for a while.  I stopped him, trotted some, and then got him going again.  I had to stay on him to keep him going, but it was nothing like our previous attempts.

We ended up going both directions, multiple times.  It was by far our best loping inside yet.  Robin snapped a few photos of us.  The light wasn't great, so they are a little blurry, but they are better than no photos at all.

We finally got to lope long enough that we were both able to relax.
And I could always lean back and get a hard stop from him, though here I was caught off guard by the hard stop and drifted forward a bit. 
It ended up being a long workout for Bear, and he was pretty tired at the end.  But he is looking and feeling much better.  Both moving around in the winter lot and under saddle he was great.  He is finally starting to get in shape a little.  He's still got plenty of Bear-gut, but when you are behind him it doesn't protrude nearly as much as it used to.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Title Generator?

I need one.  Titles seem to be the most difficult thing for me. Even when I have bad rides, it is harder to come up with a title than anything else.

Today was a great day.  The barn was super crowded because Duke was there to trim feet and we were having a little end of the year potluck.  Quite a few people beat us there, so we just went with what has become our normal farrier day routine: quickly tack up and get a ride in before it is our turn.

It was forcasted to be even warmer today than yesterday.  And though it was earlier in the day, the sun was already heating us up.  Robin and I both rode in less clothes than usual.  Since we didn't know how long we would ride, we stayed close and just rode on the strip.  Except for one other boarder who was doing a few exercises with her cute Icelandic Pony, we had the area to ourselves.

I was curious to see how Bear would be, as we had a less than great ride yesterday. I did go armed with a plan.  This morning we watched Buck's second video on making a bridle horse.  This one focused on the hackamore, but it also had some excellent pointers for just riding.  One thing that I was again surprised by (and I've known this for a while, but that doesn't mean it is easy to do) was how much Buck goes from one exercise to another.  He doesn't dwell very long.  He works on something until he gets a small change and then, boom, onto something else. Of course this really forces the horse to think, but for a relative newbie like myself, it is extremely taxing on the rider, too.

And as such, it is easy to not follow through on.  The first 20+ minutes of our ride were very mediocre.  I was trying my best to be relaxed, soft, and keep things varied.  Sometimes I was successful, but often I wasn't, and then I would find myself doing the same exercise over and over again.  This doesn't help Bear at all.  Generally, he really knows his stuff, so he can get bored.  He doesn't care if I need to practice something, even if I'm being nice about it.  He just checks out a little more.

So when my frustration was building a little, I took a break.  I just sat there and snapped a few photos of Robin and periodically gave Bear some pets.  Robin was having an excellent day in the hackamore.  The video this morning also helped her out quite a bit.  She's got some more shots on her blog, but I got this nice one of them backing up after a pretty great stop.

Then Bear and I got back to work.  And we were doing much, much better.  We worked on some relaxed trotting and getting a soft feel, backing, backing in circles, and serpentines.  I have been getting better at these since I figured out that Bear's head needs to be elevated a little bit so his poll is just above his withers.  When I get that, I can feel that his shoulders are opened up and he is much more balanced.  But I have always struggled to keep him moving through the serpentine nicely.  I asked Robin for some help, and she pointed out that I wasn't bending him quite enough.  I probably let that slip when I started focusing on head height.  So she watched us do quite a few serpentines and pointed out the good ones and the bad ones (like when he would stop walking forward and just turn in funky circles), and also called out when I should give him relief or demand more.

It was a really big help.  Both Bear and I were in higher spirits.  Robin had such a great ride that she ended early, but I wanted to keep going.

I was worried for a second that Bear would be pissed that they were leaving, but he just watched them walk away and got right back to work with me.  I kept our momentum going and was very good about stopping after I got a change.  He gave me some wonderful collection at the trot.

We backed in circles quite a bit.  It was fun to see Buck back his horse in a zig-zag.  I often worry about backing too much, but as long as you give a timely release, it shouldn't be a big deal.

All in all we ended up having a really fun ride.  He was happy with the challenges, so I'll have to work extra hard to keep things more exciting for both of us.

After the ride he was super relaxed.  I did a little more grooming and some stretches while he caught a quick snooze.  Then it was time for the trim.  He is always great if I am able to get a ride in before hand (he's just good if I don't get the ride in).  Duke said his feet are looking great, and that is always nice to hear.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nice Weather

At least for the past two days.  The middle of the week was down right yucky.  I ended up giving Bear three days off because of the weather, and just general tireds on my part.  In fact, it was a little hard to get to the barn Friday afternoon because the week felt so long and tiresome, but we were glad we did.

We found the guys aimlessly wandering the pasture as the bales were gone.  This was great for Bear.  He has been eating too much, and I was worried I would find him even bigger after his three days off.  Instead he was in a good mood and looking trimmer.

We had an easy ride in the arena with lots of trotting.  For almost 20 minutes (not completely in a row) all we did was trot around with me asking for a soft feel.  He was awesome at it.  He would give it to me almost instantly, and since he was so tuned in to me he was listening to my legs and seat.  I could speed him up or slow him down with my thighs.  It was great.

Then Robin asked if we wanted to lope.  I said sure.  I did, really.  It is just that right now it takes some effort.  But the only way to get back to it is to keep him going.  So I got him into the lope.  He picked it up very quickly.  It was so smooth and relaxed I was all prepared to just go with the flow.  But then after two strides he dropped it.  This became a pattern.

So I got into a rhythm of asking him for the lope, riding out his sloppy transitions in and out of the lope and doing my best to keep balanced so I could kick him when necessary (sounds harsh, but trust me, it wasn't).  At one point I kicked at the perfect time and he just went into a nice easy lope.  From then on things got easier.

All in all we loped longer than we did last time.  He is not good at staying on the rail, and while I'm getting better at using my legs to direct him at this speed, I've got a lot of work to do.  I also figured this was maybe the fourth or fifth time I had loped him inside.  Bear doesn't love it inside, so I'm hoping things get better with time.

Today the temps were supposed to be even warmer than yesterday.  Robin and I ran some errands in the morning and then got to the barn just after lunch to hit the peak heat of the day.  We weren't the only ones with that idea.  Within in a 20 minute period Robin and I and three other boarders arrived.  Plus the barn owner and the women doing chores were both there.

Thankfully we had already planned on riding outside, so we didn't have to vie for any arena time.  We quickly tacked up and then headed out to the big pasture.  We hadn't ridden out there in over a month, so I was excited to get back there.  The sun was shining and felt very warm.  There was a slight breeze, but it never felt cool out there.

Things started out great.  Bear was walking out and giving me the soft feel regularly.  After a long warm up we made our way to the hilltop, and things deteriorated from there.  Bear was edgy, stiff, and not paying close attention to me.  He would shy away at his own shadow.  His stops and backs were awful (very un-Bear).  And at the trot he was very fast and rough.  I rubbed a bit of a sore spot on the inside of my right knee from riding it out.  The new saddle has been great, but I guess it isn't great enough to allow me to ride poorly through some really stiff and fast trots.

We did work through things some.  The trotting got better in time.  Bear was unbelievably gassy and bloaty since they did get new bails last night, so he was pooping like a machine.  I'm sure that wasn't helping things.  In between trotting sessions we would work on our short serpentines (these got to be pretty good) and soft feels.  In the end, we got a good workout. 

I was getting tired of riding when Robin asked if I wanted to go in.  There were some hunters in the distance, and being on a hilltop not too far away from woods and open prairie grasses made us a little uncomfortable.  We walked back and discovered we had the arena to ourselves, so we rode a little more.  Robin worked on some loping and I checked in with our trot.  Much better inside.  Serpentines were good, too.

I do wonder if he was a little touchy because of our last ride on that hilltop.  We did ride in the pasture about a month ago, but the last ride on the hilltop was over two months ago when I fell off.  He definitely got a little scared in that fall.  I had never seen him take off so hard before.  He was galloping up and down steep hills that he doesn't even really like to walk on.  So maybe we just need a little time up there. 

Trying to redeem himself after a highly mediocre ride.
I rode with the camera in my pocket the whole time, but we only thought to use it at the very end. I guess that is what happens on difficult rides.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tired Bear

Today was warm and Robin was swamped with work, so I went out to the barn on my own.  Bear was doing his best to bury his head in the bale and get all the good stuff.  He must have been at it for a while, because he pooped four times today.  Lately he has been pooping less, which I think is good, but today was just like the old days.

The place was quiet initially.  Bear was clean, and I groomed and tacked while he half dozed.  Yesterday I just hopped on without any groundwork, so today I made sure to go through a few things.  This is when I noticed how sluggish he was.  He was paying attention to me, but it was hard to get any life in him.  Something about the way he was moving left me inclined to not really get after him. 

So I just climbed on instead.  We warmed up with some walking and then proceeded to spend almost the whole ride trotting.  This is when I became sure he was fatigued.  He was listening to me and all my cues, but his body had no spring in it.  Still, I knew I wasn't going to hurt him by keeping him moving at a trot.  And it was an easy trot.

While moving around the arena I mostly let him trot the pace he wanted to.  Occasionally I would open up my legs and get a little more life into him.  He responded to that.  Then I would be nice and ask for a soft feel and let him go back to a slower trot. 

Since he was so tired, he was also very willing to slow down or stop at anytime.  I took that opportunity to work on transitions.  Mostly trot to walk transitions.  I'm trying really hard to get it so that I can ask for a soft feel and then change the motion of my hips from 'trot' to 'walk.'  I think it has been three rides that we've been working on this.  The first one was surprisingly good.  Then it got bad towards the end.  The second ride was just not that great at any time.  Today we had a few bad ones and a few good ones.  I do think they are almost all my fault.  I'm struggling with finding the difference in going from a trot rhythm to a walk rhythm.  And it is hard for me to not get frustrated since I know we have done it before, and also when I don't quite get it right, Bear is inclined to trot faster.  That is definitely not ideal.

Today we had an excellent trot to walk transition and I decided to praise him lavishly and let him rest.  He seemed pleased with himself; I patted his head and he licked his lips.  I decided to make that the end of our ride.  I walked him around just another minute, but didn't demand anything more of him.

While I was untacking he didn't move a single foot.  This is not totally uncommon.  He does like post ride naps.  But his head was so low, and then when I went to grab his supplement he still didn't budge.  Usually he creeps forward and tries to get his face closer to the feed.  Not today.  He stood stock still and just moved his head a little forward.

I'll definitely give him some rest tomorrow.  Maybe even two days.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Little Loping

Very little loping, actually.  I said a few rides ago that I wanted to get Bear moving out a little more.  It is easy to come up with excuses for not doing it.  Mine are that he got sore last time, and then I got a new saddle and didn't want to push things too fast.  Not sure if they are good excuses, but there they are.

So today we loped, and he was not into picking it up at all.  He has gotten used to not loping, and he has a huge gut on top of that.  But after thoroughly warming him up I pushed him into the lope, and he just shook his head at me and trotted faster.  We did that for quite a few turns around the arena.  Finally he let out some gas and poop and gave me a decent lope.  I didn't make him run for long, but I did move him in and out of it four times, I believe.  It is a start.

Moving out a little better in October. Hopefully we can get back to that, and some nice soft feels, too.
Hopefully now I can get back to loping him regularly.  He is starting to look a teeny bit more fit.  They did get new bales the other day, though.  That didn't help anything.  But at least his shoulders and haunches are looking more muscled.  I still can't believe how fat and and out of shape he got in just 10 days.  It's not like we weren't riding leading up to the break.  True, we weren't running around, but we were spending hour long rides in the hilly pasture and doing more than a little trotting.

Anyways, he is coming around.  That is all I can ask.  The other things we did today went well, too.  Actually, better than the loping.  The arena was crowded when we arrived, but I just took my time grooming and tacking and by the time I went into the arena it was just Robin and I.

I worked on moving Bear out at the walk, and he was very responsive to my open and rhythmic hips.  Before long I could tell he was interested in trotting, so I asked him for it and he again gave me a beautiful, relaxed trot.  I was consistently getting the soft feel, too.  I think I only had to hold the feel for more than a few steps once or twice.  Most of the time it I got a very quick tuck.  I think he was feeling good.

And it was this thought that led me to push him into the lope.  Didn't really work, though.  It required a ton of effort.  Perhaps more on his part, but I'm not certain.  Anyways, we got it eventually.  Then I went back to trotting just to keep him moving and working, and he was super energetic.  A few times he started hopping like he wanted to lope again.  I didn't let him.  Instead I would just ask for the soft feel.  At this point in the ride he was giving it to me instantly.  I could feel his body collect and simultaneously relax and flex.  I wouldn't hold it for long, and then he would go back to a fast trot.  But again, I'd just pick up the reins and he was with me.

It wasn't that long ago that I was having a tough time getting him to respond to a feel at the walk.  Now I can get him to hold it at the walk and continually give it to me at the trot.  I've also been paying more attention to his poll, and he is keeping it just above his withers when he gives me the soft feel.  This is really exciting stuff.  But I think it will be quite a few more rides 'til we've even started getting it at the lope.  It should be fun working on it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Still Good

The first ride in the saddle was not some kind of one-time experience.  If anything, Bear was moving and feeling even better today.  And he was equally as stiff coming out of the pasture today as he was yesterday..

Robin and I got to the barn early so we could beat any other potential weekend riders.  It worked, as we had the place to ourselves.  It was cold, but nothing that we couldn't handle.  Adding my fleece neck warmer to my riding outfit worked perfectly.

Bear was quiet and content again.  I groomed and tacked quickly and then took a few minutes to snap some photos of Robin and Steen.  They had beat us by a lot since Robin was going bareback.  Steen was feeling exceptionally energetic today, so Robin was going through some groundwork before she got on.

Steen's been filling up on hay AND getting fit.  He never used to look this big.
We joined them and started by walking on the rail to warm up.  When Bear gets stiff I like to make sure he has adequate time to loosen up.  I would ask for the soft feel at least twice per loop (later on we were getting it more than that), and he was responding much better than yesterday.  We moved up into the trot and Robin said she didn't think she had ever seen him look so relaxed trotting in the indoor arena.  It might have been true, he did feel good.

Again we spent most of the ride trotting.  I added a teeny bit more pressure when asking for the soft feel, and I believe it helped.  We started getting it with some regularity.  Every once in a while it would take us a half a lap or more to get it, but we did always get it.  We went in each direction, spending more time towards the right, and after Bear gave me a series of very quick soft feels I let him rest.  He was looking particularly proud of himself after that.

I let him rest for a minute and then we moved to the middle to walk in some spiraling circles.  Robin used to have us do this last spring when she was giving me lessons.  I was not very good at it.  Now I'm using the exercise with just one hand on the reins and Bear is making significantly better circles than he was back in February.  It felt good.  I really am thinking he can feel my seat better with this new saddle.  Robin would always talk about the connection she would feel with Steen through her sit bones and I never really had that.  I thought I just wasn't riding good enough, but maybe it turns out my seat was just too far off Bear's back for either of us to feel one another.

We ended the ride with continuing to work on the trot and getting a soft feel.  Things were going so well that I started holding the feel and bringing him back into a walk.  I asked for this a few times yesterday to horrible results.  The first few today were better, but not great.  Then all of a sudden he started nailing them going both from the trot to the walk and the walk to the trot.

It didn't last.  But that is OK.  I made sure we ended on a good note with the transitions and then went back to just concentrating on the feel.  Robin ended her ride before me (she started before me, too) and snapped a few nice pictures of us.  This one is a little blurry, but you can really see the excellent collection we were getting at the trot, even with a pretty loose rein.

I'm still feeling the saddle out.  At times I was a teeny bit uncomfortable, but mostly it felt good.   Better than yesterday.  Bear was so good today that he didn't even mind when I paid more attention to the saddle than him.  If I had to rearrange myself in the seat or check on my clanking stirrups, he just kept on trotting in a nice, semi-collected state.

This was also the ride where I hit my 2011 ride goals.  100 hours in the saddle.  I set the goal sometime back in May when I realized I just needed to average 10 hours a month for the rest of the year.  I thought it would be tough, but doable.  It ended up being a little easier than I thought, and that included some unexpected hiccups in the year. I didn't expect July and August to have such low numbers.  But it didn't matter, the fall was gorgeous, and I was really motivated to ride after going to the clinic in September.  I went into December needing only 4 hours to reach the goal.

I'm not sure what my 2012 goal will be.  Maybe 125 hours.  If I actually ride in January and February that would be quite doable.  I think I'll wait until the end of the year before I make any decisions, though.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Another Saddle

As I mentioned a little bit ago, I've been worrying about the fit of Bear's saddle for quite some time now.  So I decided to just get a new one and see how it goes.  I found a great deal on a used McCall wade.  It felt like a good move to make, because if it doesn't work out I should be able to turn around and sell it for the same price I paid for it.

Obligatory staircase/saddle rack shot.
We headed out to the barn this afternoon and it was cold.  Not quite super cold winter temps yet, but they are coming.  The lot had new bales, but both of our guys were tucked up into the windblock staying out of the wind and getting a little bit of sun, too.  Leading Bear out of the lot and into the barn was slow.  He was super stiff.  It is a shame that we had a bunch of rain right before the ground froze, so the winter lot is a series of treacherous, frozen bumps.  So that means he doesn't move much right now.  Hopefully this weekend it will warm just enough to thaw a little.

Inside he was content to doze while I played around with the saddle and groomed him.  It appeared to be a good fit on his back.  The tree is a little narrower than his other one, and I was initially worried that it was too tight.  But I think it hugs him quite nicely.

In the arena I did a little more groundwork and kept it rather undemanding so that he could loosen up.  His legs were still so tight.  I figured it would be a slow ride, and I just hoped the new saddle wouldn't bother him any more than he already seemed bothered (physically, that is, mentally he was happy as a clam).

I climbed on, and he was his normal, quiet Bear self.  We walked around and he loosened up in time.  After quite a few minutes of just walking along the rail it was Bear who decided he wanted to trot.  I don't always let him do that, but in some situations I figure if he wants to cruise around a little more, then we can.

So we trotted.  Last ride was really pretty bad.  His trots were fast and stiff and he was even a little anxious.  Today was completely different.  He carried his head in a level, relaxed manner and gave me a very consistent and nicely paced trot.  At times he would still stiffen up or give me a few fast steps, but it was nothing like some of our past trots, and he always stayed loose somewhere in his body.  Outside he doesn't brace much, but inside has been completely different these past few rides.  Today it was great to feel him moving freely again.

Turning some easy circles in the sun beam.  Also, you can see my awesome new birthday barn jacket.
That was most of our ride.  Only forty minutes but we spent most of it trotting around.  I worked on reminding him about the soft feel at the walk and also started asking for it more consistently at the trot.  We could get it, but it would take awhile.  I kind of feel like I'm asking too softly.  Maybe a little more firm the first few times would help him realize what I want.

For me, the saddle was interesting.  Definitely different than my other one.  It is much closer to Bear, which means I feel like my legs are spread further apart (Bear's big right now), and it also felt like there was some more leather in between me and my horse.  Perhaps partially due to the twisted stirrup leathers.  The seat is hard and firm, which I think I like, but I really just need to spend more time in it.

The plus about being closer to my horse is that we don't seem to have as many communication errors when we are backing in circles or working on a series of tight turns focusing on my legs and seat.  This was a little funny since I didn't quite feel like I was using my legs as effectively as I usually do, but if my pelvis and seat bones are more involved, then it might not matter.

So I'm hopeful that this turns out to be a good move for us.  It might not be the perfect saddle for either of us, but if Bear is moving better and staying loose and relaxed, then I think it could be a winner.  Hopefully it wasn't just a fluke ride.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another Birthday Ride

This time mine.  Yesterday I turned 31.  Things are now slowing down at work and I was able to sneak away early in the afternoon.  It was a little cold and damp out, so we had some tea before heading out to the barn.  And we also got our first video from Giddy Up Flix.  It is basically like Netflix, but with all horse videos.  As far as I can tell, they have pretty much every horse related DVD out there.

The first one we got was the beginning of Buck's Making of a Bridle Horse series. We watched a few minutes of that before heading out.  It was definitely interesting to see examples of some of the stuff we've been working on.  Mostly things with collection, transitions, and getting a visual on what a horse looks like when he tries some of these new things.  Buck rides a few different horses in the video, but he spends most of the time on a young mare that has 10 rides on her.  She is interesting to watch.

Out at the barn my goal was to keep working on the soft feel and holding it through the transitions up to the trot and from trot to walk and trot to stop.  I think I remembered to do it almost every time.

I think.  I was distracted by one of my birthday gifts.  Robin got me a nice set of spurs with some plain leather spur straps.  I'll have to get some pictures, soon.  Bear can be a rather sluggish horse at times.  We have rides where he is really with me and thinking all the time, and then there are lots of rides where he just isn't paying attention.  I always wonder about his past.  He is a quiet and gentle horse, and someone has put a lot of time on him, but it might not have always been quality time as he does look for release in places other than me.

So yesday I tried the spurs. And I must say, I was a little gun shy with them.  Lately I've been getting better at using my legs for everything I do, but with some metal sticking out from my heels I didn't feel so confident.  We worked through some things slowly so we could both get used to them.  I think Bear was better with them than I was.  He was great at disengaging his hind end, and he really only gave me a couple of surprised responses when I gently used the spurs.  But I never totally settled in, so I only used them for the first half of the ride.  I will keep practicing, though.  As being effective with them will definitely require practice.

The second half of the ride was possibly worse, though.  I'm sure Bear was responding to my little insecurities and adding that to the fact that he seems to hate the indoor arena.  Oh, and just to play with fit and make sure things were OK, Robin and I changed saddles.  She has a really nice saddle, but it isn't MY saddle.  As a result, I probably wasn't as smooth and relaxed in the seat department either.

 A little blurry. I'm sure that didn't help with my balance, either.
So by the time we started trotting around I had a very energetic, yet stiff, horse.  It was really hard for me to get him to stay on the rail and relax.  We worked on it for a really long time, alternating trotting along the rail and in small circles to encourage some lateral bending.  Eventually we made some progress, but not much.

It wasn't the best ride for my birthday, but it wasn't bad either.  And it was the kind of ride that has left me thinking about all the little things I was doing.  Hopefully I'll be able to make the next one better.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back Inside

I can't even remember when our last indoor ride was.  I know we had a brief indoor ride just before one of the ferrier visits, but I think that was back in the early summer.

This is definitely a good thing.  I enjoy the fact that we have an indoor arena, but I also like to ride outside as much as possible.  This morning, though, it was cold and damp.  Yesterday it rained off and on all day long, so the ground was soaked.  But it was very comfortable in the indoor.

While tacking up I did notice that Bear was a little tight in his back.  I spent some extra time rubbing him down and he seemed to relax into it nicely.  But then when I put the saddle on and went to do up the cinch he was really moving around a lot.  That is unlike him.  He does like to fidget, but never when I'm actually doing stuff with him.

Still, he was in good spirits, and I figured we would just have an easy ride.  We started things off slowly by just walking around, then walking the same amount of steps forward then back.  We moved into some serpentines and brief neck reining work and he was good with all of it.  Robin and Steen were loping circles around us, and we weren't bothered in the slightest.

When we moved out into a trot along the rail we both felt good.  He was moving in a nice, relaxed manner and I was feeling great in the saddle.  I have long had an overly tight right hip, and for the past week I've been working on it pretty hard.  I think I'm making some progress, because I never remember my hips and legs feeling so relaxed in the saddle.  I also noticed all this going to the right (our least favorite direction, which is why I started with it).

So I was surprised when we started going to the left that he got a little pissy.  I got a few head tosses from him, and at one point I thought I felt him limping.  I asked Robin to watch us trot and walk and she agreed, it looked like there was a slight limp.

His attitude was good, and as we walked things did improve and I couldn't feel anymore limping.  I didn't do anymore trotting, we just walked along the rail, and I worked on keeping him there with my legs.  We made some good progress there.  Since we've been doing almost all of our rides out in open spaces, following the rail is not really a strong point of Bear's. 

After the ride I gave him some more massages and stretched out his legs.  He definitely has an inclination to get tight on the right side of his back, and for a while I've worried that it is related to his saddle.  When we first got this saddle back in March it helped quite a bit as it was a pretty big improvement over the other saddle we were using.  But in reality, it is not a great saddle.  For the past few months my long term plan has been to get a really nice saddle with a rawhide covered wood tree from a maker that has a reputation of fitting their saddles to a lot of different horses.  Bear is a very standard type of Quarter Horse, so this shouldn't be too difficult.  Now I'm just wondering if I should act a little sooner and get him a nicer saddle for the winter.  He certainly isn't getting any younger.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Out of Shape

Since I fell off Bear almost eight weeks ago neither one of us has been in great shape.  I have been able to keep my riding up pretty well, so Bear still got out for some nice walk/trot rides, but we haven't been doing much more than that.  I've also been feeling somewhat stale from not being able to lift weights or ride my bike.

But in the last couple weeks I've been getting back to things and feeling much better.  Unfortunately that coincided with a vacation in Tucson and Bear had almost ten days off of riding, which also meant ten solid days of eating.  Judging by the look of Bear's belly, I'm pretty sure he treated each of those days like they were all Thanksgiving.

On our Wednesday ride he was so happy to be out and about he was continually giving me the trot without my asking for it.  And it wasn't the kind of leap into the trot that horses do when they are defiant or pissy, he was just saying, 'you know, we could go a little faster at this really nice trot pace if you like.'  So I indulged him.  Things were going so well that he started doing these floaty little hops with his front end that felt oh so close to a lope.  If he was up for smoothly transitioning into the lope I was going to let him, but things didn't get that far.

So today I was thinking we might get back to loping.  We did a long warmup with mixed trots and walks and backs and neck reining and Bear was very quiet and willing.  Then Robin and I played a mirroring game where one person chose a gait, when to stop, turn, go, etc, and the other person had to follow.  It was fun.  Bear was good in the beginning and then his turnarounds got a little worse.  Steen was good in the beginning and then he got a little better.  Go figure.

After that game we did a little loping.  We had a nice trot going and I just pushed Bear into a lope with my legs.  He picked it up easily, but I'm not sure we went any faster.  We were certainly more vertical, but the gait was so slow I had a hard time getting into rhythm.  We only kept it up for a very short amount of time.  Robin was laughing at how lazy he looked.

When we tried to do a little more, he was very resistant to picking it up.  He felt stiff and just, well, out of shape.  Really out of shape.  I did get a couple more lopes out of him, but I didn't want to push it.  So we went back to other things.  I'm hoping to get back to working on the lope in almost every ride. Bear has such a wonderful lope, so it will be fun.  But I know we need to work on the soft feel and smoother transitions.

The highlight of the ride was definitely trotting around with me steering on a loose rein with one hand.  I do this at the walk quite a bit, and we're getting better at it.  Occasionally I'll try it at the trot, but it has not gone well until today.  At one point I gave him a strong leg cue to get with me on a turn and he moved into the trot.  So I followed that through.  He neck reined very nicely and I only had to correct him with my other hand once or twice.  Then, after trotting for many minutes I pulled my hand back slightly and sat deep in my seat and he stopped on a dime.  I had no pressure on the bit because my reins were so long, but it didn't matter.

These are some of the great things we've been experiencing together lately.  We're also getting better at starting from a stop, moving up into the trot, and turning off leg cues.  It is really cool.  Months ago I thought we were getting along much better, but when I compare that to now, well, it just doesn't compare.  Now if only we could both be in shape at the same time . . . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Comfort Zone

We got back into town over the weekend and I had a busy few days with work, so I couldn't get out to the barn.  I was also a little tired from all the travel, so I didn't really mind.

Today was a nice afternoon, though.  Sunny and not too cold.  We arrived and I saw Bear snoozing by the windblock looking large as ever.  He hardly even woke up when I was getting the halter on him.  Inside he was unbelievably quiet and happy to be hanging out with me.  He was sniffing me all over and rubbing my back with his mouth.  It was really funny; he usually doesn't do that.

Out on the strip he was just as relaxed as inside.  I spent the first four minutes just sitting on him and marveling at how solid he feels compared to Rojo.  I'm not a big guy, and I think of myself as being fairly athletic, so I don't cause too many problems getting on horses, but with Rojo, I would swiftly climb on and he would almost fall over.  With Bear, nothing moves.  He's like a rock.

I spent the rest of the ride working on our usual things.  Bear was quiet but very attentive.  In the beginning he did exhibit some signs of wanting to get near Steen.  The first time he did I gave him a moderate amount of outside leg to push him out and he jumped into a trot.  I decided to let him go and he just kept on trotting.  Robin said he looked thrilled to be moving around.  He doesn't give himself much exercise in the winter lot, so it is nice to know that he does enjoy moving about when I ask him to.

The second time he tried to get near Steen we were already trotting, so when I sharply moved him off my leg he gave me some pissy head tosses.  They were more funny than anything else.

Those happened in the very beginning of the ride.  After that he was pretty amazing.  We worked on the feel at the walk and even a little bit at the trot.  We backed a lot of circles and he was really happy with neck reining around the strip.

Towards the end of the ride we were working on smooth trots and getting both big stops and big, energetic starts as well.  These came along quite nicely.  At one point I was getting a decent soft feel at the trot and then I sat deep and asked for a stop, and he gave me the best stop I've had in weeks.

Robin was thrilled with what she was working on with Steen, and right then she suggested we end the ride.  I totally agreed.  I think Bear licked his lips for full minute after that stop and after I got off.  I think we were both extremely happy to be hanging out together again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Working with Rojo

Over Thanksgiving Robin and I got out to Southern Arizona for a week to visit her family.  As always, it was a really good time.  And we definitely spent a lot of time with the horses.  For the past few visits I've been working on getting a little closer to Rojo, my mother-in-law's red Missouri Fox Trotter.  He can be a little shy and insecure sometimes, but lately he has been spending more time with people and I've been getting better with horses.

Last May was the first time I rode him.  It was only for about 5 minutes, so I couldn't really tell much from that ride.  This trip, though, I rode him four times, for a total of a little over 2 hours.  And I learned a lot.

I definitely learned that he likes me.  He is a horse who looks to his rider for support, and if the rider can't give it, then, well, then other things happen.  We took things slow enough that I felt confident, and because of that, he felt confident.

We started by working on getting a soft feel.  He responded better than Bear.  Of course, when I started this with Bear I had never felt a feel, so I'm sure that was a big part of it.  Or, maybe Rojo has been ridden by people who work off feel.  Hard to tell.  He is in his late teens, so anything is possible.

In the first ride we progressed from getting a soft feel on the ground, standing, and then at the walk.  Even when I pushed him into a trot/fox trot (I often didn't know what I had), he would tuck and respond to light pressure.  He is very responsive.

But he also feels like something other than a horse.  More like what I imagine a giraffe feels like.  It wasn't until our last ride that I could ask him to do some serpentines without worrying he would fall over.  We did make progress with them, and all in all, it was a fantastic experience riding Rojo for four days.  I had never taught another horse things I know.  It was fun.  I also think it could change the way I look at working with Bear.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Territory

Friday was sunny and warm. I think the temps even got into the 70s. But I was exhausted. This was the first week of a busy three weeks at work. Plus we had severe wind warnings. I used that as an excuse not to go ride.

Saturday was cloudy and not quite as warm, but it was great for riding. We weren't sure if we would be able to ride today or not, as we had a lot of things to get ready for, but we did manage to get out in the middle of the day.

Bear was on the bale and looking chunky. He saw me walking up and chose to get as many bites in as he could before I got there. But once I did get there, he moved back from the bale with the lightest touch on his chest. It was actually pretty neat.

We tacked up outside in the moderately warm south wind and then headed to the strip. I had no real goals or plans for this ride other than to just enjoy it. We worked on all our usual things and Bear was being pretty darn good. I rewarded him with lots of pats and time just sitting there resting so I could watch Robin and Steen. They were having an OK ride, for the mot part. Robin planned on using the snaffle before we got out there, but once she saw the hackamore in the tack locker she couldn't resist. Steen was again a little stiff, but it was neat to see them work through things.

Bear and I went through some serpentines, circles with stops, figure eights and lots of backing. He was good for all of it and I was actually getting a little bit bored. It was about this time that Robin and Steen's ride started getting a little more interesting. Robin ended up switching back to the snaffle because she knows it much better and felt more sure of how to ask for things. Unfortunately, this didn't actually help them much.

So Bear and I hung out at the far west end of the strip. Occasionally we would walk or trot down the fenceline and work on our soft feels (he was good), but mostly we just rested, did a little backing, and practiced disengaging the hind end off just my leg. We've always had some trouble with this. He wants to move more than just the hind end, so sometimes I get frustrated blocking all his wrong attempts. Today I kind of let him go with it just to see what would happen. I never released the cue until he did just what I was asking.

What we got was quite a bit of fidgeting. But it was good natured. He was really trying, and a few times I thought he was side passing. After some more resting and backing and disengaging, we found ourselves out in the wind. I decided to ask him to side pass over to the more desirable spot that was out of the wind. He gave me about seven or eight perfect sideways steps to the right. I had only given him a light cue with the supporting rein and my outside leg, and he moved like he had been side passing his whole life. I suppose is is a better maneuver than getting just a hind end disengage, which I can really get anytime I want to if I incorporate a cue with my reins. So for the time being we'll keep doing some side passing.

Because Robin's ride kept getting more and more interesting, we actually ended up riding for quite a while. Since I wasn't sure if I would get to ride at all, it felt like a really great bonus ride. Bear was really good, and we got to explore some new territory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The First Cold Ride of the Year

While the sun was out and if felt good when I was walking home, by three o'clock the sun was low on the horizon and the west winds were cooling us down very quickly.  Basically, it was the kind of weather Bear thrives in.  And as a result, we had a pretty darn good ride.  None of yesterday's sluggishness was present.

Yesterday we had fun getting some good photos while out at the barn.  We don't do that as often as we should, and Robin suggested she spend a few minutes getting some shots of me.  So now I've got a whole bunch of photos of our ride.

From the beginning Bear was very soft and attentive (well, there were those moments while I was mounting where all he wanted to do was eat, but we don't have to talk about those).  Under saddle he was giving me soft feels all the time.  It was one of those days where I would adjust my reins and he would give to the movement of the slobber straps. It meant we had great collection in our backing.

We spent some time early on and towards the end of the ride backing some very nice circles.  We are much better backing to the right than the left, though.  Kind of funny, as when we're going forward we are better to the left.  Actually, maybe it isn't that funny, because my legs are in the same position backing to the left as they are going forward to the right.

At the trot he was very calm and responsive.  Like yesterday, he was working very nicely off my legs.  Today I only had the slightest hold on the reins, and I don't think I ever had to give him a short, sharp pull to keep him from over or under-bending.  And there were times I was even getting a nice soft feel at the trot.

We also worked on the same stopping exercise I wrote about over the weekend.  This time it took fewer rounds to get back to the great Bear stops, so we didn't work on it a ton (I'm trying not to get in the habit of over-drilling).  Instead we would mix it up with some long walks working on the soft feel.  Going away from the barn was a little distracted, but he would still give it to me willingly.  Coming back he was more tuned into me, and I was using those moments to ask for multiple steps at the soft feel.  Two and three steps got easy, and more than a few times I found myself counting up to seven or eight steps.  Once I got beyond three steps I could really feel his hind end collect underneath me.  I had only read about this feeling, but you can't really understand such things through reading about them.  I hope this new understanding will help me with other exercises, too.

At the end of the ride Robin suggested we give the hackamore a try.  Just so we could both see how it feels.  Bear was pretty good in letting us slip it on.  He only gave a few initial head tosses.  I worked with him on the ground and he backed up and flexed very nicely to it.

When I climbed on he was a little more uneasy, and he gave quite a few more head tosses.  Once I started asking for the soft feel and backing he got a little better.  We moved onto walking some figure eights, and he would follow my legs and then really kick in gear when the rein was on his neck. After a few minutes we were moving in and out of figure eights and soft stops with solid backs.

But at other times he would do this odd thing where his body was bending nicely in one direction but his neck was stiff and his nose was pointed out in the other direction.  We would definitely have to spend some time getting used to this, and I don't think either of us are quite ready to move beyond the snaffle right now.  But I love that my horse is OK with me doing different things to him.  After the ride he was great; he didn't mind the experiment at all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Birthday Ride

Today Robin turned 30.  I had to work for a little bit, but for the most part we had a long day of celebrating.  The afternoon was beautiful and we headed out to the barn to see the guys.

The exciting event of the ride was Robin trying out the new hackamore set up I got her.  It went much better than either of us thought.  Probably better than Steen initially thought it would go, too.

We started out with me getting some shots of Robin and Steen getting used to the new stuff.  She has a much bigger write up about it here, but I wanted to include a couple of my favorite shots.

Steen was so relaxed and responsive with the hackamore.  He looked like he had been wearing one for weeks.  And the really interesting thing was that he started to carry himself very differently.  His body was much more collected and poised.

Meanwhile, Bear and I had a very mediocre ride.  While I loved the fact that it got into the 60s that afternoon, Bear was left feeling super sluggish.  I couldn't quite get him out of it. 

At times, though, we did make some nice progress on all the things we were working on.  When we trotted in circles he was not very good at going in a circle, but he was much, much more responsive to my legs.  In general, he was very responsive to my legs, as there were a few moments he was distracted and I could just tip him back in the direction I wanted.  And at the walk he was again giving me the soft feel pretty quickly, and then when I would ask him to hold it for a count of 2, he was still very OK with it.  So I really can't complain too much.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Soft Feel, At the Walk!

This one has been eluding us for some weeks.  Actually, a couple months.  Shortly after the clinic when I started getting the soft feel consistently while we were standing, I started asking for it at the walk.  And never getting it.  I kept it up for some time, but I just don't think I was ready to feel what I needed to feel.

Then about a month went by and Robin and Steen started getting it pretty consistently, and I will admit, I was a little jealous.  Especially when I would see Steen willingly giving the soft feel at the trot and even the lope.

Jealousy is not enough to make one achieve something.  It probably isn't the best state of mind to be in when asking for the feel, either.  But this weekend we went back out in the big pasture and Robin helped me work on it while we walked up and down the little gully in the bottom of the pasture.  The first couple times I asked for it I had to ask for a stop because we were running out out of space.  Then one trip across the pasture he gave me the biggest tuck I'd ever seen from him.

And that was that.  Every time I asked for it he gave it to me faster and faster.  There were a couple of times where I was a little uncertain whether I got it or not, but I just released and pretended like we did.  It must have worked because on Sunday he was giving it to me almost immediately.  A few times I was able to get multiple steps in a row and he was not bothered by this at all.

Both days were great rides, despite the 50+ mile an hour winds we had on Sunday.  I had never been on a horse when it was that windy.  Thankfully Bear didn't care.  I guess horses are used to being out in the wide open spaces with the wind, and if we were cowboying out in Wyoming that is what we'd have to ride in all the time.

The other great exercise we did this weekend was one I got from Martin Black.  I was reading through a bunch of articles while drinking coffee and came across a really neat one on stopping.  Since Bear and I have been working on the feel, our stops have actually gotten worse.  I miss the old days when I'd bring Bear out of the trot or lope and he would just plant all four feet right in the ground.  He was good at it, and he loved doing it.  He would always sit there and lick his lips afterwards, and I always imagined him thinking something like, "yeah, that was a good stop."

So we found a nice spot in the pasture and started trotting some pretty fast circles.  Each time we got to a spot by a big dried weed, I would get a soft feel and ask for a stop.  Then we'd back a half circle and trot off in the other direction.  Again when we got to the weed, soft feel, then stop.  At first the stops were OK, but then he improved dramatically, and we even got back to the Bear stops of old.  I think this exercise will definitely be a keeper.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alone Again

It felt like a long week, and when Friday afternoon rolled around both Robin and I were quite tired.  As soon as I got home from work I dressed for the barn and started to go.  I knew if I sat I wouldn't make it out.  Robin was tied up in computer stuff and not feeling like a ride.  So it was just me going to the barn.

And it had been a long time.  I think we rode alone once in June.  Before that it was last fall.  I guess Robin and I are almost always going to the barn together.  It makes being there alone feel very different.  And it was super quiet, there was no one else there at all.

We tacked inside, and Bear was very attentive.  I guess he didn't have much to distract him so he was happy nuzzling me as I walked around and brushed him and picked his feet.  We also got new cinches this week.  All mohair.  I have been using a neoprene cinch that came with Steen over three years ago, so we have no idea how old it is.  It was a little too small for Bear and has since gotten pretty cracked.  He was very interested in this new mohair cinch; he couldn't stop flexing around to sniff at it.  I think it will be much more comfortable for him, too.

We rode out on the strip and worked on all our usual stuff.  Bear was mostly good, but he would get distracted by the herd if I rode closer to the winter lot.  Sometimes I worked him over there to force him to pay attention to me, and other times we worked at the far west end to give him a break from the distractions.

He was really good with his serpentines and soft feels and backs.  Not quite as good with trotting.  In the beginning he just kept picking up the trot.  I'd get a soft feel and bring him down, but he kept doing it and I decided to just trot him for a while.  He was not troubled by this at all.  They did have new bales out there, maybe he just had a lot of extra energy.

We rode until the sun was just about near the horizon and then went in.  It was really different to not have anything else going on during the ride.  A few times I missed having Robin there, because I couldn't ask her any questions.  But overall it was great to be alone with my horse.  And I was able to ask Robin all my questions over a beer after the ride.

The photos are from our shoot with the Dreschers.  I figure when I don't have photos from the day's ride I'll try to include some of these.  We've got hundreds.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Soft Can We Get?

Both rides this weekend I really focused on the same stuff I've been blogging about the last few times, and it all amounts to softness.  Both Bear and I have gotten better about this.  He responds quicker, and I've been able to continually ask for things with less pressure.  Or with more patience.  Or both.  At times I still need to step in and make something happen, but I always try to bring it back to softness.  And I think those moments help Bear (and me) learn more than any others.

But still, it can feel like we aren't getting very far sometimes.  Especially when we have some backsliding in certain areas.  One of those has been backing.  Before the clinic backing was something we were really good at.  Of course, I was asking Bear to go backwards in one of the most annoying ways possible, so it is no wonder he would respond.  With the new way of backing there are so many little things to remember that it can be easy for me to forget some.  On Friday we were nailing it, though.  So this weekend I kept at the backing and then also started working on backing circles.

Again, we kind of used to be good at this one.  But that was back when I was doing it wrong.  It was still after the clinic, but I had somehow neglected the soft feel of every step backwards.  Oops.  Now getting that feel and getting Bear to back a circle was a little much.  He would give me a bend but not turn.  Then he would turn but he'd be sluffing through on his front end rather than engaging his big butt muscles.  It was a little frustrating.  Then Robin helped me out big time by showing me I should be engaging my supporting rein a little more.  I brought that in and it fixed almost everything.  So much so that both Bear and I were surprised with the quality of our backs.

We've been having some camera focus issues, but you can see the nice head tuck, loose reins, and hind-end engagement.
He started backing so fast and sharp in the turns that he would swing his front end over and pivot off the hind.  It wasn't really what I wanted, and I got kind of upset with him for it, but Robin reminded me it was a move I would want eventually.  So I would attempt to quietly ask him to back another few steps after that to say he wasn't quite right, but I didn't reprimand him for it either.

Just like Friday, the weekend's rides were emotionally and intellectually difficult on Bear.  He finished each one looking really drained, but he also seemed to appreciate me more.  On Sunday he actually left the bale to come over and see me.  Then after our 90 minute ride, when I hopped off to let him graze, he was more content to just stand close to me.  Very un-Bear-like, but very sweet.

So even though we continue to have the occasional set-back, it is great to see the softness we get once we push on.  And when I read through my posts from last fall and earlier this year, it is amazing to me how much more resistant Bear was to the bit and my cues and also how imprecise many of my actions were.  Bear is starting to be a bit of an old horse (sixteen and a half), and he often feels set in his ways, so it is easy for me to think there are limits to how responsive he can get.  But that might not be true, so long as I keep working to see how soft we can act get.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Design!

I've now been riding horses for a few years, and it was almost two years ago that I jumped into horse ownership.  So it was definitely time for a blog redesign and a slightly new title.

I mentioned a few weeks ago our photo shoot with the Dreschers.  Once we received all the great shots I couldn't help but think of how to incorporate them into a new blog design.  Of course, there is no way I could have done it without my own personal in-house web designer. She made it all come together just right.

Riding has definitely been a little slow these last few weeks.  First I had my fall.  That was nearly four weeks ago, and my wrist is still healing.  The swelling is way down and my mobility is up, but it still gets sore if I use it too much.  That was followed by a visit from the equine dentist and a weekend out of town.  I got back excited to get some riding done in the nice 70 degree weather, but then I got sick.

All of that is behind us now, and yesterday afternoon was cool and breezy and perfect for riding.  Bear was somewhat happy to see me.  I think he was more excited to be on the bale, though.  And I could tell he had not received any supplements in about 5 days, because today he pooped 4 times on the ride.  That was kind of the norm for a while, but since we've had him on the supplement he has only been pooping once a ride. Even if I'm not riding a bunch I'll have to not let that many days go by without giving it to him.

The ride, though, was good.  Good for me, at least.  Without meaning to be, I was actually a little hard on Bear.  Not physically, but I was asking a lot of him, and I think he was a little surprised by it all.  We started with refining our groundwork.  He's gotten really good at following a feel off the mecate, but today I started adding in some hindend disengages immediately followed by disengages on the forehand.  I've done some combination of those before, but never in this way.  He was not super happy about them initially, but once he got a few good ones in he had that 'I'm kinda proud of myself' look on his face.

I hopped on and we continued to work on combining the soft feel with backing and we are getting much better at it.  Today Robin looked over at us and was surprised to see the collection and hind end engagement of Bear's backs. Our serpentines and leg yielding were all quite good, and Bear's trot was unbelievably relaxed.  At times I had to make sure he wasn't walking.  I've never felt that from Bear before.

Then we would take breaks from trotting great circles and figure-eights (he was very well balanced almost the entire time) to work on another exercise we got from the Buck clinic.  I started this one a few rides ago.  It is tough, but we've been getting better each time.  It involves walking out, either straight or in a good sized circle, then halting the horse's front end by bending them into a hind end disengage.  The horse steps under and over for a few steps and then you bring in your opposite leg and rein to engage the forequarters.  At this point the hind end stops and the front swings over.  Ideally you finish off walking out in the same direction that you started.  When done well, it is a very quiet and extremely pretty maneuver. When done poorly it just looks like a sloppy circle.

And we were often looking a little bad.  But each day I've worked on it we've gotten a few more decent ones.  Today there were at least four that felt great.  Right now I kind of think all four of those were done in the same direction.  Next time I'll have to pay attention to see how balanced we are on each side.

It is a challenging exercise for both Bear and me, and shortly after working on it I think Bear was getting a little fed up and frustrated from all the minute, demanding stuff I was asking of him.  He got grouchy.  I probably should have started working on something a little less demanding at this point, but I kind of kept doing all the other things I had been doing on the ride.  Bear gave me a couple of big head tosses to show his lack of appreciation for my requests, but I just kept riding him through it.  He did get over it.  I think he is a little surprised that his opinion doesn't matter like it used to.  When I hopped off him his head was way down and he looked exhausted, even though the most physically demanding thing we did was about fifteen minutes of jogging.  At the hitching post he could barely keep his eyes open. 

So I think the ride had a pretty big impact on him.  I'll be curious to see he feels about everything this weekend.